Gratitude is a fundamentally Christian way of life. Of course, all humans experience feelings of gratitude. But gratitude in its fullness, flows directly from the Christian Gospel. I was once invited to speak at the Mormon church in Vestal, NY. The Mormon bishop asked me to discuss the similarities between Mormonism and Christianity. I told the bishop beforehand, I don’t think you’ll be happy with what I’ll say. The name Jesus is the only thing we share. Nevertheless, he allowed me to speak to his assembly and, sure enough, he wasn’t happy with my message.
Preparing for that talk I came to understand the Mormon “gospel”. Here’s a summary: “the Heavenly Father sent Jesus to teach us how to live good lives. If you do all that you can do, God will help you the rest of the way and you will enter spirit paradise.”
Do all that you can do. Give it your best shot.
So, consider the following questions: “Do you do your best to love God with all your heart, soul and strength?”
Do you “Love your neighbor as yourself?”
“Have you truly done everything in your power to love and serve God and others?”
I can tell you honestly that I have never done all that I can do.
So if the Mormons are correct, it is “spirit prison” for me.
And, if you are honest with yourself, for you as well.
The Mormon salvation formula is similar to the salvation formulas of all other faiths. A “path” is revealed, that, if followed leads to some kind of reward; heaven, nirvana, enlightenment. The paths differ – prayer, good works, meditation – but the concept is the same: do these things and earn this reward. Human religion is all about human achievement.
Now, just for the sake of consideration. Assume that indeed you “do all that you can do”. And God does the rest. For what are you thankful? God did his part. He rewarded your efforts. But you did all the work. You did your best. You earned the reward. He provided the directions but who walked the path? You did. Where then is gratitude? You might be thankful for the roadmap and for a boost here and there, but you did the work.
In Mark 10, a rich young ruler approaches Jesus and says: “Good teacher, How do I attain eternal life?” Jesus says: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus is not denying his divinity nor his goodness. He is, rather, correcting the young man’s anthropology, his understanding of human nature and ability. No one is good. The young man goes on to tell Jesus that he has followed God’s commandments ever since his youth.
Jesus must have raised an eyebrow, but instead of disputing the young man’s self assessment, he decides to let God’s law do the work. The first commandment states: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Jesus tells the man, if you would be perfect, sell all of your possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and come, follow me.
If, indeed, the young man has kept all the commandments since his youth, casting away the false gods of money and prestige so that he might serve Jesus whom the young man clearly believes to be God’s appointed servant, should not be a problem.
But the young man cannot do it. Mark tells us that he went away sorrowful because he was a man of many possessions.
Why did Jesus put this young man to the test? The answer to that question comes later in the account. The cultural assumption of the day was that God bestows great wealth on the righteous. The rich young man, likely the ruler of a synagogue, would be seen as supremely blessed and, therefore, righteous. A wealthy devout man, like the rich young ruler, in the first century would occupy a position in people’s minds similar to the one into which we place Mother Theresa. So, when he departed in sorrow and Jesus turned to his disciples and said: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God”, they were shocked.
They ask: “who then can be saved?”
Jesus answers, and this is the point toward which he has been driving all along: “With man this is impossible. But with God all things are possible.”
What does he mean?
If anyone wishes to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he must not think he can do so by his own efforts or on the basis of his own merit. For human beings, by themselves, heaven is unattainable.
Salvation must come from God alone and by his power and work alone. And so God became man in Jesus Christ. Jesus never sinned. He obeyed every law in his thoughts, in his words, and in his deeds. He did this on your behalf. For you. In your place. Then he died on the cross to take away your sins. On the third day, he rose again destroying death and giving all who turn to him new life here, now, and the Resurrection to life later when he returns.
You might then ask, am I required to take any action anything at all?
Yes. You must repent. That is forsake yourself. Forsake all reliance on your own efforts to please God or earn a place in his kingdom
Instead, turn to Jesus Christ and rest in his finished work. But, it turns out, even your repenting and resting, isn’t something you do yourself. Paul writes: God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”(Eph 2:4-9)
That phrase “this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God” sets Christianity apart from every human religion. Every step, every breath, every good work of the Christian life is a response to what God has already done in Jesus Christ. Everything he gives you is unmerited, unearned, undeserved. You do nothing. He does everything.
And so, because we do nothing and receive everything as a gift, the Christian life is shaped from beginning to end, by gratitude.
I pray that you will truly celebrate and enjoy yourselves this Thanksgiving. Eat good food, drink nice things, enjoy your family and friends and remember that God has given you all good things, even eternal life, in Jesus Christ.