Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift, that which is given, not because of any attribute of the receiver, rather out of the pure joy of the giver. It is an invitation into deeper relationship with the giver.
Gratitude is the response, where-in the receiver enters into the joy of the giver, receiving the unmerited gift with the same joy in which it was given. Gratitude is the choice to accept the invitation into deeper relationship.
Both grace and gratitude are expressions of love – grace the initiation and gratitude the response. Together they knit the giver and receiver together in love because of the shared joy. The world’s counterfeits lack the joy and deepening relationship.
Grace can only be extended through agape love, unconditional love that is only possible when the Spirit of God is involved. God Himself is our model, as He gives us grace upon grace, even while we are still his enemies, while we are still sinners. His grace is not dependent in any way upon the receiver. Rather, it is a reflection of His nature, which is love. It is not given to manipulate us into a particular response, but because He knows we need it, and it gives Him joy to meet our needs.
In the world, gifts are rarely given out of unconditional love. Most often there is some hidden motive for giving. The motive may be an anticipated response, as when a young suitor sends flowers or cards to the object of his affection. The motive may be out of fear that there will be negative consequences, such as the husband who quickly rushes to the florist shop upon realizing he almost forgot his wife’s birthday. The motive may be to obligate the receiver, such as the salesman who sends expensive gifts to a potential customer, trying to secure a large contract. The motive may be to draw attention to one’s self, like the Pharisees Jesus chided for “sounding the trumpet” when they gave their tithes. The motive may be to make one’s self feel better, like the person who seeks to mitigate guilty feelings by giving to others. Or the motive may be to get someone off our back when we feel pressured to give.
Of the above motives, only the first, and maybe the second are any kind of invitation into deeper relationship. But even in those cases, there is a reward anticipated in the giving. Rarely does one give for the shear joy of giving, because giving always involves sacrifice. Our culture teaches us that we should only sacrifice when there is a clear “return on investment” (ROI). Paradoxically, in the world, the ROI is rarely as great as the sacrifice. In contrast, when the Spirit of God empowers me to give grace to others, even though the apparent payback is zero or even negative, I receive a reward from God Himself, because I am “laying up treasure in heaven.”
In the same way, the world’s counterfeit of gratitude is generally a self-centered response. I may thank someone, to ensure they will offer me gifts again in the future, or because I will feel guilty if I don’t thank them. I may thank them because the gift made me feel good, or enriched me in some way.
Godly gratitude allows me to see the joy with which the gift was given, and enjoy the fact that the giver got joy from the giving. I enter into celebration with the giver and by that draw closer to him or her because we share that joy.
Godly gratitude also has the effect of perpetuating a giving spirit. When I enter into the joy of giving, I realize that true joy comes from extending grace and giving to God and others. I learn that it is indeed “more blessed to give, than to receive”.