“God wills all men to be saved; but if every person will not be saved, then how do we reconcile God’s will and reality?”
I heard a question similar to this some time ago from someone I know. What I think stunned me most about this person is that I believed that he would never see these two things as irreconcilable. Evidently, I was wrong.
When people ask the question above regarding the salvation of every person and the reality of supposed “failure,” it seems to me as if they’re really asking, “Since GOD IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SAVING EVERY PERSON, and He desires that all be saved, why then are they not saved?” This question now places the responsibility for salvation on God’s shoulders, and blames Him for the fact that numbers of men and women will not be saved. To assume this, however, is to assume “universalism” as a valid position.
And yet, Scripture tells us that universalism is NOT a valid position! God will not save men and women WITHOUT the condition of faith.
Romans 9 shows us Paul in anguish over the salvation of his brethren, the Jews. In Romans 9:3 he writes,
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3, New King James).
But then, in verse 6 he writes,
“But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect” (Rom. 9:6, NKJV).
Although he is in grieving in heart because his people have not yet received salvation, he goes to great lengths in verse 6 to uphold the Word of God and its purposes. He says here that the Word of God has not been nullified because of the present reality among his people.
Romans 9 has been a passage used in every debate about Calvinism and Arminianism, and with issues such as election and salvation in general. I will not go into all the details here, but I will point out the fact that Romans 9 talks about an “elite” group of “elect” persons. But who are these “elect” persons? Are they just arbitrary selections of God, or are they people who have met the conditions stipulated by God? I would answer and say, “The latter—those who are the “elect” have come to God by faith. And Paul confirms this at the end of chapter 9 when he writes,
“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith:
But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
Why? BECAUSE THEY DID NOT SEEK IT BY FAITH, BUT AS IT WERE, BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW” (Romans 9:30-32a, NKJV).
So the reason why the Jews have not come to salvation is because they have not come BY THE CONDITION OF FAITH!
So God’s purposes, according to Paul, have not been nullified—because, while the Jews have not come to faith, the Gentiles have. And they have done so by meeting God’s condition of faith.
John talks about God’s will for all to be saved and the reality of those who reject Christ in John 1:
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
He came to His own, and HIS OWN DID NOT RECEIVE HIM” (John 1:10-11, NKJV).
Look at verses 10 and 11. We find that Jesus “came to His own,” first visited His people to bring salvation; and yet, “His own did not receive Him.” Jesus’ own people, the Jews, did not accept Him and the salvation He had to offer.
If we focus on these verses alone, all we will see is God’s will nullified. However, John doesn’t leave us here in the dark; instead, he emphasizes the positive:
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, NKJV).
We find here that, while Jesus’ own people, the Jews, did not receive Him, there were Gentiles who did; and for those who receive Him, they are given the authority, the power, to become children of God. Who is given this right? “Those who believe in His name.” Only those who believe can become sons of God.
We find, then, that as Paul writes, God’s Word is not nullified by the unbelief of the Jews. And John tells us that, while Jesus’ own people (the Jews) did not receive Him, there were those who did; and those who believed on Him experienced the adoption of God as His sons, His children.
These two passages of Scripture serve a very important purpose for the question above. Why is it that God desires all to be saved, yet only some do? It’s not because God has a “second will” or “more than one will” that this happens; it is because God wills the salvation of all BY FAITH... and when this condition is placed upon God’s gift, suddenly, we see the line of the saved getting shorter and shorter.