“A Piece of My Mind”
November, 2015 Newsletter from
Advancing Christian Faith and Values,
Defending Religious Liberty for All,
Supporting Civility and the Common Good
through Preaching, Teaching, Writing,
Activism and Reasoned Conversations
On “All Saints Day” (November 1) we remember saints of the past—their faith and struggles, victories and failures, lives and deaths, examples and teachings. Here is one:
Slave Trader Convert to Christianity
Author of “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”
God’s grace is his unearned, undeserved, unobligated favor.
This Thanksgiving be thankful for –
God’s Saving Grace and
God’s Common Grace
By Donald P. Shoemaker
Published in GraceConnect (Fall, 2015)
I was finishing some yard work in front of my home on a recent Saturday morning when I saw them coming—a group of eight Jehovah’s Witnesses. I went to my porch and read the front page of the morning paper and then fiddled in the yard until they reached me. The two who talked to me spoke of the importance of good fathers. So did an article on the front page of my newspaper. In both cases, I rejoice in the grace of God that was revealed!
More about that experience later.
“Grace” is God’s unearned, undeserved, unobligated favor.
Christians are well acquainted with God’s “saving grace”. We usually have this in mind when we speak the word “grace”. But there is another important dimension to God’s grace—his “common grace” to all humanity.
We’ll explore both dimensions of God’s grace. But I will emphasize common grace for it is the dimension we tend to overlook.
God’s Saving Grace
God’s saving grace operates as we are brought into the sphere of faith and forgiveness. Grace is seen in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross so our sins may be forgiven (Ephesians 1:7) and God can declare us righteous (Romans 3:24). By grace we are saved through faith, which itself is a gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Because of God’s saving grace, we sing “Amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me.” No matter how great our sin, God’s grace is greater (Romans 5:20).
God’s saving grace continues actively in us as we walk our Christian pathway “through many dangers, toils and snares.” We are not passive under grace—we must continue and grow in this grace (Acts 13:43; 2 Peter 3:18).
God’s grace especially sees us through our weaknesses, low points, and when prayer isn’t answered our way (2 Corinthians 12:9). It makes us strong and steadfast when we suffer for Christ (1 Peter 5:10).
By God’s grace, spiritual leaders are called to their positions and believers have spiritual gifts (“charismata”—works of grace) bestowed on them for service (Ephesians 4:7, Romans 12:6).
Saving grace is never without good morals. Grace “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (Titus 2:11-12 New International Version). Like a sleek train designed to speed on carefully laid rails, God designs us to do the good works he has already set before us (Ephesians 2:10)!
And on the great day when Jesus appears, saving “grace will lead me home” (1 Peter 1:13).
God’s Common Grace
Common grace is a different dimension of God’s grace. The term is an umbrella we give to a number of biblical thoughts we pull together. Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology, 657) defines it as “the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation.” * People benefit from this grace whether they love God, believe in God, obey God or not.
One obvious common grace is the vast blessing God gives humanity through his abundant creation. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). “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” (Acts 14:17). God “makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth, wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart” (Psalm 104:14-15). And you know? God enjoys every minute of it (Psalm 104:31)!
God’s many ways of keeping our humanity humane are works of common grace. Fundamental to this is the value and dignity that flow from our being made in the image and likeness of God. Because we are all made in God’s image, human life at all stages is precious and must not be taken except as God requires or permits. **
We must treat others respectfully, especially in our words. We can’t bless our Creator and then curse people made in God’s likeness (James 3:9-10).
God has also bestowed to everyone a basic sense of right and wrong. When the Protestant reformers talked about our “total depravity” they nonetheless spoke of this universal sense of morality. The Canons of Dort *** (1619), which articulated the Calvinist doctrine of depravity, also said, “Unbelievers retain glimmerings of natural light that provide some knowledge of God, of natural things, and the difference between good and evil.”
Parenting and family structure show God’s grace. Even unrighteous people want what is good for their children (Matthew 7:9-11). When God permits this grace to be lifted, we see the resulting family and societal chaos.
Human intelligence, creativity, artistry, achievements (cultural and scientific), and wholesome enjoyments are all by God’s grace. All can be corrupted, of course, but this does not change the fact that they are capabilities bestowed by God’s gracious providence.
Another common grace is how God uses human authority to promote justice, punish evil, encourage good, and secure peace (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). No government is perfect—certainly not the Roman government of Paul and Peter’s time. But God works his grace through this instrument of clay and calls his children to honor it, though this doesn’t at all mean that we shouldn’t address the injustices of the state when they occur.
Last, we note God’s restraint of evil, lest the world become even more intolerable and ungovernable. God may restrain individuals (Genesis 20:6) or the whole of humanity (2 Thessalonians 2:7). We don’t know how much God does this, and we must acknowledge much mystery because we see so many instances of ruthless depravity in history and the present.
Should we cooperate with God’s common grace? Absolutely!
• Encourage good stewardship of God’s creation.
• Bless others—just or unjust—with good, as our Father in Heaven does.
• Reason with non-Christians about good and evil, faith and unbelief, and ultimate issues—God is the author of logic.
• Strive for points of commonality with opponents to enhance peace in a diverse society.
• Cooperate with non-Christians for the good of the culture.
• Encourage and participate in wholesome deeds (Reformation thought recognizes the “civic good” unbelievers may perform, though such deeds do not merit salvation).
