When John Newton wrote the song “Amazing Grace,” he celebrated the panorama of God’s grace, including the grace that saved him, the grace that brought him through trials, and the prospect of a grace-filled life of joy and peace in eternity, for which he expected to continue praising God after ten thousand years. Newton’s song is an appropriate response to God’s grace.
Since grace, as we saw last week, is the movement one ‘s joyful heart that intends to create a corresponding joy in another, then joy should certainly be at the core of any response. Since God’s grace is the activity that arises from his rejoicing in some goodness intimately connected with himself, then the focus of our joy when we experience his grace should correspond to his joy. The appropriate reaction to grace is the kind of joy we call gratitude. Helpfully, the Greek word we translate as gratitude (εὐχαριστία), has the same root as “grace” and “joy,” as well as being constructed from the word for “grace” itself.
As Newton demonstrated, one way we can express the joy of gratitude is celebration. This can take the form of praise (celebrating how well someone does something) or thanksgiving (celebrating what someone has done for us). In 2 Corinthians 4:15 the Apostle Paul observed that an abundance of thanksgiving would glorify God as more and more people experienced his grace.
Expressing praise and thanks is appropriate, but attempting to repay a gracious person is not. Nothing about grace is intended to obligate reciprocity, even though it is intended to create a response. Grace does not incur debt. Since grace is a movement inspired by a sense of fullness, the giver suffers no deprivation and needs no refilling. Therefore, any attempts to respond to grace by doing something to benefit the giver are inappropriate at best, and at worst convey a complete misunderstanding of the motive and intent of the giver. This is particularly true in relationship to God’s grace.
Besides expressing gratitude as praise or thanksgiving, another appropriate way to express gratitude is to extend it to someone else. That is, as recipients of grace we may be so delighted with a gift that we are moved to share our joy with others. For example, I’m so happy with my new car that I not only take you for a ride, but let you drive it as well. I want to be clear that when we sense so much joy that we are moved to respond by becoming givers, this joy is gratitude. We could be graciously grateful even though poor, just as the Christians in Macedonia were (2 Corinthians 8:1–3). And, we can extend grace by simply telling someone of the grace God has been giving to us.
It’s not that we as givers feel good about ourselves in an egotistical sense; so, our aim when we extend God’s grace to others is not to make the recipient feel good about us, but about what makes us happy in God. The goodness in which we human beings delight is all derivative, all gift (1 Corinthians 4:7). Thus, our graciousness is an expression of gratitude to God which in some way should point the recipient back to him (Matthew 5:16). Whether it’s giving money for the poor, shoveling snow off the neighbor’s sidewalk, or explaining how to follow Jesus in the obedience of faith, our actions are grace if they’re motivated by the joy we have in what we’ve received from God.
We can even be grateful to God and gracious to someone who is in a better situation than we are, whether spiritually or physically. Let’s go back to the car example: We could be gracious with a new car, even though the other person who is the recipient of our “gift” owns a car, and may even have a better car. The condition of the recipient does not make an action “grace;” rather, it is our desire to bring someone else into a related experience of our joy. Other people can enter that joy with gratitude regardless of other sources of joy in their lives, and express that gratitude as thanksgiving.
The panorama of God’s grace is pervasive, providing us plenty of opportunities to participate in the cyclic phases of grace. We would be wise to engage with his grace in every possible way. The more we participate now; the greater will be our potential for eternal joy when Jesus returns.