In many ways, the entire concept of God’s grace is the defining and unique characteristic of Christianity. It is the canvas upon which all other Christian doctrines are painted. There are more than four hundred occurrences of various words for grace in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, that number nears two hundred occurrences. Thus, I want to briefly define grace as best I can: Grace is God the Father in love doing good for ill-deserving sinners through God the Son by God the Spirit. It is important to note that all grace, common and saving alike, is from God. First Peter 5:10 simply calls God “the God of all grace.”
When the Bible declares that God is love36 and that God loves the world,37 it is declaring that, unlike the gods of other religions, the God of the Bible who made us and the rest of creation is entirely good. Furthermore, God’s love is manifest to every human being—Christians and non-Christians alike.
Theologically, this grace is called common grace (and sometimes general grace by people like John Calvin), based on the terminology of Augustine, because it is for everyone and therefore common to all human beings. Positively, it reveals something of the goodness of God to all people; honors the image and likeness of God, which we bear by virtue of Him creating us; improves the quality of life people experience; and precedes saving grace for the elect. Negatively, common grace does not save people from the wrath of God and the conscious, eternal torments of hell. Therefore, it is only helpful in this life and of no benefit in the life to come unless it is accompanied by God’s saving grace. Basically, since everyone deserves hell, anything we receive in addition to that is the grace of God.
To illustrate common grace, the following Scripture passages are helpful:
- From the time that he [the unsaved Pharaoh who thought he was god] made him [Joseph] overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he [Pharaoh] had, in house and field.38
- The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.39
- You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water, you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.40
- You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth.41
- The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love.42
- The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.43
- He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.44
- He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.45
- He did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.46
- He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.47
The effects of God’s common grace are innumerable. God’s common grace allows even those who despise Him to learn and to make gains in areas such as science, philosophy, technology, education, and medicine. God’s common grace also fuels the creative process and permits the arts and creativity of all kinds. Furthermore, God’s common grace allows societies to flourish, families to exist, cities to rise up, and nations to prosper.48 Common grace also allows people who are not connected to God through Jesus Christ to live seemingly decent moral lives of compassion and service, though their deeds are not in any way done to God’s glory as acts of worship by the Holy Spirit.
In addition, God’s common grace is seen in the restraining of evil by God the Holy Spirit,49 in the effects of the conscience that God has placed within people,50 and in the threat of reprisal from governments and laws that God has allowed to exist in the face of human sinfulness.451 The result of God’s common grace is that life as we experience it is far better than would otherwise be possible if sinners were simply left to themselves. Everyone experiences the grace of God to varying degrees, no matter how sinful they are, simply because God is loving and good and is determined to do good in love. God has withheld His judgment, and at this very moment, people are not immediately receiving what their sins deserve.
What aspects of God’s common grace do you most enjoy (e.g., hiking in creation, listening to music, watching sunsets, playing sports, etc.)?