The Rhino Room | What is Common Grace?

Rhino Room

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What is common grace and how is it manifest?

Nicolas Alford (Pastor, Grace Baptist Church of Taylors, South Carolina)

Common grace is the doctrine that God has a universal love for all mankind, and we who affirm it shouldn’t be afraid to say so. Similar to how I have different sorts of love for different things (how I love my favorite sandwich, compared to how I love my wife), God has different sorts of love for different people as well. He loves his elect in a special and redemptive way, but he still loves all mankind-elect and non-elect included.

It is manifest in his indiscriminate benevolence, his restraint of sin, and the reality of many blessings in the lives of people who will never confess faith in Jesus Christ (Gen 9:8-17, Matt 5:43-48). Common grace also is intended to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4-5), a powerful argument for the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel.

Also, bacon is common grace.

Samuel Barber (Pastoral Assistant, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

Common grace is the reason why good things happen to bad people. Common grace is that undeserved favor, which God freely bestows upon all of fallen, sinful mankind (hence the word common). In Genesis 8:20-9:7, God makes a covenant with all of creation after the flood (with Noah as the federal head) where he promises general blessings for life to all of mankind. Jesus also addresses this concept in Matthew 5:45; here he tells his disciples that God gives good gifts both to wicked and to righteous men. The point is that God’s benevolence and kindness are not restricted simply to his elect people. God does not withhold good even from his enemies. Common grace is not saving grace, but it does reveal God’s general love for all of his creation, and it urges men to turn to God in repentance (Romans 2:4).

Wayne Brandow (Pastor, Bible Baptist Church of Galway, New York)

Common Grace is none other than the universal good that God manifests towards all men. In the Sermon on the Mount, God’s grace to both the evil and the good is clearly expressed in Mathew 5:44-45: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Common Grace reveals to us that God is not a malevolent God, but He is characterized by benevolence. This is even seen in the fact that He “does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). That God is said to repent in Genesis 6 is best explained by common grace.

Robert Cole (Pastor, Berean Baptist Church of Modesto, California)

To witness and experience common grace, one need only to spend 15 minutes in your local Walmart. There you will find a wide array of people enjoying common grace. All people, regardless of their standing with God, are enjoying the fruits of their labor as they spend it on items both of necessity and pleasure. Many of these people live blatantly as if the God who has provided these things does not exist while others who do know Him (This observer included) either honor him there or live as if He has not given to them for His own glory. Like common grace, all of the items on the shelves have an expiration date. “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (‭1 John‬ ‭2‬:‭17, ESV).

Matt Foreman (Pastor, Faith Reformed Baptist Church of Media, Pennsylvania)

Common Grace is God’s general goodness, loving care, and providential influence for all of His creation, especially in humanity.  By common grace, God retains his image in humanity, influences their consciences, restrains their sin, and manifests his goodness and gifts in their lives, irrespective of their faith or its lack.  God can be at work, manifesting goodness, in and through even unbelievers and unbelieving cultures.  However, God only shows special, saving grace to his elect.

Dr. Bob Gonzales (Dean, Reformed Baptist Seminary)

The basic meaning of grace-vocabulary in Scripture is kindness or favor. Some favor is shown by God or man to the deserving and is, therefore, merited (Luke 2:52). More often, though, the favor God shows toward humanity is unmerited. To the elect he shows an exclusive favor that may be called “saving grace” (Eph 2:8). To fallen humanity in general God bestows an indiscriminate favor that may be called “common grace” (Luke 6:35).

Theologians usually classify the manifestations of common grace as (1) God’s restraint of human sin (Gen 11:6-9), (2) God’s conferral of temporal blessings upon humans (Matt 5:45), and (3) God’s endowment of humans with knowledge, capacities, and skills (Gen 4:20-22). While common grace by itself cannot effect the sinner’s salvation, it can serve to reveal God’s saving posture toward sinful men. In that sense, we may say common grace has a saving design (Rom 2:4).

Marc Grimaldi (Pastor, Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Merrick, New York)

Especially as a cursed, fallen and condemned people, under the judgment of God, mankind is never entitled to any form of benevolence from God.  And yet, God has chosen to exercise grace — His free favor and unmerited kindness — toward unworthy sinners.  This grace meets fallen man, in two ways:

  1. God exercises “special” or salvific grace toward His elect children, whom He has chosen to redeem, adopt and sanctify in Christ, before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1).
  2. God exercises “common” grace toward all of mankind, in that He provides man with various temporal blessings, in accordance with their needs.  In this sense, God exercises a general benevolence toward all, making “His sun rise on the evil and on the good, sending rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45).”

