Ingratitude: The Gateway to Spiritual Disaster
One of the most riveting verses in the New Testament is the passage in Romans chapter one that shines light on the reason and route of spiritual ruin that is true for all of humanity – even, potentially, you and me.
These straightforward verses of Romans describe the moral corruption that invites the wrath of God on all ungodliness. It is a downward trajectory that is marked by foolishness, idolatry, sexual perversion, and ultimately the recklessness described in Romans 1:29–32:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
It is staggering to think that a soul that once “knew God” in some significant way can degrade to the point of personal self-destruction. What is the cause? Arguably it is summarized in Romans 1:21, “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.”
A Pathway to Crueler Pain
In summary, ingratitude is foolish and futile and, over time, will lead to a darkened heart. As scholar Leon Morris noted, “The heart is the center of the inner life; from it the person’s direction is determined, his whole course shaped, his basic commitments formed. When anyone rejects God, not only is his thinking awry but his whole inner life has taken a jolt. His emotions and will are affected, too.”[i]
There is no question – ingratitude is ultimately a rejection of God. It is a denunciation of His sovereignty, a denial of His goodness, and a dismissal of His grace. This mindset is disastrous for any soul but especially devastating for a self-identified Christian who knows the fallacy of these destructive thoughts.
Ingratitude is ultimately a rejection of God. It is a denunciation of His sovereignty, a denial of His goodness, and a dismissal of His grace. This mindset is disastrous for any soul but especially devastating for a self-identified Christian who knows the fallacy of these destructive thoughts.
The enemy of our souls works to derail our gratitude and, by any means, will attack our thoughts to fuel a spirit of doubt, pride, and grumbling. John Piper warns,
Evidently we are fair game for the devil when we don’t abound with thanksgiving. Unless the song of thanksgiving is being sung in our hearts, the enemy outside will deceive his way into the city of our soul, and the enemy sympathizers within will make his job easy. So for the sake of your own safety, strive to fill your heart with thanksgiving! Guard yourselves with gratitude![ii]
“Unless the song of thanksgiving is being sung in our hearts, the enemy outside will deceive his way into the city of our soul, and the enemy sympathizers within will make his job easy.” John Piper
This is a pain and perplexity that is cruel, controlling, and even contagious in negatively affecting those around us. We must remain vigilant in recognizing the devastation of ingratitude and the reality of our spiritual battle in this strategic area of personal choice.
Pursuing the Fruit of a Healthy Soul
John MacArthur has aptly noted,
Gratitude is the fruit of grace, gratitude is the work of the Spirit, and gratitude is the only reasonable approach to life if you understand the sovereign purpose of God. As Christians, we often sin the sin of ingratitude. We want what we don’t have; we don’t want what we do have. We are jealous or envious of what someone else might have; we feel somehow that we have been left out, that we’ve gotten the short end of the stick; and for a believer to feel that way is to call into question the divine purpose of God for one’s life.[iii]
“Gratitude is the fruit of grace, gratitude is the work of the Spirit, and gratitude is the only reasonable approach to life if you understand the sovereign purpose of God.” John MacArthur
The Bible contains countless direct and indirect commands for our gratitude. Even a handful of these should serve as a redirecting compass for our thoughts and choices.
- Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7)
- And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
- Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:17–20)
- Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)
- Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Summary Warnings for Thanksgiving Month
Theologian Chuck Lawless summarizes the tragedy of ingratitude:
- Ingratitude is evidence of idolatry. When we aren’t grateful, we’re in essence saying, “I deserve everything I have.” We make ourselves our own god when ingratitude marks our lives.
- Ingratitude is ego. Thankful people recognize they have much they don’t deserve. Unlike others, they understand that God has been gracious to them.
- Ingratitude misses the joy of receiving God’s blessings. Few times are as joy-filled as when we recognize that God has provided for us. Ungrateful people, though, miss that experience.
- Ingratitude robs God of His glory. This happens when we receive God’s blessings but fail to praise Him with gratitude . . . like the nine healed lepers who failed to return to Jesus with praise and thanksgiving (Luke 17:11-19).
- Ingratitude opens the door to more sin. At its core, ingratitude reflects a heart that has turned away from God toward something else. On the other hand, deeply grateful people seldom walk in sin.[iv]
“Ingratitude is evidence of idolatry. When we aren’t grateful, we’re in essence saying, ‘I deserve everything I have.’ We make ourselves our own god when ingratitude marks our lives.” Chuck Lawless
Let’s Choose Well
One writer laid it out clearly:
When we encounter the minor frustrations and inconveniences of daily life, we have a choice to make: gratitude or grumbling. As we strive for gratitude, we need to recognize the sinfulness of our grumbling, examine the heart attitudes beneath it, and discover its remedy in the gospel.[v]
So as our nation, churches, and families prepare to honor a day of thanksgiving, I pray we will embrace the humility of repentance, the grace of an attitudinal reset, and the expectation of joyful, biblical thinking that adorns the gospel and truly honors the God to whom we give our deepest thanks.
Copyright © 2021 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] Leon Morris (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 85). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.