There are two types of grace that we want to think about. We will look at common grace first and then efficacious grace.
Common grace is that grace which God extends to all of mankind throughout all ages and conditions. This is the grace which brings the seasons, the rains, the sunshine and the revelation of God within nature. This is seen in Psalm 145:9, “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” There are other verses as well, Matthew 5:45, Luke 6:35, Acts 14:17, and Romans 1:19-20.
Common grace is extended in different areas.
1. Common grace is the general provision of items of nature for our use and benefit. These are for the lost’s benefit as well. Think of that — they are on their way to hell — they thumb their nose at God — yet He extends this to them. He could withdraw His grace from them at any moment, yet He is longsuffering and desires them to turn to Him.
2. Common grace is also seen in the restraining of sin by the Holy Spirit. It isn’t that He is in the business of stopping sin as we can plainly see around us, but that He is slowing down the process of sin and sin as a whole. If He wasn’t on the job the state of the world would be much
worse (2 Thessalonians 2:6,7). This restraint is at times lifted to allow some to go off into the areas that they desire to go into (Romans 1:24-28).
There is a point that we might cover here. The Holy Spirit does some of His restraining through the Church and its walk before the world. There is a real sense in which the Church is failing their God in this present day. We as a Church have not kept the purity and testimony before the world that we should have. We have accepted the world’s standard, and life styles. In years past the Church has been a real conscience for the world.
The church once stood against divorce, yet today many churches accept it as common everyday living. The world cannot see a difference between the
Christian and themselves, so why should they seek to be Christians or their God?
It has been of interest in recent days that the tone of language and stories told in the presence of Christians is becoming more and more perverse. In days past when people knew they were around believers they would curb their perverseness. Today they seem to feel no restraint. Is this because the church as a whole has failed to present the proper image to the world? It may well be.
3. The work of reproving for sin, righteousness and judgment in John 16:7- 11 seems to be for the world, however it was a promise to the believer also. The believer should not get discouraged when they see the sin of the world. They can know that the Holy Spirit is on the job confronting the lost with their sin. There is also a promise, in that they can know that the Devil has been cared for and we need not worry about his gaining the upper hand. “Nevertheless 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.”
4. There is also one final area of common grace. God is postponing the judgment of the lost, desiring that they might come to Him for salvation.
I would like to cover some information from Mark Thiessen before we move on to efficacious grace.
Mark Thiessen mentions a “prevenient grace” which we need to inspect for a few moments. (Thiessen, Henry C.; “Lectures In Systematic Theology”; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 155-156)
“The upshot of the matter is that God must take the initiative if man is to be saved. God cannot relax His law simply because man is no longer able to obey it. Now all Calvinists believe in common grace. They teach that, since the race fell in Adam and lost all claims to consideration before God, along with the ability in its own strength to return to God, we have in the blessings of life, health, friends, fruitful seasons, prosperity, the delay of punishment, the manifestations of the common grace of God. Common grace is not sufficient for salvation but it yet reveals the goodness of God to all sinful creatures. This is true, but why stop there? We believe that the common grace of God also restores to the sinner the ability to make a favorable response to God. In other words, we hold that God, in His grace, makes it possible for all men to be saved.”
He continues on to say,
“It does not mean that prevenient grace enables a man to change the permanent bent of his will in the direction of God; nor that he can quit all sin and make himself acceptable to God. It does mean that he can make an initial response to God, as a result of which God can give him repentance and faith.”
As I read and understand Thiessen, he would extend common grace to include just a bit more and call it pervenient grace. To the sun, rain, and health, of the common grace advocate, he would include a bit of a zap, or the ability to desire more knowledge of God even though he is still totally depraved.
In a sense, if Romans one is true, in that God revealed Himself to man in the creation and man is held accountable for that revelation, then there must be some possibility of the man responding to that creation, else wise God is holding him responsible for something which he cannot act upon.
Thiessen goes on to say that through foreknowledge, God was able to know which of mankind would respond favorably and which would not respond favorably. He views efficacious grace as the desire being acted upon by the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing the lost person to God.
I see no difference between what Mark Thiessen suggests and the thought that if a lost person responds to the revelation mentioned in Romans one. In both cases God responds by drawing the person to Himself through the Holy Spirit.
It seems that Thiessen has coined a term, and rightly so, to draw a distinction between common grace and what he teaches.
Efficacious grace is that product that we fail to realize many times in our witnessing. It is the grace that extends from God to allow the person to believe and accept the Lord.
