Q&A: Common Grace

Common Grace

Question

There are many apparently good-natured non-believers in the world -- the nature of these people seems inconsistent with the idea that all of mankind is in a desperately fallen state. The doctrine of "common grace" seems to explain why the fallen state of man is not always blatantly obvious. Is common grace a biblical doctrine?

Answer

Common grace partly explains why most non-Christians do not appear desperately evil from a human perspective. Another part of this explanation is the doctrine of total depravity itself. Total depravity does not state that people are as wicked as they possibly can be, but rather that they are depraved to some degree in every part of their being. It also states that man is incapable of doing anything to merit salvation, not that he is incapable of doing anything "good" in any sense of the word. For example, even evil people give good gifts to their children (Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13). Because fallen people are at enmity with God, everything they do is morally tainted -- what they do cannot be completely separated from who they are. For this reason, nothing they do is meritorious in God's eyes, and nothing they do can please him (Rom. 8:5-8). But this does not erase the fact that many things they do in their relationships with other people are good in many respects.

Common grace is the doctrine that God expresses grace towards all mankind, even towards those who hate him and will never be saved. The classic proof text for this doctrine is Matthew 5:44-45 where Jesus stated that God providentially cares for the evil and the good, for the righteous and the unrighteous. It can also be substantiated in certain ways from the doctrine of the Fall and from history in general. After the Fall, God did not execute judgment against mankind as fully as he might have. Instead, he allowed man to live, and even offered man hope of future redemption (Gen. 3:15). Thereafter, God went so far as to give special protection to Cain after Cain had murdered Abel (Gen. 4:15). Examples could be multiplied almost infinitely from history to demonstrate that even the reprobate receive good things from God (compare the principle in Luke 16:25). One good thing that fallen man receives from God in common grace is retention of the image of God (Gen. 9:6: 1 Cor. 11:7). This image gives man honor and authority, and is the basis for at least some of God's protection of man (Gen. 9:6). It is also part of what restrains sin in man. Another gift of common grace that restrains sin is man's God-given conscience (Rom. 2:14-16).


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.