Theology 101

Common Grace: How Believers and Non-Believers Can Advance God’s Purposes Together

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Can believers work with non-believers?

For most of us, our jobs and everyday activities bring us in contact with non-believers. We work alongside them day after day. How do we think biblically about this situation?

There is biblical precedent for believers cooperating with non-believers to achieve what God commanded in the cultural mandate:

  • Daniel served faithfully in Nebuchadnezzar’s court (Dan. 2)
  • Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon charging them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7)
  • Paul told the Galatians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Gal. 6:10)

At the same time, there is other scripture that seems to say the opposite:

  • When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, “they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36)
  • Paul admonished the Corinthians, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and unrighteousness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)
  • When the Jews returned from Babylon, the Samaritans were not allowed to help the people of God rebuild the temple (Ezra 4:1-3)

This concept of cooperating with non-believers but not being yoked with them, being “in the world but not of the world,” is more complicated than it first appears. Help is found in the “doctrine of common grace.”

Theologian John Murray defined common grace as,

Every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.

Common grace is common because it is universal; it is grace because it is undeserved and given by a gracious God.

It is crucial that Christians understand common grace if we are to understand how God wants to use us at our jobs.

Gaining an Appreciation of Common Grace

Common grace explains theologically and practically how we can work to fulfill the cultural mandate with those who are not followers of Christ, while not becoming “of the world.”

Common grace enables Christians to serve the common good of their neighbors and transform the culture. It allows us to work alongside non-Christians for a common purpose.

In this regard, Abraham Kuyper writes,

God is glorified in the total development toward which human life and power over nature gradually march on under the guardianship of  ‘common grace.’

Wayne Grudem, in his book Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, suggests four reasons for common grace:

1. Common Grace Serves God’s Greater Purpose of Saving Grace

Saving grace has as its specific end the glorification of the whole body of God’s elect, which in turn has its ultimate end in the glory of God’s name. It is through common grace that God restrains both sin and his wrath against sinful mankind.

Without common grace, saving grace would be impossible because there would be nothing left of the human from which to make children of God. Either we would have been destroyed by God, or else we would have destroyed ourselves.

2. Common Grace Demonstrates God’s Mercy and Goodness

God’s mercy and goodness are seen not only in the gift of salvation to believers but also in the blessings he gives to all people.

  • David said, “The Lord is good to all; his compassion is over all that he has made” (Ps. 145:9).
  • The Apostle Paul tells us that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

By delaying his punishment, God shows that he finds no pleasure in executing his final judgment, but rather delights in the salvation of men and women.

3. Common Grace Demonstrates God’s Justice

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them (Rom. 1:18-19).

Through God’s common grace, all people know the truth about God, yet they have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom. 1:25).

Paul went on to warn sinful people,

Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom. 2:5).

In the light of such rejection of God’s revealed truth, we see the justice of his condemnation more clearly.

4. Common Grace Demonstrates God’s Glory

God’s common grace actively operates in the lives of all human beings in many ways.

Grudem writes that as mankind exercises dominion over the earth through common grace they:

…demonstrate and reflect the wisdom of their creator, demonstrate Godlike qualities of skill and moral virtue and authority over the universe and so forth.

Non-believers can still reflect the excellence of their creator and bring glory to God in an imperfect but significant way.

Seeing through the Lens of Common Grace

The Christian employee, surrounded by non-believers at work, can take great hope from the doctrine of common grace. As Scott Kauffmann writes, in an article entitled The Problem of Good,

Common grace helps us to acknowledge that there are times to embrace culture warmly, and times to be in stark opposition to it. And the only durable, biblical way to do both is to see culture through the lens of common grace.

This doctrine helps us make a strong biblical case for engaging the culture while embracing the gospel.

Wherever we work, we can rest assured that God can use us through our callings to influence our fellow employees, our company, our city, our nation, and the world for the glory of God.

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