Grace and gratitude
HOLLAND – Gratitude is a universal virtue. In every age and every culture, people enjoy being on the receiving end of gratitude. Even those who would doubt or deny the existence of God would see the expression of thanks as beneficial to all. In his book The Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards distinguishes between what he referred to as “natural” gratitude and “gracious” gratitude. Natural gratitude shows appreciation for good gifts, such as pleasant weather, good health, and prosperity.
Gracious gratitude starts from a different place. It’s rooted in who God is—his character, goodness, love, power. It is an indispensable attitude of the believer that says, “God owes me nothing, and I owe him everything.” Luke 17:11-19 is an account of how this attitude was cultivated in one man's life. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus entered a village and was met by ten lepers. Every natural reason to be thankful would have been absent in the life of a leper. The grotesque skin lesions rendered them unclean, estranged from their families, and banned from the temple.
Luke reinforces the sense of separation by saying in verse 12 that the ten lepers stood at a distance. It’s a picture of separation and desperation. But are not the lepers a picture of what we are apart from Christ? As the Apostle Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:12, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Outside of Christ, we have something far worse than leprosy. We are covered with guilt that puts us in danger of being excluded not just from earthly friends and family but from heaven itself.
Gracious gratitude is cognizant of our desperate state before God. Normally, a leper would have shouted “Unclean, unclean!” to warn people from a distance. But the lepers in Luke 17 do more than declare their hopeless situation, they cry for mercy: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (v13).
Jesus always has time for people. It’s no wonder then, that in an act of compassion, he cleansed these men. He told them to present themselves to the priests according to Leviticus 14:1-32. But one of the ten notices that he is not only cleansed but healed: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan” (vv15-16)
Something different happened with him than with the other nine. It’s unclear why he started going to the priest with the other nine men. The priest would have never declared him clean—he was a Samaritan! He was despised, regardless of whether or not he had leprosy. Yet the healing power falls upon him, nonetheless. God’s grace is such that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you can be cleansed and healed. This Samaritan didn’t belong in the temple, but he belonged to Jesus now.
I don’t think we should ever get over the fact that Jesus—the happiest of beings, rich and powerful beyond imagination, who sits at the right hand of God—came to earth to take our miseries. Furthermore, Jesus’ response indicates that to be ungrateful is an affront to God. “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’” (V17). Undoubtedly, you’re preparing to gather with friends and relatives over Thanksgiving to eat more than you should. That’s certainly something to be grateful for. But if that’s where it begins and ends, you’re no better off than the nine who didn’t return. Remember this: God owes you nothing, but he was gracious enough to send his Son on your behalf to absorb the debt of sin.
Charles Spurgeon once shared the gospel with a woman who was so talkative that he could hardly get a word in. Eventually, she listened to him long enough to hear the Good News. Once she understood God's mercy for her in Christ, she said, “Oh, Mr. Spurgeon, if Christ saves me he will never hear the end of it!” Isn’t that precisely the case? His grace demands eternal gratitude and we will be returning thanks to him forever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben Hernandez, PhD, is the lead pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Holland, MI. He holds degrees from Dallas Baptist University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Southeastern Seminary. He and his wife Sarah have one son, Theodore.
 “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, in Three Parts,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Sereno Dwight, revised and corrected by Edward Hickman (1834; reprinted Banner of Truth, 1979), 1:276.
 This story from the life of Charles Spurgeon is recounted in R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth, 2 vols., Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 2:173–74. Philip Graham Ryken, Luke, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, vol. 1 & 2, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009).