Efficacious grace might also show up in some books as effective grace. It is grace that is effective in bringing the lost to God. Efficacious means: “…..having the power to produce a desired effect…..” (By permission. From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.) While teaching, the students found out that I enjoyed M & M’s. One of them tried to bribe me with a bag of M & M’s. The bribe did not work. The bribe had no efficacy.
Efficacious grace then, is grace that is able to produce the desired effect, that effect being, the drawing of the lost soul to God.
We will dive into the ramifications of this doctrine when we get to the doctrine of election in the salvation section of our study. The grace is not something that acts against the will of man, but it is a grace that effects the will of man, and since it comes into play because the person is responsive to God, works in conjunction to man’s will.
This is contrary to the staunch Calvinist that would state that Efficacious grace is something which overcomes the person and his will to bring the person to God. The person cannot resist this grace — it is final and sure. God can and does drag the lost kicking and screaming person into the kingdom.
This to me is an overstatement of what we can see in the Word of God. Man still chooses to believe in God by his own will, however efficacious grace will bring things into his life that will bring his will to the point that he will believe.
Efficacious grace will not come into play in a persons life unless they have first responded to common grace, thus efficacious grace is something that the person will welcome — no reason to resist. Whether efficacious grace is resistable or irresistable is a mute question. The person is desiring to respond to God, so the next step is a welcome step. When I say common grace I retain the term “common” while holding to Thiessen’s prevenient grace thought.
If the person responds to common grace, then efficacious grace will take precedent over all things. The person’s will responds in accord to that grace that has been extended.
The efficacious grace is a process, in that it brings many occurrences into the life of the person preceding belief. Some suggest that it is an act. On God’s part, yes, from man’s view a process. God views all things in one moment and as such the whole process of salvation is an act of His will. He willed in eternity past that some would be saved. He sees this as a completed item on His agenda.
Man however is in time, and salvation is a process which takes place in time. Man isn’t one moment lost and then the next moment saved. He must go through mental processes before he can be brought into a place of belief and repentance.
Common grace can be ignored or rejected (by the person giving credit for these things to laws of nature and fate.) while efficacious grace is not rejected or ignored.
Efficacious grace is based on the idea of calling in the Scripture. Some feel that the two are actually one. If a person is called, then they have received efficacious grace.
I am not sure that the two are the same. It seems better to see the calling as separate from efficacious grace. The reason for this is Matthew 22:14. It states, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The context of this verse is the call to the marriage feast. There seems to be a calling that can be rejected. Efficacious grace cannot be rejected, indeed, if the person desires to respond to God would not reject it.
This may indicate that there are two calls, one call to all of mankind to come unto the God of creation and a second call to the elect that brings them to God. You might say there is a common call and an efficacious call, to help in your understanding.
If we are to believe in the total depravity of man and the total inability of man to reach God on his own then the doctrine of efficacious grace is a requirement. There must be a drawing of the lost to the Lord by some means and that means is the Holy Spirit.
Part of the confusion in this area may come from the fact that some believers have a totally different salvation experience than others. Some are saved out of a life of total debasement and sin, while others are saved as a growing process through their relatively righteous life.
The person that is saved out of a totally sinful life would quite possibly see God as reaching down in His Calvinistic grace and snatching His elected one out of the debased world in which he lived. The person that has been raised in a Christian home and was saved through the learning process in church, might well see the response to what is revealed, and the following drawing of the Lord to salvation as simple choice of the individual to respond to what he knows.
Whatever your experience, the Word seems to indicate that the common grace is that grace which is extended to all. This may include the call to salvation as well as the ability to respond to that call. At the point where the person has responded positively to common grace and natural revelation, God extends His efficacious grace to finally draw the person into the Kingdom.
Buswell mentions, “Jesus promised, ‘When He [the Spirit of Truth] is come, He will convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment’ (John 16:8). This was Jesus’ promise as He told of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The world of our day is strangely unconvicted, unconvinced, and unconcerned; yet where Spirit-filled men faithfully present the Spirit-inspired Word of God, conviction of sin comes. The great need of the world today is for consecrated channels for the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Only so can there be a genuine turning to the Lord and acceptance of the Gospel.” (Buswell, James Oliver; “A Systematic
Theology Of The Christian Religion”; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962, p 262)
The fact that the Spirit is to convict the world of sin is mentioned in John 16: 8,9. Some receive the ministry and believe while others reject that ministry of the Spirit.
