Common Grace – Chapter 31

By Brandon Clay / April 11, 2020

Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – What are the undeserved blessings the God gives to all people, both believers and unbelievers?

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In this next chapter, Wayne Grudem opens up Part 5 on the Doctrine of the Application of Redemption with a chapter entitled Common Grace. Common grace can be defined as “the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation.” The idea is that common is granted to everyone regardless of their election to salvation.

Grudem identifies multiple areas where common grace is evident. They include the physical realm, the intellectual realm, the moral realm, and so on. Common grace does not save people, but it does grant unbelievers a measure of blessing despite their rejection of God. In addition, God teaches some things about himself to believers and unbelievers through his common grace. 

Examples of Common Grace

The world deserves judgment. Anything in our world that does not look like the fires of hell is an example of God’s common grace. And there are several examples of common grace.

In the physical realm, we see common grace active in several ways. For one, the earth does not always produce thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). Instead, we see rain, seasons, varieties of food, provision for shelter, life, joy, and every blessing believers and unbelievers enjoy. Paul told the people of Lystra, “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 17:23).  

In the intellectual realm, God has given each person a measure of knowledge through common grace. For instance, John tells us Jesus is the “true light which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). We all have a measure of understanding because of Jesus. In addition, we all know something about God because of common grace (Romans 1:21). Every good intellectual endeavor carried out by unbelievers is possible because of common grace. 

In the moral realm, God gives his common grace to restrain people from being as evil as they could be. We see in Romans 1:24, God gave some over to greater sin than others. That suggests that others have not been given up to that sin yet. We can see this practically lived out in Western culture. Whereas we have largely abandoned our Christian heritage, our society is not (yet) a nation of cannibals. In other words, we are not as bad as we could be. 

In the societal realm, we see God’s common grace in family and governmental entities. In the family, many unbelievers enjoy the benefits of marriage and children in a stable family though they do not acknowledge the source of marriage, namely God (Genesis 2:24). In a similar way, God’s common grace is also shown to people through human governments. Paul speaks of this grace in Romans 13:4 regarding the civil magistrate: “for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” God’s common grace is demonstrated through presidents, prime ministers, and police.    

Limit of Common Grace

God’s common grace is multi-faceted and apparent in several ways, but there’s a serious limitation: common grace does not save anyone. Common grace may point people to God’s kindness to all people and limit the evil in individuals, families, and societies, but it will not bring people to a saving knowledge of God. Only those who are reconciled to God by grace through faith in Jesus are those who can be saved (Ephesians 2:8,9). So people may acknowledge God’s goodness and wisdom but they will not ultimately be reconciled to him without Christ.

Application: Common Grace Helps Us Relate to Unbelievers

There’s one important takeaway to common grace: it teaches us that many things unbelievers do reflect God’s goodness. When unbelievers act in ways that demonstrate the image of God in themselves, we can praise them genuinely as coming from God in some way.

These things can relate to the intellectual realm in something they believe, the moral realm in some good they’ve done, the creative realm in something praiseworthy they’ve built, the societal realm in a way they reflect God’s order, and any area where they demonstrate God’s goodness to humanity. This helps remind us God has left himself with many witnesses throughout all of creation – even in unbelievers, though they may not acknowledge it.  

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

Special Terms

  • common grace
  • special grace

Resources: Wayne Grudem

Related Resources

Brandon Clay is a Christian (Reformed Baptist) and an apologist. He earned a BA in history from the University of Texas and an MA in theological studies from Southern Seminary. Brandon is married and has 4 children, one of whom (Knox) is now with the Lord.

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