God The Savior Of All?

One of the biggest and most important questions we can ask is “Does God save everyone?” It’s a question Heidelberg Catechism #20 asks, and answers: “No; only those who are ingrafted into him [Christ], and, receive all his benefits, by a true faith.”

But is that a right and biblical answer? Not according to 1 Timothy 4:10 which says that God “is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

So God saves everyone? Everyone is going to heaven, regardless of their response to the Gospel?

Not so fast. There are a number of reasons why that cannot be the right interpretation of this verse.

  • It’s inconsistent with the rest of Scripture (e.g. Matt. 7:14; Ezek. 33:11)
  • It’s inconsistent with Paul’s other letters (Rom. 11:5; 1 Cor. 16:22)
  • It’s inconsistent with the rest of this letter (1 Tim. 1:19; 2:5; 4:1)
  • It’s inconsistent with “especially of those who believe” – is everyone saved but some are especially saved?
  • It’s inconsistent with Paul’s missionary labors  – why put so much effort into evangelism if everyone is saved?

On that last point, even verse 10 itself speaks of Paul’s willingness to labor and suffer for the spread of the Gospel. What’s the point in that if God is going to save everyone? So, how do we understand this verse? There are four options:

1. “All men” means “all kinds of people”

There are times in the Bible when “all” does not mean “all.” It’s sometimes used to speak of “all kinds of people” (e.g. Mark 1:5). That would fit the cultural and theological context here because Timothy was facing Jewish and Gnostic heretics who had an extremely elitist and exclusive view of salvation.

However, when this interpretation comes up against “especially those who believe,” it results in two levels of salvation – salvation for all kinds of people, and a special salvation or a specially assured for those who believe.

2. “Is Savior” means “wants to be Savior”

God is able to save all, wants to save all, desires to save all, and offers salvation to all, but, frustrated by the unbelief of some, He only saves those who believe.

The main textual problem here is that is doesn’t say “able to save” or “offers to save” but “is Savior.” He is the Savior. This interpretation also runs into the theological problem of men and women ultimately frustrating and thwarting the divine will.

A variation of this view is that God is Savior of all in the sense of He is the only Savior in the world, the only savior for anyone who wants to be saved, the only one who can save anyone; but He is the actual Savior only for those who believe. This still runs into the problem of “is” meaning something less than “is” or “Savior” meaning something less than actual real saving.

3. “Savior” means “physical deliverer”

The Greek word for “save” (σωτήρ sōtēr) can mean preserve and deliver. It’s used in this way in the Greek version of the Old Testament (e.g. the Judges and Kings are described as sōtērs), and God Himself is also portrayed as the preserver and deliverer of all in a temporal sense (e.g. Deut. 32:15), a theme that continues into the New Testament (Mat. 5:45; Acts 17:25, 28). Greek and Roman culture also used sōtēr of political, military, and royal leaders.

The idea then is that God provides for, preserves, and delivers all people everywhere in a multitude of different ways, regardless of their faith, but that He does this in an extra special way for those who believe in Him. That’s certainly a truth of Scripture, but is it the truth of this Scripture?

I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure. One problem is that “Savior” is generally (though not exclusively) used in in a spiritual sense in the pastorals. In other words, “Savior” is used in the ultimate and highest sense of salvation from sin, guilt, death, and hell. Another problem is that it’s difficult to figure out how God’s temporal deliverances of all would be such a motivator for Paul, inspiring him to serve so passionately and suffer so patiently.

4. “Especially” means “to be precise”

More recent linguistic studies have discovered that the Greek word translated “especially” (μάλιστα malista) can also be translated “that is,” or “to be precise,” or “in other words.”* So Paul makes what appears to be a universal statement (“God saves all”), but then immediately qualifies and limits it with “that is, those who believe.” So the truth of this verse is not that God saves everyone, nor that God saves in two different ways but that God saves lots and lots of different kinds of people through faith in Christ alone.

Such a translation of malista not only fits better with the usual meaning of “Savior” in the pastoral epistles, but is also consistent with the rest of Scripture, Paul’s other letters, and the rest of this letter. It also helps us understand Paul’s incredible missionary zeal and suffering-filled labors. And the more we too can grasp the realities of this verse, the more our evangelism multiplies.

If God saves such a great number of people, such a great diversity of people, with such a great salvation – from sin, guilt, death, and hell – but they must put their faith in Christ to experience this, that will get us out of bed in the morning, that will fuel evangelistic passion, and that will make us willing to endure suffering and hardship for the sake of getting that message out.

* If you want to read more on this translation of μάλιστα, see George Knight’s commentary on the pastoral epistles (pp. 203-4).


R C Sproul’s Childhood Struggle With Happiness And Pleasure

In chapter 8 of The Holiness of God, R C Sproul discusses his childhood struggle with the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is man’s chief end?” The catechism answers, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Although the young RC found this easy to memorize, he found it difficult to understand.

“I couldn’t quite put the two parts of the answer together. I was unable to see how enjoyment fit with glorifying God. I realized that to glorify God involved some kind of obedience to His holy law. That did not sound like much fun. Already I knew the conflict between my own enjoyment and obeying the laws of God.”

God a Barrier To Joy
Looking back on that time when he saw God as a barrier to joy, Dr. Sproul came to realize his struggle was rooted in a failure to realize the difference between happiness and pleasure, a struggle that he admits (don’t we all!) continues into his adult life.

“There are still childish things that cling to my adult life. I still struggle with the difference between happiness and pleasure. I know the difference in my head, but it has not yet reached my bloodstream.”

