Common Grace

Some believe we have no free will because we are so corrupt we can do nothing good without God’s help; it is our natural inclination to always do evil.  However, the Bible tells about two individuals who were not part of the nation of Israel whose goodness attracted God’s attention.  Job was “blameless and upright (Job 1:1) and God brought this to Satan’s attention (Job 1:6-8).  The book of Acts tells us of:  “. . .a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.  He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:1-2).  If we are incapable of doing good, how did Job and Cornelius manage to do good?  The most common explanation is the actions of Job and Cornelius were the result of the common grace God extends to humans.  However, if these are two examples of God’s common grace, then why does not God extend more common grace?  To choose to extend this grace to some and not to others or to limit the amount of grace he extends makes God rather arbitrary and unfair.  A more logical explanation is that humans do have the innate ability to choose good as well as evil.

Luther believed that we do not have free will; that if we could move toward good, we would have no need of God’s grace. [1]  Grace is defined as:  “a disposition to grant something freely; favor; goodwill; mercy; clemency”.  What is it that God grants us?  The Bible associates grace with whatever God gives us: wisdom (Luke 2:40), truth (John 1:14), power (Acts 6:8), salvation (Ephesians 2:5), abilities (Romans 12:6), and assistance (Hebrews 4:16).  But how does God’s grace operate?  Is it forced on certain individuals or does each of us have the free will to accept or reject God’s grace.  If God forces his grace only on certain individuals, then he is responsible for the actions of those upon whom he did not force his grace; if he had forced his grace on them, they would have changed.  If God grants his grace to each of us and we have the ability to respond to God’s grace or not, then we have free will.  The very definition of grace implies free will!  How can God grant or give us something unless we are in the position to accept or reject what he is giving?  If we have no choice in the matter, if we are incapable of responding to God, then God should have used the word “imposed” or “dictated” instead of grace.

In the next blog, we will examine what suffering and evil tell us about free will.


[1]   Ernst F. Winter, ed., Discourse on Free Will (New York:  Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, Inc., 1961), 123.

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