God has provided one way for Christians to deal with sin: the gospel of grace, which presupposes God’s hatred of sin. God forgives because another has taken the punishment for our sin. The remedy for ingratitude is God’s glorious grace in Christ, succinctly captured in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Beholding grace not only leads to repentance, since it highlights the heinousness of ingratitude, but it also produces thanksgiving, because it displays God’s generosity.
Discontentment with God’s provision results in covetousness and ingratitude. Adam and Eve did not find God’s generous provision in His creation and His presence to be sufficient. In unbelief and covetousness, they grasped for what they saw as a need that God had unlovingly failed to meet. God not only judged their sin but also graciously promised and provided redemption in Christ (Gen. 3). The ungrateful person spits in the face of the Father’s love and generosity, refusing to honor God as the true Giver of all good things, seeking in the gifts what is found only in the Giver (Rom. 1:21–23; James 1:17). Ingratitude arises when one fails to value correctly the treasure he already has.
Contentment is the bedrock of gratefulness.
In order to cure ingratitude, one ought to appreciate the gifts bestowed within the context of the enduring blessings given in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Gratitude for God’s temporal blessings, though good and necessary, is insufficient. Gratitude for daily meals is not limited to physical food but extends and points to daily spiritual nourishment and to the approaching feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7–10). Israel grumbled for Egyptian delicacies, not merely because they had forgotten what God had done, but because a varied diet seemed a more desirable treasure than God, who was in their midst, and what He was doing, namely, teaching them their need for and His provision of the heavenly Bread (Num. 11:4–6; Deut. 8:2–5; John 6:25–35). They did not receive the lack of dietary variety as a gift. When Israel prospered, they were still ungrateful because they focused on the gifts instead of the Giver.
In contrast, Paul was content in every situation, both in lack and plenty, because he was satiated with the Giver of all circumstances (Phil. 4:12). He was content and therefore grateful because he knew that he had the best gift possible, Christ in us, and because he received all circumstances—trials included—as gifts from a loving Father (Rom. 5:1–5; Heb. 12:3–11; 13:5–6). Content with our enduring treasure, we can gratefully receive all circumstances as from the loving hand of our Father (Matt. 13:44–46; Rom. 8:28, 33–39). Contentment is the bedrock of gratefulness.
If and when one falls into ingratitude, appreciating God’s generosity in Christ is a necessary part of repentance. Repentance is never merely about the sin and its hatred (2 Cor. 7:10). Judas Iscariot regretted his sin but hanged himself (Matt. 27:3–5). True repentance also ponders and receives God’s grace bestowed in Christ. Once one considers God’s generous provision in Christ, one can properly see ingratitude in the context of grace and cry out, “I am grateful; help my ungratefulness.” Because God’s response to ungratefulness is further provision of unending grace and a continual giving of all things in Christ, we can rest in this grace despite this tension that we live with as we await our perfection as sons of God who, like Christ, will be perfectly grateful.
Focusing on God’s provision in Christ helps us receive grace for our inexcusable sin of ingratitude, give thanks, and remember the greatest gift that we already, and will forever, have: Christ, God with us. This is the antidote to the temptation to believe that we are unworthy of God’s love due to our ungratefulness or that God is withholding something good. Our first parents succumbed to the latter temptation even though God had already provided what they sought by creating them in His own image and likeness. Their faith, demonstrated through obedience, would have resulted in the consummation of the status of being like God. God has guaranteed our perfection in His likeness by sealing us with His Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:24; Col. 3:4, 10; 1 John 3:2). Contentment in this eternal provision, grasped through faith, causes repentance and thanksgiving to bubble forth spontaneously from our forgiven hearts.
Eric Kamoga is registrar and lecturer at Africa Reformation Theological Seminary in Kampala, Uganda, and a Ph.D. student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.