When We Say “Thanks For Nothing, God!”

Living as if there is no GodIn the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit (Jude 1:18-19).  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom 1:21).

What does it mean to be “ungodly”?  Jerry Bridges in his book Respectable Sins defines “ungodliness” as “an attitude toward God, while unrighteousness refers to sinful actions in thought, word, or deed.”  I usually think of ungodliness by negating what I think is godliness (upright character and faith in God).  It never occurred to me that there is a difference between ungodliness and unrighteousness.  Romans 1:18ff seems to describe the relation between these two sins.  The ungodly proceed to do all of the unrighteousness things listed, and God subsequently gives them over and over to their depraved minds and choices.

But is ungodliness “apt to be the root cause of our other sins”?  Is each of us guilty of this sin?  I tend to agree that ungodliness is the type of sin that functions as a root of sin.  A godly person, who is frequently thinking about and worshipping God will not be in the kind of mindset to spiral ever downward into sinful patterns and more and more expressed depravity.  A godly person will most often, when he sins, soon after feel sorrow leading to repentance and reexpressed faith.  An ungodly person does not have the regenerate nature of the new man, and thus will spiral into a continual pattern of sin.  This is his nature.  In James 4:13-15 the author describes the kind of ungodliness that condemns as the sin of arrogant presumption and functionally atheistic boasting.

Similarly, Paul’s summary prayer in Colossians 1:9-10 reveals that we are responsible to God to be fully pleasing to God and to bear much fruit.  Paul explains what he means by this responsibility: we are to please God by doing his will based on our fullness of knowledge, spiritual wisdom, and understanding, we are to walk worthy of God by doing every kind of good work, and we are to grow (not remain static) in our knowledge of the Lord.  All of this requires hard work, and we will only bear fruit and please God by his enabling grace—all the more reason to pray without ceasing!

According to the Bible, the sin of unthankfulness is closely related to ungodliness.  During biblical times, leprosy devastated many lives.  The Mosaic Law required that a leper continually cry out, “unclean, unclean” while walking along the road (Leviticus 13:45).  In light of this and Jesus’ experience between Samaria and Galilee, (see Luke 17:11-19), I notice first that the lepers on the road between Samaria and Galilee did not call out “Unclean! Unclean!”  Perhaps they understood that to do so would be to act as if Jesus was in danger of contracting their sickness and could not help them.  But instead they called out for mercy, perhaps because they expected that Jesus could help and heal them of their disease which caused them to be far from the people of God (outside the camp).  In fact, that is the primary reason why leprosy was so bad: it made the sufferer unclean and thus an outsider—one ostracized from the life of the covenant community.  The tragedy is that only one of the ten lepers (a foreigner and outsider by birth) understood what his cured condition actually meant.  His close fellowship with God was restored and he was made whole.  The unthankful nine could only see the outside healing result.  But the one who returned praising God in thankfulness understood that God had restored him physically, but even more significantly communally and relationally to God.  I also note that the thankful leper was the only one who Jesus declared had faith.  The lesson is that if we are not thankful for all that God gives to us, blessings and hardships included, then we are in fact living in unthankful rebellion against him.

Futhermore, Paul teaches in Romans 6:6, 17 and Ephesians 2:1-5 that without God, a person’s spiritual condition is described as spiritually dead, or dead in sin, or slaves to sin, or a child of God’s wrath.  But thanks be to God that for every believer (not just some spiritually elite class), God has rescued them to be obedient from the heart to the Scriptures and has made every believer alive in the Spirit with Christ by grace.  Acts 17:24-25 instructs us to express heartfelt gratitude to God because God is not only the god who saves, but he is also the creator.  He has created all men, and gives us life and breath, indeed everything that we have.  He is a gracious God who made us and takes care of us every second of the day.  For if God were to withhold his blessing for one second, we would cease breathing, fall headlong into death, and meet our maker who is our righteous Judge.  So we should thank God for everything we have: life, breath, his provision of food, shelter, clothing, family, possession, health, friends, everything.  For it is all by his grace, and we cannot boast about anything we own or possess or accomplish, for we have absolutely nothing that we have not received from his generous hand.

But what should we do when disappointing or difficult situations arise?  According to the promises of Romans 8:28-29, 38-39, we should give thanks to God for everything, even when a situation is disappointed or difficult, because all things come from God who has promised to work all things to our good.  Ever our difficulties are for the purpose of transforming us into the image of his Son Jesus Christ.  Besides, even the most difficult and trying circumstances cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Nothing, even the most powerful things imaginable, can separate us from the loving care that God has for us and his plan for our future glorification.  Amen!

