Monday, March 23, 2015

The Christian and Common Grace

Excuse me, ma'am.

I didn't realize he was talking to me. I kept walking. Someone coming toward me directed my attention to the gentleman calling after me.

You left this. He held out a bag of groceries to me. In my haste to leave the store, I'd left it at the self-checkout station. A quick glance told me he most likely needed the food more than I.

There are still good people in the world, I thought.

Whether it's airline passengers subduing someone rushing the cockpit or someone handing us an item we forgot, sometimes it's easy to forget that people - even Christians - are not inherently good. Perhaps we are so bombarded with the bad news in our fallen world that long to see the good in people. We forget, as Steven J. Lawson writes, there is
...the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, who strives with unconverted men in order to restrain them from being as sinful as their immoral imaginations would lead them to be. This is a general restraint upon their lives, impeding them from being fully engrossed in their sins. (The Problem of Good: When the World Seems Fine Without God, p.5).
I had heard of common grace, but did not have a good understanding of it until reading this primer on the topic. It was a much-needed reminder for me that we are all sinful creatures. If we don't accept this truth, if we only see the good in people, how will we be compelled to share the gospel with them? And how will people who live good, moral lives or have an abundance of blessings see their need for a savior? These question deserve much thought, and The Problem of Good explores them carefully and answers them wisely.

As much as I may, at times, be quick to think that people are basically good, I confess that there is another side of common grace that confounds me. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). I confess that there are days when I wonder at this verse. I see its truth evident all around me, and I'm frustrated by it. Why should Christians suffer while those who deny God's existence reap benefits seemingly beyond compare? What about having our best life, of being blessed if we do and give enough? They are hollow promises that fall woefully short of the Scriptural truth that in the world you will have tribulation (John 16:33).

Perhaps unbelievers living the American dream don't desire God  because Christians so often despair the way of the cross. Why would they choose the lot we bemoan? In The Problem of Good, Ruth Naomi Floyd quotes Charles Spurgeon,
I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your sufferings be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down (p. 82).
Modern Christians seem to have strayed so far from those before us who, like Spurgeon and Samuel Rutherford, held firm to the belief is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bed-side, and draw aside the curtains, and say 'Courage, I am thy salvation,' than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God. (source). In our estimation suffering should belong to other people, not to those who spend their lives serving God.

I wonder, what would happen if we blessed the Lord for our sufferings? What if, instead of begrudging others their good fortune, we fully grasped and accepted that, as John Leonard writes, ...instead of questioning God's fairness we should be praising him for his goodness...the goodness that we see all around us in the daily acts of men should lead us to worship God because it proves that he is good (The Problem of Good, p. 56-57)?

The truth is, as a believer in Christ, I should not be worried with fair. Regardless of what I consider my present sufferings to be, I have received much more than fair.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Temporal sufferings, like temporal blessings, are an opportunity to bring glory to God. If we who have Christ as our model don't believe that, a lost and dying world never will.

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