(Photo: Dan Delzell)
I was intrigued by the title of a blog I came across today: "Do You Believe in Common Grace?" It was written by a faithful Christian pastor who preaches the Gospel with biblical integrity. Some Christians use the term "common grace" to describe the universal blessings which God pours out upon the whole human race. That doesn't mean that everyone who uses this term understands the full implications of this teaching.
My answer to the author's question is, "Yes....if by 'grace' you mean what the New Testament means when it uses that word. God's grace in Christ is available to everyone. But 'no' if you mean to say that 'grace' can be separated from the Gospel message itself. To teach that God "blesses" people with His "grace" while at the same time having predestined them to hell is the most absurd and cruel message a person could be given."
To be blunt about the full expression of this doctrine, it goes something like this: "God loves you. He has given you and everyone 'common grace.' And oh, by the way....you might be predestined to hell, and if so, there is nothing you can do about it. God decided before you were born that He was going to send you to hell for your sins." Hogwash! There is no grace is that unbiblical doctrine....at least not for most sinners. I am not suggesting that preachers actually present it this way....I am just saying that those are some of the nuts and bolts of this teaching in all of its fullness.
Only the appointed few are seen to be offered God's "special grace." "But don't despair....you still get a door prize. God has given you His 'common grace' to show you how much He loves you." Phooey. Talk about graceless gibberish. Don't call it "grace" and then turn around and teach that those who "only get common grace" are not eligible for the grand prize of eternal life. It's not biblical, and it's not loving....and it is about as far away from New Testament grace as one can get. The truth is that Jesus died for all and God wants all people to be saved.
Now that I got that off my chest, let's move on to a biblical analysis of the word "grace." I like this next part better anyway. And after all, "it's all in the family" when we are discussing doctrine among fellow believers. The Lord's grace unites us in God's family through the blood of His Son.
A critical aspect of the Christian faith involves the words that God uses to describe this miracle of spiritual conversion. Of all the words in the New Testament, the word "grace" ranks right up there as one of the most important. Therefore, we should be extremely careful how we use this word when teaching the Christian faith to others. To be loose with the word "grace" is to be loose with our teaching of the Gospel. That lack of doctrinal discipline brings no honor or glory to the One who shed His blood on the cross for all sinners.
The word "grace" was used by the Holy Spirit about 130 times in the New Testament. In virtually every case, it refers to God's unmerited favor, forgiveness, blessing, and power for those who believe in Christ as Savior. The word is not used in the New Testament to describe "blessings" which all people possess even if they choose to reject Christ. Unbelievers in the New Testament are those who have not yet received God's grace. Maybe they will....maybe they won't. Either way, God's grace is available to them because of the price Jesus paid on the cross.
"Grace" in the New Testament basically refers to "God's Riches at Christ's Expense." St. John wrote, "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17) St. Paul wrote to believers, "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14) To speak of someone receiving God's "common grace" while he is living under the law is to create a new definition of "grace." The New Testament knows no such definition. Believers in Christ are "under grace." Those without Christ are "under law." There is no New Testament grace in your life when you are under law. Period.
Sin is common to all men. Grace is common only to believers. The Bible tells believers, "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." (Ephesians 4:7) Common blessings are given to all. Common blessings are given to those who have faith as well as those without faith. Grace is given by God and received by man. In fact, "to each one of us grace has been given." Who does "us" refer to in that passage? Only believers.
The word "common" is actually used in reference to "grace" in Titus 1:4. "To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior." In that sense, common grace is only "common" for believers. Outside of Christ, there is no grace and peace from God the Father, but only wrath and condemnation. Jesus said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36) Believers are those "who receive God's abundant provision of grace." (Romans 5:17) Unbelievers reject Christ and God's grace.
The Bible says, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God." (Hebrews 12:15) How would a person miss it? Through unbelief. Common blessings are not missed. They are given with or without faith. Grace is only received by one who has faith in Jesus Christ. Once received, a Christian is to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18) Unbelievers are not able to grow in God's grace because they have hardened their hearts and refused to believe. Their unbelief keeps them from receiving the grace of God.
At the end of the day, faithful pastors will differ on whether or not to use the term "common grace." Every faithful pastor can at least say with one another, "We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved." (Acts 15:11) Every faithful Christian has been "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24) This justification takes place for those who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior through faith.
While this topic tends to be heavily theological, it is nevertheless one more opportunity to consider God's amazing grace and His love which moved Him to send His only Son for our salvation. The death of Jesus on the cross for sinners is not only a reality and a historical event; it is also a theological position which is true. Theology is important because theology describes God and His actions on man's behalf.
Do you want to live and die in a way that is common to the majority of men, or do you desire to live and die "under grace" through faith in Christ? The common road is popular with man. The road less traveled is popular among those who have gone to heaven. The difference between the two roads has to do with the reception or rejection of God's riches at Christ's expense.
Just because God's "grace is reaching more and more people," (2 Cor. 4:15) you won't benefit from it yourself if you choose to harden your heart to His gracious gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. His gift is offered to all and common to man. The benefits of that gift are only enjoyed by those who receive His grace and forgiveness through faith.
Will you be a gracious receiver, or will you tell God "no" in response to His sacrifice on the cross and His kind invitation to you? In other words, will your response to God's love for you be full of grace....or will it be graceless? If it is the latter, you will have no one to blame but yourself. If it is the former, you will have no one to praise except the Lord. I highly suggest that you go with door number one. And always remember....theology won't do you any good unless you personally apply God's grace to your own soul through faith in what Christ accomplished for you on the cross.