God’s common grace also serves as a restraint for evil.  Without it, the world would immediately devour itself.

Nicholas Kennicott (Pastor, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

Common grace is God’s unmerited favor and kindness shown to both believers and non-believers alike. My garden doesn’t grow any better than my non-Christian neighbor’s garden simply because I’m a Christian. God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). We all depend on common grace every day, usually without recognizing it, and should give thanks for things like doctors and medicine, beautiful music and art, and the restraint of evil. Cultures that place a higher value on biblical morality have greater measures of common grace, while those under God’s judgment experience very little. Unfortunately, many Christians seek to live all of life upon God’s common grace instead of partaking of the abundant riches of that which is only available to the Christian in God’s special, sovereign grace.

Chris Marley (Pastor, Miller Valley Baptist Church of Miller Valley, Arizona)

Common grace is really one of the most underrated doctrines we have, and its displacement has caused serious errors, like trying to make Plato or Confucius Christians. We have to acknowledge the reality of God giving good, temporal things to reprobates. There are two connections that I have not seen in writing that have always hung in the back of my mind. First, the concept of common grace is connected to God’s unique interplay between justice and mercy as he gives reward (their best life now, if you will) to the lost, because our best life is next. This is all the reprobate ever gets. The second connection that I see common grace as connected to or even a sub-category of secondary causes. Wealth, wisdom, talent, etcetera are given to the unregenerate as part of the secondary cause system that God works together for our good and his glory.

Chris Okogwu (Church Plant Coordinator, Sovereign Grace Bible Church of Abuja, Nigeria)

In God’s holy and wise oversight in ruling over all His creation in His exhaustive providence, “the Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made. . .the eyes of all look to You, and You give them food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psa. 145:9, 15-16); this is a glimpse of His common grace.

Common grace speaks of God’s indiscriminate or general benevolence/kindness to all (Matt. 5:45). It is God’s gracious bestowal of natural gifts, such as the breath of life (Isa. 42:5), intelligence and ability to make wealth (Deut. 8:18, Ecc. 5:19), food for consumption (Acts 14:17), and all perceivable and imperceivable good which men richly enjoy is received from Him (Psa. 85:12, 1Cor. 4:7, 1Tim. 6:17).

Douglas Van Dorn (Pastor, Reformed Baptist Church of Northern Colorado)

Common Grace is grace, just like Special Grace is grace. Same grace. This grace (either Common or Special) is not a “thing,” not a “substance,” much less are they two separate “things.” Grace is a disposition of kindness, love, and a willingness to save. Common Grace is “the tastes of God’s love” upon sinners.[1] It is the way God is operating towards unbelievers as he restrains their evil, preserves them, works through government, shows them mercy, patience, and favor with a view of winning them to repentance (Romans 2:4) through a well-meant offer of the Gospel. It is distinguished from God’s disposition towards the elect at a particular point in their lives on the earth when he operates in a special way because of his love of election via the Holy Spirit who quickens them and effectually brings them to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

[1] See Thomas Manton“A Practical Commentary, Or An Exposition with Notes on the Epistle of Jude,” in The Complete Works of Thomas Manton (London: James Nisbet & Co. 1871), 5:62-63.

God Hates Phelps?


1394988620000-homophobeIt is strange as a Christian to read of the death of a man with the title “pastor” and have a high degree of confidence that he is now in hell. The Bible is very clear that while salvation is by grace alone through faith in the works of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and that it is not given to anyone because of their good deeds in this life; the Bible is also very clear that people who have been saved by this free grace are in fact personally changed by that salvation, and that the fruit of their salvation flows out in their everyday lives. Fred Phelps has spent decades putting the rotten fruit of his fallen heart on display for all of the world to see, as he has spread as much hate and pain as he was able in his 84 years of life. Even worse, he has grossly misrepresented the God of heaven to an entire generation of spectators. Yet here as always, God will not be mocked. Although we must always make the caveat that only God knows the ultimate realities of the heart, the title of “pastor” is no barrier to my saying that if I think anyone went to hell when they died, I think this is true of Fred Phelps.

What should be the reaction of the Christian? These moments are difficult to navigate, but here are six thoughts to help guide us along.

