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Why does God “desire” all to be saved, if He already knows who the elect are?

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Why does God “desire” all to be saved, if He already knows who the elect are?
Posted on October 15, 2019  - By Rufus Simon Varghese

If, as Acts 13:48b says, some are already “appointed to eternal life” — and, of course, appointment is at God’s discretion — why does 1 Timothy 2:4 say He “desires” for all to be saved, since He knows who will and who won’t be saved?

One of the greatest struggles that some believers face is in attempting to understand the concept of election and predestination of some to salvation. The struggle is intensified by the fact that God loves everyone equally. Why does Paul say in 1 Timothy that God desires all men to be saved since He knows and predestines who will be saved and who won’t?

Many of us are guilty of approaching a passage with inbuilt theological conclusions on various matters and trying to find support for our position on these issues. In the verses before 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul tells Timothy that prayers are to be made for all people. In the following verses, he clarifies who all those people are. Why does Paul urge this command? It is so that we may “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way”. Is Paul simply urging them to pray that the authority/ruling powers will be controlled? No. Paul is hoping for something more eternal than temporal appeasement from the oppression of rulers; he would like to see them be saved. 

Hence, he immediately follows up by saying, “(v.3) This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, (v.4) who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Paul has in mind that God does not intend to save only one particular social class of people, but all social classes, including kings and those in authority. To read “all people” as “every single person in the world” is not warranted by the context and reveals a reading of one’s tradition and false notions into Paul’s message to Timothy. We should also consider what is good and pleasing in God’s sight. It is to share in His compassion for all groups of people by praying for their salvation and depending on God for that matter.

Man vs God

Having understood what 1 Timothy 2:4 doesn’t mean, we now turn to the issue behind the question itself. There are a few things that the Bible demands we acknowledge as far as God is concerned. Often, when we struggle with questions like these, we stress or give more weight to one detail about God and neglect others. When we struggle with the idea of God’s election of some and His desire for all to be saved, we need to completely acknowledge the sovereignty of God in all He does. 

A God who is not completely in control over everything that happens cannot be trusted at all. If man’s salvation depended solely on man’s response, then it means that God isn’t powerful enough to move a man to choose God. The hard heart of man would then be stronger than God’s will. On the other hand, when we acknowledge that God created some for salvation and some for destruction, we must accept that He is in complete control over everything in man and that He doesn’t elect people for salvation or pass over others because of the response that they will give Him or because there is any merit in them. He elects because to Him belongs the ultimate choice on whom to have mercy and compassion. 

If man’s salvation depended solely on man’s response, then it means that God isn’t powerful enough to move a man to choose God

When He chooses some, He isn’t making an ad hoc choice. The choice to redeem anyone is done through the Son who alone is righteous. God’s righteous standards for man’s relationship with Him are not compromised. Those standards for justice are met completely in Jesus Christ who is slain from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). If we were to question God on the election of some, we would have to ask God why He didn’t give fallen angels a chance to have their relationship with God restored. If He saves everyone, it will be to the praise of His glory. But even if He doesn’t save anyone, God loses nothing. It will be to the praise of His glory. When He chooses to save some and reject others, it is to the praise of His glory. He knows what will bring Him glory. If election happened without the factor of Jesus Christ in the equation, we may have the freedom to accuse God of partiality. But we know that is not the case.

Reconciling truths

The other truth we must consider is the implication that God desires everyone to be saved. If God predestines some to be saved, how can He desire that everyone be saved? This is illogical. We must understand that God always reveals Himself to be the God of love and that whatever He does is motivated by love. God created everything because he desires that the love relationship that exists between the Trinity overflows to creation. God sent His Son Jesus into the world to die because He loves the whole world. He doesn’t delight or take pleasure at the death of the wicked, but He is glorified in bringing justice for sin. He is not a sadist enjoying the agony of human beings in hell. He loves all kinds of people equally, which is why he sent Jesus to die for the sins of all mankind (both Jews and Gentiles). God rejoices when a sinner repents of his sin.

The difficulty is to reconcile these truths so that our questions are answered. It helps to remember that we are finite beings trying to comprehend an infinite God based on what He has revealed and done. If God hadn’t revealed these truths, we wouldn’t even bother asking these questions. The only thing we can do to make sense of all this is to have a right understanding of who God is. Yes, God is love and desires that all kinds of men should be saved but He is also all-knowing when it comes to deciding what action gives Him glory as He sees fit. 

It helps to remember that we are finite beings trying to comprehend an infinite God

If God is just desiring everyone to be saved but doesn’t have the power and sovereignty over man’s choice and situation, He isn’t as powerful as He should be. When He chooses some and rejects others, the perfect standard of His Son is the cause and, therefore, God doesn’t show partiality to anyone. Partiality, by definition, implies the merit in the one you show favor to.

No one knows who is elect and who is not. Our role is to let the world know that God loves everyone and proved it by sending His Son to die for the sins of all mankind. But also, understand that God’s sovereignty and election give all glory to Him alone for our salvation. That’s what we are also called to do: to give God the glory and praise Him for working in us so that we may be saved.

Rufus Simon Varghese

About Rufus Simon Varghese

Born and raised in Dubai, UAE, Rufus completed his Masters in Theology at Asian Christian Academy in Hosur, India. He has since been involved in personal outreach ministries and teaching youngsters Scripture. Currently based in Ernakulam, India, he is teaching at a Bible school as well as ministering to the Hindi-speaking immigrant working population in Kerala.



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