[B12] The Apostles' Creed: Man's Obligation To God

God is not only infinitely wise and great, He is also infinitely good. He is boundless in His mercy and patience toward the children of men. In His loving kindness God watches over us, and cares for us with a solicitude which never grows wearied or impatient. Assuredly we owe Him something for all this. We can make Him no adequate, no material, return. We can never pay God the debt we owe Him. But there is something He wants, something we can give Him. It is our purpose to consider today what it is that God requires of us in return for His goodness toward us. In other words, man’s obligation to God.

Table of Contents

12. Man’s Obligation To God

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. — [Ps.] 100.

What great subjects we have been considering: the person and nature of God, the creator; the intricacies, the wonders, the beauties of creation; the littleness and greatness of man; the government of God, which extends from the regulation of planetary systems, and the destinies of nations, to the most minute affairs of the everyday life of each individual. I shall say nothing of the treatment given these subjects. He must be a man of very small intellect who could be satisfied with any efforts of his in the treatment of such themes. If a man had the mind and tongue of an angel his equipment would not enable him to do them full justice. But the treatment of such sublime subjects must be very inadequate, very bungling, indeed, to keep the thinking mind from taking lofty flights, and the devout heart from the heights where adoration and praise are rendered.

How small we feel, how insignificant, when we stand in the presence of these sublime, overpowering manifestations of Divine wisdom, and love, and power. If the things made are so incomprehensibly wonderful, how wonderful must be the Maker.

Some of you may have walked the ocean beach alone in the starlight, and listened to the human-like moaning of the waves as they broke on some distant bar. Or, more impressive still, you may have walked in solitude the deck of an ocean liner. Overheard, in their mute language, spoke the silent sentinels of the night. Stretched out on all sides was the impressive immensity of old ocean. And, but for the faint throbbing of the engine beneath your feet, and the gentle swish of the waves in the wake of the great vessel, a silence around you so absolute that it revealed to your acute ear the beating of your own agitated heart. In that hour did you not feel, as you had never felt before, the littleness of man, and the very small orbit in which he plays out his brief earthly life? And at the same time you, probably, felt the nearness of God as you had never experienced it before; a nearness that was all but palpable. Something of the same effect it should have; it will have, on all devoutly thinking people when they stand face to face with such subjects as this First Article of the Apostles’ Creed presents.

God’s words and works proclaiming Him to be so great, what is the proper attitude for man to take toward Him? That of the most profound humility. The attitude of every man toward God should be wholly that of a dependent and recipient. His prayer should ever be, Lord, give me humbleness of heart, give me light, teach me better to know Thee, and all that pertains to Thee. Such humility is one of the saving graces of character. It is the avenue to a larger knowledge of God. It is the humble mind that comes to know God. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant” (Ps. 25:14). If we were better people we would be better students of Divine things. If we were more truly humble we would be more truly learned. But humility cannot be put on as a garment. It is a soul quality. In its highest, religious, form it comes from having truly seen God with the eyes of the soul. And its possessor does not know that his face reflects the light which he has caught from God’s face.

God is not only infinitely wise and great, He is also infinitely good. He is boundless in His mercy and patience toward the children of men. In His loving kindness God watches over us, and cares for us with a solicitude which never grows wearied or impatient. Assuredly we owe Him something for all this. We can make Him no adequate, no material, return. We can never pay God the debt we owe Him. But there is something He wants, something we can give Him. It is our purpose to consider today what it is that God requires of us in return for His goodness toward us. In other words, man’s obligation to God.

There are three words which set forth this obligation. They are, — thankfulness, thanksgiving, and thanks-living.


In human relations we rightly make much of gratitude. It is an inner state of feeling. It results, in rightly constituted hearts, from the recognition of favors received. And the larger, and more gratuitous, the favors received, the more profound the sense of gratitude. The ingrate is scorned by all right thinking people.

We may use the word gratitude in speaking of man’s relation to God, but the customary Biblical Word is thankfulness. And with this begins our obligation to God for what He is, for what He has done, and is still doing, for us. Luther most appropriately concludes the explanation of the First Article with these words:

“For all which it is my duty to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him.”

With this accords our text, and a thousand other portions of Scripture. And where one does not carry around in his heart a deep and abiding sense of gratitude toward God which makes the soul glad, glad because it has such a God, glad because it enjoys His fellowship, glad because it has received so many evidences of His goodness, all else is vain. Without this, confessing His name is a mockery, and worship a hollow form.

