AA asks a few great questions:
I’ve been listening to your podcast for a few weeks (a friend of mine relentlessly recommends it). I’d like to know how you would respond to this question:
In reference to 1 Timothy 2:4, does God really desire all people to be saved? Why don’t more people believe? Has God failed?
I am familiar with how Calvinists respond to this question but am curious about your perspective.
Most Calvinists say that whatever God desires, He accomplishes. Therefore, He does not desire that all people be saved. What 1 Tim 2:4 means, they say, is that God desires all of the elect to be saved. That He does accomplish. (See this article by John MacArthur.)
Some think that salvation here does not mean living with God forever. Instead, it refers to being delivered from sin’s bondage by being part of God’s people.i
Most Calvinists think that the words all men refer to all kinds of men, including Gentiles. It would not mean each and every person. It would mean every type of people (i.e., people from every nation and group). See here.
There are still other Calvinists who say that God has two types of desires–those He accomplishes and those He would like to see happen but chooses not to make happen. They think 1 Tim 2:4 is that latter type of desire. (That is essentially the view of John Piper. See here.)ii
I agree with this minority Calvinist position (though I am not a Calvinist).
God really wants all to be saved, that is, to have everlasting life. But He does not force anyone to believe and be saved.
See, for example, Matt 23:37-39 and John 5:39-40. Both say that the reason there was widespread unbelief in Israel was that the people were not willing to believe in Jesus Christ. Both say that God desired all of Israel to be saved. And all Israel will be saved one day soon (Rom 11:26).
That is why more people don’t believe in Christ for everlasting life. They are unwilling to come to Jesus so that they may have life (John 5:40). The reason is that the faith-alone-free-gift way does not make sense to most people. It doesn’t fit their tradition (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Calvinist, Arminian, etc.), and they are unwilling to consider the possibility that their tradition may be wrong.
Consider some of the things God desired but that did not happen.
- He did not want Adam and Eve to sin.
- He did not want the offspring of Adam and Eve to sin.
- He did not want humans to die.
- He did not want to flood the earth and kill billions.
- He did not want to decrease the lifespans from 900+ years to 70-100 years.
- He did not want Israel to rebel at Kadesh Barnea.
- He did not want Israel to reject the Lord Jesus Christ.
- He did not want false gospels to be preached.
Much that goes on today and that happened in the past is contrary to God’s will. He allows that for a short time in human history. But soon, Jesus will establish His kingdom, and righteousness will reign. There will be no sin or unbelief when we get to the new Earth. All that God desired will ultimately be accomplished.
God did not fail. God cannot fail.
For more on Calvinism, see “Calvinism Has a Box of Mystery Verses” here, and my book Is Calvinism Biblical? (reviewed here).
i See Luke T. Johnson, 1-2 Timothy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), p. 191. While Johnson is Catholic, his education was eclectic.
ii See also Thomas D. Lea, Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), p. 89.