GRATITUDE FOR GRACE
Do you have a critical, jaded spirit towards the church? In his Religious affections, Jonathan Edwards warns that, because of remaining sin, our spiritual sight is easily dulled ‘to all spiritual objects’.
So, when a critical spirit rises, we should ask ourselves, ‘Is my spiritual sight clear? Am I seeing God’s supernatural, gracious work in his church?
‘Am I rejoicing in God’s work of new creation, bringing life instead of death, beauty instead of ugliness, holiness instead of sin, love instead of selfishness, faith instead of unbelief? Do those around me hear gratefulness to God for his work? Or have I lost sight of him and what he is doing?’
How can we tackle a critical spirit? There are many ways, including the steady need to be personally refreshed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, to renew and keep sweet communion with him — living in the Word and prayer by his Spirit.
These are essential. But there is another vital exercise — actively pursuing awareness of, and gratitude for, marks of grace in others.
How? Begin by refreshing yourself on what marks of grace are — the fruit of the Spirit’s regenerating, sanctifying work. Marks of grace are evidence of God changing people by his Word to be more like Christ.
God’s glory is the motive and goal of this and Scripture is full of examples. Study the heroes of faith, meditating on how their marks of grace point to and are rooted in Christ. Study Christ himself.
When you see Christians pursuing a life conformed to the Ten Commandments in love to God, you are seeing evidences of grace. When you see a believer leaving a job or relationship because he wants to avoid Psalm 1’s pattern of decline, this is a mark of grace.
When you see women pursuing the model of Proverbs 31, this is a mark of grace. When you see someone exemplifying the Beatitudes, grieving for their sin and eager to pursue holiness, this is evidence of grace. You are seeing the work of the triune God.
Scripture not only gives us warrant to look for evidence of grace in the church — it commands it. Psalm 48 calls the reader to ‘walk about Zion’ (v.12). God called his people to admire Jerusalem, the centre of Old Testament worship and place of God’s presence; to admire the city that God established and the God who established it.
So, the psalmist calls us to meditate on and give thanks for the spiritual reality that the city displays. God is building a spiritual city, a people saved by him and set apart to him.
Psalm 48 does not call us today to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but we are to consider our believing brothers and sisters in Christ. Open your church directory and look for God’s gracious works!
The psalmist says, ‘consider her bulwarks, palaces’ (v.13). Take note of specific evidences of God’s grace. The goal is to trace the graces back to the giver and source of all grace; ‘for this God is our God for ever and ever’ (v.14).
The psalm is passionate in calling us to communicate our gratitude to God: ‘Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of your judgements’ (vv.1,8,9,10).
The New Testament is full of similar examples. Paul’s ministry exemplifies this repeatedly in the opening words of his epistles. He notes evidences of grace with specificity and communicates gratitude both to God and the people of God.
Revelation repeats the pattern. Jesus commends the churches for evidences of grace, only made possible through him! Yes, there are rebukes and warnings as well. In some cases, like his words to Laodicea, there is little to no commendation due to unaddressed sin. At times rebuke, prayer and sorrow are the only legitimate responses.
Yet, recognising all this does not negate the simultaneous call to look, listen and take note of grace, and trace it all back to the giver and communicate gratitude to him.
What would we and our churches be like if we were transformed to see these evidences? Take a few minutes to walk mentally around the parts of Zion that you know.
As you consider God’s powerful, supernatural works in the hearts and lives of the saints, give thanks to him (and tell them). Encourage each other and join together to worship our great God and Saviour, the God of all grace.
‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’ (Revelation 5:9-10).
The author is Associate Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.