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More on the will of God

13th April 2013

Consider, if you will, the following three propositions:

  • God wants everybody to be saved
  • God accomplishes everything he wants
  • Some people will not be saved

It would seem that you can't believe all three of these propositions, because they're logically inconsistent:

  • If God wants everyone to be saved, and if God accomplishes everything he wants, then everyone will be saved.
  • If God wants everyone to be saved, and if some people will not be saved, then God does not accomplish everything he wants.
  • If God accomplishes everything he wants, and if some people will not be saved, then God does not want everyone to be saved.

But I can find scripture references that seem to support all three propositions:

God wants everybody to be saved:

1 Timothy 2v3b-6a
God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.

2 Peter 3v9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God accomplishes everything he wants:

Ephesians 1v11
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will

Proverbs 16v33
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

Some people will not be saved:

Matthew 7:21-23
[Jesus said] "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

2 Peter 3v7b
the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

Of course, many other scriptures could be quoted in support of all three propositions.

But how can they all be true?

Different people choose (whether or not they realise it) to deny or modify one of these three propositions:

  • An "Arminian" would qualify "God wants everyone to be saved" by saying that God doesn't want to override our free will, and subordinates his desire for us to be saved to his desire for us to be free to choose not to be saved. But this means that, ultimately, God doesn't want everyone to be saved.
  • A "Calvinist" would interpret "God wants everyone to be saved" as meaning that God wants everyone he has chosen to be saved (which is more or less tautological).
  • A "Universalist" would claim that everybody will be saved, somehow, sooner or later.

All three positions have their difficulties:

  • The Arminian position is vulnerable (1) because it's difficult to believe that God thinks our freedom to perish for all eternity is more important than our salvation, and (2) because it requires us to believe that God can't choose whom He saves. The Biblical idea of predestination (Romans 8v29-30, Ephesians 1v5, 11) falls and the "elect" are not the people whom God has chosen, but are the people who have chosen God.
  • The Calvinist position is vulnerable because it requires us to believe that there are some people whom God deliberately does not choose for salvation, which means - effectively and logically - that God chooses them for destruction.
  • The Universalist position is so obviously unbiblical as to be untenable. There are so many scriptures that make it clear that God saves some and not others. See, for example, the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25v31-46, which says of some "they will go away to eternal punishment".

An Arminian sets the mercy of God over the sovereignty of God. A Calvinist sets the sovereignty of God over the mercy of God. A Universalist tries to see both as absolute, but has to deny the ideas of judgment and hell in order to do so.

I take the Calvinist position:

  • Because the sovereignty of God is absolute, but the mercy of God is limited (even an Arminian must concede that God will not be merciful to those that will not choose Him).
  • Because the overwhelming weight of scripture denies Universalism.
  • Because I believe (and want to believe) that God is in control.
  • Because God sees the future, and therefore knew before the beginning of the world who would believe and who would not, and was and is perfectly able to change our minds, to give us enough revelation to cause us to believe, and to give us the gift of repentance. And, for some, He doesn't do so.
  • Because I believe scriptures like Romans 9v11-18 that teach us that election depends on God's purpose, not on our goodness or our works, and that God hardens some people's hearts.

But no-one will ever fully understand the will of God. The creature can never fully understand the creator. We're called to trust Him, and obey Him, whether we understand or not.

Genesis 18v25b
Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"