The Apostle Paul wrote: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
The Bible clearly states that God wants to save everyone. He “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The question then arises, “If God will have all men to be saved, why aren’t all men saved?” The Calvinist would answer this question by saying: “Maybe ‘all men’ in this verse does not mean ‘all men without exception.’ Maybe it means ‘all sorts of men.’” That is certainly possible.
However, I think a better explanation is that it does mean “all men without exception.” Just because God “will have all men to be saved” does not necessitate that all men will be saved. God wills that all men live right. He has expressed His desire for people to obey Him. But that does not mean that all will obey and in fact, most will not obey. God’s will here is only preceptive, not decretive. That means God does not decree or ordain that all men will be saved. Rather He expresses His desire, His revealed will, that He wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of Christ.
If God decreed that all men would be saved, they would! But God does not do that. Rather, He invites all men, without exception, to be saved. Man must decide how he will respond to this invitation. A similar idea is expressed here: “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.” (1 Timothy 4:10) We understand how Christ is the Savior of all those who believe. He died for our sins on the cross. He has saved us and given us eternal life. He lives forever making intercession for us before God the Father. (Cf. Hebrews 7:25) But Christ is also the Savior of all men, even those who do not believe. How is that possible?
Christ died for all and wants all to be saved. Again, this is God’s preceptive will. It is His revealed and expressed desire to save everyone. But not everyone will be saved because the salvation of sinners is ultimately part of God’s decretive will. God has decreed that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:31) This is definite. You absolutely will be saved if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!
God has expressed His will that no one perishes but that all repent. “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.” (2 Peter 3:9) This is also God’s preceptive will. All will not repent, but God invites all to repent and desires the repentance of all mankind. Methodist theologian Adam Clark wrote, “As God is not willing that any should perish, and as he is willing that all should come to repentance, consequently he has never devised nor decreed the damnation of any man, nor has he rendered it impossible for any soul to be saved, either by necessitating him to do evil, that he might die for it, or refusing him the means of recovery, without which he could not be saved.” (Clark, 2017)
God’s will is for all to be saved, but the Bible is plain that most will not be saved. (Cf. Matthew 7:13-14) It must be clear, then, that God is not the one keeping people from being saved since he wants them to be saved. It is man who rejects God’s offer of mercy. Man works contrary to God’s preceptive will.
That is why it is important to note another category of God’s will recognized by theologians: God’s permissive will. God permits sin and Christ-rejection to happen but does not decree it to be so. God does not want you to reject Christ and perish in Hell, but He will permit you to do so. In the 2005 film “Batman Begins” Christian Bale (Batman) is having a final showdown with Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard/ Ra’s Al Ghul) on a speeding train. Batman decides that he will not kill Ducard. He says, “I won’t kill you. But I don’t have to save you.” So, he allows Ducard to perish in the train wreck. (Batman Movie Scenes, 2019) God does not have to forcibly condemn unbelievers. He does not need to decree their damnation. But he also does not have to save them. Only believers will be saved but God wants to save everyone.
© 2022 Stephen D. Baker. All Rights Reserved. From the book: ALL YOU, OR ALL GOD? HUMAN FREE CHOICE & GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IN SALVATION.