We must distinguish between grace and justice. Justice is something that is earned or merited by our works. In contrast, grace is undeserved; it is not earned. It is unmerited favor. God is not obligated or required to give grace.
We are prone to think that God owes us something. We often believe that if God were really good, He would give us a better life in some way, but God does not owe us anything. When God behaves in a favorable manner toward us even though we have no claim to it by our merit, then that is always grace.
Common grace is the mercy and kindness that God extends to the human race. For example, neither a godly farmer nor a wicked farmer deserves the rain to nurture his crops, but God sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45).
God is concerned about the general welfare of the human race. Therefore, since we are made in God’s image we are called to be concerned about the general welfare of the human race.
Nineteenth century liberalism rejected the supernatural aspects of the Christian faith, including the virgin birth, the resurrection, the atonement, and the deity of Christ. The liberals began to emphasize the social agenda at the expense of evangelism. As an overreaction against liberalism, evangelicals began to see social concern as solely a liberal matter and to focus instead on personal salvation. Both sides are wrong. As Christians, we are to be concerned about things like poverty, hunger, and disease, in addition to evangelism.
Francis Schaeffer once said that when it comes to matters of common grace, the Christian must work together with all kinds of people who are not Christians. For example, when we march for the rights of the unborn, we can stand next to anyone, if they share the same concern. But that does not mean we stand shoulder to shoulder in a worship service with non-Christians or liberals.
Saving grace is God’s redemptive grace which is only for His elect. We must make a distinction between God’s love of benevolence which has to do with His general concern for the welfare of human beings and His redemptive love which is reserved only for His elect.
God loves everyone, in that He is benevolent toward everyone (as John Calvin said, God loves His image in all people). But God has a special love and grace for the redeemed that He does not have for the rest of the world. “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Romans 9:13).
[Adapted from R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian]