Q – I recently had a conversation with a person who said, “I believe that God wants everyone to be saved. That’s what is says in the Bible.” What do you say to that?
Jim – Not to sound unkind, but I’d say, “I don’t care what you ‘believe.’ It only matters what God believes and reveals about Himself. We must align ourselves with that; even if we don’t fully comprehend or even agree with it. Whenever our set of beliefs is in contradiction with what Scripture plainly says, one of us is wrong — and, you can guess who that is.”
What you “believe” is no more valid than people who think that cannibalism is an acceptable form of religion. Everyone “believes” something. But, everything we “believe” has passed through the filter of our own egocentric, arrogant, prideful, sinful selves. So, we will naturally gravitate toward the notions and ideas that best suit our self-serving purposes. That’s why true, doctrinal Christianity is at a premium.
We live in an age of immediate gratification and self-indulgence. We don’t know the meaning of sacrifice, or patience. If we can’t afford something at this moment, we won’t save for it, sacrifice for it, and wait until we can pay for it. We just yank out the plastic. Presto! Instant gratification. We have one-hour dry cleaning and drive-through food, banking, and mortuaries! No muss, no fuss. We’re a generation of “self-made men” who “look out for number one!”
And, we want our religion that way, too. We want to make one profession of faith, make Jesus our “Lord and Savior” and leave the building that night with the sense of instant salvation. “I’m saved and I know it because I did the formula and said the words and now God is obligated to save me.”
And, of course, the general state of the church is one of Biblical ignorance and manmade doctrines that replace the much more significant Scriptural doctrines.
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph. 4:14)
“Preach the word: be instant in season, our of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (1 Tim. 4:2-4)
“Now, the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, doctrines of devils: Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” (1 Tim. 4:1-2)
“If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2 John. 1:10-11)
We have to decide what we’re going to use as the “final word.” What’s our plumb line? If what we believe can be shown to be in contradiction with Scripture, who’s going to win? Do we insist on clinging to our favorite theories, or are we brave enough to unlearn what we think is true in favor of what Scripture declares to be true? Someone has to win.
As for – “That’s what is says in the Bible” – I would beg to differ. That’s what your friend thinks it says in the Bible. But, they’d be hard-pressed to prove it. Most people who make such appeals have very little idea what the Bible actually says. They just know what they would like the Bible to say and they impose their ideas on the Bible. Usually, they just assume that it’s somewhere in those 66 books, if we just had time to dig it out. But, it’s too tough to dig it out, so we’ll just assume it’s in there.
But, the fact of the matter is that if God truly desired everyone to be saved, then His purposes are eternally frustrated. He is far from Sovereign, and is in fact quite powerless. The much more powerful will of individual men can upset the very thing that God desires to accomplish. The convoluted thinking goes like this — God wants everyone to be saved, and salvation is a gift from God, but for some inexplicable reason, He just cannot save some people and is forced – despite His will to the contrary – to send them into everlasting punishment. Then, God will spend the rest of eternity trying to get over His massive failure.
There is no such God in the Bible. The God of Scripture says of Himself –
“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 no one can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35)
People cling to their false theology because they have defined God after their traditions and come up with a God of their own imagination, who is not found in the pages of Scripture.
Q – They went on to say, “I also believe that he gave us a will to choose. Yes, He does seek us out and comes close. Each individual’s spirit longs for Him, even though they may not know that. The choice comes where people can continually choose to turn away from God. Every day people turn away from God, whether they realize it or not.”
Jim – I’m sorry, but some of this is silly gibberish. It makes no sense. I admit that experientially we do have the sense that we actively participated in choosing God. But, as we grow in knowledge, we come to realize that the prevenient grace of God had to have been working in our hearts before we ever thought about Him, turned to Him, or “chose” him. Only if God starts toward us, indwells us, and draws us to Himself will we ever have the willingness to come toward Him. If it were left up to our will (and our sinful will, at that!) to choose God, without His help, we would all choose to go our merry way, satisfy our fleshly desires, and march joyfully into hell.
Again, this sort of thinking comes from a lack of understanding the true depth of our depravity. Dead, depraved people have no power, and no will, to choose God. He must first awaken in them a spiritual nature, raising them from their spiritual death, and then they will have the realization that they are called of God. That realization may feel like “choice,” but it is still the active work of God in our hearts. It is not the work of a dead man raising himself from His dead state and deciding – against his character and self-serving will – to make God the center of His life.
Jesus had to quell that sort of thinking in His own apostles –
“Henceforth, I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain;” (John 15:15-16a)
Expand your thinking for a moment. Get the big picture. If Christ had not come to earth, which of us would have been powerful enough to reach up to Him? If He had not decided to pay the penalty of sin on our behalf, which of us would have been courageous enough to march into Heaven and plead our cause based on our own righteousness?
