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Common Grace for Enemies of God | The Work of Christ and Salvation

As taught by Zach Thompson.


"Why would a righteous God not immediately destroy us?"


In this equipping time lesson, we learn the difference between common grace and saving grace.


Common Grace for Enemies of God

Good morning everyone! 


Let’s pray as we begin. 


This morning, we will be continuing our Equipping Time series through the Work of God and Salvation, but this week, we are taking something of a detour. 


Common Grace for Enemies of God. That’s the title of our time this morning. 


We are going to talk about how, in our natural state, all of us are enemies of God, but even if we were never to submit to Jesus, God graciously lets us experience good things in this life. 


In the coming weeks, we are going to be spending a lot of time thinking through the order of salvation. We’ll talk about Union with Christ and Election and Regeneration and Justification and several other things, but before we get there, this week, I want to get out ahead of something. 


How could it be that a good God doesn’t save everyone? 


At face value, it seems like a fair question. He’s good, and we aren’t too bad, so why would he be so harsh? 


But this betrays a bad assumption. Doesn’t it? We think that we aren’t too bad. We think that we don’t actually deserve God’s judgment. 


If we really believe what God has said about himself, then we must start with the honest recognition that in our natural state, we are enemies of God. We deserve nothing from him except for wrath. 


Before we consider common grace, I think that it’s important that we have this reality firmly planted in our minds. Naturally, we are rebels and enemies against a holy God. 


So let’s start by considering Romans 5. 


Romans 5:6–12 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person, one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned."


This text is a gospel text. It applies the gospel to our hearts like a loving mother putting extra jelly on her favorite child’s toast. It’s so good. That’s why it’s one of the most quoted sections of the Bible. 


But why is it so good? Because it deals honestly with reality. 


This text is filled with bad news. Do you see that? It starts with the bad news over and over. In the beginning of verse 6, “while we were still weak. . . Christ died for the ungodly.” Verse 8, Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Verse 10, we were reconciled to God while we were enemies. 


Weak, ungodly, sinners, enemies. 


The world hates these words. These aren’t believe-in-yourself types of words. This is bad self-talk. 


We prefer to think of ourselves as strong and god-like and righteous and friends of God. 


But we aren’t. We are so prone to self-delusion. 


We are like the man who longs to slay dragons but he doesn’t want to quit his daily allotment of Cheetos and Call of Duty. 


Delusional. 


What if you walked into church this morning, and my 4-year-old son Benaiah walked up to you and said, “Hey… I bench-pressed 150 pounds this week. Also, I’m really smart. I have a doctorate.” 


You would laugh because it’s ridiculous. It’s so clearly untrue that if you sincerely believe it, then you are delusional. 


All of us are so prone to sin, and in our sin, we are enemies of the good and perfect and righteous God. 


Enemies. 


Outside of Christ, all of mankind stands before God as rebels. 


Think of a good and righteous king. He reigns over his kingdom in peace. And a group of rebels crop up. They are murdering and pillaging. Causing uproar throughout the kingdom. The peace of the land is gone. 


What should that king do? He should put down the rebellion. 


We would expect any king to lead his troops and destroy the rebels. Restore order where there was chaos. 


Outside of Christ, this is where we are with God. A rebellion that needs to be quelled. 


In ourselves, we are not strong. We are not godly. We are not righteous. We are not friends of God. 


Earlier, we asked a question. How could a good God not save everyone? But if we are asking that, then we are ignoring our own state before God. 


When we understand this biblical teaching of our natural state before God, it changes how we view the world. It will cause us to reframe our questions. 


We should be asking something like this. Why would a righteous God not immediately destroy us? 


Or beyond that, why on earth would God give us anything good at all? 


We are totally depraved. In ourselves, every piece of us is touched by the fall, and we can’t expect to be good or do good or experience good. 


We are like inmates on death row who are offered small comforts while we wait for our fate. A last meal before the executioner’s bench.


Why did Hitler get to taste good food? Why does the mob boss get to experience the joy that wells up in you at the genuine laughter of a child? Why do we get to experience that perfect fall day lying in a hammock? Why do people have gifts and talents? How could wicked rebels naturally do something that is kind or virtuous? 


The answer to all of these is common grace. 


So now, let’s turn to common grace. We’ll start with a definition, then we’ll turn to survey what Scripture says about common grace. 


Common grace is the manifestation of God’s grace toward all mankind.


Common Grace.


The word common denotes that this is a grace common to all humanity. It’s a communal grace. 


By this, we mean that this is distinct from the grace that God shows us in salvation. 


We have to be absolutely clear about this because it’s common to confuse these categories. 


People take the extent of common grace (everyone), and they try to apply it to the effect of saving grace (those who believe). 


Saving grace saves. And the Bible is so clear that not everyone will be saved. In fact, it says that relatively few will. 


Matthew 7 says that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”


Saving Grace is for God’s people, but common grace is for all people, even including God’s enemies. 


So if you think about it from the standpoint of God’s attributes, God is loving, and therefore he is gracious. And in this reality, we see two distinct manifestations of his grace. Common grace and saving grace. Common Grace is his manifestation of his grace toward all mankind, but God’s saving grace is only toward his Elect, his chosen people.


So where do we see this in scripture? 


As we often do, we should start in Genesis 1-3. 


Adam was created in the image of God. He was created with natural religious fellowship with God. He knew God, and he was inherently inclined toward worship. He was inherently inclined toward being a right representative of God‘s creation. 


