|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
We frequently receive questions from readers and listeners that all focus, in essence, on a single point: Does the Bible teach the doctrine of "common grace"? Answering this question requires using words the way God's Word uses them.
A Matter of Long-Standing Controversy
This issue has long been debated among Protestants. One of the most contentious and classic debates took place in the Christian Reformed Church in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1924, the CRC Synod stated what became known as the "Three Points of Common Grace." The essence of them is as follows:
"...apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general."
"...God by the general operations of His Spirit, without renewing the heart of man, restrains the unimpeded breaking out of sin, by which human life in society remains possible..."
"...the unregenerate, though incapable of doing any saving good, can do civil good...God, without renewing the heart, so influences man that he is able to perform civil good..."1
They believe that point one above entails the general offer of the Gospel to all men, which they deny
They believe that point two compromises the doctrine of the total depravity of man, and that Scripture does not teach a restraint of sin by God
They believe that point three establishes a distinction between "saving good" and "civil good" which they also deny.2
Flawed Positions and Biblical Correctives
Both of these views represent flawed extremes. There are many reasons this is true, but I will only mention the two most significant ones here.
First, the term "common grace" is not founded in Scripture. Whenever it is employed in Scripture to describe Divine-humane relationships, the word translated "grace" (Hebrew khane, Greek karis) is used exclusively in reference to salvation. It would be more precise to refer to God's common mercy or kindness upon all men, saved and unsaved. Mercy involves God's forbearance with the sinfulness of the human race. It is an aspect - one of many - of His providence.
Secondly, these two extreme positions both undermine key aspects of Biblical truth.
It undermines the doctrine of man's total depravity, and has a tendency to elevate the achievement of social "good" to a level almost equivalent with salvation from sin. We see the outworking of this in the social and moral liberalism of the CRC today, and the open teaching of justification by faith-plus-works within that denomination. Norman Shepherd, one of the leading proponents of this heresy, is a CRC minister.
There are, indeed, "none that do good" in a saving sense (Romans 3:12). But even unsaved men do perform acts that are in conformance to God's moral law (Romans 3:20) and which Christ himself described as "good" (Luke 6:33). However, Christ did not commission His Church to improve this sin-cursed world, but to proclaim to man his total depravity and inability to save himself and his desperate need of redemption from the wrath to come, as well as to teach believers to walk in newness of life (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15).
On the other hand, the "PRC position" has this crucial flaw: It undermines the doctrine of the sovereign free offer of the Gospel to all men, which Scripture clearly teaches (Deuteronomy 5:29, 32:29; Psalm 81:13-16; Isaiah 45:22, 48:18; Ezekiel 18:23, 18:32, 33:9-11; Matthew 5:44-48, 11:28, 23:37; Luke 13:34; John 3:16, 6:37; 7:37; Acts 14:17, 17:30; Romans 10; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 22:17).
The free offer of the Gospel does not entail "common grace" or universal salvation, nor is it contrary to the doctrine of man's total inability to save himself, nor is it contrary to the doctrine of God's complete sovereignty in salvation (John 6:44, 6:65; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:6-7, 9:6-18, 11:7-8; 2 Corinthians 1:18, 2:14-16, 4:3-4; Ephesians 1:3-14, 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29). The free offer of the Gospel is God's means of calling His people to repentance (Matthew 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 24:46-47, Romans 1:16), and the rejection of the Gospel offer is also the condemnation of the lost (John 3:18-21; Romans 10:16).
1. Acts of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1924, pages 113-150.
2. Robert Harbach, A Brief Answer to Common Grace, as viewed on the Protestant Reformed Church website on 10-22-2010 at http://www.prca.org/articles/article_5.html.