Theology 101

What We All Gain From Common Grace

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The rain falls upon the just

And also on the unjust fellas

But mostly it falls upon the just

Cause the unjust have the just’s umbrellas

Cormac McCarthy, The Stonemason

The apostle Paul described the universal condition of humanity in bleak terms. In the book of Romans he wrote, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

Theologians call this fallen state, apart from Christ, total depravity. But total depravity is not utter depravity. We are not as wicked as we possibly could be.

We observe unbelievers enjoying God’s gifts and doing things which benefit the world.  As theologian John Murray observed, the idea of total depravity forces us to deal with thorny questions:

How is it that men who still lie under the wrath and curse of God and are heirs of hell enjoy so many good gifts at the hand of God? How is it that men who are not savingly renewed by the Spirit of God nevertheless exhibit so many qualities, gifts and accomplishments that promote the preservation, temporal happiness, cultural progress, social and economic improvement of themselves and of others? How is it that races and peoples that have been apparently untouched by the redemptive and regenerative influences of the gospel contribute so much to what we call human civilization? To put the question most comprehensively: how is it that this sin-cursed world enjoys so much favour and kindness at the hand of its holy and ever-blessed Creator?

The answer to these questions is common grace.

The reformer John Calvin was one of the first to discuss the distinction which the Bible draws between God’s special grace and his common or non-saving grace. Calvin described in his seminal book Institutes of the Christian Religion, that the capacity for goodness in the non-Christian is a gift from God. He said that an unbelieving mind, “though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts.”

Common grace was defined in the Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology by author Abraham Kuyper as “that act of God by which He negatively curbs the operations of Satan, death, and sin, and by which He positively creates an intermediate state for this cosmos, as well as for our human race, which is and continues to be deeply and radically sinful, but in which sin cannot work out its end.”

Murray wrote that common grace is “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. So although one cannot do good in the fullest sense without the blessings of God’s special grace, one can carry out the commandments of God in an external and temporary fashion.

It is crucial that we as Christians understand common grace if we are to understand how God want to use us at our job.

Question: In what ways have you seen common grace in your life and the lives of those around you? 

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