1. We should condemn the mission, message, and methods of the Westboro Baptist Church without hesitation

It is quite true that the Bible condemns homosexuality. Biblical Christians must not flinch on this fact, no matter how far the pendulum of our culture’s value system continues to swing away from us. But there is simply no precedent for the sort of hateful, vile things that Westboro has done. Jesus was a friend of sinners. He could be very frank with them, but he was the sort of man that they were actually drawn too. It wasn’t the sinners who stirred up the crowd against him; it was actually the religious hypocrites. If Jesus came now, I believe it would actually be groups like Westboro that would be shouting, “crucify Him!” When you add to this the fact that this group picketed Military funerals for some convoluted connection to policies in support of the homosexual agenda, bringing great pain upon innocent grieving families, the filthy value system of these people is on full display. Christians must condemn such evil without a hint of hesitation.

2. We should not allow ourselves to be wrongfully identified with hate speech we do not own

There is always an attempt to hang such shameful distortions of the faith around the necks of all Christians. We must not allow this. Taking a principled stand for Biblical truth does not make you a bigot. The Bible is not hate speech. We must contend for a faithful and firm witness against a hostile culture that is seasoned with love, respect, and charity. We are not Fred Phelps, and we must object when we are made out to be for simply believing and proclaiming Biblical truth.

3.    We should not give in to a morbid rejoicing over a man’s death

The point of this post is not to break out into a sort of sanctified version of “ding, dong the witch is dead.” God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and neither should we. It is a chilling thing to consider the awful reality of a man like Phelps being called to account before the Judge of all the earth. The culture will make this a cause of celebration. Obscene jokes will be made. Christians must not impugn our witness by taking part in such morbid rejoicing.

4. We should be thankful to God for providentially removing a man who persisted in great evil

The above point does not mean that we cannot be thankful for God’s providence in this matter. Although I would have vastly preferred that this pitiful and angry man be granted repentance, God has seen fit to remove his evil presence from the world by means of his death. I trust God that He has done rightly, and I do not hesitate to say I am thankful that Mr. Phelp’s mouth is now silenced. True, I suspect that his followers will persist in carrying out his mission, but I am hopeful that this marks the beginning of the end of the Westboro Baptist Church.

5. We should stand on Biblical truth, being a faithful witness against sin in all its spectrum of expression

The temptation to give up Biblical ground on the issue of homosexuality is great. The cultural pressure is already massive, and coercive tactics may not be far ahead. Brothers and sisters, we must not cave to this pressure. We must stand with the Word of God, even if all others stand against us for it. When read in proportion and balance, the Bible’s doctrine on this matter is already equipped to give a faithful answer to its critics. Our job is to stand strong and declare that witness. This means condemning sin in all its spectrum of expression, including homosexuality, while constantly pleading grace and pointing all who will listen to the redeeming love of Jesus Christ.

6. This is a moment for the gospel to transcend current events

Mr. Phelps was not just the enemy of gays and military families; he was the enemy of true Christians as well. Christians are called to hate sin, but also to love our enemies. How are we to grapple with this complex reality, this strange place we find ourselves in condemning his message, mission, and methods while standing firm against the sin of homosexuality? In ourselves, we are insufficient to the task. Yet it is moments like this that the transcendent brilliance of the gospel can break in. Yes, God hates Phelps in that Phelps is a sinner. God’s Holy character allows Him to do nothing else. But this is true of every single one of us. We are all sinners and are justly under the Holy hatred of God. Yet the unexpected and shocking scandal of Christianity is that God himself became a man in the person of Jesus Christ; that the Holy One came and suffered for the sins of men. This is why the love of God exceeds all earthly loves. There is no saga ever conceived which holds a candle to the blazing flame of God’s self-sacrificing love for sinners. Some of those he died for were bigots. Some were gay. Some were religious hypocrites. All stood in equal desperate need of his grace. He is our only hope, now and forevermore.

So in a sense, yes, God hates Phelps. And it’s temping to get out some markers and make a sign to that effect. But maybe the better thing is to be a faithful witness to the fact that God has hatred against all the sins of men under the sun, without distinction, whether it be homosexuality or adultery; bigotry or racism. Sins which often get a pass in Christian circles such as pride, gossip, and hypocricy are no less deserving of hell than anything perpetrated by Westboro or the Gay Lobby. But our plight is not hopeless. To the merchants of hate in Kansas and to the most resistant Homosexual; the call goes out from our Savior without distinction and without prejudice: Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

 (By: Nicolas Alford)

Image Credit: David Zalubowski, AP

Read more at The Gospel Coalition, Christian Post, and Christianity Today.

