Theology 101

What Special Grace Means for You

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In the New Testament, James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Referring to this passage, author and pastor Tim Keller writes in his book The Reason for God:

This means that no matter who performs it, every act of goodness, wisdom, justice, and beauty is empowered by God. God gives out good gifts of wisdom, talent, beauty, and skill “graciously”—that is, in a completely unmerited way. He casts them across all humanity, regardless of religious conviction, race, gender, or any other attribute to enrich, brighten, and preserve the world. (page 53)

The Scriptures talk about God’s grace in two fundamentally different ways. Today, we are only going to discuss the first way, which is what theologians call special grace. It is the favor of God which actually results in salvation.

Special grace is the work of the Holy Spirit in calling, regenerating, justifying, and sanctifying individual sinners. Special grace is restricted to those who actually come to saving faith in Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck described the special grace of God as “his voluntary, unrestrained, unmerited favor toward guilty sinners, granting them justification and life instead of the penalty of death, which they deserved.”

In his classic book, Knowing God, theologian J. I. Packer expressed it this way:

The grace of God is love freely shown towards guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity, and had no reason to expect anything but severity. (page 120)

Yet as Keller implies, special grace is not the only manifestation of God’s grace to this fallen world. We will discuss the second type of grace in the next post in this series.

Question: Could those who never come to saving faith in Jesus Christ be recipients of another type of divine grace? 

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