Common Grace - Part 3

Theme: Common Grace on Mars Hill

This week’s lessons teach the doctrine of common grace, and how it should lead people to the praise of God and, through saving grace, to faith in Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Isaiah 26:10


Delay of judgment. The fourth expression of common grace from Acts 14 is the delay of God's judgment, which Paul described by saying that “in the past, he [God] let all nations go their own way” (v. 16). It brings us back to Jesus' teaching about the Galileans who were killed by Herod's soldiers. The amazing thing is not that bad things happened to these people but that so many good things happen to everyone. And the most amazing thing of all is that God had tolerated the evil of the unbelieving Gentile world for so long and had postponed (and continues to postpone) judging it severely.

Paul's sermon in Athens. A few chapters further on, in Acts 17, we have an account of

Paul's sermon on Mars Hill in Athens. It also deals with common grace, following a line similar to Paul's sermon at Lystra. After calling the people's attention to their altar “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” and declaring his intention of proclaiming this “unknown God” to them, Paul said: “The God who made the world and everything in it...is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (vv. 24-26).

This sermon does not mention rainfall and the seasons, probably because the life of Athens was far less agricultural than life at Lystra. But the theme is similar. In this sermon Paul mentions:

The breath of life. We may use our breath to curse God, but even the atheist who shakes his fist at heaven, shouting, “There is no God,” does so with the breath, speech, intellect, and strength that God has given him.

A place to live. This is a significant statement about the territories possessed by the world's nations. These are not arbitrary possessions, still less the rightful spoils of war, according to Paul's teaching. Rather they are the gift of a gracious God to all the world's peoples. The bottom line is that we should be thankful to God for such bounty.

Everything else. Paul may have elaborated on this in the actual delivery of his sermon, since the biblical accounts are undoubtedly shortened versions of what happened. But we can supply what this includes ourselves, since it is similar to James' mention of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). What in your life do you regard as very good? Make a list.

Your job? It has been given you by God. If you say that you got it by hard work and by possessing talents and skills that someone else did not have, I reply that it is God who has given you those skills and endowed you with both the will and capacity to work hard.

Your family? The people you love were created by God and have been given to you as a part of his benevolent ordering of life's events.

Times to relax and enjoy the results of your hard labors? It is God who has made relaxation possible by prospering the culture in which you live and by giving you enough free time to enjoy your possessions.

Peace? God is the author of peace.

Whatever good thing you can think of, it is God who has given it to you or made it possible for you to enjoy it. You enjoy it only because God is a gracious God. If he were some other kind of god, your very existence would be unimaginably different.

There is one more thing we need to learn about common grace from Paul's sermon on Mars Hill. It is in the words that immediately follow those I quoted earlier. Having spoken of grace, Paul concluded, “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being” (vv. 27, 28). This is important. For it is a way of saying that God also has a good purpose in his good actions. It is that we might recognize his goodness, turn from sin, and reach out to him and find him, and so be able to express our gratitude in true faith and proper obedience.

Paul writes the same thing in Romans, observing that the “kindness, tolerance, and patience” of God are meant to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).


Study Questions:

  1. What reason is suggested for why Paul lists different examples of common grace in Acts 17 than he did in Acts 14 when he was at Lystra?
  2. From the lesson, why does God give common grace?
  3. Rather than acknowledging God as the source of every good gift people enjoy, what alternate reasons do unbelievers give?

Key Point: Whatever good thing you can think of, it is God who has given it to you or made it possible for you to enjoy it. You enjoy it only because God is a gracious God. If he were some other kind of god, your very existence would be unimaginably different.

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