Pride: Sin’s Sinister Seed (Part VI- Its Vital Remedy)

Christian Living

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V

There is danger is posting a series on something like the Christian’s battle against pride.  That danger is that the reader take away the impression that the Christian life is a moralistic struggle to merit God’s favor or smile.  Lest these be any misunderstanding, let me me perfectly clear: Not only is that sort of legalistic program contrary to what I have been trying to advance in these posts, it is an anti-gospel and hopeless pursuit which will get you nowhere.

While the battle must be waged, and we must be gaining ground, the fact is that pride is too great an enemy for any of us to kill off.  Moralism and legalism are dead-ends because they always end in failure.

Our only hope is grace.  That grace is found in Jesus Christ.  He is the vital remedy we seek.

In the Christian’s battle against pride, Christ is both our pattern for success and our only hope in failure.  He is our example and our redemption.

In Christ we find the ultimate pattern of humility, and the antithesis of pride.  This in the one who is our eternal God, who is the second person of the Holy Trinity, who was not created and had no beginning and will have no end, very God of very God; and yet this is the one who became a man, who said in essence “I the Creator will enter my own creation, I will humble myself by taking on the flesh of men, I will walk among them and live among them and I will be one of them and I will do this to save them from their rebellion against me.”

Jesus Christ is the God who became man without ceasing to be God and the one who humbled himself to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

When we seek a pattern of humble living, there is none to look to other than Christ.

But that’s not enough!  We need more than a pattern; we need more than an example, because we’ve already failed.  And we’re going to keep failing.  Even with his perfect picture of the life we should lead we don’t lead it.  Our rebel hearts are too in love with themselves.

But Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28)

The ultimately humble one has done that which our prideful hearts would have never considered, let alone gone through with.  He has taken our sins, even the sin of pride, the sin which rejects him and spits in his face and scoffs at his love, he has taken all of those sins and he has endured an unthinkable level or torment on our behalf.

I wrote in an earlier post that the final effect of sin is an eternity in hell.  I write now that Christ suffered on the cross what it would have taken you an eternity to suffer for.  He has taken all the weight and pain and anguish of your hell for you.  That is what the cross is.  The cross is Jesus Christ suffering the pains of hell so that sinners like us will never have to go there.

And the perfection of his sinless life has been offered out to us in exchange for our filth.  The gospel is that Christ takes all your sin away, having paid for it on the cross, and he gives to you his perfection, so that when you stand before God on the day of judgment, he will not see the angry, petty, vindictive,  dishonest, and ruined life you’ve led.  He won’t see your pride.  He’ll see only the perfections of Christ.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus Christ is the vital remedy, not only for our pride, but for all our sins.  There is no hope without Him.  He is the resurrected, living Lord, he is King, it is his rule to which we crucify our pride and submit in humble worship, devotion, and total reliance for salvation.

Look to Him as your example as you seek to put this sin of pride to death, be serious, be tenacious, give it no rest as you seek to grow as a Christian, but never, never, never, never forget that only the blood of Christ can cover this or any other sin.  Forgetting that will not only lead you away from the gospel, which is the very lifeblood of your faith, but it will cultivate in you that which you seek to battle against.

Forgetting Christ in this battle against pride will simply make you more prideful.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

But the very fall pride leads to can be a powerful means of grace.  It weans us off of our false self-sufficiency.  It exposes our pride and teaches us to rely on God.  It corrects our view of reality, that it is not we who sits at the pinnacle of our universe, it is the Lord alone.

It brings us back to the cross as our only hope.

Nebuchadnezzar, after his pride led him to total destruction, after he had looked down on everyone and everything and had sought to look down even on God, after his destruction, he lifted his eyes to heaven, and blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever.  He repented.

And the Lord gave Him grace.  And there is grace for us in Christ.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

The One Verse in the Bible all Christians Can Disagree With

The Gospel

Sounds sacrilegious, doesn’t it? But there is indeed one verse in the Bible which we can all emphatically disagree with.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)

All Christians who have looked with unflinching eyes at the depths of their own sin can respectfully protest Paul’s claim to be the foremost of sinners. On what ground? There can only be one chief, and we should all argue with passion that that inglorious crown is our own.

We’ll have an eternity to disagree on this one, and to praise our Lord Jesus who came into the world to save sinners, of whom we would all argue to be the foremost.