Common grace is God’s grace, His free and undeserved blessing on humanity, that is common to all people. For the past week my family and I have been considering it by reading “Chapter 31: Common Grace” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) in our after-breakfast Bible reading time. Here I’ll share from what we read examples of common grace from the physical, intellectual, moral, creative, societal, and religious realms; reasons given by Grudem for common grace; and suggestions by him on how we should respond to common grace. Although the chapter is consistent with the book’s Calvinistic perspective, it includes a helpful note on how an Arminian viewpoint would differ and I’ve tried to make my presentation consistent with that viewpoint.
Examples of Common Grace
God’s common grace is shown in the physical realm by the ground’s providing us with food and with materials for clothing and shelter despite God’s having cursed it because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17-19). Paul told the people of Lystra, “In past generations he [God] allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). It is also shown by the pleasure that nature’s beauty gives us.
God’s common grace is shown in the intellectual realm by His causing all people to have a sense of His existence. Paul says, “What can be known about God is plain to them [unrighteous men], because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19). It is also shown by the incredible discoveries and inventions made by non-Christians as well as by Christians.
God’s common grace is shown in the moral realm by His giving people a sense of conscience that causes them to live in ways that conform with the moral standards of the Bible. Paul says, “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15). It is also shown by God’s ordering the world so that living by His moral standards brings rewards and violating them brings harm, thus serving as a warning of the judgment to come.
God’s common grace is shown in the creative realm by His allowing special abilities in artistic, musical, and other areas. It is also shown by His giving us an ability to appreciate creations in those areas.
God’s common grace is shown in the societal realm by the existence of various organizations in human society. Adam and Eve remained married and had children after their Fall, and the human family remains an institution for all people. Other organizations in human society include human government, educational institutions, businesses, and voluntary associations.
God’s common grace is shown in the religious realm by our being told to pray for unbelievers. Jesus told his disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). It is also shown by God’s sometimes answering the prayers of unbelievers (as in Matthew 7:22).
Reasons for Common Grace
Grudem gives these reasons for common grace:
1. to allow sinners time and opportunity to be saved.
2. to demonstrate God’s goodness and mercy.
3. to demonstrate God’s justice.
4. to demonstrate God’s glory.
If you want an explanation of any of them, please ask for it in a comment to this post.
Even more important than any of those reasons is that common grace enables and even influences unbelievers to turn to God in faith and repentance.
Responding to Common Grace
Grudem suggests keeping these points in mind when thinking about the goodness in the lives of unbelievers because of God’s common grace:
1. Being recipients of common grace doesn’t mean that people will be saved.
2. We shouldn’t reject as totally evil the good things done by unbelievers.
3. We should be increasingly thankful to God as we see the blessings resulting from His grace to unbelievers.
Again, if you want an explanation of any of them, please ask for it in a comment to this post.