Last Friday morning, my kids were getting ready for school and my daughter pensively stopped and looked at me and said “Dad, did you know that the guy who sang ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was a refugee?” I stopped for a moment and realized she had been looking at my collection of vinyl records at the time.
“You mean Freddie Mercury?” I asked.
“Yeah, he was. He’s of Indian-Persian descent and there was a war where he lived when he was a teenager and his family went to England. Not just that, but he was an amazing musician with a great vocal range in singing. He also did a lot to raise awareness for AIDS in the 80’s. He actually died of complications due to AIDS in the early 90’s.”
My daughter thought for a moment. “You mean he did a lot to help people who were sick and dying?”
“Was he a Christian?” she asked.
I shook my head. “He was involved with Zoroastrianism. It’s one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world.”
“I wish he was a Christian,” she said sadly. “He did so much and helped people.”
I stopped for a second and realized this was becoming a teaching moment.
“Oh, honey,” I said as both my kids sat on the couch realizing this was about to become a mini-lecture from Dad. “There are a lot of people out there who aren’t Christians but do good. Who do better than most Christians do.”
“Like a baseball player I read about who is helping the homeless but he’s not a Christian. Sometimes people who do better than Christians put Christians to shame.” My son chimed in.
“Yes, that can be true at times. There are people out there who are better at being Christians than Christians are. There’s a theological term for this. Its common grace.”
Freddie Mercury was an amazing musician. I think Queen is one of the best rock groups out there over the decades. His vocal range was outstanding. And in the 1980’s he did do amazing philanthropist work for AIDS research. And because of common grace we can appreciate what he did. We cans see the beauty in his music and talent. But common grace is more than just that.
Common grace is where God allows for people who aren’t saved by his special grace to still do things that are God honoring and beautiful and wonderful. Common grace allows for art, music, literature, creation care, taking care of your fellow human, and the like to be done by those who aren’t Christians. And I think my son is right when he said that some of the things people do put Christians to shame. Some people are better at being Christians than Christians are at being Christ followers.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still a staunch Reformed theological thinker. Common grace isn’t the same as saving grace (special grace). But common grace is important. In fact, Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof (I call him Uncle Louis [Lou-ee] when I’m by myself) says that common grace makes ordinary life possible and gives out the gifts to the world in science, art, and even showers “untold blessings” on people (Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology, pg. 434 [see what I did there, I got all scholarly on ya]).
Now God’s special grace is for all those who call on the name of Jesus Christ to be saved, who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord. God’s special grace is a saving grace. It’s important to distinguish between the two. With God’s special grace, we as Christians are called to go forth and do God’s holy work in this world, Christ’s work, kingdom work, of restoration and redemption. We as Christians are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. You see, common grace doesn’t save. It doesn’t purify us of sin by the blood of Christ (Uncle Louis again pg. 434) but God’s special grace does.
As Christians we can enjoy and observe and be part of common grace. We can enjoy the works of the likes of Freddy Mercury, or your choice of art of music or what not. We can be active in works of justice and loving our neighbor. And those who aren’t Christian can love their neighbor too. It doesn’t save them, Jesus does. But as Christians we can learn from those who do it better than we can. We can learn about helping others out, doing creation care, living justly and loving mercy from those who aren’t Christian. In fact, like I said earlier, sometimes non-Christians are better at being Christians than we are.
So, my kiddos received a long theological lecture before heading off to school on Friday morning. They were still on time though. And we all learned something. My kids can bring up good questions which makes me think of life itself.
When you can, enjoy some good music, enjoy some good art, act justly, love mercy, and do what you can to walk humbly with God through Christ. Enjoy common grace and live out your special grace for those who believe. Learn from those who don’t. And proclaim the name of Jesus in all you do and say.