Common Grace and Common Good

Common Grace is a phrase used by theologians to communicate the truth that God has blessed all of His creation with a measure of His grace. The word “common” communicates the universality of God’s work. “Grace” reflects the truth that God has gifted creation with this blessing.

Pastor Tim Keller explains it like this:

The Bible consistently teaches what theologians have come to call “common grace,” a non-saving grace that is at work in the broader reaches of human cultural interaction. This gift of God’s grace to humanity in general demonstrates a desire on God’s part to bestow certain blessings on all human beings, believer and non-believer alike. Understanding common grace provides the basis for Christians to cooperate with and learn from non-Christians.
         -Timothy Keller, What is Common Grace? An article written by Keller in his “Redeemer: City to City” Series – found online at:  Grace.pdf

The essence of this doctrine asserts that God has bestowed His grace upon all of humanity (creation for that matter). Therefore, all human beings have been the recipients of a measure of God’s grace, even if they don’t all respond to God’s saving grace. So – there is a distinction between saving grace and common grace.

God’s common grace has been poured out across the human spectrum. This gift from God results in restraining human beings from utterly depraved actions. In other words, the world is filled with good people who are not Christians. How can they be good without Christ? How can they participate in activities and endeavors that benefit humanity if they are lost? The answer is – common grace.

All humans are depraved, but God’s common grace rescues us from utter depravity. There is enough grace available from God to all humans so that human beings are capable of accomplishing good.

Theologians connect the common grace of God to the general revelation of God. Reading Romans 1-2 is helpful at this point. Paul declares, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).  Because of God’s general revelation to all of humanity, there is a measure of His grace available to everyone.

Think about it. I can be driving a car at a speed of 60mph – headed in one direction. Another car can be traveling at a similar speed – headed in the opposite direction of me. We will pass each other on a two-lane road, within 20 feet of each other – and neither of us will flinch? Why? Why don’t I assume that the driver of the other vehicle is a non-Christian, totally depraved and is out driving today just to kill other people? Why do I assume the best about the other driver? Because of common grace.

Saving grace is the grace applied to our lives when we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord. Obviously, we distinguish between it and common grace.

Now – this doctrine is usually associated with Calvinism. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a Calvinist! Rest assured that this doctrine is one that Protestant Christians across the spectrum can affirm.

Now – how does this connect to a Theology of Work?

Because of God’s common grace, we can all participate in and contribute to the common good. This is where the principle of interdependence comes into play. As human beings, we join hands with all kinds of people to accomplish things that are helpful and beneficial to others.

As Christians, we don’t limit our partnership in the accomplishment of the common good to just other Christians. For example, imagine a Christian farmer growing corn. When it comes time for the harvest – he is going to utilize harvesting equipment to accomplish this task. Does he pause to consider whether or not the equipment he uses was invented by Christians? Does he limit himself to Christian technology? And – when he takes his corn to the cooperative to sell it – will he only sell to Christians? And – will he only allow it to be transported by Christian truckers who drive Christian trucks? Will he only allow it to be sold to Christians in Christian grocery stores?

Ok – I think you get the point. God has placed us here to live interdependent lives. One of the ways we are able to do this is through our vocation. We work for a living. As workers, we become independent in a healthy sense. However, we are not isolated or insulated from others. We are vitally connected to others. Through our accomplishments at work, we can contribute to the overall good of our broader community. In other words, we can contribute to the common good and welfare of others. So – in that sense, we are working with each other (hence the title of today’s lesson!).

Milton Hershey founded his chocolate factory in 1903. He had long worked in the candy business before he landed upon the idea to combine condensed milk and chocolate to produce “milk chocolate.” His idea led to an incredible business career and tremendous financial success. The Hershey Chocolate Company was so successful that it didn’t begin advertising until 1968!

During the Depression of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Hershey decided he did not want to lay off any of his employees. He embarked on a social and public works program that led to the development of the community surrounding the factory. He built hotels, parks, houses and established schools. In fact, he actually increased his workforce while other companies went bankrupt.

Hershey was a Mennonite Christian and believed God had called him to contribute to the greater good. His company provided jobs for workers, blessed the dairy industry and developed a community life that exists to this day in Pennsylvania.