This is the conclusion in a series of three post.
So Does God Really Desire for All to Be Saved?
As we have seen, it is biblically correct to say that God desires the salvation of all. It is biblical to speak of many of God’s desires, such as his desire for us to obey his commandments, cast out idols, etc. God wills and desires that I would be a faithful and loving husband, a committed disciple, and compassionate towards others. However, this is certainly not always the case.
We have also seen that there are certain things which God wills that necessarily and always come to pass.
If we bring these two concepts together, we begin to see how we can have a biblically faithful answer to the original question “Does God desire the salvation of all people?” What we begin to see is that God does, in a general sense, desire for the salvation of all people. It is good for him to do so, and it is therefore consistent with his character and goodness.
However, we also see that God in his providence, sovereignty and mercy brings about the actual salvation of specific individuals through his decretive will. God speaks life, and dead men come out of the grave (John 11:43).
It may be helpful for us to circle back to the original text of 1 Timothy Chapter 2, as well as Isaiah 45:22. Let us consider these verses:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. – 1 Timothy 2:3-6
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. – Isaiah 45:22
Notice how in both of these passages there is movement from God’s desire that all be saved to the exclusiveness of his salvation. In both these passages there is an overarching inclusiveness in God’s heart for all people, but also an overwhelming sense of his exclusiveness in that there is no other apart from God. He desires all to be saved and provides a ransom for all peoples in a sense that there is no other way of salvation (Frame, Systematic Theology 352). The gospel will always be the most inclusive yet also the most exclusive message the world will ever know.
In the first post, I showed scriptural evidence for God’s desire for all people to be saved, for God’s omnipotence, and his sovereign election of sinners who will come to repentance. The most prolific and popular answer to these three facts is that God’s election depends on the foreknowledge of man’s free will. In the first post we saw how this conclusion of the facts is necessarily unbiblical and leaves us with all kinds of contradictions and problems.
In the second post, we saw how properly understanding God’s will leads us away from the previous unbiblical and contradictory answers and leads us towards a biblically sound answer that takes no liberties with the text.
Finally in this last post we conclude that God’s desired will for all people to be saved and his sovereign election of sinners based on his own choosing is in glorious harmony.
It is necessary for us to view this intersection of God’s sovereignty and his desires as a glorification of his character and nature. All God does is for his glory and that we might share in it, and in this understanding of his desired will and sovereign will we see how God is most glorified in us. Yes he desires all to be saved because it is good for him to do so. He is all-good and worthy of praise and glory. However, it is only through his mercy and grace that some come to faith by the working of his divine and decretive will through the work of His Spirit. Rather than debating with each other why God would desire all but only save some, we should instead be praising and giving thanks to him for his mercy and grace towards sinners through Jesus.
It is my hope and prayer that this answer to the question “Does God desire all to be saved?” is biblically faithful and God-honoring. All of my claims and answers in this text were not and should not be made based on metaphysical or philosophical assumptions, but rather simply on the text of God’s Word and what they teach. As John Piper says, there is no room in the Bible for human beings to have the ultimate power of self-determination.
I also acknowledge that the information in these posts probably raises as many questions as it answers, such as “Does God will evil?” and “What does it mean to say God can do anything?” Perhaps those will be addressed in future posts.
May God be glorified and worshiped for his grace and mercy towards us!
Protestant leaders – from backwoods evangelists and radio preachers to prominent pastors such as Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale – warned the country would go to hell with a Catholic in the Oval Office.
“I’m getting tired of these people who think I want to replace the gold at Fort Knox with a supply of holy water,” Kennedy complained.
Against some advisers’ counsel, the candidate decided to directly confront the anti-Catholic bias with a televised speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston in 1960. It was like Daniel walking into the lion’s den, a journalist said at the time.
Good theology books are very important, but even the best, when left on the shelf, emphatically cannot replace what it means to know God. If your library doesn’t lead you to a deeper affection for Jesus, then it’s as useless as a collection of shells.
For the Christian, it’s not about winning a culture war. We win through how we engage our neighbors. Our honor should be on full display… even on Facebook.
Because of Lewis, I can have interesting theological discussions with people who never went to college. I’ve met troubled college students who found solace in Mere Christianity, four-year-olds who delighted in The Magician’s Nephew, 50-year-olds who love to ruminate over The Abolition of Man. The beauty of Lewis’s legacy is that it transcends class, country, and age. Even 50 years after his passing, he continues to teach us all.
What gratitude would flow from this exercise? What thanksgiving? For those who have dined on the sacred, the Thanksgiving table becomes a feast of forgetful remembrance. For forgetful remembrance is grace—the taste of a homecoming remembered, the foretaste of a homecoming yet to come. On Thanksgiving years from now when our grandchildren gather to serve this most familiar of meals, may the table still be laid with the flavors of homecoming—may we still be serving the very grace that was served for us, in which all true thankfulness finds its source.
Ten reminders for when it is appropriate to hold your tongue.