True gratitude does not quickly come to the point where it concludes that it has discharged its debt. Justice can draw the line and say, this is what I owe, and it is now paid. But gratitude is like the horizon. As we approach what appears to be its boundary it recedes and forms a new one far in the distance. If this is true among men of noble spirit with respect to human obligations, what shall we say of the spirit of thankfulness toward God, who has given life itself, and all the real blessings we enjoy, who is so patient with us in our infirmities, who repays all our thoughtlessness and halfhearted service with ever new deeds of kindness, who has conceived and carried out such great and costly plans for our spiritual and eternal good?

God is so busy in bestowing His fatherly blessings that He does not say a great deal in mere words about our obligation to be thankful. It is mentioned again and again. But the obligation lies in the very nature of the case. And every renewed heart would recognize it without any specific command. The nature, extent and variety of the unpurchasable blessings He is constantly bestowing, themselves tell of the response they should call forth. We cannot recognize, or even faintly appreciate, God’s blessings without being prompted to thankfulness. Not to be thankful toward God means that the steady, rich stream of blessings which God’s love and mercy are continually pouring out on us have fallen on the parched desert of unrenewed souls, and never waked a seed to life.

Of how many people this is sadly true. Many are apparently entire strangers to the emotion of thankfulness toward God. It is said of the great Spartan lawgiver, Lycurgus, that he refused to write a law against unthankfulness. When asked why, he replied, “Because unthankfulness is impossible.” Alas, the experience of this great man must have been very limited. Especially is his statement far from the truth when it comes to describing man’s attitude toward God. Ask the Son of God and of man whether He knew anything of human thanklessness. When He would magnify the goodness of God, it is by declaring that He is kind to the unthankful (St. Luke 6:35). Ask the great Apostle to the Gentiles whether he ever met men who were thankless toward God. In one of his appalling lists of evils which shall specially characterize the last perilous days, he mentions the unthankful along with blasphemers and the unholy.

True thankfulness, in a large rich measure; thankfulness for the gift of life, for our opportunities, for our ability to work and serve, for the destiny which has been made possible for us, and for the help given to speed us on the way; this thankfulness is not going to dwell in the heart of man till he has learned to say, as he reviews all things mentioned in the Creed: “This is most certainly true”; namely, it is all from God, it is all ruled by God for our good. When man comes truly to believe that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17); and that from the least to the greatest they are all bestowed out of grace and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in him, then, and not till then, the way is prepared for some measure of genuine thanksgiving.

We are Christian people, from a thousand testimonies we know that “the Lord is good.” In a double sense He is our maker. He has made us and remade us. We know that His “mercy is everlasting”; that He is a truth-keeping God, that His promises never fail. As a result of this we are capable of recognizing the force of the Psalmist’s exhortation, “Be thankful unto Him.” We know also that we are not as deeply, or as constantly, thankful as we ought to be. But some thankfulness we have, and there are times when our hearts are deeply touched by the thought of God’s great goodness. And we feel that, inadequate return though it may be, the best expression possible for us to give for all we have received is the unreserved surrender of our whole being to His Fatherly care and keeping. Father, help that this may be the more constant expression of all Thy children.


Our heavenly Father wants thankfulness; that is, hearts filled with gratitude toward Him. Without this nothing is acceptable to Him. Without faith in Him, and love for Him, all else is form, a body without a soul. Forms, however expressive they may be of spiritual realities, however beautifully they may be rendered, mean nothing to God unless the hearts of those who render them burn with devotion. The Gloria in Excelsis, sung by a person with an angel’s voice, does not mean anything to God if back of it there is a heart that is unbelieving, unloving, and disloyal. The first thing God wants is a child, one who looks up to Him as the all-loving Father, one out of whose eyes there shines the light of loving gratitude. Then God does want this to find expression. Just as little as God can be satisfied with a service which does not express the honest convictions and feelings of the one who gives it, so little is He satisfied with a faith and love carefully shut up in the heart and never coming to expression. Where there is true, deep-seated thankfulness it should, it will, find expression in thanksgiving.

If parents have a child which has not been blessed with the gift of speech, they will love it just as much, probably more, than their children with this normal gift. They will want to make up to it what it has been denied. They come to understand its motions, the movements of its lips, the pressure of a hand, the significance of a glance. So God knows our thoughts, our emotions. And it is well, for there are many too deep for utterance. But as no parent would be satisfied to have a normal child going in and out of the house with never a word of love or appreciation, so it is with our heavenly Parent. He wants the thankfulness of the heart expressed in words of thanksgiving.

