In Bible times, leprosy was a loathsome disease that ostracized its victims from family and friends. In fact, the Mosaic Law required that anyone with leprosy must continually cry out, “Unclean, unclean,” as he walked along the road, lest any passerby be contaminated by his disease (see Leviticus 13:45).
Luke records that Jesus was once met by ten lepers who stood at a distance and cried out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (who were the ones who could officially pronounce a leper cleansed from his disease), and as they went they were cleansed. Of the ten cleansed, one, a Samaritan, when he saw that he was healed, returned to Jesus, praising God and thanking Jesus. Jesus then exclaimed, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except for this foreigner?” (see Luke 17:11–19).
We read this story and we think, “How could those nine men be so ungrateful as to not even turn back and say a word of thanks to Jesus?” And yet far too many of us are guilty of the same sin of unthankfulness.
Spiritually, our condition was once far worse than the physical disease of leprosy. We were not diseased; we were spiritually dead. We were slaves to the world, to Satan, and to the passions of our own sinful nature. We were by nature objects of God’s wrath. But God, in His great mercy and love, reached out to us and gave us spiritual life (see Ephesians 2:1–5). He forgave us our sins through the death of His Son and covered us with the spotless righteousness of Jesus Himself.
Christ’s giving us spiritual life is a far greater miracle, and its benefits are infinitely greater than healing from leprosy. Yet how often do we give thanks for our salvation? Have you stopped today to give thanks to God for delivering you from the domain of darkness and transferring you to the kingdom of His Son? And if you have given thanks, was it in a mere nominal way, much like some people give thanks at a meal, or was it an expression of heartfelt gratitude for what God has done for you in Christ?
The truth is, our whole lives should be lives of continual thanksgiving. Paul told his audience at Athens that “[God] himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). That means that every breath we draw is a gift from God. Everything we are and everything we have is a gift from Him. If you have intellectual or professional or technical skills, those skills are a gift from God. It’s true you probably studied diligently in college and perhaps endured long hours of professional training, but where did the intellectual ability and innate talent that you have come from? They came from God, who created you with a built-in aptitude and then in His gracious providence directed you in the path of developing those skills.
We need to heed God’s warning to the Israelites in Deuteronomy:
“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God.… Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (8:11–14, 17–18)
Most people who read this book acknowledge that everything we have comes from God, but how often do we stop to give thanks to Him? At the end of a workday in your profession or job, do you ever take time to say, “Thank You, heavenly Father, for giving me the skill, ability, and health to do my work today”? Do you ever physically or mentally go through your house, look at your furnishings and various items of home decoration, and say to God, “Everything in the house and the food in the cupboard and the car (or cars) in the driveway are gifts from You. Thank You for Your gracious and generous provision”? And if you are still a student, do you ever give thanks to God for the intellectual ability and financial provision that enables you to prepare yourself for your future vocation? When you give thanks at mealtime, is it routine and perfunctory, or is it a heartfelt expression of your gratitude to God for His continual provision of all your physical needs?
Taking for granted all the temporal provisions and spiritual blessings that God has so richly bestowed on us, and so failing to continually give Him thanks, is one of our “acceptable” sins. In fact, far too many Christians wouldn’t think of it as sin. Yet Paul, in his description of a Spirit-filled person, said we are to “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Note the words always and everything. That means our whole lives should be ones of continually giving thanks.
Giving thanks to God for both His temporal and spiritual blessings in our lives is not just a nice thing to do—it is the moral will of God. Failure to give Him the thanks due Him is sin. It may seem like a benign sin to us because it doesn’t harm anyone else. But it is an affront and insult to the One who created us and sustains us every second of our lives. And if, as Jesus so clearly stated, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind is the great and first commandment, then failure to give thanks to God as a habit of life is a violation of the greatest commandment.
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007), 17–19.
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