Monday, January 28, 2013

Common Graces Are Great, But...

In a recent conversation with a yet-to-be-Christian friend, I was asked a question (and I am paraphrasing here...)“Why is it that I see Christians still struggling with certain things, but sometimes see non-Christians not struggling or being extremely blessed?” I was pleasantly surprised by the question, and admired their inquiry.

The fact that someone is a Christian does not mean they will live a life free from suffering or hardship. Actually, for Christians, we should be expectant of suffering like Christ, and suffering for Christ. He came to earth and was afflicted, so we should not expect anything different. In the book of James, we are implored to count it joy when facing trials of various kinds, and to exercise patience in suffering. Most of this suffering and trial accounted by our biblical authors has less to do with personal loss and suffering, as opposed to the suffering and persecution gained from the faithful declaration of the gospel. Typically, when afflicted, it is for God’s glory, others’ good, our own growth, or for credibility that helps bring healing and life to others (Driscoll, “Who Do You Think You Are?”, 104-107).

For a split second after the question was posed, my thought was, “Yeah, there are definitely people more blessed than I am.” But my immediate consideration of their blessing was in material and circumstantial blessings, and not in the blessing of the saving grace of Christ. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit allowed me to differentiate between saving and common grace. In my response, I was able to explain that there are those outside of Christ who enjoy the benefits of what can be called common grace. These are graces that the Lord allows all people, even those outside his covenant, to enjoy.

If you live in the South, Chick-Fil-A is a great example of a common grace. (You in the South may not see it this way, but just ask those of us transplants from the North!) As a fellow northerner, my pastor in college at Michigan State University, Kevin DeYoung, shares in this view. (Here’s an awesome Chick-Fil-A song…) Having grown up in Michigan, Jet's Pizza is something I consider a blessing of common grace. It is such a grace that I packed a whole pizza in my luggage on my return from Detroit to Houston! The music we enjoy is a common grace given to us by our Creator. God has graced athletes with talent to amaze us. This is no more apparent than in the Olympics, where the best athletes in the world compete for their nation’s honor. As someone that participated in collegiate athletics, I have been able to see God's gift of athletic talent in men and women. Executing a set and spike in volleyball, making a double play in baseball or softball, or swishing a three-pointer in basketball all take tremendous levels of talent. Even if these athletes do not ascribe God glory for their talent, I, as a Christian, can. Finally, the grace that God has given the United States has allowed us to be free from oppression of many forms, and has allowed us to reach an economic status that few other nations can dream of matching. However great these things are, these graces are just mere shadows of the blessing and amazement we shall experience when we are to be with Christ.

I will freely admit that it is sometimes difficult to take joy in others’ common graces. For me, this includes people’s vocations and relations. Vocationally, I compare myself to others in the form of earnings, position and prestige. In relationships, it is easy to become frustrated with the fact that I have not enjoyed a relationship that has evolved into a marriage. Many of my friends have enjoyed this, and I am thankful for them, as I've learned much from them, and take joy in their friendships. As hard as it is to remember, as Christians, our identities shall not be shaped by the comparison of common graces, but instead by the saving grace of Christ.

Saving grace is found only through Christ, saving us from sin, and allowing us to freely live to glorify God. It is not that others are more blessed because of their increased common graces. As Christians, we can rest in the blessing that is saving grace. Common graces are great, but nothing compared to saving grace.