God’s Glory Wins

Not everyone will believe the gospel. Why?

“God desires all people to be saved,” 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us. “God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone,” Ezekiel 18:32 says. Then why are there some who refuse to trust in Jesus and therefore die lost in their sins?

There are two different answers to this question.

But we should understand that these two answers go beyond making sense of God’s will of decree and will of command. Those “two wills” in God describe a biblical distinction that’s been expressed various ways in the Scriptures and throughout the centuries. God’s “two ways of willing,” writes John Piper, “implies that God decrees one state of affair while also willing and teaching that another state of affairs should come to pass” (Does God Desire All to Be Saved?, 16). This means that though God desires all people to be saved (his “will of command”), only those chosen in Christ will believe the gospel and be saved (his “will of decree”). But true as it is, this explanation still falls short of getting to the why. Why is this the case? Why does God not decree all that he prescribes?

And here is where we face those two different answers.

One answer is that there is something more powerful than God that is able to frustrate his will. It says that God is nice to desire all people to be saved, but he doesn’t have the strength to make it happen. The second answer says, in Piper’s words, “God wills not to save all, even though he ‘desires’ that all be saved, because there is something else that he wills or desires more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all” (emphasis added, 39).

The second answer is one that both Calvinists and Arminians can affirm. Both say that God doesn’t save everyone because he is committed to something more than saving everyone. The difference between Calvinists and Arminians is seen in what that higher commitment is.

Piper explains,

The answer the Arminians give is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace. The answer the Reformed give is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22–23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29). (39)

So one explanation says that the higher commitment is God leaving the destiny of our eternal souls up to our own decision-making. The higher commitment is God securing our right to let our choices be the decisive factor in where we spend eternity. The other explanation — the Calvinist answer — says that God’s higher commitment is the full display of his glory. God’s glory wins, which means that his just wrath is poured out on all unrighteousness, and his mercy is lavished on all whom he loves.

God’s highest commitment — beyond his moral will that all people everywhere repent —is that the full panorama of his glory shine forth. That glory is his mercy, grace, steadfast love and faithfulness, and his refusal to by no means clear the guilty . . . so that the vessels of his mercy might know the riches of his glory (Exodus 34:6–7; Romans 9:23).