(This devotion is day six of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
Read Romans 1:18–23; 12:1–2
Paul lays out two paths we can walk in: gratitude or ingratitude. They direct our steps toward God or away from Him. Gratitude is that important. Giving thanks is no cherry on top of the Christian life we toss in on rare occasions. It’s the meat and potatoes, the heart and soul of following God.
Romans 1 characterizes the person far from God by their ingratitude, forgetfulness, idolatry, and disobedience, whereas Paul describes the godly person in chapter 12 by their gratitude, remembering, worship, and obedience.
Romans 12 builds on the rich theology of 1–11 and transitions into five chapters focused on how we should live in light of God’s saving grace. But when we look deeper at Romans 12, we see how Paul picks up his language from Romans 1:18–32 and contrasts followers of God (Rom. 12) to those who reject God (Rom. 1). Thanksgiving is central to this comparison. Gratitude leads to glorifying God and growing in godliness, whereas ingratitude yields ignorance of God and idolatry against God.
“Significantly, in the call to true worship in Romans 12, Paul calls believers to reverse the false worship described in Romans 1. Instead of worshipping ‘created things rather than the Creator’ (Rom. 1:25), Paul calls us to be involved in ‘spiritual worship’ (12:1). Instead of degrading our ‘bodies’ (1:24), we are called to offer our ‘bodies’ to God (12:1). Instead of ‘sexual impurity’ (1:24), we are called to offer the sacrifice that is ‘holy’ (12:1). Once given over to a ‘depraved mind’ (1:28), the ‘mind’ will now be renewed (12:2). Once being ‘filled with every kind of wickedness’ (1:29), we are called not to ‘conform any longer to the pattern of the world’ (12:2).
If Romans describes the ingratitude (cf. 1:21) that characterizes those who refuse to worship him, Romans 12 calls us to offer all of ourselves ‘as living sacrifices’ (12:1) to him who deserves all praise and thanksgiving.”
The key verse is Romans 1:21. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Throughout the Bible, ignoring God through ingratitude is linked to idolatry, which takes place when people walk away from God and follow false gods (Deut. 8:19). To be ungrateful to God and forgetful of God is to be foolish, and a biblical fool is always following a false god.
Hearts full of grumbling, criticism, complaining, and ingratitude are not full of grateful joy in God and the gospel. The longer we walk down the path of ingratitude, the further we stray from nearness to Him.
Be A Follower, Not a Fool
If Romans 1 puts before us the fool who walks in ingratitude and walks away from God, Romans 12 helps us see how God’s followers choose gratitude as an avenue of worship and a path to obedience.
Compare Romans 1:21 (quoted above) to Romans 12:1. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Paul’s language of “living sacrifice” is an act and response of gratitude. It draws on the thanksgiving offering, or sacrifice, from Israel’s religious life and worship (Lev. 7:11-16). The Old Testament thanksgiving offering transitions into a living sacrifice in the New Testament. We no longer offer animals, grains, spices, oils, or flours. We offer ourselves. Our offering isn’t something dead but something alive. It’s not something apart from us; it is us.
In the Old Testament, Israel worshipped God through a thanksgiving offering, but we express our worship through a life of thanksgiving, including obedience to God and joy in God.
Present Yourself to God
Rather than offering ourselves to the world (which the idolater does in Rom. 1), we present ourselves to God. Rather than having a corrupted mind that suppresses the truth of God by failing to give thanks, we renew our mind by acknowledging God and His work through gratitude. Ingratitude comes from idolatry and creates more idolatry, whereas worship arises from gratitude and produces more gratitude. Which cycle do you want to get stuck in?
In Romans 1, Paul lists ingratitude as a central cause and symptom of a life resistant to God. But in Romans 12, for the person submitted to God, gratitude governs their whole life. There are two ways to live, grateful or ungrateful. One draws near to God and one distances us from God. Start down the path of gratitude, worship, and obedience by practicing giving thanks, one small step at a time.
What do you have from God? What blessings has God given you? Where has He shown you kindness, mercy, grace, love, and faithfulness? What trials and struggles has He carried you through? What has God taught you about who He is or who you are in Christ?
 David Pao, Thanksgiving: An investigation of a Pauline theme (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 102.
 See Lev. 7:11–16; 1 Chr. 29:10–22; 2 Chr. 29:31; Ps. 22:25; 50:14, 23; 56:12-13; 107:22; 118:27–29; Phil. 4:4–7; Heb. 13:15–16.
To go deeper in biblical thanksgiving and understand how it leads us to know and enjoy God, check out my book The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of A Lost Spiritual Discipline.