This is the pattern of the Christian life: Guilt, Grace, Gratitude. There is so much to this dynamic. For example, it shows us that:
Truth transforms. Christian salvation is not just a “get out of hell free” card that leaves a person living however they want, but gratitude truly comes where God’s grace is known, and that gratitude means life change. The Spirit of God produces the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.
Grace comes first. We do not work our way into salvation, but we receive faith in Christ, a gift of God, which leads to good works. Ephesians 2 shows us this pattern so well (above).
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved…For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:1-10 (abridged)
We are guilty. If we censor the language of sin the Bible uses, and downplay the wrath of God against sin, as some people try to do, there is no foundation for gratitude-motivated good works. What is there to be thankful for?
A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.H. Richard Niebuhr
Man is depraved and guilty, but God’s grace is greater than all our sin. Christ has purchased our newness of life with his precious blood, taking our penalty on himself in his life and especially at the cross. That leads us to serve him in thankfulness.
The Heidelberg Catechism, itself patterned in this way of guilt, grace, and gratitude, explains that we serve the Lord with thanksgiving:
Question: Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works? Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 86
Praise the Lord for this wonderful theme: God transforms us from guilt to gratitude by grace.