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God’s Character in Salvation

I Timothy 2:3b-4 “ ... God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

The main emphasis on verse four is the character of God.  Who is God?  Is He waiting blindly to see who will “accept” His Son?  Does He will for more people to be saved than actually will be saved?  Are His hands tied because He wouldn’t dare violate man’s free will?  Will God save every single person that has ever been born on the earth?  Or does God have a people, and all of His elect will be saved?  All of these questions reflect on the character of God!

Let’s look at the verse in question.  Verse four says, “Who will have all to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”  This is a very misunderstood verse.  And because of misunderstanding, it is often misused and twisted to fit one’s viewpoint.  This verse is a bold proclamation of what our God and Savior’s purpose is in the salvation of His people.  Let’s look first at what this verse cannot mean:

1)  It cannot mean that “all” men without exception will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  (We know from history that this is not the case.  There are thousands every day dieing in their sins outside of God.)  If this were the case then there would be no need to proclaim the gospel (good news).  If this were the case then it would include the goats that are separated from the sheep.  It would include all the people in the Old Testament that God told Israel to slaughter.  It would include all the people that didn’t get on the ark with Noah and his family.  It would include all the Israelites that died in the dessert because of unbelief.  It would make God a liar.  Jesus very clearly says:  John 10:11  “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”  There is no mention of goats in this verse.  Jesus laid down His life, not for a random sporadic people, but for a specific people.

2)  It cannot mean that God has willed to save more than He will save.  How this goes is something like this:  God has desired, in His compassion, that every single person be saved even though He knows that not every single person will be saved.  I don’t know about you but that kind of makes God double minded.  The God that I serve is NOT double minded and He accomplishes ALL His will.

Daniel 4:35 “And all the inhabitants of the earthare reputed as nothing:and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”

At the very base of this is that God cannot fulfill His desires, which again is a contradiction to the revealed word of God.

Isaiah 46:10-11 “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.”

3)  Some people would have you believe that God is so impersonal and so out of control that He is waiting on pins and needles and biting His fingernails in anticipation on whom will accept Him.  You may ask where I get that?  I have heard many-many people quote this verse and then add to it by saying “but you must accept Him first.”  What is wrong with this statement though is that it puts man on the throne and God bowing to the will of man.  I have an excellent theological word for that “HOGWASH!”  God is on the throne and in control of ALL things, especially our salvation.  Look with me at Ephesians chapter 1.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. ... In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:” (3-5, 11)

These verses all point to what God is doing and has done to bring His people to Himself.  The main emphasis of these verses is that  God has a perfect time to bring to salvation those for whom He chose and sent His son to die for.  Notice in verse six it very plainly says that it is God who “hath made us accepted”, it is not us who accept Him.

Now that I have shown what this verse cannot mean.  Let’s take the time to honestly look at this verse and find out what it does mean.  The Greek word that Paul uses for “will” in his statement, “will have all men to be saved,” is thelo (2309) and it means literally ‘to will, to wish’ and implies volition and purpose and frequently a determination [from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words].  And Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament has this to say about thelo – In secular Greek and the LXX the word thelo has such varied meanings as “to purpose,” “to be ready,” “to resolve,” “to desire,” “to wish,” “to prefer,” and negatively “to refuse.”  It may be used for the divine will or the royal will.  It is common in the Old Testament in the negative.  So, here we have a fairly common word.  But as the saying goes “CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING!”  When this word is used in reference to God, this word “always” means reality!

Here are a few examples:   Matthew 8:2-3 (also see: Mark 1:40-41& Luke 5:12-13)
And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt <2309>, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will <2309>; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

(The Leper asked Jesus if He was “thelo” “willing” and Jesus, “thelo,” “I will...”  What happened next?  Take a look again at the verse.  The leper was cleansed on the spot – immediately.  No “ifs” “ands” or “buts” about it!  There was no “I wish that I could,” or “Yes, I desire to but let’s see if anything happens.”  When God “thelo” “wills” for something to happen, it is a reality.)

And also this verse in Philippians: 2:13  For it is God which worketh in you both to will <2309> and to do of his good pleasure.

There are 201 times that “thelo” is used in the New Testament (to see a complete listing of them, if you have the Online bible program, click on search and put in “2309“ in the box, if you don’t have a program you can always email me and I will send you a complete list in your email).  Here is a sample of the times when it is used in reference to God - Matt. 9:13, 12:7, 20:15; Mark 3:13; John 5:21, 17:24 - and of course the verses above.  If you get time, really focus on Philippians 2:13.  That verse is so rich and so much there.

Now let me give you an example of when “thelo” is used in reference to man.

Romans 7:15  For that which I do I allow not: for what I would <2309>, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16  If then I do that which I would <2309> not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
18  For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will <2309> is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19  For the good that I would <2309> I do not: but the evil which I would <2309> not, that I do.
20  Now if I do that I would <2309> not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
    21  I find then a law, that, when I would <2309> do good, evil is present with me.

