Common Grace as a Platform
by John Akeyoh
The presence of common grace in every culture provides moral and intellectual platform for the witness of the Gospel. All over the world in different cultures, we see the need, hunger, and thirst in the hearts of men to express their worship to a divine being. Men in these cultures have knowledge of the existence of a supreme being whom they do fear and give respect as a mighty ‘god’ among their ‘gods’. But has the true God revealed himself to man? Yes for sure He has. God has reveled himself to man in the nature of his creation, in the restraint of sin, and cultural religious values as I shall explain in this article. All these revelation are aspect of God’s common grace which is “favour of God towards all men displayed in His general care of them” (Ryrie, pg.55) and which is a platform for the gospel witness.6 Jane Moeckli’s general definition of culture is helpful here: “A common definition of culture is that it consists of the beliefs, values, norms, and things people use, which guide their social interactions in everyday life.” (Moeckli, p.4)
Though God has revealed himself to man through general and special revelation, on this article, I will discuss about God’s general revelation. What does the word general revelation mean? According to Hoekema, general revelation “… is a theological term that means God’s revelation of Himself through nature which is available to all mankind and which has its goal the revelation of enough knowledge of God to render men and women inexcusable when they do not serve or glorify God” (Pg 196-197). The word revelation means “that act of God whereby He discloses Himself or communicates truth to the mind; whereby He make manifests to His creatures that which could not be known in any other way” ( Thiessen pg 31). Man therefore needs the revealed knowledge about God in order that he may know him. Williams says, “All knowledge of God comes by the way of revelation. The knowledge of God is revealed knowledge; it is Him who gives it” (pg.32).
First of all, God’s revelation to man is seen through the nature of all His creation (Ps.19:1-4). The creation reveals the manifold work of God. Man is without excuse if he does not acknowledge the greatness of God in His creation (Rom1:18-20). Through the material blessings from His creation, God shows His common grace to all people.
“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). An example is the comparison between a believing farmer and unbelieving farmer. To both, God gives rain and sunshine to their crops. This enables an atheist farmer’ crops to germinate, grow, and to produce great harvest just the same way as He does for the believing farmer. In Matt. 5:45, Jesus told his disciples to love their enemies since God bestows His blessings upon all people everyday. These blessings witnesses to the unbelieving farmer that God is good and has not with hold his blessings from him. Paul in Acts 14:17 reminds the people of Lystra of God’s unfailing kindness to man. Paul says,“He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy”. This shows the provision of God to all people everywhere; believers and non believers alike. Do unbelievers understand this? Yes they do. But many still have ungrateful hearts to God (Rom 2:4). Enn says “when people participate in material blessings of God (Matt.5:45) it ought to make them reflect on the goodness of God” (pg. 346).
“God by common grace restrains people from being as evil as they could be” (Grudem pg.660). God does this through the government and man’s conscience. In restraint of sin, Berkof says, “It is seen in all that God does to restrain the devastating influence and development of sin in the world, and to maintain and enrich and develop the natural life of mankind in general and of those individuals who constitute the human race” (pg.438).
The national government is established and ordained by God (Rom.13:1-4).It’s main purpose is to restrain evil amongst people. The Government makes sure that law and order is maintained in the society. A country where there is war and no peace, the gospel cannot be preached. The government therefore plays an important role in the witness of God to man.! God also restrain sin through conscience. The meaning of conscience as Thiessen quotes Cocker is, “…the knowledge of self in relation to a known law of right or wrong” (pg.228). Since the conscience helps to reveal God’s righteous acts and desire to man, man can distinguish between the right and the wrong (Rom.2:14-16). The unbeliever is able to practice right actions within his own culture and also able to avoid wrong actions. Thiessen says that, “the Conscience judges where a proposed course of action or an attitude is in harmony with our moral standard or not and urges us to do that which is in harmony with it and to refrain from that which is in contrary to it” (pg.35).
We see in the scriptures God directly intervening and restraining individuals from sinning. An example is in Genesis 20, where God restrains Abimelech from touching Sarah, Abraham’s wife. God affirms it to him in a dream by saying, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). Abimelech could not have known about God of Abraham if God did not restrain him from touching Abraham’s wife. The conscience therefore acts like a mirror which reflects man’s face. It reflects God, the will of God in the soul of man. By the use of conscience, men can judge actions in the light of the moral standards in their cultures even without the presence of Gods’ written law. As Paul said of a group of unregenerate Gentiles, they “do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Romans 2:14). Inwardly something motivates them to obey the Law of God. Natural law is written in their hearts.
Thirdly, in religious values, the desire that resides in the heart of man seeking for help from a divine being shows mans need of God. The men of Athens in the book of Acts 17:22-23 were very religious and had a great zeal to worship God whom they did not know. Though they had the hunger to express their worship, did they direct their worship to the true God? No. Since they had hunger and thirst for God, they even reserved a place among the gods they worshipped for “unknown god”. From this platform, Paul immediately started teaching them the good news about the God whom they did not know. Therefore from this culture we see how in every culture, there is that longing in the heart of men to express their hunger, needs, and desire to a supernatural being. This act makes it a good ground to help reveal the true living God to the unbelievers by preaching to them the true gospel about God’s grace.
In conclusion, we see that common grace is granted to all. This grace is different from the saving grace that delivers one from sin to turn back to God in faith, repentance, and grateful obedience. Hodge quotes Augustine saying that Common grace “…is sufficient to render to man inexcusable for their impendent unbelief” (Pg.676). Man is still accountable to God whether he believes in Him or not. He has no excuse concerning not glorifying nor thanking for His common grace. All mankind must therefore come to the knowledge of God’s bestowed grace to them and thank, honor, and praise Him.
John Akeyoh is a fourth year student at CABC
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