There is something in the very terms thankfulness and thanksgiving which indicate a larger measure of joy and gladness. God’s people ought to be a joyous people. We are exhorted to rejoice in the Lord, to rejoice always. I know there are many trials and troubles in the world. But there is a medicine to cure the worst sting of all these ills, and to enable us to bear them with fortitude, if not with absolute lightness of heart; it comes from the father-heart of God, it is the message of His Gospel.

Brother, sister, if you are a child of God, look up. Cast off that oppressive burden of disconsolateness. God, our God, still lives. His sky is still blue and smiles down upon us. The sun still shines. The promises of God are still true. We are still the objects of His unfailing and solicitous care. Around us are His strong and everlasting arms. And He bids us sing a song of thankfulness. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands… Come before His presence with singing. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.”

Let us not forget, brethren, that one of the fundamental purposes of our public worship is to give praise to God, to afford us the opportunity of rendering thanksgiving to Him. Some people seem to have the wholly selfish idea that the service of God’s house is only for their enjoyment, or instruction. This is one side of it, and a very important one. God wants the opportunity to bestow His blessings. He wants to enrich us. But He also wants to give us the opportunity of joining in a special service of praise. Let us not neglect the opportunity, let us not fail to do our part.

Our thanksgiving, however, should by no means be confined to the public service on the Lord’s day. In our homes there should be an altar not only where supplications are made, but the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered. In our intercourse with our fellowmen everywhere opportunities are offered, and should often be made, for expressing our gratitude to our Heavenly Father.


Thankfulness is a fundamental element of a true Christian life. And where it exists the heart will naturally bubble over in thankfulness. Then is the time when “praise is comely.” But where the gratitude is real and not assumed, where the praise is the natural overflow of the indwelling gratitude, there it will not end in songs of praise however beautiful in thought or expression. Praise in words is proper, God expects it; but the praise which goes no further than words is poor praise. As true thankfulness is followed by thanksgiving, so true thanksgiving is followed by thanks-living. God wants our whole life to be a service of thanksgiving. The test of our creed is our deed. And the test of our gratitude is the life we live.

The first and most common way of expressing our thankfulness to God in action is in conforming our lives as nearly as possible to God’s standards. Children are constantly revealing the principles and ideals which prevail in their homes. They do not always live up to it fully. But it tells. If purity, love of truth, and considerateness for others, are the principles there taught and practiced, it is going to show when the inmates of that home go out into the world. And they will not need to proclaim the fact, in words, from the housetops. Where these principles are taught but, as sometimes happens, some of the children disregard them, they show themselves very ungrateful, and bring shame and sorrow to their parents. In like manner, if we recognize God as the giver of all good, if we own His authority over our lives, if we have been brought personally into right relation to Him; if His truth is actually our guide, and His Spirit our teacher and prompter, then the world cannot help knowing whose children we are. “Obey my voice and do them (my commandments), according to all which I commanded you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer. 11:4).

Our thankfulness to God is also expressed in terms of life when we do what we can for His Kingdom. The officers in our congregations, the teachers in our Sunday schools, and all other workers in the great cause, whatever their sphere, when they give of their time, surrender their ease, and do it out of gratitude to the dear Lord who has done so much for them, and because they are desirous of having others share their blessings, these are all giving thanks to God in one of the most effective ways. But let no one think that he is excluded from this privilege because he holds no official position. The kind, helpful deeds done for those in distress, the word of encouragement spoken to the downcast, belong to the same class. The good Samaritan was truly giving thanks to God in his ministry of mercy. And the echoes of that hymn of thanks-living are still ringing down the ages. Jesus tells us that the visit to the sick and needy, the giving of a garment to the poor, and the piece of bread and cup of water given to the hungry, when given in His name, and for His sake, will be considered worthy to be mentioned on the great day of final accounting. They are truly deeds of thanks-living.

We may even go further. Some of the sweetest songs of thanksgiving in our lives are not expressed in terms of action, but of enduring. We are God’s dear children, but we are still living in a world of sorrow and suffering. From many of them it is impossible to be here delivered. In it all, however, we are ever the objects of God’s loving care. When it is not best to keep them from us, He sustains, and compensates us by the bestowal of still richer blessings. Now when, in wisdom and tenderest love, God allows suffering and bereavement to come, and we still trust His love and care; when we suffer loss, but take God’s Word for it that we shall still thereby be somehow enriched; when pain lacerates our nerves, but we find our power of endurance and our solace in our Father’s tender touch, then, in our tears, are written some of the most precious of our hymns of thanksgiving. All this is possible, but possible only then when in our hearts there dwells the assurance that, whatever betide, “The Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles’ Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0