Life comes with many forms of little reminders that it doesn’t suck as bad as you thought it did.
It comes labeled as “the universe was looking out for me,” “it’s just my lucky day,” or something along the lines of the odds being our favor.
Yeah, something like that.
I’ve had a few really interesting instances where all I could think was, “Man, life really isn’t that bad after all.” They’re not always huge, but one of the little ones sticks out to me clearly.
It isn’t some major, life-changing event. Just a small part of my day that turned out to be really helpful.
I hate doing laundry nowadays. I don’t have easy access to it where I live, so I normally just go onto Liberty University’s campus and use the coin machines there to do my laundry. Usually, I can go a few weeks without washing jeans since I have about 3 or 4 pairs that I rotate through, and I have enough shirts to clothe a small army.
But when it comes to underwear and socks, I can’t go without those. I HAVE to wash those regularly.
Now, I have a large supply of both of those, but every once in a while, when it’s been about 10 days or so since the last laundry day, I start to go into my “reserves” stock. Kinda weird, I know, but stay with me.
It had been about 12 days or so since laundry day (don’t judge me, life’s crazy), and I woke up worried that I wouldn’t have any clean underwear.
Lo and behold, at the back of the drawer there was ONE more pair of the “reserve” stock, so I fist pumped with a “YES.” and went about my day.
But, is this really a coincidence, a streak of luck where the odds were in my favor?
As someone who takes my faith very seriously, and who has learned a little in the way of theology and dogmatic practices through college and discipleship groups, I’ve learned that this is actually sometimes labeled as “common grace”.
Your small paycheck lasts until next payday? Common grace.
You find an extra pair of jeans so you don’t have to do laundry? Common grace.
You find out you have a little extra money on that Chipotle gift card to get you a burrito? Common. Grace.
That’s usually how people apply it.
But what’s common grace exactly?
My trusty friend Google tells me that common grace is “the grace of God that is either common to all humankind, or common to everyone within a particular sphere of influence.”
Some within the theological sphere might call this prevenient grace, depending on your theological disposition (even though there is a stark difference; we’ll get to that in a minute).
Why is common grace such a big deal anyways?
It’s the idea that little gifts and little coincidences aren’t actually by chance; they’re God incidences. They’re not just random acts of luck or drawing the long straw, but they’re providential blessings given by God the Father in order to make His presence and existence known to mankind, long before He reveals His special grace of redemption, sanctification, and glorification.
Why do we need common grace?
Without any sort of grace, mankind really has no way of receiving gifts from God. Grace at its core is “unmerited favor,” so even though we don’t deserve grace at all, we still can’t operate the way that we were created without it. We need common grace because without it, on either side of salvation, we can’t resist sin, be sustained by God, have a conscience, or receive any blessings from God.
Grace has been the story of my life over the last few years. I’ve been nothing without the grace of God and the grace of God shown through people even when I didn’t deserve it. At my core, my two natures, the spiritual and flesh, are waging war, with the flesh pushing me to create a deeper need for grace and the flesh pushing me to see that I can’t live without grace.
I wanted to define a small portion of what grace is and lay it out for you because I feel like it’s something that Christians know about, but have very little understanding and knowledge on the matter. It’s something we toss around, yet don’t fully grasp. And that’s a problem.
Maybe you’ve been in a situation that’s required grace. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught, and in order for you to get out of it, you needed grace. You messed up at home and you needed grace. You didn’t do what you were supposed to do at work, got in trouble for it, and you needed grace.
I could fill pages upon pages of situations that would require grace. It’s in our daily lives. It’s built into our wiring as a result of The Fall in Genesis. We need grace, and we need it badly.
There’s only so much that human grace can do. Yeah, it can certainly right some wrongs and help us to move on to what’s next. But it’s temporary, and not promised. The grace you’ve received in one situation from one person may not come in another situation with that same person, or from another person altogether.
Where can we find grace that is not temporary, and promised beyond measure to those who look for it?
The short answer is God. But that’s not really the full answer. Keep reading.
Let’s start with some more definition, at least in a very specific way. The Apostle Paul writes this in his second letter to the church at Corinth:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9a)
I think it’s pretty clear that the “he” Paul is writing about is Jesus. Paul just finished talking about a hard conversation he had with Jesus, and this was His response. It changed Paul’s perspective on the “thorn in his side,” the frustrating annoyance that lingered and never went away.
So what does this tell us about grace? We see that God’s grace is sufficient. It isn’t wasted. It doesn’t fail. It isn’t fickle. It isn’t partial. It doesn’t waver. It’s all-sufficient, all-encompassing, and all-powerful to come through.
The grace that God gives is enough. No matter what your situation is, no matter what you’ve gotten yourself into, no matter how hard life is, God’s grace is enough.
How, then, do we receive this grace?
We receive grace through another act of grace: the redemption and salvation that God offers through Jesus. The only way we can receive salvation is through what Paul writes to the church in Rome:
[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
There’s two parts to receiving God’s grace: confessing, and believing.
First, we must confess that Jesus is Lord. In the early Church, to call someone “lord” wasn’t necessarily a deification or divine title. It was acknowledging that someone was above you, and that they were in charge. Confessing Jesus as Lord brings new meaning to the title, surrendering ourselves to the Master and acknowledging that He is in charge of everything, including ourselves.
Second, we must believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. If you confess something, but don’t mean what you’re saying, then you’re not really confessing anything; you’re just providing lip-service. When it comes to God, the One who knows our hearts (and how wicked they are) and can see what’s really going on, there’s no such thing as lip-service. You have to really believe it in your heart; there’s no magical prayer that can do that. It has to be genuine.
Believing that Jesus is who He said He was, in conjunction with confessing that we are under Christ’s leadership, is the only way that we are saved from our sin. It’s the only way that we can really say, “God, I believe that You are who You say You are, and I surrender my life to You. Save me.”
That’s the gospel. Admitting that we’re messed up, believing that Jesus is who He said He was, and confessing our sins in surrender.
What happens when we receive this grace?
You don’t automatically receive healing of your sickness (unless God allows you to be healed, or unless you take medicine). Your debt isn’t automatically paid off (unless you work to pay it off yourself). Your driveway won’t immediately contain a new car (unless you buy it).
God’s grace isn’t a cosmic vending machine of gifts. Grace is the ability to make through even another second of life. Grace is not having the wrath of God poured out on you.
Yes, God does allow healing to happen as a result of His grace, whether it be miraculous or not. But, the gospel isn’t a health-and-wealth, prosperity kind of gospel; it’s a gospel of dead people being brought back to life through Jesus. Grace doesn’t allow you to live your best life now or live like everyday is a Friday, but it actually allows you have life after this one in Heaven with the God in Whom you’ve trusted for salvation and redemption.
No matter your theological stance, grace is the only way that we can continue living this life. It’s the only way that I’m able to live, move, and breathe on a daily basis. I know that I’m nothing without the grace of God. I’m weak, helpless, and nothing at all without the grace of God. I need it to even type one more sentence, one more word, one more character. I depend so deeply on the grace of God that I can do nothing or be nothing without it.
I hope and pray that you, too, will acknowledge your need for God’s grace. I pray that you see that you are nothing without it, and nothing without Him.