Paul says in essence here that he has all the desire in the world to do the right thing, but he is not able.  He knows that it is right and he tries with all his might, but he finds himself doing the complete opposite.  And so again, I reiterate that when “thelo” is used in reference to God, it is a sure thing and when it is used in reference to man, it is just a want or desire that might come to be or happen.

Looking back at our verse again, the first thing that you should notice is that God is the subject with reference to this word “will”.  Since God is the subject, and with what I have just shown you that when the word for “will” is used with reference to God as the subject, how can we view this verse?  When you understand that God will accomplish ALL His good pleasure, there are only two ways of viewing this verse.  One is that God will save every single person that has ever lived.  Or that God will save all of His people that Christ died for.  In order to come to the right conclusion to which of these two are correct, we need to look at the word “all.”

The word “all” comes from the Greek word “pas.”  Here is what the Online Bible notes have to say about it: “1) individually, 1a) each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything; 2) collectively, 2a) some of all types.”  What this means is that the word “all” is used two different ways in scripture”  Again, going back to the saying “CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING!”  It can mean all without exception or it can mean all without distinction.  You must look at the context of the verse in order to understand how it is used.  Let’s look at a few verses where both ways are used.

Matthew 2:3 “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all <3956> Jerusalem with him.”  (Was “all” Jerusalem troubled?  No!  In fact there was celebrating going on at the birth of Christ!)

Matthew 10:22 “And ye shall be hated of all <3956> men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Were they hated by every single person?  No! for that would mean that there would be none that would join them.  “all without distinction”)

Luke 2:1 “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all <3956> the world should be taxed.” (Was the “whole” world taxed?  No!  but all in the Roman world were.)

Matthew 5:18 “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all <3956> be fulfilled.” (Here is a good example of all without exception - we can take these words as they stand)

When we view a verse that has the word “all” in it, we need to really focus on the context of the verse in order to understand it correctly.  If we misapply the word, we end up with a twisted interpretation of the verse.  Let me ask you a simple little question.  Looking at history and even your own history, has every single person that you have known, come to the knowledge of the truth?  I can emphatically say NO!  There are thousands daily that die in unbelief.  There are no second chances once a person dies.  {Hebrews 9:27  And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:}  But our verse says that it is God’s will that all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  This verse MUST be in reference to “all without distinction” or “all of mankind” or even further than that, “all of God’s elect (family).”  Notice how the transgression of the verse goes.  Ones salvation is first, but once we are saved God will bring us to the knowledge of the truth.  If there is no truth, there is no salvation.  If you will give me a few more minutes of your time, I would like to look at a few more words in this verse.

The words “to be saved” are very fascinating.  Those three words come from a single Greek word and it is “sozo”.  It means just like it is used in this verse - to save, to rescue, etc.  But what is fascinating to me is the tense and voice that go along with it in this verse.  It is in the Aorist tense and Passive voice and Infinitive mood.  Now, you ask, what does that mean?  Well, I am not a Greek person, but with the helps that I have I will try and explain it the best that I can.  The Aorist tense is used for simple undefined action.  The infinitive mood is where the translators get the word “to” in front of “be saved”.  The Passive voice represents the subject as receiving the action of the verb.  In this section of the verse who is the subject?  Look again at the verse - “Who will have all men to be saved...”  “Will” is the verb” and “all men” is the subject and the recipient of salvation.  Man has NOTHING to do with his own salvation.  It is a complete work of God from start to finish.  Man’s salvation was completed on the cross when Jesus cried out “It is finished!”

Now we come to the words “to come.”  It means just what it says also.  Again though, what is fascinating is the tense and voice of the word.  It is different in the voice then our last word.  It is in the Aorist tense, the infinitive mood but this time in the active voice.  The aorist and infinitive are the same as before but the active voice represents the subject as the doer or performer of the action.  What does this mean?  Is it a contradiction to the tenses and meaning of “to be saved”?  Absolutely not!  What we have here are two different pictures.  Again, as I said before, notice the word order.  We are first saved and then come to the knowledge of the truth.  Our salvation is WHOLLY OF GOD! but our conversion is something that we are a part of.  What this means is that at the appointed time God opens our eyes and we “will” come to the knowledge of the truth.  Can you be saved and only have a little bit of the truth?  Can you reject any of the truth and still be saved?  Jesus very clearly says in John 16:13: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, [that] shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.”

And also Paul through the Holy Ghost says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:”

There are no contradictions in scripture.  These two verses solidly confirm that those who are saved will “come to the knowledge of the truth.”

A lot of the arminians think that this verse is a blockage concerning God’s sovereignty.  I hope and trust that the Lord was pleased to use this little study to show that this verse very boldly proclaims God’s sovereignty.  To quickly summarize: this verse stresses God’s character in that He will accomplish all His good pleasure and what He sets out to do.  He WILL bring ALL of His elect to him!  He will lose none that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for.  Jesus did not say “It is possible” on the cross, He said “It is finished!”  What a wonderful promise to His children.  May the Lord bless ALL HIS ELECT in the study of His glorious word!

2 Corinthians 2:15-16b “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.”

Tom Adams 11-2001