Theology 101 — Giving Thanks: A gracious thing to do

If we look closely behind all the reasons we have for giving thanks to God every day — especially Thanksgiving Day — we will look upon some aspect of His grace, as James 1:17 reminds us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

As Christians through the ages have thought about God’s grace, they have identified two broad categories. One is often called “common” or “general grace.” Jesus made reference to God’s common grace in the Sermon on the Mount, with the assertion that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). If, indeed, people do pause at the season of Thanksgiving to express gratitude to God, the emphasis tends to be on giving thanks for His many expressions of common grace.

This giving of thanks probably will make mention of food made possible by the common blessing of sunshine and rain. Christians and non-Christians alike experience multiple expressions of the general grace of God. Mention likely will be made about the supply of life’s necessities, such as prompted the thanksgiving of the pilgrim colony at Plymouth.


In addition to material benefits such as food, clothing, shelter, friends and family, many may also give thanks for common nonmaterial blessings, such as love, freedom, friendship and peace.

In this Thanksgiving season, we will no doubt think about the common freedoms all of us enjoy as citizens in this “land of the free and home of the brave.”

The second category of grace usually is termed “particular” or “saving grace.” John 1:17 speaks of the grace that “came through Jesus Christ.” In like manner, Titus 2:11 calls attention to “the grace of God that brings salvation.” Then there is the witness of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

For those of us among the “whoever-believes-in-Him” group, our national day of Thanksgiving has many deeper and eternally meaningful reasons for expressions of gratitude. In giving thanks for God’s saving grace, we offer thanks for the gift of His Son. In so doing, we will be doing our best to speak about God’s gift that is indescribable, by attempting to express what is inexpressible or take the measure of what is immeasurable (2 Cor. 9:15).

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