The Christian’s expression of gratitude is never at odds with the gospel, it is the natural reaction to it. Ursinus says this “Those who are grateful, acknowledge and profess that they are certain of the good which they have received.” What he is saying is that as a Christian looks to the gospel, to the objective work of God in Christ to save him, he has faith and the consequences of that faith are that a gratefulness starts to get expressed in and from him.
For example, if I gave you a million dollars, and said to you, “Go do with this whatever you want, I love you and want to bless you with this”, would you be grateful to me? The false Christian really doesn’t believe in all that he has in Christ, he doesn’t really understand or believe the gospel, and so he doesn’t express gratitude. He either does nothing in response to the gifts of righteousness, eternal life, and a heavenly inheritance, or he plays the part of a Christian, follows some good works principles and by them attempts to earn those things from God.
Only the true Christian expresses gratitude, and the gratitude is based on the knowledge of what God has done for him in Christ. This is how the gospel is central to good works. The more we believe, the more we tend to react in gratefulness. The source of all we do is the Holy Spirit working faith in us by the preaching of the word about the objective saving work of Christ on our behalf. So, it’s all from God. This is why all sanctification is gospel-centric, and gospel dependent. It is what we believe is true, that we already have everything in Christ.
Another way they blunder in regards to a grateful life is that they turn faith and works into a sort of assembly line, mechanistic process. It’s almost like baking a cake where they would have you take faith in Christ, add the right amount of works, mix thoroughly, bake at 350, and voila, salvation cake.
No, that’s not it. The American idea of everything as a production line, where performance and results are measured, analyzed and optimized for maximum output is not the right way to approach the faith and works dynamic. They speak of works being “required”, then don’t see them as a reflexive response of gratitude to the gospel, but they instead separate them from that and expand them as part of a sanctification process that is to be increased by focusing on them. They see the gospel as a helpful fuel for driving works, they have hijacked these things into their optimization strategies which include “spiritual disciplines” that are part of the formula for increasing production, and the more visible production the better. That gets called the mission. This divorcing of Christian gratitude from a robust and deep understanding of the gospel is the blunder where they turn the Christian life into a burdened down, faith killing, self-focused treadmill.
The cure is to return to confessions like the Heidelberg Catechism and seeing that the Christian life lived is an effect of a heart of gratitude. The cause is the Holy Spirit working in us, convincing us of the richness of what we have in Christ. Gratitude has an original thing that the Christian has looked to that brought it into existence in their hearts and minds. The Christian has believed something is true, and that true thing was such desirable good news to him that it brought about the gratitude as a reaction. Gratitude is not based on any imperative. The pastor can’t just say “be grateful” and have gratitude happen. The pastor has to tell us something to be grateful about. In order to be any help to us, the pastor must have seen something in the work of God in Christ that he believes is such good news that he has a passion to tell everyone about it. It is that good news that is central to all a Christian does or does not do.
So, the Christian life isn’t a call to “do more”, it’s a call to “believe more”, and then the doing is a reaction to that. God desires that we be grateful. We desire Christ and so God causing us to believe in what we have in Christ which bears the fruit of gratitude which is expressed in good works and a desire to obey. We fix our eyes on Christ and believe, and we are grateful in our life’s response.