For years we have sung about and celebrated the grace of God and rightfully so because God’s grace is truly amazing. In talking about grace, however, there is a term that is used in some protestant circles to describe an aspect of God’s grace called common grace. What does common grace mean and how does it work? Let’s answer that question and consider three things you need to know about common grace.
What is common grace?
To be clear the term common grace is not found in the Bible, but it is a term that is used to put a label on an aspect of the grace of God. Common grace refers to the goodness or blessings that flow from God that is common to all people whether they are believers or unbelievers. In this sense the word common does not imply ordinary or lacking anything of value, it simply means that it is available to everyone. A great example of common grace is Matthew 5:44-45
“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.”
In this verse the sun and the rain, which represent blessings from God, are made available to those who are righteous and unrighteous, evil and good, thus they are common to all. The grace aspect of common grace reflects the truth that we don’t deserve it. All grace is unmerited favor that flows from God’s hand into our lives. Whether we know God or not, when we receive sun and rain, they reflect the common grace that God is showing to all mankind.
With this general understanding of what common grace is let me share with you three things about common grace that I want you to consider.
1. Common grace shows that God treats people differently than we do.
One of the most fascinating aspects of God’s character is the way he deals with people who don’t believe in him. God not only exhibits patience with those who reject him, but for a period he bestows his favor or common grace upon them. There are people who curse God and who want nothing to do with him, who still experience God’s favor in this life to work, have families, even to have success. That’s why success alone in this life is not a sign that God is pleased with your life, because some of the most successful people in this world have no relationship with God in any way, shape, or form. Experiencing success could simply be a result of God’s favor, represented by the sun rising and the rain falling, that is applied to everyone. Why this is fascinating is you would think God would not do this for people who don’t believe but he does. This is so different than how we deal with people. The last thing we want to do is bless someone who rejects us, yet this is what we are called to do. The one who causes rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous also tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In other words, he is telling us to show common grace to those who are against us. When we do that, we are treating people the way God treats them.
2. Common grace is necessary in our sinful world.
Another thing to understand about common grace is that it is necessary for this world to function. Let me remind you of this verse in Psalms.
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.” – Psalm 103:8-10
Imagine for one moment if God treated us the way our sin deserved. Imagine if God removed his grace. No one would be here because we would all be judged. However, this does not happen because God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. Because of this, he does not treat us the way we should be treated, but he gives us grace. This grace will not last forever and eventually, there will be a price to pay for sin, we will talk about that next, but for now, God gives grace which again is in line with his character. Remember this truth from 2 Peter.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9
In our sinful world God exhibits common grace even though he has the right to judge, he chooses to be patient. If God were not patient, then there would be no hope for any of us. Even though sin seems to be increasing it does not mean that God is not present. God is simply responding to the sin of the world, not with the initial judgment we deserve but with the grace we don’t. If he didn’t then the world could not function because judgment would be swift and imminent.
3. Common grace will not save you.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about common grace is this grace alone will not bring you salvation. You cannot be saved because of common grace. Consider this verse we often quote in relation to God’s grace.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
You have probably heard or quoted this verse countless times. However, there is something different about this application of God’s grace, it responds to your faith. This means that, unlike common grace that is available to everyone regardless of whether they believe or not, the same is not true of God’s grace unto salvation. If you don’t believe in God for salvation, then this grace will not be applied to your life. The reason this is so important is that even though God is compassionate and patient, that will not last forever. There will be a day when we must all stand before the Lord and answer for the things done in this life. For those who have repented and believed in Jesus for their salvation, the grace of God will be applied to their life. For those who haven’t there is no further grace available, and they will pay the price for their sins. I know we don’t often preach or teach about these things anymore but there is a grace clock that is counting down for all those who don’t believe. Many people don’t think about it because we all are still living under God’s common grace. This can also deceive people into thinking that God will automatically apply his grace unto salvation. Do you ever notice when a person dies regardless of how they lived, they assume that person has gone to heaven and is looking down on them? This would be true if common grace brought about salvation, but we know it doesn’t apply in that manner. We must all decide to believe and put our trust in Christ alone for salvation. It is only then that God’s grace unto salvation is applied to our lives.
It is safe to say that we have never lived one day without experiencing the grace of God in our lives. The sun still comes up and the rain still falls. While this expression of common grace is available to all, let’s be diligent in sharing with people the grace that leads to salvation, because the day is coming when the sun will stop shining and the rain will no longer fall.
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.