Confusing Grace: The Northern Churchman Comments

The Northern Churchman Comments

Confusing Grace

The Prayer of General Thanksgiving reminds us that the love of God is displayed  in two chief ways. Firstly, “our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life” – God’s love and care in providing a world, home, food, all the essentials for life and also the good things in life. As Christians we recognise and celebrate this common grace along with others. And we all benefit from it. We don’t require that our doctor or milkman or mechanic be a Christian before we avail of their services.

We recognise this love of God given to humanity in general, skills in art and literature, science and technology, sport and music. We all benefit from the intellectual gifts, the social order and the generally-peaceful communities across human society. These gifts from God are given to a world that is undeserving and often uninterested and ungrateful.

Understanding that common grace allows us to recognise and honour our fellow human beings as people made in the image of God. Certainly it is an image marred and distorted by sin, but that image still lingers, rendering every person worthy of respect, dignity and love. The incarnation is the pinnacle of humanity’s dignity; Christ did not come as the image of God only, but also the perfect image of man.

The second way God shows his love, the General Thanksgiving reminds us, is supremely “in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Common grace given in creation is not the special grace of salvation. That is the grace of God encountered and received solely through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, It is the the unmerited love whereby we are born again and made members of God’s family by adoption and grace. It bestows upon us the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The reason God’s love and goodwill is shown to the whole human race is so that we might recognise his goodness and turn to Christ in repentance and faith. See St Paul’s teaching in Acts 14:16-17 and 17:27-28.

However, an element of confusion about grace seems to permeate aspects of church life and particularly in human sexuality discussions, whereby all people, irrespective of faith in Christ, are viewed as children of God. The assumption is made that because someone is the recipient of God’s goodness and love in creation, they are automatically also the recipient of God’s forgiveness and love in Christ. No-one can dispute that Jesus loved the rich young ruler, yet the man walked away from Jesus still lacking eternal life and salvation. Being born into this creation and made in the image of God does not equal being born again by the Spirit and made a child of God. It is confusing and careless language to address all indiscriminately as children of God, when it simply mean people created by God and not people re-created in Christ.

This has bearing upon our understanding of the Christian life and ministry, and the nature of the Church. Where does it leave evangelism if everyone is somehow a recipient of God’s salvation in Christ, even if they are completely unaware of it? St Paul certainly told the Athenian philosophers about God’s love in creating and providing for us, but he also spoke about Jesus and the resurrection, and judgment and repentance. The evangelist Rico Tice reminded GAFCON recently how the contemporary Church fails to mention the two Rs – repentance and wrath. Where is discipleship if everyone is loved by God just as they are, where is transformation and growth in holiness? God loves us despite who were are, and loves us by not allowing us to remain how we are. If repentance and holiness are optional extras, then surely the Church ministry ought to be open to all, regardless of lifestyle?

Let us recover and continually give thanks for God’s inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. Like his common grace given in creation, God’s gospel grace comes to a world that is undeserving, uninterested and ungrateful. But let us not confuse the two.