Chapter Two is a bit redundant, if you ask me. The title is When Gratitude Malfunctions, and it definitely builds on the previous chapter, and yet I still think the majority of the chapter was a restatement of the previous chapter with a few added comments.
With that said, it provided fodder for interesting conversation, that is for sure!
So…what does Piper mean by gratitude “malfunctioning”?
Gratitude looks back…
But we do not live in the past. None of our potential obedience can happen in the past. All of our life will be lived in the future. Therefore when we try to make gratitude empower this future obedience, something goes wrong. Gratitude is primarily a response to the past grace of God; it malfunctions when forced to function as a motivation for the future–unless it is transformed into faith in future grace.
So far, my best guess is that Piper views gratitude as a motivation or builder of faith, and it is faith which gives birth to works, if that makes sense. Before we get into possible objections or anything else, let me briefly outline his major arguments.
- Using gratitude as a motivation for works leads to legalism. Piper constantly connects gratitude as a motivator as an attempt to pay God back for what Christ has done. The second we turn our relationship with God into a business deal with a transactional nature, we nullify grace.
- Obedience must be by faith. His evidence for this includes:
- In the Old Testament, disobedient Israelites were never faulted for ingratitude, but for lack of faith or trust in God. The New Testament reiterates this (Romans 9:31-32).
- In Hebrews 11, what many call the Hall of Faith, we see good works and obedience directly connected to faith rather than gratitude. The format of the entire passage is “By faith [name of great OT saint here] did [great action of obedience here].”
- Christian obedience is called the “work of faith” in the New Testament and is never called the “work of gratitude” (I Thessalonians 1:3 and II Thessalonians 1:11).
- We are told to live by faith and walk by faith. Faith works in us through love and sanctification is by faith in the truth. There is no equivalent to these things in reference to gratitude.
- Gratitude looks back. This statement seems to be very important to Piper’s argument. His reasoning seems to go like this: Gratitude looks back. It is hard for gratitude to encourage future action without ending up with the Debtor’s Ethic he discussed in Chapter 1. Faith looks forward. All of our future obedient acts are, obviously, in the future. It is easy for faith to motivate future action because that is its natural direction. By using gratitude to fortify faith, we connect the past to the future and have both assurance (from gratitude) and strength (from faith) for future action.
- Not all of God’s glory is in the past. When Piper is speaking of faith, it can sound very heady to those of us who aren’t used to the language. I felt like he said “faith in future grace” a thousand times, and I was sort of spinning because I wasn’t completely sure what that meant. I had an idea of what it meant, but I wasn’t even sure Piper and I were on the same page. I am beginning to realize that this idea of God’s glory also being future is part of what he’s getting at. There is a lot to look forward to. We are grateful for the past, yes, but the building of God’s kingdom is still before us, and there are many great and noble deeds to be done.
Question 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.
I read through the supporting Scriptures, and I didn’t actually see any reference to gratitude. Goodness, I hate to criticize a document written by faithful men much wiser than I. So I want to walk carefully here. The only supporting Scripture among those listed that I think even has the potential to imply gratitude is this:
For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
Read in context, though, I am not sure if Piper wouldn’t use it as an argument for faith. The verse directly prior to this one says this:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
The Greek word used there for know is οἴδατε, which deals with sensory knowledge. Sometimes it deals with cherishing knowledge, but for the most part, the idea is one of knowing, understanding, and paying attention to. I think if we were to take these verses Piper-style, we could paraphrase them as, Don’t you understand that God bought you and His Spirit lives in you? Have faith that you are His, and therefore show the world that your body is His.
It’s a fine line, I agree.
A second possible objection was one that my husband raised at our book group meeting. Jesus said, in John 14:23, that if a man loved Him, he would keep His commandments. It is possible to read that as a motivation. I have certainly thought of obedience as being motivated by love.
In context, though, the passage seems to be using obedience the way James uses obedience: as an evidence of faith. In verse 23, Jesus declares that a man who loves Him will keep His word. In verse 24, He says that one who doesn’t not love Him does not keep His words.
Let’s think about this logically. Is Jesus really saying that the man who disobeys is motivated by that lack of love? I don’t think so. I really don’t think that nonbelievers walk around saying “because I don’t love Jesus, I’m going to do X.” Rather, the lack of conformity to God’s Word is just another evidence of the lack of love–or love for self or an idol, etc. I don’t think it is a jump to say, then, that those who have faith have love and also works, while those who do not have faith do not have love for God (what is to love if you don’t believe?) and therefore do not have works.
So again we see that another possible objection seems to actually be talking about a different issue. I don’t think we can say that the John passage is answering the question “what ought to motivate the Christian to obey?”
What Motivates Me to Obey?
This question was one a member of our group put to himself. His answer is almost exactly what I would have said. I want to obey God because He said so. At the end of the day, that is the reason.
Is this different than what Piper is saying?
At first I thought it was, but now I’m not so sure.
I would never arbitrarily choose some guy in the room and say, “See that guy over there? I’m going to do whatever he says, just because he says so.” That would be ridiculous!
So I see that I am comfortable saying that I want do what God says because He said so, because I have faith in who God is. I believe that He created me and knows what is best for me, that He is infinitely wise, and that He knows how the world best operates. I believe He works things according to the good of His people. I believe that He will bring about justice in the end.
And so on and so forth.
The simple assertion that a Christians does what God says because He says so may sound light as a feather, but it holds the weight of God Himself. It is the Object–the Who behind the commands–that makes the whole sentence respectable.
I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that this is the exact same as what Piper means by walking in faith of “future grace” because I’m not exactly sure what that means yet. But I do think this is walking in faith in God. I believe what He says, and I believe that He is Good, therefore I want to obey.
What is behind Christians who have the solid habit of obedience? I think Piper would say that it is simply…faith.
I looked through the Heidelberg Catechism a little bit more, and noticed that Question 86 is not the last word on works.
Question 91. But what are good works?
Answer: Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.
For now, I personally think that it is not gratitude or faith, but gratitude and faith. Gratitude building our faith, faith hopefully expecting to see even more to be grateful for. Both of these are impossible without rebirth, and in this we see that all is the gift of God.
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.