The Bible is clear that Christians are called to let their lights shine before men by doing all things to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31; Matt 5:16).  But I wonder what extent that I am mindful of really doing “all” to the glory of God?  Such a thing is surely difficult to measure.  While I am a pastoral intern at this time, it seems to be easier to be in the “ministry mindset” much more often than when I was working in secular employment.  Although oftentimes I was thinking about spiritual things and reading the Bible when I wasn’t directly involved in ministry activities, I found in pretty hard to actually do things (instead of just thinking things) to the glory of God.  After all, those in the world around me could not perceive my thoughts.  And as I ponder the question in my present context, it is easy to equate ministry duties to being godly.  But they are not necessarily the same.  Surely they are compatible, but that is a matter of my attitude and willingness to consciously work for God’s glory, rather than just going through the motions of habit.  So when I consider what extent I am doing all things to the glory of God from this perspective, I have a long way to go.  I suspect that ungodliness (the attitude of not including God in my thoughts, decisions, and everyday living of life) into my social relationships with unbelievers to the extent that with many of them who are my friends, I no longer consider it a priority to share the gospel with them.  With regard to my Christian friends, the problem of ungodliness in my life may be worse because often I assume that we are both meditating upon the Word of God and seeking to follow the Lord in all things, but more likely I am just using that as an excuse to not talk about spiritual things with them, to ask them how they are doing in their Christian walk, and to exhort them to press on in their call to holiness.  I’ve noticed that my prayers tend to be glorified selfishness, rather than including petitions for the coming of the kingdom of God, adoration of God, and giving thanks for blessings other than the same few material and family blessings that I usually mention.

I don’t think that I tend to forget about God, but there is a part of me (especially when I’m not in an environment where it is natural to talk about God and follow him) that hesitates to say words and perform deeds that demonstrate to others (and to God!) that I am consciously  and prayerfully seeking to glorify God.  I suppose that such actions and attitudes are clearly communicating nothing about God to unbelievers, and sending mixed signals to fellow believers about what is truly important in my life.  I believe and confess that God is the most important thing in my life, but I confess that I often lack the words and deeds to back up my beliefs.  What good is a “confession” if it is not confessed to others?  After all, God has sacrificed his very Son for me—Jesus Christ his beloved.  He has redeemed me from my sin and misery and brought me to new life in the Spirit.  He has blessed me in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ, and has blessed me abundantly with a loving family, many friends, and enough to provide for those under my care and protection.  I really could not be more blessed (at least positionally) than I already am.

So how can I be more practically thankful?  How can I take time each day to thank God for his temporal provisions and spiritual blessings?  I think being thankful to God requires three things: (1) prayer, (2) a thankful attitude, and (3) generosity with my blessings to others (including God himself).  In terms of prayer, I could include in my prayers more often thanksgiving for his many blessings, and I could pray more often in a thankful spirit, offering up prayers that only include thanksgiving and not supplication to demonstrate a commitment to selflessness.  In terms of cultivating a thankful attitude, I could give thanks to others for their generosity toward me, and as the old saying goes, “count my blessings.”  In terms of expressing personal generosity, I could make it a habit to thank people (including God) for gifts of time, service, and treasure given to me.  Writing thank-you notes and calling people to thank them for kindness is a concrete way to be thankful.

Imagine if God stood in front of you right now and told you to do everything to his glory.  What would you do differently?  What would I do?  What changes would I immediately make to make him the center focal point of my life?  Again, this is a difficult question for someone who desires to follow after Christ heart, soul, mind, and strength.  I think the major change I would make would to be more vocal in intentional about sharing the love of Christ, his gospel, and how he has changed my life to others.  Such social interaction is frequently confrontational, but often inspirational and uplifting in ways unimaginable to the person sharing.  That’s what I would do, I that is how I hope to live my life more to his glory.

Dear Lord of Glory,
I confess I do desire to root out all ungodliness and unthankfulness in my heart, words, and speech.  But I lack the desire to do so in the particular moments because of the fear of men.  Please strike that fear from my heart so I may more consistently and more boldly shine the light you lit in my heart by your Holy Spirit before men.  May the light of grace, forgiveness, and mercy through the gospel of Jesus Christ give light and life to those in my presence, and may the light of my life bring you the glory you deserve.  Please answer my prayer, whatever it takes.  Shake up my life to change me in the ways that I lack the power to change myself.  For you glory, Amen.

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