You’ve probably heard the joke about the fellow who asked for directions only to be told “Sorry. You can’t get there from here.”
In the Reformed tradition we think gratitude leads us to obey God’s expressed will. But as a comment in last week’s post on the life of gratitude asked “…it seems like a stretch to say that we express our gratitude by not murdering someone, or stealing their car, or not coveting their wife!”
How on earth do we get from the one to the other?
Let’s try a couple different roads.
1. Calvin’s Third Use of the Law
The first path to follow is through Calvin’s “Third Use of the Law.” That is, God’s law does more than show us our sin, and it does more than constrain our worst tendencies. The law has a positive use, teaching Christians the kind of life that pleases God.
Our gratitude is to God. Much of the behavior we need guidance on is toward people. So we look at those Ten Commandments. They are a bit lacking in detail. We need to have our vision of the God-pleasing life fleshed out a bit.
A later Reformed catechism provides some help: the longer, more detailed, “Westminster Larger Catechism.”
Before diving into 46 questions explaining the Ten Commandments, Question 99 of the WLC lays down eight guidelines for interpreting them.
Number 4 is the relevant one, and here is the key bit:
…where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded…
That adds a new dimension of clarity:
- When it says DO honor your parents, it also means DON’T treat them with disrespect.
- And when it says DON’T steal, it also means DO put out effort to protect your neighbor’s property.
Calvin himself went much further: When he wrote his commentary on the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, he reorganized all the biblical laws into the ten topics. Each of the Ten Commandments headed a section, and under it was Calvin’s discussion of the dozens or hundreds of specific laws that fleshed out that Commandment’s meaning.
So for Westminster and for Calvin, a rich and full exploration of biblical law is useful as a guide to the grateful life. That includes not killing and not coveting and the rest.
Okay, maybe you aren’t there yet. Let’s try another route.
2. Compassion Prompted by Jesus’ Sacrifice
Rather than focusing on the somewhat abstract “Third Use of the Law,” think of the powerful response of love evoked by Christ’s work on the Cross.
The Westminster Larger Catechism again comes to my aid when, in Q. 97. it explores the benefit of the Law for Christians:
…the moral law…is of special use to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof, in their stead and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
Christ has gone the whole distance to redeem us. He fulfilled the law when we could not. He bore its curse for us when he was innocent. We see, with the Spirit’s aid prompting faith, that these infinite gifts are lovingly given to us and we are changed–awestruck, dumbfounded, and profoundly grateful.
…the death of Christ on the Cross covers all. Our response to this divine compassion is compassion toward others. (p. 72)
Gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice prompts thoroughgoing compassion. This kind of compassion includes preserving, rather than taking, life. It also includes honoring a neighbor’s, and our own, sacred commitments, because coveting their spouse leads to harm and brokenness on every side.
- In the first case above, gratitude seeks guidance and is led to the specifics of God’s law.
- In the second case, gratitude prompts compassion and so avoids harming others in ways that match God’s law.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! How do you (or why don’t you) see gratitude leading to obedience to the things God commands?
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