“Can God bless me even after I disobey?”
If you struggle with an image of God as an unforgiving master, then I’ve got a word for you: shoes. Every time you see a pair of shoes, I want you to think of the grace of God. My reason for recommending this reminder goes back to the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel. Because of their faithlessness and disobedience, an entire generation lost their privilege to enter the Promised Land, yet God did not leave them destitute. Instead he blessed them with miraculous grace.
Yet the LORD says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.” Deuteronomy 29:5
God didn’t limit the blessing of the shoes and clothing to the children of the disobedient parents. He blessed the whole tribe of Israelites. It’s an excellent example of what theologians call common grace.
Common grace is the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation. – Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
Grudem goes on to say that common grace is different from saving grace in its result (it does not provide salvation), in its recipients (it is given to all people regardless of their relationship to God – or lack of it), and in its source (it does not flow from Christ’s blood poured out on the cross). Common grace is often described by Reformed Theology as having three main points.
God’s Goodness. “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9). “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). God’s goodness allows sinners to live rather than go directly to Hell. It provides the environment that supports us all. It creates the bodies that sustain our life.
God’s Restraint of sin. God shows us grace by restraining sin – not completely and not in every case – but he puts a limit on sin among saved and unsaved alike. The present restraint will be shown most clearly when God removes the restraint in the last days, allowing the man of lawlessness to bring the world into tribulation. The beneficial effects of believers on the lost world is one way in which God currently restrains the destructive power of sin. The goodness of non-believers is another example of God’s grace. As Jeremiah said, “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.” Common grace restrains that wickedness.
God’s provision of civil government. Perhaps this is only an extension of the restraint of sin, but it is a particularly important extension. Without civil government there would be anarchy. Most governments are secular rather than religious, and depend on saved and unsaved persons. God’s provision of common grace allows for the working of governments which maintain peace. New Testament teaching confirms that God establishes governments in order to promote peace and order.
Some commentators deny the existence of common grace, instead preaching that God’s grace is only for the elect. To them I would say, look at all those shoes! God kept a generation of rebels in footwear even though they were unfit for his kingdom. It encourages me to know that even when someone fails God, he doesn’t fail them. He continues to show them grace as long as they have breath.
Image by Sherwood on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0