Reflections on Common Grace (February 14, 2019)
Dear VICC family,
As my family and I wrap things up for the week so we can head out of town this weekend, I wanted to wish you all a happy Valentine's Day today and a blessed weekend of worship. Lisa Peretti will be giving the sermon this Sunday and Nathan and his team will be leading you in worship. I hope you all made it through the snow and power outages alright, and perhaps even managed to enjoy the experience a little bit!
Sitting in the public library up town, looking out the window at a beautiful, snowy yard and a freshly-plowed parking lot, and listening to volunteers in the next room helping the elderly with their taxes, I am moved to reflect on one of my favorite among the often-overlooked Christian doctrines. This is the doctrine of common grace.
When I first came across the doctrine of common grace (reading Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology), it was like a light came on. A bridge was built. A fact about God's goodness that I and my Christian friends all seemed to intuitively know suddenly had a name and a legitimate place in the categories of Christian thought. If you don't know the term, the doctrine of common grace is simply the term Christian theologians give to the goodness of God which human beings experience in the world, saved and unsaved alike, believer and unbeliever alike, lover of God and hater of God alike. God's common grace is not a different kind of grace than the grace by which we are saved, but it is God's grace (his kindness, goodness, and love) at work in a different way, irrespective of how people respond to God or his gospel.
We see God's common grace in the beauty of creation. We see God's common grace in the amazing abilities God gives all the people around us. We see God's common grace in the kindness shown by one neighbor to another when she helps him dig his car out of the snow. We experience God's common grace every day, as do all people in one way or another. Just as our doctrine of sin reminds us that the world and its people (including ourselves) are very, very broken, our doctrine of common grace reminds us that the goodness of God is all over the place, too. God's grace is always at work.
We don't often hear or think about God's common grace in the church, I think because we are afraid of confusing it with his saving grace and sounding like we are going soft on sin, judgment, and the need for a Savior. But without the doctrine of common grace, I know that I tend to be hard in my attitude to unbelievers. I tend to be skeptical of the real compassion that exists among, for example, members of the LGBT community. I doubt that unbelieving social and political activists actually care about the things they say they care about. I tend to think the down and out deserve it somehow, and that the rich and talented are crooks. But the doctrine of common grace reminds me that, while all men and women do still need a savior, nevertheless they remain (even in their unredeemed state) images of God and objects of his grace.
The doctrine of common grace is best summed up in Jesus's words: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect [or, "complete"], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)
Your partner on the journey,