• Commend good and oppose evil in society.
• Work to diminish grief and suffering.
• Participate in government at all levels.
Finally, remember that if we emphasize either saving grace or common grace and minimize the other, we easily fall into error. Minimize common grace and you may fall into cultural withdrawal, abandoning all efforts in the world except evangelism. Minimize saving grace and become fulfilled in what you accomplish with your non-Christian colleagues and you may fail to tell them the way of salvation.
Now back to the story of my morning newspaper and Jehovah’s Witnesses who came by. Whether from a secular source (the newspaper) or from a religious source not at all orthodox ****, truth came forth. Families hurt and society suffers when fatherhood fails. Where fatherhood is uplifted and strong, people thrive. This truth overflows all secular and religious borders. Strong fatherhood, wherever it blossoms, is God’s common grace at work!
Reprinted with permission from GraceConnect (Fall, 2015), published by the Brethren Missionary Herald Company. The material below is not part of the article.
“God’s Saving Grace and God’s Common Grace”
Bible Quotations and Notes
“In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of Gods grace.” – Ephesians 1:7 (all Bible quotes are from the New International Version)
“[All] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
– Romans 3:24
“By grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works…” – Ephesians 2:8-9
“Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” – Romans 5:20
“Paul and Barnabas…urged them to continue in the grace of God.” – Acts 13:43
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 3:18
“[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
– 2 Corinthians 12:9
“The God of all grace, …after you have suffered for a while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – 1 Peter 5:10
“To each of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” – Ephesians 4:7
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” – Romans 12:6
“We are God’s workman- ship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10
“Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” – 1 Peter 1:13
* Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994).
Chapter 31 – “Common Grace” (657-68)
“May the Lord rejoice in his works.” – Psalm 104:31
** “Image of God” – “man is like God and represents God” (Grudem, 442)
See: Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 9:6
“With the tongue we praise our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
– James 3:9-10
*** Canons of Dort: www.rca.org/canons
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11
“The authorities that exist have been established by God… [The authority] is God’s servant to do you good…an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” – Romans 13:1, 4
“[Authorities] are sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
– 1 Peter 2:14
Example of addressing injustice—the prophet Daniel to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar:
“Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be then that your prosperity will continue.” – Daniel 4:27
(see also Acts 16:35-39 and Acts 22:22-29)
“Then God said to him in a dream, ‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me.” – Genesis 20:6
“The secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:7
**** Jehovah’s Witnesses are outside historical Christian orthodoxy in many ways, major and minor. This group denies the equality Jesus shares with God the Father (John 1:1; John 5:18; Philippians 2:6-11). It rather bizarrely uses the words of Revelation 7:1-8 about “the 144,000” as a regulatory principle for explaining much of the New Testament, such as inviting to partake of Communion only those who sense they are part of the 144,000 (but the Book of Revelation hadn’t even been written at the time these other NT passages were written and first taught). They forbid blood transfusions based on a strange expansion of the prohibition against drinking blood in Leviticus 17:10-12. They refuse to vote or serve in the military, yet they have used the court system to protect their religious rights.
In Ohio, You Are Indeed in Football Country!!!
My wife and I were in Ohio in mid-‐October—about 70 miles north of Columbus, where The Ohio State University plays football. And when they do, it’s an all-‐state event! On football evening our hotel was filled with those who attended the game 70 miles away.
This reminded me of an incident a few years ago, not far from Columbus.
A mega-‐church known for its flair for things dramatic had erected a giant statue of Jesus along a busy interstate highway. Remember, now, this is football country. So when motorists saw the way Jesus’ arms and hands were lifted, the statue was quickly dubbed “Touchdown Jesus”!
Well, “Touchdown Jesus” was destroyed by lightning one stormy night in 2010. A few weeks later I saw the metal skeleton when I drove by. I even stopped at the church and took pictures. And I wrote this little poem…
The church put up a statue—the likeness of her King. She looked for the attention this mighty work would bring.
But the Lord looked down and frowned—burned the statue to the ground, Leaving us to try to say why things in life turn out this way.
Don’t be cynical—in spite of the facts!
In the article on God’s grace (above), I said this about government: “No government is perfect—certainly not the Roman government of Paul and Peter’s time. But God works his grace through this instrument of clay and calls his children to honor it…”
But why do government leaders do so much to make it hard to honor the system?
I wrote to my congressman in October to show my support for the school voucher program in the District of Columbia. It was coming up for a renewal vote in Congress. I wrote this (all emphases are mine):
I encourage you to SUPPORT the voucher program for the DC schools, to help a large number of students get better education. The voucher program provides funding for children, not direct assistance to any particular school, so I do not believe there are any significant church-‐state issues and the program easily passes the scrutiny of such programs set up by the Supreme Court.
Thank you. Donald Shoemaker
My congressman wrote back:
Thank you for contacting me to express YOUR OPPOSITION to federal funding for private schools. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond to your comments.
LIKE YOU, I AM OPPOSED to legislation that would increase federal funding for private school vouchers.
Go figure. No wonder we get cynical about government. We wonder if anyone is really listening to us and why we should bother getting involved!
But don’t give up!
Don’s Upcoming Ministries
“Healthy Churches Live Out the Meaning of Christian Baptism” (1 Corinthians 10)
A Most Important Thanksgiving Prayer
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and
quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.”
– 1 Timothy 2:1-‐3 (English Standard Version)