Common grace – the doctrine

By Dave Henning / August 15, 2023

“The doctrine of common grace is the teaching that God bestows gifts of wisdom, moral insight, goodness, and beauty across humanity, regardless of race or religious belief.”- Timothy Keller

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”- James 1:17 (NIV)

Timothy Keller concludes Chapter 3 of The Prodigal Prophet with the second lesson we should learn from the book of Jonah.

2.  Recognizing common grace.  Hence, Pastor Keller underscores, believers need to respect and learn from the wisdom God gives to those who don’t believe.  Thus, in the book of Jonah the pagan sailors provide a graphic portrayal of what theologians call common grace.

Furthermore, as Phyllis Trible comments on Jonah in The New Interpreter’s Bible:

“In [this] episode, hope, justice, and integrity reside not with Jonah . . . but with the captain and the sailors. . . .  Though blameless victims, the sailors never cry injustice.  Finding themselves in a situation not of their making, they seek to solve it for the good of all.”

Most significantly, Pastor Keller notes, without common grace we’d find the world an intolerable place.  Because common grace wonderfully expresses God’s love to all people.  In addition, common grace enables nonbelievers to often act more righteously than believers.  Despite their lack of faith.  And, in contrast, believers filled with remaining sin often act far worse than their right belief in God leads others to expect.

In conclusion, Pastor Keller underscores, all this serves as a challenge to Christians to act humbly and respectfully to those who don’t share their faith.  As a result, Christians need to appreciate the work of all people, knowing unbelievers have much to teach them.  Pastor Keller adds:

“The text indicates that Jonah resisted doing anything or even talking to the pagan sailors.  The bad prophet Jonah is the very opposite of the Good Samaritan.  He has . . . no respect for the nonbelievers around him. . . .  The lack of mercy in Jonah’s attitude and actions toward others reveals that he was a stranger in his heart to the saving mercy and grace of God.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you witness to nonbelievers?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Created in God’s image”

About the author

Dave Henning

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