[What have we done to grace? That church hymn we sing on Sundays, Amazing Grace, was penned by a former slave trader. His message still rings in the air, “I once was lost, but now am found.” But today, that kind of grace, the kind that brought transformation in society and an end to the slave trade in Great Britain, is rarely heard. Today, churches reduce that grace down to a number, the number of souls who say the sinner’s prayer at the altar.
Has the gospel been reduced to three steps: A-accept, B-believe, and C-confess? Is Christian outreach reduced to an invitation to attend services? Is church mobilization reduced to being an usher or a children’s church volunteer? Of course, God wants everyone to receive saving grace. Even more, God requires everyone, especially those who believe, to fulfill one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:14 NIV
Thomas Aquinas wrote, “the virtue of a good citizen, [directs us] to the common good.” But in recent years the sweet sound of grace has been overwhelmed by public cries for social justice. Do Christians have the grace to reform injustices today?
In 1840, an Italian Jesuit scholar named Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio coined the term “social justice.” He believed true justice is achieved through the institutions in our civil society, the family, church, and local organizations. Those institutions should flourish, and not be crowded out by governmental programs.
Today the “common good” is not so commonly understood. Common good requires common grace. Christians enjoy special grace, or saving grace. Special grace enables a person to suffer with others. The Good Samaritan understood common grace.
Common grace is available to everyone. Jesus explained how God’s common grace is for the common good: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45b NIV)
Here’s what we’ve done to social justice. We reduced poverty to a lack of material things. We reduced Christian charity to writing a check. Charity is reduced to handouts, which conveys a message: “We are empowered, and you are not.” Meanwhile, the poor feel shame and they seek dignity.
True social justice is when a common person does the common good for their neighbor. But that requires grace.
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