This post is an excerpt from the book review of Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
Many Calvinists argue that if God wanted to save people through Christ’s death and they don’t end up saved, God failed. But God can’t fail. So Christ’s death was never intended to save all people.
It’s important to distinguish the objects of God’s will. If He wants Himself to do something, His will is always done, for who can stop Him?
Daniel 4:35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?
But if He wants us to do something, His will may not be done.
Psalms 5:4 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.
At first glance, this only seems to strengthen the Calvinist argument. They think they have Arminians in a trap. Either A) God failed for Himself to bring about our salvation or B) man, not God saves.
Neither alternative is acceptable to Arminians. So what was God’s intention regarding Christ’s death?
God saw a lost and dying world that He loved. First, love was the motivating factor in sending His Son to be the basis of salvation for everyone and whoever believed would be saved. Second, God wanted everyone to believe, so that they would be saved. Third, God wanted His Son to save believers. Fourth, He wanted to offer salvation through Christ to everyone so He wanted the message about His Son to be spread abroad.
Let’s break this view down and show where in scripture it comes from.
First, love was the motivating factor in sending His Son to be the basis of salvation for everyone and whoever believed would be saved.
Psalms 145:8 The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.9The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.
1 John 4:8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
1 Corinthians 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
Second, God wanted everyone to believe, so that they would be saved.
This one perhaps is the most controversial point, so lets look at it in some detail.
1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;2For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.5For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;6Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
Some people think this passage is not saying God wants all men to be saved, but rather all kinds of men. However, the context starts out talking about our obligation to pray for all men. So unless the context drastically shifts without warning (or unless we aren’t to pray for everyone) verse 4 is also talking about all men. But let’s see what an interpretation like “all kinds of men” entails.
The passage says God “will have all men to be saved“. They imply that God “will have all “kinds” of men to be saved”. (move 1) If I were to point out that God saves men, not “kinds“, as “kinds” are abstract, they might respond that God “will have “some of” all “kinds” to be saved”. (move 2) If I pressed further by asking who are these “some” they may respond: God “will have all “kinds” of “elect” men to be saved.” (move 3) That’s a lot of implied moves. Quite complicated. Why not go for the simple reading?
Note that God doesn’t just want all men to be saved. This would fall into the trap the Calvinist sets above. (i.e. either God fails to save or it’s not God doing the saving.) But saving is not all God wants. God wants all men to come to the knowledge of the truth (i.e. believe). God wants everyone to believe so they will be saved. God still does the saving, after they believe, but He wants them to believe in order to be saved.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Some might object that the “us-ward” is the Church that Peter address in his letter. So the “all” is really the Church. But the Church has already repented. So this explanation makes no sense. The “us-ward” is the world. The context here is talking about end times. God is going to destroy the world, but He is waiting because He is patient with the world and wants all to repent.
Here, as in 1 Tim 2, God wants us to repent. God’s will is for us to do something (rather than for Himself to do something.) As such, if the will of God is not done, we, not He, fail.
Luke 13:34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
Here Christ wants to gather together the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but they were unwilling.
Some argue that Christ is talking about two different groups here. 1 is the inhabitants of Jerusalem and 2 the Pharisees Christ was talking to. So Christ wants to save group 1 (the people of Jerusalem), but group 2 (the Pharisees Christ is speaking to) are resisting His ministry.
But Christ is not in Jerusalem, rather He is going there:
Luke 13:22 And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.
Luke 13:31 The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. 32And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. 33Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.
Christ was in Perea, east of the Jordan. This was under Herod’s jurisdiction, but Jerusalem was outside of Herod’s jurisdiction. So Christ was not in Jerusalem, but rather heading there. So it makes no sense to address those not living in Jerusalem as “Jerusalem”. Rather, Christ wanted to save the people of Jerusalem, but they would not repent.
Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’
Here again, God does not want to destroy people, but rather wants them to repent. If they don’t do so, the will of God is not done. But they, not He, fail.
Third, God wanted His Son to save believers.
John 6:40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
Fourth, He wanted to offer salvation through Christ to everyone so He wanted the message about His Son to be spread abroad.
John 1:7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
So God does want everyone to be saved, and yet He does not fail. Sending His Son to die for the elect alone would be inconsistent with this desire.