Thursday, 5 April 2012

Common Grace and Evangelism (3): How God is Gracious to All

This is the third post in a series on the doctrine of  'common grace' and its significance for evangelism. Click here to read the first and second posts in the series.
In the previous post we established that God is gracious to all, both to those who are His people and to those who are not. However, we also made an important distinction, a distinction between saving grace and common grace. Common grace is a grace that God shows to all people whether Christian or non-Christian, saving grace is a grace that only those whom He has chosen will experience.

In this third post I want to focus on how God is gracious to all people in a non-saving way. That is, how he is commonly gracious. This will shed light on the question that we asked in the first post about how the unbeliever can do good things if they are totally depraved.

There are two particular ways that God shows His common grace that helps us aswer this question:

1) He Restrains Sin and Its Consequences
God is gracious to all by restraining sin and its consequences in the world. He does this by holding back peoples sinfulness from being worked out to the full.

We’ve already seen that sin has affected every part of us, that we are ‘totally depraved’. However, this does not mean that people are as bad as they can be. That’s not true. A look at the world around us shows us this.

The reason that people are not as wicked as they could be is because God, in his grace, restrains sinfulness from being worked out to its fullness in peoples lives. Even though people are totally depraved, this is not expressed fully in this life. God shows His common grace by restraining their sin.

More than this, God is also gracious by restraining the consequences of sin in this life. Think about it: The world would be a horrific and chaotic place to live if we faced the full consequences of sin in this world. Sin causes disintegration and disorganisation in every area of life. Simple things such as the relationships we take for granted would be impossible if God had not restrained the effects of sin. Friendships, marriages, parent and child relationships, none of these would be possible without God's restraining grace. Neither would society be able to function if human sinfulness was allowed to express itself fully. But God, in His grace holds back this sinfulness, so that society and human relationships are possible.

God also holds back the punishment sin deserves. The anger of God that we deserve has not yet been poured out. Each one of us deserves to be in hell this very moment. But God, in His grace, is holding back that day of judgement that more  Peter tells us that the Lord "is patient...not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9). God is patient. He is holding back that day of wrath so that people may come to repentance.

We need to be clear, this does not mean that God will not punish sin. He will. He has set a day when He shall judge the world through Jesus His appointed judge (Acts 17:30-31). On that day the fullness of His wrath shall be poured out, as sin is punished.

God is gracious to all is by restraining sin and its consequences. If you want to do a bit more thinking on this read and think through Genesis 3:22-33; 4:15; 20:6; Acts 17:30; and 2 Peter 3:9.

2) He Enables People to Do Good
Not only does God show His common grace by restraining sin and its consequences in the world, He also, positively, enables people to do good. Now, they are not able to do good in the full sense of good. The non-Christian does not do things to the glory of God. Nevertheless, they are able to do things that are, in a sense, good. God graciously enables them to do this.

This explains why non-Christians are able to live good lives – God not only restrains sin, but also enables them to do good.

In Luke 6:33 Jesus says to his disciples: “…if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Those who are ‘sinners’, are still those who do good. This is because God in his grace enables them. This is why non-Christians can be great husbands, wives and parents, why they can be faithful workers, why they can be involved in aid work, hospital care and providing for others in need, and sometimes even better than us.

Not only this, but God also enables people to make progress and create things for the good of society. In his grace, God enables people to create technology, literature and art. Advances in society, standards of living, excellent medical care: none of this would be possible apart from God’s grace restraining sin and enabling good.

God is gracious to all by enabling people who are totally depraved to do good. If you want to do a bit more thinking on this read and think through Luke 6:33; Matthew 5:45; Romans 2:14; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:14.

How does God do this? How does he restrain the non-Christian's sin, and enable him to do good? The answer is that in both these things – the restraining of sin and the enabling of good – God makes the non-Christian unaware of who they truly are.

Think about it. The non-Christian is in complete opposition to God, and refuses to submit to his rule through Jesus. Yet, God makes them unaware in their thinking and inconsistent, so that this opposition is not worked out to the full in every area of life. This means, that, without realising it, the non-Christian does God’s will in some areas of their life. This is why a non-Christian can be a faithful husband, and care for his family, even though marriage and family are God’s institutions. If he was fully aware and consistent with his opposition to God, he would have nothing to do with them because they are from God.

If we understand this, that God is gracious to all by restraining sin and enabling good, it has a number of important implications:

This makes governments and rulers possible. Peter tells us that rulers are sent by God “to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good.” Government is only possible because of God’s common grace (restraining sin and enabling good), and they are themselves a means of restraining evil and promoting good. This is why a non-Christian government can make good policies.

It means that it is possible for a Christian to be faithful, and to work in a secular job, under a non-Christian boss.

This means that, as Christians, we are able to enjoy art and culture and have hobbies. And we are able to do this all the more so because we know that they are ultimately only possible because of God’s grace. We ought to be all the more thankful for these things, because we know they come from the good hand of a gracious God.

It means that as Christians we are able to benefit from non-Christians. It is possible for our children to get a decent education at the hands of a non-Christian. We are able to enjoy music and movies made by non-Christians. We are able to benefit from the services that non-Christians provide. Think about the vast amount of good quality medical care we receive from non-Christian doctors and nurses.

Also, as we will explore in the next post, it makes conversations possible between Christians and non-Christians.