And God gave Adam a single command. Genesis 2:16, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 


And we know the story. This creature from the dirt who had been given perfect fellowship with God and perfect fellowship with his wife and all those who would come from them– this man rebelled. 


And immediately, God showed grace. “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” God didn’t immediately destroy Adam and all of his descendants. 


At the fall, the image of God was damaged, but it wasn’t destroyed. Adam’s relationship with God had been severed by sin. Adam was meant to rule over creation, but now he would wrestle with the creation every day for his bread. At the same time, Adam was created for perfect delight in God and God’s good gifts, and that delight was not entirely removed. 


Part of the Lord’s mercy on Adam was that he was given clothes. He didn’t immediately die. He is still able to enjoy the goodness of God’s creation. And that mercy of God continues to this day. In Adam, humanity is still given good things, even though we are rebels and enemies of God. God is gracious


Think for a moment about what God could have done on that day. He could have taken away our intellect. Our ability to create things. Our ability to taste the food we have. He could have taken away every joy and every good thing. He could have looked down on all who would ever be born and speak you into existence as one who is already in torment. 


But he didn’t. 


Because God is loving. He is gracious. And he shows common grace to all humanity. 


We see this testified all over the Bible. 


Psalm 145:9, “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”


Matthew 5:45, “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.”


James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”


We aren’t going to try and list everything here, but I think we would be helped by meditating on some of the specific ways that we see God enacting manifesting common grace in scripture and even in our own experience. 


Specific manifestations of God’s common grace on humanity: 


  • Restraint of Sin 

  • We are totally depraved, but things are not as bad as they could be. We don’t follow our wicked thoughts to their natural conclusions. Society isn’t as horrible as it could be.

  • A relatively ordered society—government, taxes, traffic laws, 

  • Think about this in your own heart. We all have those moments where if we actually did the thing that ran through our mind, we would be a psychopath. It’s like in the movie Up. Do you remember when the old man, Carl is in his house that is being carried by balloons, and he daydreams for a moment about lowering the irritating boy scout out of his flying house but then he accidentally drops him. Normal people might have things like that run through their minds. But they don’t do it. That’s common grace. That’s God’s restraint of sin. 

  • And if you don’t believe me on this restraint of sin thing, then look at your Bible. Over and Over, we see God release people into their sin. It’s like we are dogs constantly pulling at our leash so that we can go and chase the bus but God holds us back. But there are times when we can see it. Times when God gives people over to their base desires. Romans 1:22-25, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 

  • Restraint of God’s wrath

  • When you go outside, you aren’t usually worried about hellfire and brimstone raining down on you. 

  • This doesn’t mean that God’s wrath is non-existent. But he’s patient. Romans 3 teaches us that in God’s divine forbearance, he can pass over sins for a time. It doesn’t mean that he won’t deal with them. It’s that he is waiting until the right time

  • Like when I was at church, Mom would say, “Just wait until we get home. You are going to be disciplined. 

  • Intellect and creativity

  • We can praise God for the intellect and abilities of people, even when they have never submitted to him. 

  • Think of our cars. Advances in technology. Art. Music. 

  • As they echo the dominion that they were first called to, humans have been given the grace of experimenting and creating. 

  • Even right after the fall, there are accounts of great metallurgists and musicians and hunters–things that we still, to this day, take joy in. 

  • Intrinsic knowledge of God and His law (Rm 1-2)

  • Romans 2:14-15, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature, do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts”

  • Relationships and Positive Emotional Experiences

  • This is related to our last point. Think of that moment when a song comes on and everyone starts to sing. Have you ever been in a room when that happens? It’s a wonderful and weird thing that happens. Somehow everyone knows the words and there’s no point in singing the song together. It’s just fun. That’s common grace. 

  • Dancing at a wedding. I can still see Andrew’s hips moving from Aaron and Ashleigh’s wedding. 

  • The warm embrace of someone you love. The laughter of a child. 

  • Marriage is part of common grace. In Adam, we can still be married. People who don’t trust in Jesus are just as married as those who don’t. 


How should we respond to common grace? 


  • Give Thanks!

  • The Imam who gave thanks in the bathroom. He was right to be grateful, but he was thanking the right God.

  • It doesn’t mean that every person experiences these equally, but it means that all people experience some semblance of it. 


  • Use Common Grace in Evangelism

  • We don’t deserve it.  

  • Common Grace isn’t saving grace, but it points us there. Because common grace is not based on how good you are, or how bad you are. God sends the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. And in a similar way, the grace that saves you is not tied to your goodness. It’s tied to the goodness of God. To the goodness and faithfulness of Jesus Christ. He is the covenant keeper, and under his headship, we are counted as covenant keepers. So the question is this: Why do you think that you deserve it? 

  • Acts 14:16-17, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 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.”

  • God is being patient for the sake of repentance

  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

  • Romans 2:4, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

  • Ezek 18:23, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

  • Don’t take it as God’s approval

  • We must plead with people. Don’t settle. Don’t settle for playing in the mud when you’ve been offered a vacation at the sea. Think of the Psalms and the good things that the wicked have while the Righteous languish. Just because someone has a good thing doesn’t mean that they have eternal delight. 

  • Psalm 10:4-6, “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” 5 His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them. 6 He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations, I shall not meet adversity.” 


  • Imitate God 

  • Mt 5:45-46, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

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