Many Christians have written about thanksgiving. I’ve even written a post about thankfulness on this site. Often, one reads about how thanksgiving is an anecdote to much of our problems, or how Christians are commanded in Scripture to give thanks in all things.
These principles are true and good for us. But my husband’s most recent Bible study led me to ponder a new (to me) function of giving thanks.
In Luke 17:11–17, a group of ten lepers cry out for Jesus to have mercy on them. He told them to go show themselves to the priest, and they were healed on the way. Yet only one of them “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks…” (17:15–16). We can make an educated guess that the other nine lepers were so thrilled about being healed that they booked it to the priest to be declared clean as soon as possible. But this one man thought to turn back and give glory and thanks to God. As a result, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well” (17:19).
The one who gave praise and thanks to God for His great deeds was the one who had faith. By contrast, those who received God’s blessing and did not give thanks to Him did not have faith. And how is a person saved? Is it not by faith alone in Christ alone?
The same principle shows itself in Romans 1.
“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” (Rom. 1:21, emphasis added).
The unrighteous men (Rom. 1:18) of this passage were like the nine unthankful lepers in Luke. God gave both the lepers and these unrighteous people reason to believe in Him. Yet, we are told that their lack of thanksgiving and honor toward God revealed the absence of faith.
To be clear, the act of giving thanks to God does not save a person. Only faith in Jesus Christ brings salvation. However, whether it is at the beginning or in the middle of our Christian life, we work out our faith (see Phil. 2:12) when we recount the wondrous deeds of God and give Him thanks for them. Where there is no such thanksgiving, there is no faith. In this sense, thankfulness is a necessary fruit of faith.
Furthermore, we would do well, when inviting our friends to place their faith in Christ, to call them to behold God’s works and self-revelation. And we pray that, as a result, they come to a posture of humility before God, honoring Him as God and giving Him thanks.