Common grace is the favor that God grants to the unbelieving world. This is the grace of God by which He grants innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation. The word "common" here means something that is common to all people and is not only restricted to God's elect. We understand more of the character and nature of God when we are clear about common grace. In order to better understand how God blesses all people I will reference the six realms that Wayne Grudem depicted in his work on systematic theology.
The Physical Realm
Unbelievers are able to live in this world, to breath in the air, and be sustained by daily food and drink. I know that there are some exceptions to this, as there are people that die of thirst or hunger, but by and large we see the entire world blessed continually with these physical needs. Furthermore, we know that since the fall of Adam that the wages that we now earn is death, not life. So what is it that keeps the unbeliever alive? Of course it is the common grace of God. In the book of Matthew we read that the Lord Jesus Christ taught this important doctrinal truth, "for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust"(Matt. 5:45). In the Old Testament it is recorded that the unbelieving political leader, Potiphar, was blessed for Joseph' sake. This blessing was a material blessing in which he, Potiphar, prospered even more. Today, just as in any age, people prosper and acquire great physical blessings. How is this explained? It is because God has poured grace upon them.
The Intellectual Realm
There is no such thing as an original thinker. All men are merely interpreters. All originality flows from God and God alone. Any intellectual capacity that is gained comes from the revelation of God. God has revealed Himself generally through His creation and specifically through the inspired literature. God is the source of all intellectual achievement for the believer and unbeliever alike. Any brilliant scientist or technologist acquired this knowledge as God has imparted it to them. God is gracious to all people and allows people to achieve great heights intellectually even if they reject Christ as their savior.
The Moral Realm
God is also the one that restrains people from being as evil as they could be. Mother Theresa lived a life of complete sacrifice and did so apart from a saving relationship with Christ. It is clear that she trusted in her works for salvation. How could an unbeliever be so sacrificial? God bestowed grace to her. We could also consider Benjamin Franklin as an example. He was a professing Deist for most, if not all, of his life. Yet he penned thirteen virtues that are sound principles for any person to live by. In addition, Franklin was the one that called the Constitutional Convention to pause their activity and turn to the Lord in prayer. Mother Theresa and Benjamin Franklin were able to live out these moral virtues because of the common grace of God.
The Creative Realm
What distinguishes us from the rest of God's creation (amongst other things) is the ability to be extraordinarily creative. This should be no surprise to us. Man was created in the image of God and God is the author of creativity and beauty. What may be somewhat surprising though is that many of the most creative people in history did not bow their knee to the Most High God. The Greeks had a creative genius and they were very humanistic in their ideology with a particular emphasis on the rational powers of mankind. Shakespearian literature to this day is considered to be the most creative literature ever penned. Yet Shakespeare was never a born-again believer even though he was largely influenced by the Scriptures. The creative abilities of all people are a result of the outpouring of common grace upon all people.
The Societal Realm
God's grace is very evident in the existence of various organizations and structures in human society. The fact that the family persists today as an institution for believers and unbelievers alike is evidence of this fact. God could have reserved this divine institution only for the elect, but He has chosen it to remain in tact for all people.
Also, a look at governments that exist reveals to us more of God's common favor. Many governments are able to maintain certain elements of goodness and justice. If God left man to pursue the own desire of their hearts all governments would be far worse than Stalin's society or Hitler's regime.
In addition we see that many organizations like education institutions, businesses and corporations, voluntary associations and even personal relationships are able to function due to God's grace. Without the common grace in society we would have not ability to develop, let alone maintain, any of these relationships.
The Religious Realm
The Holy Spirit teaches us in the book of Romans that all people know the one and only God, "because although the knew God, they did not glorify God" (Rom. 1:21). Everyone knows God personally and intimately even though many people reject this truth and they, "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18). People are religious by nature because of common grace. When some serious trial or affliction strikes the unbeliever their response more often than not is to pray or ask a Christian to pray for them. This is because they know God and because God has been gracious to them!
Pattern of Behavior
Understanding the gracious nature of God to the unregenerate gives us a pattern for how we should treat those outside of salvation. If God blesses those that curse Him how much more should we? God showers blessing on the unregenerate and we should seek to do the same. We are reflecting the nature of God when we are gracious to people who do not deserve it. This is what grace is; it is unmerited favor bestowed to a person who has not merited it and certainly does not deserve it! So go and treat the unbelieving world the same way that God Almighty does and then see what an impact we may have.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.