On the extent of who will be saved, the Bible makes two clear points:
- God desires that all sinners be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23; Matthew 23:37).
- God chose some people from eternity past (the elect), to be saved unconditionally, and only those elect will genuinely respond to the gospel and be saved (Matthew 22:14; John 6:37, 44, 65; 8:47; 10:26–29; Romans 8:29–30; 9:6–23; 11:5–10; 1 Corinthians 1:26–30; Ephesians 1:4–5; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; James 2:5).
But how these two biblical truths (that seem to contradict) actually relate, has perplexed theologians and inquiring Christian minds for many centuries, sparking vigorous debates and (more recently) fiery comment threads on Facebook.
This pair of doctrines force questions like:
- Can God genuinely will that all be saved (1), and yet only choose to save only some, the elect (2)?
- Is it even logical to hold that God can at the same time will salvation for all (1), and not will salvation for all (2)?
- If (1) and (2) are true, is God schizophrenic or confused? (1 Corinthians 14:33)
- Or can a sovereign, all-powerful God who does whatever he pleases, hold wishful desires for the salvation of all that he cannot fulfill?
- Which leads to asking, is there a power in the universe greater than God, frustrating his desires?
- Or can God will in different ways simultaneously?
- Or should modern Christians simply downplay election in order to highlight God’s desire for the salvation of all?
- Because if we equally hold to election, isn’t our general offer of the gospel to all sinners disingenuous?
- And won’t election erode the energy and incentive for global missions and evangelism that we derive from God’s desire for all to be saved?
- And how does the ultimate aim of God’s own glory factor into this discussion?
These are just a few of the thick questions involved.
Finding the answers is like climbing Mount Everest. Not everyone is up for the climb, but we believe it can be done, and there are guides to help if you want to make the attempt. John Piper offers himself as a Sherpa of sorts for the steep climb in his new little book, Does God Desire All to Be Saved?