A short time ago my mother visited Elaine and asked how she deals with all that she has suffered. Elaine looked at her quizzically and said, “But I don’t feel like I have suffered.” She acknowledges that she has endured great challenges and great physical pain, but she cannot and will not see herself as essentially a sufferer. She knows Jesus Christ and him crucified and now waits patiently and joyfully for the day when her body, soul and mind—all she is—will be perfected in his presence. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This post is the second in a series of three, answering the question “Does God desire all to be saved?” For the first post, click here.
Does God Have Multiple Wills?
There are many words both in the original Hebrew and Greek text that are used to communicate God’s will. Some of these terms are better translated but often used interchangeably for similar concepts such as will, desire and wishes. For the sake of this conversation and our Systematic approach (that is, gathering what the entire Bible says about the subject) these linguistic differences are not important. However, as we better come to understand what is meant by “God’s will” we will come to a better understanding of this problem and an answer to the question.
No matter which camp they are in, theologians agree to use different terms to describe different aspects of God’s will. The Arminian/free will camp (Such as Roman Catholics, some Wesleyans, and some Lutherans) use the terms antecedent and consequent wills. The way this is generally defined is that God’s evaluation of some things as good is his antecedent will, while his actual choices among those various good things is his consequent will. Arminian theologians continue then by factoring libertarian freedom of man into the middle of these “two wills.” The argument goes something like this: God’s antecedent will is that it is good for all to be saved, however his consequent will is dependent on man’s libertarian freedom which explains why not all are saved.
There is a helpful distinction in this line of thinking, and that is the distinction that God does not bring all of his antecedent will to come to pass. However, this line of thinking is mistaken in its allowance for the libertarian freedom of man. There is again no room to go into a discussion of this matter, but it suffices to say that our previous discussion of the omnipotence of God does not allow him to be governed or dependent on man’s action.
Reformed theologians also have distinctions for various aspects of God’s will which they refer to as God’s preceptive will and God’s decretive will. God’s preceptive will is used to define and describe God’s values and rules (precepts), specifically as revealed to us in His Word. His decretive will focuses on his lordship and control, it cannot be opposed. Those things that fall under God’s decretive will certainly come to pass, they will always happen. There are similarities between these terms and the Arminian terms; God’s preceptive will includes room for man’s actions to act in accordance with God’s desires. The difference between these terms and that of the free will camp is that God’s decretive will does not allow room for man’s libertarian actions, whatever God decrees will certainly come to pass. Pastor and theologian R.C. Sproul puts it this way:
He sovereignly brings to pass whatever He decrees, while His permissive (preceptive) will leaves room for the moral actions of His creatures. – R.C. Sproul, The Invisible Hand
None of these statements are accurate unless there is biblical support for this view. Before we continue, it is then necessary to show God’s preceptive will and his decretive will through his Word. Below are verses that support God’s preceptive will; his desires, wishes and wants:
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will! – Psalm 103:21
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 7:21
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:17
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6
(Cf. Pss. 5:4; 103:21; Matt. 12:50; John 4:34; 7:17; Rom. 12:2; 1 Thess. 4:3; 5:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Peter 4:2)
Next we will see some examples of God’s will used in the decretive sense:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. –Matthew 11:25-26
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55:11
(Cf. Pss. 51:18; 115:3; Isa. 46:10; Jer. 49:20; 50:45; Dan. 4:17; Acts 2:23; Rom. 9:18-19; Eph 1:11; James 1:18; Rev. 4:11)
Through an examination of these passages (and others like them) we begin to see a biblical picture of God’s will. God desires good things in a general sense – such that all people would turn from idols, hold his name in reverence, remember the Sabbath, etc. But these desires are not always fulfilled.
Likewise, God wills very certain things that certainly come to pass. God willed the death of Christ at the hands of sinners, God willed that Joseph would be abandoned by his brothers and sold into slavery. God wills and decrees that his Word will not return void.
Pastor, author and theologian John Piper closes on this subject in a very helpful way:
In fact the New Testament saints seemed to live in the calm light of an overarching sovereignty of God concerning all the details of their lives and ministry. Paul expressed himself like this with regard to his travel plans. On taking leave of the saints in Ephesus he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” (Acts 18:21). To the Corinthians he wrote, “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills” (1 Corinthians 4:19). And again, “I do not want to see you now just in passing; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (1 Corinthians 16:7).
This confidence that the details of life were in the control of God every day was rooted in numerous prophetic expressions of God’s unstoppable, unthwartable sovereign purpose. “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose‘” (Isaiah 46:9-10; cf. 43:13). “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing; and he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What doest thou?'” (Daniel 4:35). “I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
This means that the distinction between terms like “will of decree” and “will of command” or “sovereign will” and “moral will” is not an artificial distinction demanded by Calvinistic theology. The terms are an effort to describe the whole of biblical revelation. They are an effort to say Yes to all of the Bible and not silence any of it. They are a way to say Yes to the universal, saving will of 1 Timothy 2:4 and Yes to the individual unconditional election of Romans 9:6-23. – John Piper, Are There Two Wills in God?
