Saturday, April 9, 2011

God desires all men to be saved

All faithful Christians agree with this. The question then becomes: who is the “all men” that God desires to be saved? Is it every person who ever lived or ever will live individually, or is it God’s elect people? The answer is an important difference between Calvinists and Arminians. I recently had the opportunity to teach through this passage at a Bible study and decided it would be worthwhile to address this issue. But first, here is the text:

1First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:1-6, NASB).

Starting off, I think it is important to notice that the purpose of this passage was not to respond to the Calvinism versus Arminianism controversy. However, clarification is needed because of the oft-misunderstood verse 4. The Arminian understanding of the text goes something like this: “God desires all men individually to be saved. What else could be meant by ‘all men’?” Honestly, I know exactly where the Arminian is coming from, having once held this belief myself.

Taking a closer look at the context, the “all men” of verse 4 is previously defined for us when Paul urges that prayers be made on behalf of “all men” in verses 1-2. But as Dr. James White points out in his book, The Potter’s Freedom, it wasn’t the Apostle’s point to have the Christians open up the phone book and begin praying for each individual listed. For as you continue reading in the very next clause he defines who the “all men” refers to: “for kings and all who are in authority.” Not only is God a Savior of the slave, the poor and destitute, but also of rulers. The point of Paul is that God saves all classes of men, which is precisely what kings and those in authority are.

Now wait just a minute … couldn’t Paul be referring to two separate groups here? The “all men” could refer to every individual, and then a second group made up of kings and those in authority. Is this a possibility? Well, apart from the fact that Paul defines who the “all men” are in the following clause, he then provides us with the reason for offering up prayers for this group: “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Remember that the Christians at that time were living under intense persecution from the Jews and Roman authorities. For one thing, they needed urging to pray for those who were persecuting them so they might be saved, but also so they might be able to live peacefully.

Paul continues his discussion in verse 4: “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Who are the “all men” of verse 4? The same group in verses 1-2: different kinds and classes of men. This also makes perfect sense with the theology of Paul as we finish up this section where Christ’s mediatorship is connected to the “all men” along with Christ’s ransom sacrifice. Along the same lines, John writes in Revelation that Christ purchased with His blood “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

The question needs to be asked of the Arminian: if the “all men” of verse 4 refers to all men individually, does this mean that Christ’s ransom and mediatorship are only theoretical in nature, or did Christ accomplish His work on the cross? In other words, was Christ’s work on the cross a substitutionary atonement for all kinds and classes of men – whereby He actually bore the sins of His people in His body on the cross – or was it only a theoretical atonement?

Right off the bat, two key passages come to mind that address the purpose and accomplishment of Christ’s atoning work. 1 Peter 2:24, 24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Did Christ really bear sins in His body on the cross, or was this theoretical depending on the future acceptance or rejection of Him? Next, Matthew 1:21, 21"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."” Will Jesus save His people from their sins, or is His work dependent upon the will of the creature? Or again, will or won’t Jesus save His people from their sins? I would submit to the Arminian that Christ really did bear particular sins in His body on the cross, that those sins were atoned for, and that there is no doubt that Christ will accomplish the mission He set out to do – as is plainly taught here in the Scriptures.

Someone might be wondering to himself if it is beneficial to spend time over a controversial interpretation of Scripture like 1 Timothy 2:4. The reason I do believe this is vital is because the real issue is over God’s freedom in salvation over against a man-centered perspective of the gospel with God’s work being dependent on the will of the creature. Said another way, Jesus Christ is either a powerful Savior who accomplishes His will, or one who tries but fails to save and is left eternally disappointed with the outcome.

Thanks for reading,


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