Avoiding the Debtor’s Ethic

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Tit. 2:11-13
Full Text: Ecc. 10; Tit. 2
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

Jesus | Last week, we reflected on eternity and, today, we consider our hope for eternity. Our hope rests on looking back at Christ’s work and looking forward to his return. As Paul wrote Titus, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” [1].

Warning | When looking back, however, John Piper warns, “There is an impulse in the fallen human heart – all our hearts – to forget that gratitude is a spontaneous response of joy to receiving something over and above what we paid for. When we forget this, what happens is that gratitude starts to be misused and distorted as an impulse to pay for the very thing that came to us ‘gratis.’ This terrible moment is the birthplace of the ‘debtor’s ethic’” [2].

Nullification | What’s so wrong with the debtor’s ethic? Piper continues, “The debtor’s ethic says, ‘Because you have done something good for me, I feel indebted to do something good for you.’ This impulse is not what gratitude was designed to produce. God meant gratitude to be a spontaneous expression of pleasure in the gift and the good will of another. He did not mean it to be an impulse to return favors” [3]. In other words, the debtor’s ethic nullifies grace.

Grace | How should we look back and look forward? Piper says, “True gratitude exults in the riches of God’s grace as it looks back on the benefits it has received. By cherishing past grace in this way, it inclines the heart to trust in future grace … Gratitude exults in the past benefits of God and says to faith, ‘Embrace more of these benefits for the future, so that my happy work of looking back on God’s deliverance may continue’” [4].

Prayer | Lord, Thank you for Christ’s work on the cross. Yet guard us against thinking that we “owe” you something as debtors. Jesus paid our debt. Instead, let us look back at the grace of the cross and say, “That is the grace that I grasp for faith tomorrow. I am in Christ because of his grace, not my work.” Amen.



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[1] Tit. 2:11-15 ESV  |  [2] John Piper. Future Grace. p. 32  |  [3] Id. 32  |  [4] Id. 38

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