Saturday, July 23, 2016

God and the Reason and Means of Common Grace

There seems to be a bit of confusion on the matter of common grace and its relationship to Christian giving. Some people think that because God gives provisions to the unbeliever, this somehow means that we should be like God, as individual Christians and churches, and give to the unbeliever from our physical provisions as well.

Of course, this sentiment that we should be like God seems to end when we observe that God also has wrath upon the unbeliever, hates those who do evil, and actually takes away their physical resources, including their very lives. THAT is never applied to this, "We should be like God" sentiment.

The reason why none of it should be applied to the believer is because God giving common grace is never said to be through Christian and church provisions, which belong solely and exclusively to Christ and His people, as has been exhaustively proven to the chagrin of those who place themselves and their tradition over the Word of God.

Instead, God's means of common grace, in terms of charitable giving, is through the nations. God does not require one nation to take care of the poor of another nation, but rather to take care of their own poor. When a nation fails to do this, it, and its people, fall under the judgment of God. Hence, throughout the Old Testament, nations are judged, not because they neglected the poor in other nations who were not their obligation in God's eyes, but because they neglected their own poor. Sodom is not judged for neglecting the poor in Egypt, nor Nineveh for the poor in Persia. Each is responsible for its own poor (and there are theological as well as pragmatic reasons for this).

God is careful, however, in the New Testament, not to confuse the Christian and the church with the state, since the church now is a distinct nation to itself with a distinct King, in whom, His people, and only His people, share in the inherited blessings and provisions of His kingdom. To preach otherwise is to preach a false gospel. To act otherwise, is to act in accordance with a false gospel.

Instead, God, it seems, according to the Bible, takes care of the poor among unbelievers for four primary reasons:

1. The unbeliever may be one of the elect. He does not receive kingdom resources until he believes, since salvation is by the means of faith, and hence, he is not united to Christ until he believes; but God sustains his life by common grace through his respective nation for the obvious reason that God plans on having him hear the gospel and be saved. He draws them from every people, tribe, nation, and tongue. Augustine, for instance, did not become a believer until later in life. One of the points of his Confessions is that God was bringing him to the point of faith the entire time. This, obviously, has to include physical provisions to get him there. It is from the nations that God draws His elect, so, of course, He sets up general provisions through the governments of those nations to preserve His elect.

2. The unbeliever is created for the believer, so that the believer can understand God's mercy upon the believer by showing His wrath upon the unbeliever. Romans 9:22-24 states:

"But what if Godwilling to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his powerhas endured with much patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction? And what if he is willing to make known the wealth of his glory on the objects of mercy that he has prepared beforehand for glory  even uswhom he has callednot only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?"

Hence, until the times of judgment, the unbeliever's life is sustained because his life is valuable as an example of God's eternal wrath to the believer.

3. In accordance with this, God's good provisions present the unbeliever with facts of His existence and provides him with no excuse on judgment day. God gives the unbeliever what he needs to acknowledge God, and it should testify to him that he needs to repent, but instead he stores up/increases wrath for himself. In other words, God is actually increasing judgment upon unbelievers by giving them provisions through the nations. Giving, in this regard, is part of God's ultimate judgment, not some hopeful love for the unbeliever where He really wants them to repent by giving them good things, but doesn't provide the regeneration necessary to do so. If He wanted their repentance through doing good to them, He would regenerate them, and even use these works as a way to endear the unbeliever to Himself. Yet, He neither regenerates them, nor are works the means He has set apart to do so, as faith comes by hearing the gospel that believers preach to the unbeliever, not by works of good that are done. Hence, these works are only judgments upon the unbeliever in the end, not an ultimate good that is done to them. As C. S. Lewis once said, "God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror . . . He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies . . . Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger--according the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way." In the case of God's common grace upon those who do not come to Christ, goodness is definitely the great danger. For instance, this is His plan with the unbeliever:

 "The Lord is a jealous God and avenging, the Lord avenges and He is full of wrath; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies." (Nahum 1:2)

"That servant who knows his master’s will but does not get ready or follow his instructions will be beaten with many blows. But the one who unknowingly does things worthy of punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted with much, even more will be demanded. I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!…" (Luke 12:47-49)

Although this passage refers to those who have a claim to be Christian, the principle of being judged according to the witness given can be gleaned from it still. God requires more if more has been given. The same can be seen in Paul's rebuke of Jewish Christians in Romans 2:4-5, where they are told that God's patience toward them, when met with unbelief rather than repentance, is actually storing up/increasing wrath upon them.