In our next and final section, we will see how God’s sovereign desire for all to be saved and his individual and personal election of sinners are not at all in conflict, but actually in perfect harmony.
A friend of mine recently asked me an important question, and rather than offer a quick or uninformed answer I decided to write a lengthy article about it. This response will ultimately be covered in three posts, so today’s post will only cover the first section. I hope you’ll take the time to read it, as it is a very important question! I want to give credit where credit is due here, to which I will say I owe a lot of thanks to John Frame’s new magnum opus Systematic Theology.
In the history of Christianity and the realm of theology there is a debate that has been raging since the beginnings of the early church. Today we know this debate as “Arminianism vs. Calvinism,” but the actual terms are not important. It could also be coined as the debate between “free will” and “predestination”, “God’s sovereignty” and “libertarian freedom”, or any number of other terms. I picture this timeless debate as something similar to Rocky vs. Apollo – two skilled opponents who can go punch for punch with each other, ending in what appears to be a stalemate. Is either side of the debate more correct than the other?
One of the questions that is commonly wrapped up in this debate is this: Does God desire the salvation of all people? It is my intention to show that one of these sides is more faithful than the other and gives an accurate and balanced answer to the question. There are many approaches one could take to answering this question, but the approach I am going to take is a systematic approach; that is, what does the entire Bible say about this question? Through a faithful study of the entirety of God’s Word and coming to a better understanding of who He is, we can learn accurate answers and truth to this age-old question.
And in this corner…
Before we can give an accurate answer to the question, it will be helpful to define and state the problem. It is my goal to be faithful to both sides of the argument in this approach.
As I stated above, the question we are trying to answer is “Does God desire the salvation of all people?” There are many proof texts we could use to say “yes” to this question, and I will list many of these below:
Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! – Deuteronomy 5:29
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! – Matthew 23:37
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? – Ezekiel 18:23
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. – Isaiah 45:22
Two of the key texts in the answer to this question are below:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. – 1 Timothy 2:3-4
Now at a first glance the answer to our question appears simple. The obvious and short answer to our question is “yes,” but we must now determine what exactly this means. As we all know, the problem with this answer is not God’s desire, but that not everyone comes to faith and repentance in Christ. Thus we are often (but not only) left with one of two options: either man has the free will to choose God and God’s wills and desires are not effectual, or God is a Universalist and ultimately all will be saved either in this life or the next. There is no room to go into the second option here, other than to quickly say this second option is not biblical and is no option at all.
So if we move forward with the first choice – that God’s will depends on man’s free will – we are left with all sorts of problems. The first of these is that we are no longer dealing with an omnipotent (that is, an all-powerful) God. Here are just a few verses in the Bible that deal with God’s omnipotence and the power of his will:
O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. – 2 Chronicles 20:6
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does. – Job 20:13
No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. – Proverbs 21:30
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. – Psalm 115:3
Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?” – Isaiah 43:13
…who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. – Philippians 3:21
Many more passages could be used to defend the omnipotence of God. The point is this: God can and does do whatever he pleases. As scholar and theologian John Frame says:
Such power drives us to worship. No one else has nearly as much power as God. This is an important element in the biblical teaching concerning miracle: in his mighty works, God displays his power, his lordship as control…He can subdue anybody who resists him, and eventually he will. He does things that are proverbially impossible… – Frame, Systematic Theology, 336
This is where the waters become murky. If God is omnipotent, how do we reconcile that with the fact that not all people are ultimately saved? The objection here raised by free will proponents would go something like this: it pleases God to give man free will, otherwise mankind is a robot. God’s plan is consequent of the free will he gave us.
The problem raised by this objection is it does not deal with the tricky subject of predestination and election. Whether you like these words or not, we have to deal with it because it’s in the biblical text – we can’t ignore it. Here are some of the texts that deal with predestination:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. – John 17:9-10
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. –Acts 13:48
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. – Romans 9:14-18
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… – Ephesians 1:3-5
It is here we begin to see the conflict; if God desires all to be saved AND his will and desires are dependent on man’s decision to choose God, how do we reconcile that with predestination? The common answer is that predestination means God foreknows everyone and the decision they will make, so predestination takes into account who will choose God and who won’t. The problem is that this isn’t what these verses say, and trying to make them say that is biblically unfaithful. Take a look at Romans 8:29: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. This passage says that those whom God foreknew are those whom he predestined – if God foreknows everyone does that mean everyone is predestined? Now we are back to dealing with God as a Universalist. Surely, this attempt to reconcile God’s desire for everyone’s salvation and the concept of predestination is not an adequate answer.
There is a better answer to our current dilemma, one that does free will, God’s sovereignty, his desire for all to be saved, and predestination justice. This answer will become clear to us as we better understand the concept of God’s will, which we will discuss in the next post tomorrow.