I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” had been Paul’s despairing cry. Then in a flash of illumination it changed to this shout of praise.
The first words of the delivered man are most precious: “I thank God.” If someone gives you a cup of water you thank the person who gave it, not someone else. Why did Paul say “Thank God”? Because God was the One who did everything. Had it been Paul who did it, he would have said, “Thank Paul.” But he saw that Paul was a “wretched man” and that God alone could meet his need so he thanked God. God has done everything on the Cross for our forgiveness and he will do everything in us for our deliverance. In both cases he is the Doer. “It is God that worketh in you….
Gratitude seems to be an attribute that is fast disappearing in our world today and unfortunately is becoming replaced with complaints. We are inundated with commercials that over exaggerate our “rights.” Frequently we hear the phrase, “Get what you deserve.” Children are given the impression that somehow it’s their right for their parents to meet their every want and they deserve the best. Spouses make demands based on getting “what they deserve.” The list goes on and on and we become more frustrated as each person contributes to the increasing demands for their rights. Even among Christians there is an increase in the expectation that the church and God should provide for their preferences and if that doesn’t occur, they are ready to search elsewhere.
Paul was a person, prior to meeting Christ, who lived a privileged life especially as it pertained to status in the religious community. His value was determined by self and his ability to keep the law with excellence far above the average person. He tells us in Corinthians that no one exceeded his zeal and his defense of the faith. Everything he was and all he had accomplished had been by self-effort and he was proud of his accomplishments. It becomes easy for those who live good moral lives, succeed in social and economic status to attribute their accomplishments to their own abilities. Almost from a child we are taught to highlight our achievements and take credit for them. Please understand that I’m not suggesting that this is wrong until it becomes an obsession. We should celebrate when we attain goals and we should recognize when someone achieves great things. But we should also be aware that nothing is solely the achievement of a single person.
What’s more important for us to consider is our relationship with God. The day that Paul met Christ, he discovered that all his religious achievements weren’t sufficient. Even though he had practiced them with excellence, they fell short of the mark. In Romans, he states that there are none good and that all fall short of the mark no matter how hard they try. In the sixth chapter of Romans, he tells us that no matter how hard we try, we find ourselves still participating in sinful conduct. He says that what we should do, we find ourselves not doing and what we shouldn’t, we do. The knowledge of right and wrong isn’t sufficient. The practice of rituals, even if practiced with zeal and excellence aren sufficient to give victory over the power of sin nor to arrest our sin nature. We hear this from a man who had given himself fully to the pursuit of right standing with God. Over and over he discovered that his best efforts were not enough and from his place of failure he cries out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?”
The beginning of gratitude is the knowledge that we aren’t sufficient in ourselves, but One greater than our sin nature has come to the rescue. Like a drowning man who has exhausted himself trying to swim to safety, we need a lifeline. Anyone who has ever been rescued from danger knows the gratitude for the rescuer. In spite of enormous human effort, we have no capability to combat sin. No matter how hard we try to live right, we fail. We need rescued. As Paul recognizes his insufficiency, he cries out, “Who shall deliver me?” The response is powerful: “I thank God through Christ Jesus…”
We are all aware that life doesn’t always work out as we wish. We don’t always get what we want or feel we deserve. Quite often those in our lives, including the church come short of meeting our expectations. In those times we must choose how we will respond. Will we respond with anger, pouting, attitude, and such or will we choose to remember that God loved us so much that He gave up His Son for us? That Christ would give Himself to purchase our salvation ought to be sufficient for us being thankful. But we are also often recipients of multiplied benefits on top of this great gift. It is only when we perceive our wretchedness can we truly respond with gratitude.
John Newton, author of the well-known song Amazing Grace captures this idea of gratitude:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see.
In this song he describes the hopeless place where God visits fallen humanity and offers help and hope.
Whatever you’re going through today, no matter if life isn’t giving you what you desire, or even if your expectations aren’t being fully satisfied, choose gratitude for what you have, for the grace of God, for the gift of salvation, and let that overcome your frustrations. Choose to “thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” for thankfulness gives peace and blessing.
Dr. John Thompson