In our last article in this rubric, we discussed one error related to the view of common grace which suggests that surely God does not send sickness. This article will treat another error which seems to arise logically out of the common grace theory. I was surprised to hear this particular error raised; yet, upon reflection, it would appear to be a logical conclusion from a false premise. The question with which I was confronted in a discussion on common grace, was: Is everything to be done to the glory of God? Are there not many things done by the child of God which are “neutral” in character—that is, nethier to nor against the glory of God? Specifically, the example of the basketball game was used. Can not a Christian and a non-Christian both play that game—without any consideration of the glory of God? Both are interested simply in the game as sport. By extension, of course, there would then be many “neutral” areas where Christian or non-Christian could be active without ever encountering the question of the glory of God.
The entire question came up in connection with the third point of common grace. That third point suggests that by a “common” grace upon all men generally, even the reprobate wicked can do some civil and natural good. These can, by that grace, have a good family life. These can perform many acts of charity presumably by this same grace. These can save others in extreme danger—even at the risk of their own lives. Rather than labeling all these acts as “sin,” the Christian Reformed Church officially labeled this as civil good performed through the effect of God’s common grace operating in men generally.
The Christian Reformed Church faced the problem of harmonizing this viewpoint with its own confession on “total depravity.” A church of Calvinistic tradition, of course, is expected to maintain that point of the five “points of Calvinism.” That difficulty has been evaded by some in the CRC by distinguishing between “total” and “absolute” depravity. It is suggested that “total” depravity involves the truth that each part (mind, will, etc.) of a being is affected by sin (as a bushel of apples, each of which has a rotten spot), whereas “absolute” depravity means that the whole of every part is affected by sin. Common grace, according to this theory, has prevented “absolute” depravity—though allowing yet a confession of “total” depravity.
The distinction is rather clever—but still clearly subterfuge. Depravity, after all, itself suggests complete corruption. By definition, depravity means that man’s nature is “innately bad and perverse because of original sin.” To add the word, “total,” is not to abridge the fact of a nature being “innately bad,” but rather to emphasize exactly the badness and perverseness of that nature. To distinguish between a “total” and an “absolute” depravity is, plainly speaking, nonsense.
Within the framework of this discussion, it was suggested that there was a realm of “neutral” activity both by Christian and by non-Christian. Such a conclusion is not too strange to understand. After all, if there is saving good and non-saving good, if there is the good that sinners do and the good which the righteous perform, if at times the wicked do good and at times they sin; it is not then too strange to conclude that there are areas of “neutrality.” Such a conclusionseems to be the result of trying to classify the works of the wicked: works of sin, works of goodness, and then, presumably, neutral works. And, if the wicked can do “neutral” works, then surely the child of God does also.
This is not a question of the “adiaphora.” There are certain things, such as the eating and drinking which the apostle Paul mentions in I Corinthians 10, which certain Christians believe they can do to the glory of God; whereas other Christians believe that they can not glorify God in those things—hence, do not do them. But this is not the question before us. Rather, the question is: is it true that there are certain things which both a Christian or a non-Christian can do without becoming involved in the matter of glorifying God?
The question is not simply academic. Nor is it only one which can arise because of an adherence to the view of common grace. But often, among ourselves too, there is a walk which seems to reflect the attitude that there are many things we can do which are in a realm neither of being God-glorifying nor God-dishonoring. This attitude is often in the area of entertainment. The watching of television, the attendance of movies, the playing of various sorts of games—all these, we can easily convince ourselves, we do simply for our own pleasure; it is not, we tell ourselves, a question of God’s glory.
That same erroneous attitude can be seen, too, in relation of one’s work or in the friendships he establishes on this earth. It appears that one can quickly and easily convince himself that these involve that which need not be done to God’s glory; it is a “neutral” area.
One must acknowledge, of course, that many times a person may readily confess that he must do all things to God’s glory—yet that too often he does not do this. He knows that he must glorify God in all things, but he confesses that he is remiss in this. He is ashamed of this fact and prays earnestly that God forgive these sins of neglect.
But the fact that one must glorify God in all things, is clearly spoken of in Scripture and also in the confessions of the church. There is the well-known passage of I Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Obviously, the passage does not teach that glorifying God involves only church attendance, contributions to the poor, reading of Scripture and prayer. One is to glorify God even in such apparently insignificant actions as eating and drinking. It is true that Paul speaks in I Corinthians 10 of the eating of a certain kind of food (things offered to idols); yet surely his conclusion is that all eating and all drinking must be done to the glory of God. And what is true of eating and drinking is certainly true also of every action and thought.
John Calvin in his commentary on I Corinthians states on these passages, “Lest they should think, that in so small a matter they should not be so careful to avoid blame, he teaches that there is no part of our life, and no action so minute, that it ought not to be directed to the glory of God, and that we must take care that, even in eating and drinking, we may aim at the advancement of it. This statement is connected with what goes before; for if we are eagerly desirous of the glory of God, as it becomes us to be, we will never allow, so far as we can prevent it, his benefits to lie under reproach.”
Romans 14:23 is very clear on this point too: “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” That is strong language. Not only does that passage make clear that the wicked sin in whatever they do (for they act not in faith), but even when the child of God does anythingnot out of faith, he sins. There is nothing neutral.
Again, John Calvin clearly expounds this passage in his commentary on Romans. “The reason for this condemnation is, that every work, however splendid and excellent in appearance, is counted as sin, except it be founded on a right conscience; for God regards not the outward display, but the inward obedience of the heart; by this alone is an estimate of our works. Besides, how can that be obedience, when any one undertakes what he is not persuaded is approved by God? Where then such doubt exists, the individual is justly charged with prevarication; for he proceeds in opposition to the testimony of his own conscience.”
Our confessions speak the same language. TheHeidelberg Catechism states in question and answer 91, “What are good works? Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.” And in the preceding question we are instructed, “What is the quickening of the new man? It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”
The Canons of Dordt express too the thought that there is no “neutrality” in any action of man. These state in head III-IV, article 3, “Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.” There is here suggested neither any sort of “neutral” work nor any “good” work on the part of children of wrath.
All of this ought to point out the seriousness of our calling in this earth. First of all, we are not to call “good” that which God’s Word condemns. The standards for that which is “good” are set forth clearly in Scripture: according to God’s law, to God’s glory, and out of a true faith. Whatever is not of this, says Scripture, is sin.
But the child of God himself must faithfully seek to do all things to the glory of God. There is no area of “neutrality.” Our thoughts, words, deeds are either to the glory of God—or they are not. One who imagines he can do anything “neutrally,” had better carefully reconsider. What is not done to the glory of God is sin. We too had best examine well all that we do in light of this standard set forth in Scripture. When we sin in this regard, we are to repent and seek again to walk in the way of holiness. Let us then, knowing that the night is far spent, endeavor by God’s grace to do those things which are and can be done to the glory of God. It is our desire that some day we may glorify the Name of our God perfectly in the new heavens and new earth. Ought that not then be the desire also of regenerated children of God already on this earth?