Theology

The Non-Salvific Benefits of Common Grace

A picture of a sunset signifying common grace

There are a variety of ways one could define common grace. In Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology, he defines common grace as “the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation. Common refers to something that is common to all people and is not restricted to believers or the elect only” (Grudem, 657).

This systematic category of common grace is worth exploring in Scripture because it teaches us of God’s blessing and mercy even to the unsaved. Sometimes the believer can mistakenly think that God doesn’t give blessing to unbelievers, but that is surely not the case. Because God is gracious and kind, those blessings do find their way to unbelievers in a variety of ways.

As a part of common grace, God gives general blessings to all mankind.

Matthew 5:45 and Acts 14:17 speak of God giving rain and sunshine and fruitful seasons for harvest. These verses also make it clear that these common blessings extend to those that even reject God. Matthew 5:45 notes specifically that these gifts of common grace are to the “just and the unjust.”

Psalm 145:9 says, “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works.” There is no qualification in the context of Ps 145. God clearly desires to manifest his goodness and mercy. In this way, both believer and unbeliever benefit from God’s design of friendship, love, beauty, joy, etc. These are all parts of creation which flow from God’s creative genius, and which are available to both the rebel and the saint.

As a part of common grace, God provides the restraint of sin in the world.

Without restraint mankind would plunge into the depths of deplorable activity. In describing the post-Fall world of Genesis 6 we are told that “every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Even after the flood, this did not change. God still observed that “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). Paul says mankind naturally “suppresses the truth” about God (Rom 1:18) and willfully “does not accept” the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). There is clearly a bent toward sin within humanity.

However, verses such as Genesis 6:3 indicate that God’s Spirit strives with man. Satan and his followers are not allowed to wreak unchecked havoc on creation (Job 1:12; 2:6). Additionally, God has designed the government as a natural check on the evil system (Rom 13:1-4) so that evil is mitigated. Even the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) resulted in a multitude of nations which would act as mutual restraints against the evil desires of other nations. Even 2 Thessalonians 2:7 talks about “He who now restrains it [i.e., lawlessness] will do so until he is out of the way.” Many interpreters see that as a reference to the Holy Spirit, who during the time of the man of lawlessness (2 Thess 2) will remove His restraining influence. Clearly, within common grace God has provided restraint against sin. In other words, the world is not as sinful as it could be if left to itself.

As a part of common grace, God convicts the world of sin.

This is perhaps a oft-neglected aspect of common grace. John 16:8-11 speaks of the Holy Spirit’s convicting work in the world system. The Spirit convicts the world of their sin, of their false system of righteousness, and their biased judgment. This convicting work of the Spirit is a merciful call to the world to repent for anti-God behavior. The Spirit uses the conscience, God’s natural warning system, as one of the means of convicting the world of their sin as well. Thus, conscience is yet another evidence of God’s undeserved protection of man.

Common grace is a worthy topic of meditation for the Christian. The kindness and goodness of the Lord extends to all creation, though they are inherently undeserving of it. Praise the Lord for He is kind and good to all!

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.