What is Common Grace?

What is Common Grace?

Common Grace is a theological concept in Protestant Christianity hashed out in the late 19th and early 20th Century by Reformed Christians of the time. It pertains to the sovereign grace of God bestowed upon all of mankind regardless of their election. Effectively, this means that God has always bestowed His graciousness on all people in all parts of the world throughout all of history.

The Three Points of Common Grace were formulated in 1924 when the Christian Reformed Church adopted the doctrine at the Synod of Kalamazoo.

The First Point:

The first point refers to the favorable attitude of God toward all His creatures, not only toward the elect. "The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made" (Psalm 145:9).

Jesus said God causes “his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) and God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).

The Second Point:

The second point pertains to the restraint of sin in the life of an individual or society. Scriptures record many accounts of God directly intervening and restraining individuals from sinning. For example, in Genesis 20, God restrained Abimelech from touching Sarah, Abraham's wife. God appeared to Abimelech in a dream to affirm what had happened as described in Genesis 20:6.

Another clear example of God restraining the wicked hearts of evil men is seen in God's protection of the land of Israel and it's people from being invaded and killed by pagan nations on their border. God commanded the men of Israel that three times a year they would leave their plot of land to go and appear before Him (Exodus 34:23). To ensure the protection of God’s people from invasion during these times, even though the pagan nations surrounding them desired their land year-round, God promised that “no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God” (Exodus 34:24).

Not only does the second point of Common Grace include God's restraining of evil, but also when he sovereignly releases it for His purposes. Scripture recounts the hardening of individuals hearts many times, (Exodus 4:21; Joshua 11:20; Isaiah 63:17), He does so by releasing His restraint on their hearts, thereby giving them over to the sin that resides there.

In Romans 1, Paul describes those who suppress the truth by their wickedness and how they ultimately fell before the Lord. God “gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:28).

The Third Point:

Those of mankind who do not have renewed hearts, will still be influenced by God's nature so that even they will perform good deeds toward his fellow man.

As Paul said of a group of unregenerate Gentiles, they “do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Romans 2:14). The necessity of God restraining the hearts of the un-redeemed becomes clear when we understand the biblical doctrine of total depravity.

If God did not restrain the evil that resides in the hearts of all men, hearts which are “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), humanity would have destroyed itself centuries ago. But because He works through common grace given to all men, God’s sovereign plan for history is not thwarted by their evil hearts. In the doctrine of common grace, we see God’s purposes stand, His people blessed, and His glory magnified.

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