Buswell submits that the Romans one revelation of God is that which is accepted or rejected. The revelation being the common grace and the acceptance of it the first step in what he calls “effectual calling”. His effectual calling would be what we have established as efficacious grace. (Buswell has an extended discussion of this with much detail that is of interest. p 157ff.)
The term “sin” in John 16:8,9 is in the singular showing that the Spirit is working on the sin nature of man and not the individual types of sin. This may relate to the fact that all societies have had a knowledge of an afterlife. If the Spirit in some manner has convicted them to the point that they feel they are guilty in some respect to a higher power then all would fit well.
Conviction is a legal term. During my first year of teaching I was treated to an office Toilet Papering. I was sure of the culprits, but lacked the evidence to convict them. I waited for a couple of months and the perpetrators could not hold back any longer. They convicted themselves with their own tongue.
Lost man not only is guilty, but the Holy Spirit will convict him of his error.
Conviction means: “…..the act or process of convicting of a crime esp. in a court of law 2 a: the act of convincing a person of error or of compelling the admission of a truth…..” (By permission. From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.)
These definitions are somewhat inadequate when related to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The convicting of the Holy Spirit is of a nature that presents the facts and the person so convicted is free to respond to or reject that information.
They are convicted — simple and pure. They cannot argue about it. They have the choice — turn against the God that convicted them, or throw themselves on the mercy of the court.
The term is used in Matthew 18:15,
“Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
The term tell is the term translated convicted in John 8:9.
In the area of common grace then we have the conviction of the lost, by the God of nature. In the case of some, the confrontation may be with the gospel itself in evangelized areas. When that conviction brings the person toward the Lord then we have moved into the area of efficacious grace. In the unevangelized areas of the world this comes from the response or lack of response to the revelation of God in creation.
You might say there are common conviction and efficacious conviction. Common conviction would be the confrontation of a lost soul with some information about God which they are free to respond to or ignore. Efficacious conviction would be that information that the Spirit brings to confront the lost soul who is going to respond.
The term “elenko” is translated convict as well as: tell, Matthew 18:15; being reproved, Luke 3:19; should be reproved, John 3:20, convinceth, John 8:46; will reprove, John 16:8; convinced, 1 Corinthians 14:24, James
2:9; reprove, Ephesians 5:11, 2 Timothy 4:2; that are reproved, Ephesians
5:13; rebuke, 1 Timothy 5:20, Revelation 3:19; to convince, Titus 1:9;
rebuke, Titus 1:13, 2:15; art rebuked, Hebrews 12:5
It seems that the thought of convict, is the showing of evidence with the desire of changed action.
The person that rejects this conviction places himself in the position of lessening his opportunities with God. The Scripture mentions the hardening of the heart, the stiffening of the neck, and the parables were used so that the hard hearted could not understand. God gives all mankind a chance, but as the lost person continues to reject, their ability to respond weakens. Let me illustrate:
“Sin Against The Holy Ghost”
“Dr. John William Baily, of the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, told his class in New Testament of reading about a certain sea animal in a scientific periodical. This animal lives at several levels. At fifty feet it has eyes upon long tentacles, and these may move about and see in any direction. At a lower depth the same animal has the same eyes, in the same tentacles, but the tentacles are rigid, and the eyes may look only in one direction. Far below, the same animal has the same general form, with the hardened tentacles, and the markings of eyes, but there is no sight. Living at a depth where there is no light, the animal has lost the use of its eyes. Similarly, those individuals who close their eyes to the light that they have, incapacitate themselves to receive light. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not unforgivable because of some arbitrary decision of God. Rather, the very nature of sin, namely, shutting one’s eyes to known truth and refusing to see, does something to the person himself, and he makes himself incapable of receiving truth at all. Not even God can forgive that sin. Minter Uzzell (Stuber, Stanley
I. and Clark, Thomas Curtis; “Treasury Of The Christian Faith”; New York: Association Press, 1949, p 659-660)
Here we introduce the idea of rejection of common grace leading to total inability to respond positively to the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit brings God’s grace to us through natural laws in the case of common grace, as well as to us through the Revelation, and His messengers in efficacious grace. Within the thought of grace there is a point in time when the Spirit convicts us of the sin nature, and makes us realize our condition before God.
We understand that in God’s mind this is an action, while in our lives it is a process. We move in a process from common grace, to conviction, to efficacious grace. This movement may be in a very short period of time, or it may take a long time.
The important thing is that we understand that we did not come to God because of our superior understanding of things as they are, but rather, we came to God through the specific ministry of the Holy Spirit.
 Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. B.A. (n.d.). DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.