4. There is a symbiosis between believer and unbeliever that exists due to God's other purposes for the unbeliever. By doing good to the believer, many times that spills over to the benefit of the unbeliever. If missionaries build a well for thirsty Christians in an area, unbelievers end up benefiting from the well also. Likewise, if government builds a well for its citizens in general, believers benefit from that. In a similar way, if God causes His rain to fall on the wicked and the righteous, it benefits the righteous in all the ways discussed both here and above.

There is simply no Scripture that talks about giving kingdom resources, the resources that belong to Christ and Christians, to unbelievers. There are plenty of texts that talk about the responsibility of the nations to take care of their own poor, although, even most of these have to do with rendering fair verdicts for them when they are taken advantage of. But many nations, like Sodom, are judged for having plenty but neglecting their poor. The means of God's common grace upon these nations, however, is not the covenant community, which exists as its own nation and is to support itself.

Instead, God has designed unbelievers who are poor to be supported by their nations, specifically government. The general welfare of the nation is supported by Christians through their paying taxes because taxes are not seen by Scripture as belonging to the Christian, but to the government who sets aside a certain amount of the income of its citizens as its own. Hence, Christians are told to render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar. They are not told to render unto Caesar the things that belong to Christ and Christians. The tax, then, is not a possession of Christ, but of the government of a nation. In paying taxes, Christians participate in the common grace of God in which He provides for the unbeliever. But kingdom resources belong to Christ and Christ only. Hence, they are never told to make unbelievers the recipients of their giving (see the numerous posts below). Instead, they need to be careful not to fall under the judgment of God, as other nations, by not taking care of their own poor. It should also be understood that our participation in God's common grace through taxes is a participation in all of the above. We are not only helping to sustain the lives of the elect, but we are also helping God store up wrath for the unbeliever. Our taxes are going to pay for their further judgment and destruction, an interesting thought for those who think they are helping unbelievers with their charitable giving.

We can see the contrast of the two kingdoms in Acts 14:8-18.

"In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. This man was listening to Paul as he was speakingWhen Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be saved, he said with a loud voice“Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking. So when the crowds saw what Paul had donethey shouted in the Lycaonian language, The gods have come down to us in human form!  They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the citybrought bulls and garlands to the city gateshe and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowdshoutingMenwhy are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to youso that you should turn from these worthless things to the living Godwho made the heaventhe earth, the seaand everything that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own ways, yet he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasonssatisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.” Even by saying these thingsthey scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them."

Notice, that the man who receives a kingdom blessing from Paul has his need met only because, "Paul stared intently at him and saw that he had faith to be saved . In fact, the Greek, ἰδὼν ὅτι ἔχει πίστιν τοῦ σωθῆναι, indicates that it was contingent upon the man having faith, "seeing that he had the faith which is to salvation," he gave him what he needed. This indicates that Paul thought that it was necessary for him to have faith in order to have his desperate need met. 

In contrast to this, God's general provisions seen through common grace later in the passage, is said to have been given in previous generations. In other words, the church was not even around. It wasn't the means of this common grace. Israel certainly didn't supply it. The allusion is to the prophets, where it becomes clear that God takes care of those nations through their own governments and people. 

But also notice that this means their rejection of the gospel will be worse for them. The things God has done for them will lead to their destruction and damnation, not salvation. He has given them a witness of His existence, but they, both in general and in the passage, attribute these things to other gods, which are the demons they follow. Indeed, after this scene, those who do not believe stone Paul. Having been provided for by God through general government and now hearing the gospel, their condemnation will now be far more severe.

In conclusion, this is one of the many reasons Christians might not want to pile condemnation onto the unbeliever by giving them provisions from kingdom resources. Kingdom resources should be used for those in the kingdom, so that the kingdom is always one that saves, rather than condemns. God both supports His elect and condemns the world further through common grace, but He saves through His kingdom and its resources. There is no condemnation in the kingdom, and hence, its resources should never be used as instruments of condemnation. But if given to the unbeliever, they will be used as just that by God. 

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