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Does God want all people saved?

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Hungarian sculptor, Ernő Rubik, invented his colorful 3-D puzzle in 1974 and Rubik’s Cube has been frustrating children and adults alike ever since.

What makes solving the puzzle so simple and yet so perplexing is that whenever you successfully achieve one side’s color, you are simultaneously scrambling the other sides.

For some of us solving the cube can take hours, days, or even weeks. But there are some people who have mastered the various algorithms that govern the solutions, in more challenging ways, consider these records:

  • quickest solving of a cube: 3.47 seconds
  • solving in the fewest moves: 19 moves
  • solving with one hand: 6.88 seconds
  • solving using only feet: 16.96 seconds
  • blindfolded solving – memorize a cube and then solving it blindfolded: 16.22 seconds.
  • And my favorite, the multi-blindfolded contest, where a contestant is given one hour to memorize and solve as many cubes as he/she wants. All the cubes must be memorized before the blindfold is applied and then as many cubes as possible must be solved in one hour. The record is 50 cubes!

Today I will attempt to solve a puzzle that is way more difficult than multi-blindfolded speed cubing.

In fewer than 1,400 words I will attempt to solve the puzzle of how the Bible can say that God desires all people to be saved and yet also that not all people are saved.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The reason we should pray for all people to hear the truth and be saved is both simple and perplexing.  It is simple because God desires all people to be saved. It is his expressed will. We do it because God says to do it, because it’s right, because it pleases him.

But that reason is fraught with complexity and paradox. The more we focus on verses that say that God loves the world, God desires all people to be saved, Jesus came to take away the sin of the world… the more we scramble other passages that say clearly that God chooses who is saved, that God grants repentance, and that without God’s work we cannot be saved.

Let’s look at some of the blocks that make up the one side:       

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, …

And of course, our passage: 1 Timothy 2:3-4 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

There is no way to argue that God doesn’t love the whole world, including believers and unbelievers. You can’t deny that Jesus came to die for the sin of the world, a ransom for all. This side of the cube is clear….for now.

BUT now let’s look at the other side of the cube…

John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

John15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you …

Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this [the gospel], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Romans 9:11-16 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— ….As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

That’s pretty clear too: God sovereignly chooses to save some and not others. But what does that do to the first side of the cube – God desires all people to be saved? Scrambled, right?

The answer to the conundrum is hiding in plain sight in our text: the key lies with the word “desires.”

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

In Greek there are two types of desires or wills a person can have: thelō and boulomai.

Thelō means a desire or will or wish that you have that should lead to action but doesn’t always. “I desire my investments to be profitable.” Maybe they will maybe they won’t, but it is my desire.

Boulomai is a decree, a wish that causes or ordains the action: “I want this to be done this way and so it will be.” For example, “Kids, I want this living room to be tidied up and clear of all toys before dinner time. I boulomai this room tidied up.” Here you have decreed, and will make sure, that no one will eat until the room is tidy.

We understand this distinction in our own lives. Have you ever been at work thinking, “I really want to be playing golf right now”? Or “I really desire to be at home with my family rather than enduring my boss droning on and on”?

Then why don’t you do what you want to? It’s a free country. Why don’t you quit? Why don’t you just go home, get your golf clubs and blow off work?

Because you have another desire, a higher desire: to buy food, to pay rent, to afford school tuition, to enjoy a vacation, to save for retirement…

So wait, you have two types of desires? Yes. One that you feel, and long for, and maybe even express to a co-worker, …and another desire that drives you to act in accordance with what is best.

We all understand that you can want something that is good and want something that is better at the same time.

The word used in our passage in verse 4 is thelō “… who desires [thelō] all people to be saved.” The revealed will (thelō) is what God says is his standard for all people, his wish for all people to obey: i.e. that we don’t sin, that we love him with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and that we love all people as we love ourselves. But God does not get this.

God’s decreed will (boulomai) is what God ordains will actually happen, that which will give him most glory, i.e. that Adam and Eve would sin, that all their offspring would sin, that Jesus would come to die by the people and for the people. This will of God’s is being accomplished.

So now we can see both sides of the cube working together. While God desires – and has revealed to us as his will (thelō) – that all are saved, he has decreed, or ordained (boulomai), that only the elect will be saved.

You might be wondering – am I part of the elect? Am I one of those whom God has willed to save? Well let me ask you this: Do you love Jesus? Have you put all your faith in Jesus who died on the cross to take God’s wrath for your sin? Have you repented of your sin and are you striving to live a godly life? Then rejoice – you are one of God’s children – so live to honor and glorify him today and every day.

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