Is God sovereign; that is, does He have absolute rule over all things? Is that sovereignty practical or just theoretical and academic? Is God sovereign over salvation from sin? By definition, if God is sovereign over salvation, does man determine his own salvation? Does God have sovereign control over the events in the lives of His people? Does God have sovereign control over events in the lives of those who are not His people? In what way is God merciful toward the ungodly? In what way is God gracious toward the ungodly? Can God be merciful and gracious toward the ungodly without it resulting in their salvation? Is it possible that in God’s gracious kindness with the ungodly, it is the Holy Spirit Who could be ministering towards those people?
Is there anything wrong with the following statement: “There is a sense in which everything that God does toward His enemies, other than judging them, are acts of divine grace and mercy.” If the unbelieving world deserves to be destroyed, that it isn’t destroyed, is what on God’s part? If the crops of the wicked grow and ripen, feeding their families, what is that called on God’s part? What Person of the Trinity is most actively involved in daily ministering to Creation? What is the work of the Holy Spirit on behalf of the unsaved world commonly called by theologians? Are the words “common grace” common to the Bible?
Turn to Genesis 6:1-8. “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” What do you suppose verse 3 means when it refers to God’s Spirit striving with men? The Hebrew word “strive” means “judge, plead with,” and “contend” as well as “strive.” So what was the Holy Spirit doing with the people of Noah’s day? Were those people ever born again? This “striving” is just a part of what the Holy Spirit does in, among, and for, the wicked. And since it is something which He does to everyone more or less, it is appropriate to call it “common.”
Turn to II Thessalonians 2:3-7. “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” Think particularly about that last verse: it uses some unusual language. What is the “mystery of iniquity”? What is the meaning of the word “let” or “letteth”? This is one of those English words which has radically changed over the last 400 years. “Katecho” (kat-ekh’-o) means “hold, hold fast, keep, possess,” and a couple other similar words. In other words, this is one definition that we have to remember as a special Biblical word. So what does II Thessalonians 2:7 say? “Iniquity is here and working, but there is someone restraining it, and He will continue to restrain it until He is withdrawn.” There isn’t unanimous agreement as to Who this Restrainer is, but Who do most Bible scholars say that it is? One of the important aspects of common grace is the restraint that the Holy Spirit puts upon wicked hearts.
Should we ever separate from each other the work of the Father, or of the Son, from the work of the Holy Spirit? Do you remember the early chapters of Job, when Satan came to God and the Lord brought up His servant Job? “And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” Satan then challenged God to test Job, to make his life miserable, to bring him to his knees. “He will undoubtedly turn against you.” This was done twice with a few differences between them. And in both cases the Lord gave Satan permission to touch Job with some specific limitations. Since Satan is a God-hating rebel, what if in the first set of temptations, he had tried to give him a bleeding ulcer? Or what would have happened in the second temptation, if Satan had reached out to kill Job? Despite the fact that the Lord told the Devil not to do either of those things, do you think that Satan could have? Why, or why not? (The sovereignty of God, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.)
If the Devil suspected that God intended to save each of your children when they reached the age of 10 or 12, do you think that he would let them live to that age, if he had the power to kill them? Does Satan have the PHYSICAL POWER to kill things in this world? Does Satan ever have the AUTHORITY to kill anything in this world? Despite the lack of authority, do you suppose that he might try? (Not if the Holy Spirit restrains him.)
Another aspect of common grace is seen in the little that man knows about God. Spiritually speaking, what is the condition of the average man’s eye-sight? (He is blind.) Spiritually speaking, how much can the unbeliever know about God? “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Now think carefully about next few questions: Have you ever met a lost man who believed in the Trinity, or that Jesus was virgin born, or that He was the Son of God? Can a person know these things intellectually? But aren’t these things important SPIRITUAL doctrines? Assuming that a lost man did know these doctrines, how did he come to know them? (Grace.)
Is there a difference between feeling guilt or remorse for things that we have done and being convicted that we have sinned against God? Who is the source or cause of true conviction for sin? Has there ever been someone, who was brought under the preaching of the Word of God, and who came under conviction about his sin, but who did not repent and trust Christ? Another aspect of common grace is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.
Listen to the Lord Jesus’ words in John 16:7-11 – “I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” Now show me some proof that the ministry of the Spirit mentioned here is confined to God’s elect.
Was Deacon Stephen, since he wasn’t an apostle unqualified to give us the inspired Word of God? Was Stephen in error when he said, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” What is it to resist the omnipotent Holy Spirit of God? Is it permissible to think that since God’s Spirit was striving with the people in Noah’s day that there was a sense in which they were striving with Him?
There is a lot more that we could look at in regards to the Holy Spirit and common grace, but let’s move on.
The closest that your Bible comes to the word “efficacious” in any language is “Ephesus.” Are those two words related? Something that is efficacious is said to be what? (Effective.) Efficacious grace is another theological term – it refers to EFFECTIVE, or OMNIPOTENT grace. In what way might it be said that common grace is a type of efficacious grace?
Efficacious grace is the work of the Holy Spirit which actually brings the sinner INTO salvation. Common grace might be described as the work of the Holy Spirit which brings the sinner UNTO salvation. Even though we are not going to dig very deeply into it this morning, this is a pivotal Bible doctrine. And that doctrine will determine the character of a man’s ministry and evangelism.
The Bible teaches that God lays a call upon certain sinners which always, ultimately results in their salvation. Romans 8:28-30 – “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” I Corinthians 1:9 – “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” I Thessalonians 2:12 – That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.” II Thess.alonians 2:14 – “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” II Timothy 1:9 – “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Hebrews 3:1 – “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” I Peter 2:9 – “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” We could multiply these verses throughout our morning service if we wanted to.
The calling to which these verses refer is the work of the Holy Spirit whereby we are not only invited to receive the Lord’s salvation, but we are actually drawn into it. It is an efficacious calling and it is a part of God’s grace – thus it is efficacious grace. Common grace is often resisted, but the efficacious calling of the Holy Spirit is never defeated.
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit’s efficacious calling and grace is supported by at least three things: First, since it is an act of God, it is by its very nature guaranteed. God’s will cannot be thwarted; what He intends to do He does. And that refers to the work of the Holy Spirit, as well as to that of God the Father. Second, if there is something called “predestination,” then it means that the work of God is guaranteed. And Romans 8, which we read a few minutes ago, referred to “predestination.” And third, man’s total depravity and spiritual lifelessness, demands efficacious grace. No sinner can make himself spiritually alive. No sinner can save himself. Even faith and repentance are beyond him, because he is spiritually dead. If he ever possesses eternal life, it will because the Holy Spirit effectually gave it to him.
By its nature, the doctrine of the efficacious grace of God is difficult to understand. In fact, might it be correct to say that it is impossible to understand? Not only is the application of efficacious grace in our salvation something accomplished by the Holy Spirit, it can even understood only through the Spirit.