The essence of the Christian life can be summarized in many legitimate ways, including forgiveness — the realization that the Father has forgiven us in Christ and thus requires us to forgive others (Col. 3:13); holiness — because we have been set apart as holy through the work of the Savior, we must put holiness into practice in our lives (1 Peter 1:14–16); and patience — God in His patience was kind to us and brought us to repentance, so we must bear with the faults of others and wait patiently for the Lord to fulfill His purposes (James 5:7–11). Other summaries could be suggested, but the one we have seen most clearly thus far in our study of Colossians is thanksgiving.
Gratitude envelops Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae in Colossians 1:3–12, indicating its fundamental place in the life of the Christian. Thanksgiving, in fact, is the perpetual attitude of Paul and is to be the disposition of the Christians in Colossae. He is always giving thanks for the faith, hope, and love of the believers there (vv. 3–5a). The Colossians, and all other Christians by extension, are admonished to give thanks for their great salvation in an abundant, overflowing manner (v. 12; 2:6–7). Such an emphasis on thanksgiving is not surprising, for gratitude must certainly be a chief virtue of redeemed people since a principal vice of fallen humanity is an ungrateful disposition toward the Lord for His gifts (Rom. 1:18–32). Old covenant Israel perpetually fell into idolatry because they did not remember the Lord who brought them out of Egypt. They ended up thanking gods who were no gods at all for their redemption (Ex. 32). May we never do the same.
We can live a Christian life of gratitude only when we recall that everything we have in Christ is an inheritance. Typically, an inheritance is something that is passed from the person who earned it to a benefactor who has not worked for it, wholly at the initiative of the earner. Paul can refer to our salvation as an inheritance because it is something that Jesus earned for us and that we do not work for but receive by faith alone (Rom. 4; 2 Cor. 5:21). John Chrysostom, an early church father and bishop of Constantinople in the late fourth century, writes, “For no one leads a life so good as to be counted worthy of the kingdom, but the whole is his free gift” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 9, p. 7; hereafter ACCNT).
It is obviously difficult to follow Paul’s admonition to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18), which is why we need strengthening from on high to persevere with joy as we thank the Lord (Col. 1:11–12). This power comes from the Holy Spirit, who presently lives within us to remind us of all the blessings we have in Christ Jesus and of our need to thank Him. Consequently, no Christian can live a life perpetually void of gratitude.