“But, the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down from above. Or, who shall descend into the deep? that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.” (Rom. 10:6-7)
In other words, we have no power to storm heaven and insist that Christ come save us. We have no power to bring Him up from the dead, sealing the deal and guaranteeing our acceptance with God. It was wholly and completely a work of God that sent Christ to us and raised Him for our salvation.
So, it is pretty arrogant and ridiculous to defend the notion that salvation starts anywhere else than with God. He conceived of it, began it, and completed it. We had nothing to do with it. So, to think that it is up to us to ratify it, or make it active in our lives, is awfully egocentric this late in the game. Know what I mean?
As for – “Yes, He does seek us out and comes close. Each individual’s spirit longs for Him, even though they may not know that.” –
So, your friend is willing to admit that God does seek us out and even comes close? Close won’t get it! Only if He actively indwells and changes a person from within will they turn toward Him. “Close” is of no use at all!
God was very, very close to the Israelites when they were camped at Mt. Sinai while Moses was up with God getting the law. But, even with His definite proximity, they were down there building a golden calf to worship. “Close” has nothing to do with it.
Jesus was “close” to the Pharisees, but He still called them “sons of your father, the devil.” His closeness was of no value to them whatsoever!
You can sit next to a Christian, in whom the Spirit dwells, but that’s no help to you at all unless the Spirit also inhabits you!
And, the notion that every spirit longs for God even though they may not know it is just a fabrication. There is no proof of any such thing, nor does the Bible declare any such thing. In a world where everyone is supposed to give credibility to whatever anyone else believes, maybe this sort of thinking would fly. But, not in an environment where truth is essential, and that truth must be provable.
Besides, it’s utterly illogical. What is the purpose of God implanting a longing for Himself in every individual but never letting them know anything about it? It’s just silly.
Q – They also said, “He is always there waiting though. I don’t understand why some change and some don’t. It isn’t an easy question.”
Jim – Yes, it is an easy question! It’s actually answered right in that Bible they don’t seem to have read!
“For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory [boast] as if thou hadst not received it?” (1Cor. 4:7)
The difference between believers and unbelievers is that believers have “received” something – a gift. And, seeing as how it was given to them, not created by them, why would they get puffed up as though this were something they, themselves, accomplished?
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)
Faith – without which it is “impossible to please Him” (Heb.11:6) – is a gift from God. It cannot be said any clearer. It is not of ourselves. We did not figure it out, choose it, implement it, or in any way take credit for it. If there were some work (including “choosing” or making a profession, walking an aisle, etc.) that we could point to as the key ingredient we added to our salvation, then we would have something to boast about before the throne. “Hey, God! You did most of the work, but it would have been useless without me kicking in my part!”
But, God will have no such boasting in His presence. We are His workmanship. He did the work of forming faith in our hearts and bringing us, by grace (!) to an understanding of Himself. We were created (we did not create ourselves) in Christ Jesus. Even the good works that flow from that faith are the work of God, ordained that we should walk in them. It’s all — ALL — about God. We get no glory in this thing.
But, if your friend is right we have plenty to brag about in Heaven.
And, what about the ones who don’t change?
“Why do ye not understand my speech? Because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:43-44)
Jesus had no intention of saving these people. He condemned them on the spot. He was not patiently waiting just in case they chose Him. They had no capability to hear His word. It was not a matter of choice; it was matter of ability. They cannot hear His words. They cannot understand Him. And, they never will. They are not God’s children. They are from their father, the devil. And, by the way, they do not have some mysterious, internal longing for God that they know nothing about. They are corrupt inside and only the life-changing indwelling of the Spirit could give them any hope of salvation. But, Jesus refused to offer them that Spirit. He withheld it.
Which leads us to Christ’s own selectivity…not everyone gets the Spirit, and the chance to change –
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
Notice the contrast. Jesus prayed to His Father. He prayed on behalf of His people. He did not pray for the whole world –
“I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” (John 17:9)
Jesus asked His Father to send the Holy Spirit to indwell those specific people for whom He prayed. But, the Spirit of truth will not indwell the whole world because they have no ability – they cannot receive Him. They do not know Him (so much for a secret “longing”). They will never see Him.
But, and this is vitally important, the deciding factor in who will and will not receive the Spirit is the will of the Father and the Son.
Now, if God will not give the Spirit to everyone, and the Son will not pray for everyone, how are we to conclude that God desires to “save” everyone? Just the opposite is true. He intends to save those whose names were written in the “book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8) And, what about those who perish? “And, they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world…: (Rev. 17:8)
Can’t help it, that’s what the Bible says.
God is not there “always waiting.” He is also always there actively condemning. He is not rubbing His hands, hoping that someone will choose Him and validate His punishment of His Son. He is actively guaranteeing His Son an inheritance. The word of God is not frustrated by the will of sinners.
