What is "Common Grace"?

Randy Alcorn

Any Bible-believing Christian should agree that some people are saved and others aren’t. No matter how you understand the “elect” (whether God elects them, as I believe, or that they somehow “elect” themselves) it is a biblical term, used of people about ten times in the New Testament, and of angels at least once. All “common grace” does is point out that God loves the whole world, and exercises patience and kindness even to those who ultimately reject him. In my opinion, an Arminian (non-Calvinist) could agree with that also, and probably would if he didn’t know John Calvin had used the term. (I’m wide open to another term, by the way; it’s the doctrine that I wouldn’t want to part with.)

Regardless of the reasons for it, if someone doesn’t become saved he doesn’t experience saving grace, correct? But he does experience other aspects of God’s grace, what is here called “common grace.” To me this just shows the depth and breadth of Christ’s love. Common grace is demonstrated in Christ’s words, “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” (Matthew 5:44-45). If not for this, we would have “all grace to believers, no grace to unbelievers,” and this would be impossible, since if no grace was shown to someone in rebellion against Christ, he couldn’t draw his next breath, let alone commit his next sin.

Common grace emphasizes the goodness of God. It exactly reverses the standard logic, e.g. Rabbi Kushner who asked “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” and concluded in his bestselling book that God is either not all-good or not all-powerful. He bailed God out (so he thought), rescuing Him from not being good by concluding God is not all-powerful. This has become the predominant logic. Understanding neither God’s holiness nor the reality and extent of our sin, we fail to realize that the question of why bad things happen to good people is exactly backwards. It’s the wrong question. The real question, which angels likely ask (having seen their angelic brethren permanently evicted from Heaven for their rebellion) is “Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?” If we understood how God is and how we are, that is exactly the question we would ask.

This is the wonder and awesomeness of the doctrine of common grace. God graciously and kindly brings good to people who deserve the fires of Hell not simply eventually, but right now. (This goes back to the doctrine of human depravity.)

Taken from "What does “common grace” mean, and is it something I should believe?" by Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 39085 Pioneer Blvd., Suite 206, Sandy, OR 97055, 503-668-5200, www.epm.org

Originally published September 01, 2010.

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