**This post was written for the church I currently pastor. As such, it is intentionally pastoral. I have sought to avoid overly technical language and am speaking within the framework of a particular conversation.**
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
The ebb and flow of church life coupled with the natural imbalance that accompanies human nature often leads well-meaning believers in Jesus Christ to emphasize various doctrines and neglect others.
In the past decade, the controversy that often swirled within church walls had to do with end times. Church hallways echoed the sounds of people reading from their Scofield reference Bible about the hidden meaning of the rider upon the red horse while others shared coffee in the living room and tried to determine which of the broken seals the news headlines of the day pointed toward.
In other areas the church was captured by political eccentricities that were of no value to the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both conversations can be entertaining, but when they lead to human speculation rather than Godly revelation (what people think rather than what God has said) they are quite unfruitful.
Today is no different than those days in that humanity is no different. Though our areas of imbalance may shift from one generation to the next, we are always in need of correcting this lack of balance in our understanding.
When I first entered the pastorate nearly 15 years ago, there was rarely a week that went by that a person did not have some biblical question about a vague reference to an end time event that defied the understanding of many conversations over numerous cups of coffee.
I discovered rather quickly that, though the end times discussion may interest a lot of people, they have rarely been helpful to the work of the Gospel. Not because the end times are unimportant, (for their presence in Scripture indicates that they are important) but because humanities tendency to become imbalanced creates motives for discussion that are damaging to the ministry.
Today, the question has shifted from “What does the blowing of the third trumpet symbolize” to “Did Christ only die for a few, or did He die for everyone?” This debate has been present within the lives of believers for almost 2,000 years. Good men have fought unwise battles with impure motives for all of human history, to our shame.
Though the debate is often confusing, I will offer my simplified explanation and personal conclusion in a brief manner, supported by four reasons.
First, the Bible tells us that Man was created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:16-30). To be created in the image of God is, in and of itself, a difficult doctrine to understand. But at a minimum, it teaches
- That mankind is relational. Mankind is created with a need for relationship, for the essence of God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living in eternal love for one another. Therefore, to be human means to be relational.
- That mankind is responsible. Man has been granted extensive responsibilities for the manner in which he conducts his life within Creation. In the Creation account of Genesis 1:26-30, God has deposited within mankind “dominion” by which he is to populate the earth, steward the earth, and carry limited dominion over the earth. That means that to be an image bearer of God brings with it the ability to be responsible for the decisions that are made.
Sometimes it is argued that God has decreed everything. He has irresistibly determined who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Therefore, each person bears no responsibility for His own destination. However, among other things, this totally ignores the responsibility every person has been given for how they respond to the gracious offer of God in Christ.
The second reason I draw the conclusion I do is because it is the clearest meaning of Scripture. There are admittedly numerous Bible passages that are utilized to support one’s position, but the Scripture quoted above is irrefutably clear. “God is willing for none to perish.”
Often, a person who would disagree with my conclusion would say that God has two wills. That is, He has a revealed will that He has given in Scripture, and then He has a secret will that He has not shown us. Therefore, some would conclude, God’s revealed will is for all people to be saved, but His secret will is for some to be condemned.
Let me simply say that if God has two wills, then none of us can have any confidence whatsoever in what God has said, for we would never know when His revealed will might be contradicted by His secret will.
The third reason I come to the conclusion that I do is because of the nature of God. The nature of God is love. Though God will judge those who are sinners, His love precedes His wrath. The Bible says that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8), but it never says that “God IS wrath.” Indeed, God’s love is eternal — it existed before Creation. His wrath was not necessary until sin entered the world. So, let us not be confused. The wrath of God is real, but only after the love of God is given.
The fourth reason I come to this conclusion is because the person who says that God decreed some people would be irresistibly saved and some would be irresistibly damned means that God decreed (or caused) the sin of mankind so that His nature of love would allow His action of condemnation. However, this is in direct contradiction to James 1:13 that says
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He himself does not tempt anyone.
It also contradicts 1 John 2:16 which says
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
It is clear that sin is not a product of the Father.
So, to sum all of this up:
- The image of God is borne by every person, and therefore that person has a relational need for God and the capability to exercise a choice when presented with the Gospel.
- The will of God is contained within Scripture and we need not fear some hidden will of God that contradicts what He has revealed to us.
- The love of God is prior to the wrath of God for all of humanity, therefore, one is condemned not by God’s decree, but by ignoring God’s patient extension of love.
- The holiness of God means that God did not decree evil, but rather has moved to defeat evil in the Cross of Christ.
How should you and I respond?
- Worship: you are a sinner who God has loved in spite of your sin.
- Witness: the Gospel is for every person.
So for whom did Christ die? Me. You. Them. Everyone.