“He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already (!), because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)
That verse is just two verses after the favorite verse of pop Christians everywhere, John 3:16. They refuse to read to John 3:18. Jesus went on to say that those who did not believe on Him for their salvation (did not, present tense, contemporary with His speaking) were condemned already. He was not going to “wait” and see if they chose Him at some later date. He knew what was in their hearts, and He knew that He was not going to change them. He knew that He was going to sit on His throne and condemn them, so they were as good as condemned already.
That’s Sovereignty. That’s also the Bible. That’s Jesus’ revelation of Himself and His power.
Q – They argued against the doctrine of election, and said, “If I say that I believe God picks and chooses whom he shows mercy to, then I also believe that His saving grace is only available for those that he chooses are worthy. Not across the board to each person in the world. That scares me.”
Jim –That ought to scare you. When you come before an absolutely Sovereign God, you should experience the “fear of the Lord” which is “the beginning of wisdom.” (Ps. 111:10)
We answered the “across the board” thing above. God does not offer salvation to everyone. He alone determines the “quick and the dead.” But, He certainly does not choose on the basis of worthiness. Grace is not “only available for those that he chooses are worthy.” That undermines the whole meaning of grace. No one is worthy!!! That’s the whole point! He does not choose among His good options. There are no good options. That’s why grace is so vitally necessary. God chose some rebellious sinners to give to His Son as a gift. And, by grace, “He also did predestinate [some rotten sinners] to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:29)
So, get that notion of worthiness out of your head. God chose among the desperately unworthy. That’s the whole point of grace.
And, it doesn’t matter if you “believe” that God “picks and chooses whom he shows mercy to.” The Bible clearly states it –
“For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is NOT of him that willeth [exercises his will], nor of him that runneth [actively working to gain personal righteousness], but of God that showeth mercy.” (Rom. 9:15-16)
Then, Paul gave the example of Pharaoh, who God raised up for the purpose of destruction –
“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
Not only does God not save some people, He purposefully hardens their hearts for His own purposes and His own glory. Tough, but true.
Remember Jesus taught in parables on purpose. When His apostles asked Him why He did that, he replied –
“Because it is given [a gift] unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables; because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esais, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But, blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.” (Mat. 13:11-16)
Several points (just too good to pass up) –
1) Jesus spoke in parables on purpose so that the dull of hearing would not understand Him. He was not predisposed to sharing His teaching with everyone. He purposefully hid it from some folk.
2) Jesus was fulfilling Scripture that the generation that killed Him would be dull of hearing and seeing. So, this was no accident. The Sovereignty of God hardened those people for His own purposes, so they would not believe and would put Him to death.
3) Those that had the gift of hearing and perceiving would receive even more, but those who had no ability would lose even that little bit they had.
4) Jesus did not try to convert these people. He purposefully kept them in their ignorance, lest they would be converted and He would heal them. Again, Jesus was not in the business of saving everyone. He was very particular.
5) The reason that the apostles could hear and see was that they had been “blessed.” They had received a gift from God that the unbelievers did not receive. Again, it’s all up to God.
So, what about the idea that everyone gets a fair shot? Is His loving kindness available “across the board to each person in the world”?
“As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Rom. 9:13, quoting Mal. 1:2-3)
Your friend will shout, “That’s just not fair!”
Paul answers –
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness (unfairness) with God? God forbid!”
So, why would God hate one child and love the other while they were still in the womb?
“For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.” (Rom. 9:11)
God chooses and rejects as He will. I can’t help it. That’s solid New Testament, Pauline theology. And, He does it for one purpose – His Sovereign glory. He does it so that His purpose, in accordance with His election, will stand. It is not decided by works or individual merit. It is decided solely on the basis of God who calls whom He will.
And, yes, that ought to make you afraid. You ought to run to such a Sovereign King and beg for mercy. The good news is that if you are able to run to Him, it is because He is calling you. And, when you reach the throne you will be comforted because it is not the mighty King of judgment you will find – but, your Abba-father sitting on the throne.
That’s the good news. That’s the gospel. Though you don’t deserve it, and though you cannot bring yourself to Him, He came to you. You did not take the first, last or middle steps. He came all the way from glory to guarantee your salvation.
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)
Oh, good! When we reach the throne we won’t just find our dad, we’ll find our elder brother, our eternal advocate, at His right hand. And, we will be accepted in the finished work of the One who loved us enough to buy us with His own blood. That makes us secure, complete, redeemed, perfected, “accepted in the beloved.”
I like Scripture. It may some hard things, but it says them wonderfully.
So, anyway, I’ve picked enough on your friend. He’s not bad, nor is he stupid. He’s just been mis-taught. And, he is clinging to those traditions that give him comfort because he cannot see the comfort and security that is in God’s Sovereignty.
We must pray for him. Only God can open his eyes. We must pray that He will have mercy on him.
And, He just may.
Yours in Him,