Since the giving of thanks is the natural result of grace, its presence or lack of presence is an indicator of the basis by which a person lives life. A thankful person will be someone who is daily experiencing at least something of the grace of God, while someone who is bound to the law will be rigid and ungrateful. For legalists who have earned their own righteous standing, there is no one to thank – no one, of course, but themselves. So they pray to themselves and thank themselves that they are not like other people who are begging for God’s mercy. But all along, those very people who are begging for God’s mercy are receiving it and going home justified with hearts full of gratitude. And the legalist is thankful that he is not like them? Pity. If only he could be. He would be free of his pride and free of himself. He, too, could go home justified with a thankful heart.
One is thankful only for that which one does not deserve. You don’t thank your employer for a paycheck – you earned it – but if your employer decided to give you a Christmas bonus, thanks would be in order. A waitress who receives a 15% tip is content with that. She is not overly grateful because 15% is what has come to be expected in this business – in effect, it’s payment for her hard work. Indeed, she would be a little put out to find only 10% there or worse – nothing at all. But imagine her surprise over a table full of middle managers whose CEO threw a crisp $100 bill down on top of a 20% credit card tip, out of simple generosity or a show of wealth. There would be a lot of rejoicing back in the kitchen, especially if the waitress decided to share her good fortune with the rest of the staff.
Legalists are always dealing in the realm of paychecks and proper remuneration for services rendered. They count everything out. Grace-filled Christians are always dealing in bonuses, surprises and the unexpected. Everything that is good in life is seen as a bonus. They walk around grateful for every breath, every sunset, every new morning, every color in the color spectrum, and every star in the sky. Like an alcoholic who is clean and sober, noticing beauty and taste for the first time, grace-filled Christians are grateful just to be alive because they know so well what it means to not be.