So what’s the difference between happiness and pleasure? Dr. Sproul says, that no sin ever made him happy. Quite the reverse; sin brought much unhappiness into his life. However, he admits, his sins have brought him great pleasure. “Sin can be pleasurable, but it never brings happiness,” he explains. Which raises two questions.

Two Questions
First, why do we sin? If we know the difference between happiness and pleasure, how can we continue to choose pleasure instead of happiness? Answer – utter stupidity.

“It seems utterly stupid for a person to do something that he knows will rob him of his happiness. Yet we do it. The mystery of sin is not only that it is wicked and destructive but also that it is so downright stupid.”

Second, can happiness and pleasure ever be found together? From a first reading, it might appear that Dr. Sproul is saying that all pleasure is sinful.

Not at all. He’s careful to say that not all pleasures are sins: “There is much pleasure to be found in righteousness.”

Perfect Alignment
God created us in such a way that righteousness, happiness, and pleasure all perfectly align. If one was absent, all were. If one was present, all were.  In their unfallen state, Adam and Eve found it easy to align them all. There were no impediments, no obstructions, and no hindrances to happy and pleasurable holiness..

But all that was lost when Adam and Eve decided to pursue happiness and pleasure apart from holiness. The devil drove a wedge between holiness, happiness, and pleasure, and has been doing the same ever since: “Disobey Him and get delight. Hate him and get happiness. Rebel for revelry. Jilt Him for joy. Boot Him for bliss.”

But, regardless of the lies, happiness and pleasure are still perfectly aligned with holiness. In that sense nothing has changed since paradise. What has changed, as the young RC discovered, is that it’s much harder to see that, to believe that, to pursue that, and to achieve that.

May our holy God give us the faith and fuel to pursue holiness with all our might, to love God with all our heart, and so discover joy’s juices flowing through our veins again.


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Spiritual Joy v Worldly Joy

Vintage

“The gleanings of Christian joy are better than the world’s vintage.” Thomas Watson

What’s the difference between Christian joy and the joy of the world? How do I know I have the former and not the latter? The Puritan Thomas Watson outlined eight important differences summarized below:

1. Spiritual joys help to make us better, worldly joys often make us worse. Christian joy cleanses our hearts, turns us against sin, and infuses strength to do and to suffer.

2. Spiritual joys are inward, they are heart joys. Worldly joy is superficial, lying on the outside, like the dew on a leaf. But spiritual joy lies most within. “Divine joy is like a spring of water which runs underground!”

3. Spiritual joys are sweeter than others, they are better than wine. They are so sweet, that they make everything else sweet and also give us a distaste for earthly delights.

4. Spiritual joys are more pure, they are not tempered with any bitter ingredients. A sinner’s joy is mixed with the dregs of fear and guilt. Spiritual joy is not muddied with guilt, but like a crystal stream, runs pure. It is joy and nothing but joy.

5. They are satisfying joys:  There is as much difference between spiritual joys and earthly, as between a banquet that is eaten and one that is painted on the wall.

6. They are stronger joys than worldly. They are strong enough to bear up a Christian’s heart in the heaviest affliction.

7. They are unwearied joys. Unlike other joys, the joys of God, though they satisfy, yet they never sicken us. A drop of joy is sweet, but the more of this wine the better.

8. They are abiding joys. Worldly joys are soon gone. They seem to be sweet, but they are swift. The joys which believers have are abiding.

“In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul.” (Psalm 94:19)

*Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1960), 188.

A Child Wiser Than Most Adults

When the nine-year-old Matthew Henry received news that one of his relatives was sick he wrote a letter in response:

“By this providence we may see that sin is the worst of evils, for sickness came with sin. Christ is the chief good; therefore let us love him. Sin is the worst of evils, therefore let us hate that with perfect hatred.”

Nine years old!

Wouldn’t you love to hear your children say such things? May God give them (and us) such deep and Christ-centered spirituality.


Holiness and Honor: A Reformed View of Sex And Marriage

PCRT2015

If you’re anywhere in the Grand Rapids area why not consider the Philadelphia Conference of Reformed Theology (PCRT) on March 20-22 where the topic will be Holiness and Honor: A Reformed View of Sex And Marriage. You can find out more here and pre-register here. The schedule is as follows:

Friday

8:00–9:00 a.m. Pre-Conference Registration

9:00 a.m.–3:45 p.m. Pre-Conference: The Gospel and the Song of Songs, Iain Duguid

6:00 p.m. Conference Registration

7:00 p.m. Opening of the 2015 PCRT

First Address: The Goodness of God’s Design for Marriage, Iain Duguid

Saturday

8:00 a.m. Late Registration

9:00 a.m. Second Address: Gender and the Image of God, David Garner

10:30 a.m. Third Address: The Honorable Institution of Marriage, David Murray

11:30 a.m. Question & Answer Session

12:30 p.m. Lunch

2:00 p.m.  Fourth Address: The Beauty of God’s Design for Sex, David Garner

3:15–4:30 p.m. Seminars

4:30 p.m. Dinner (at local restaurants)

6:30 p.m. Sacred Concert (MI)

7:00 p.m. Fifth Address: Sexual Sanctification, Richard Phillips

Sunday PCRT joins host church worship for final address.

Sixth Address: The Marriage of Christ and His Church, Richard Phillips

8:30 a.m. & 10:45 a.m. PCRT worships with Byron Center First Christian

Reformed Church, Grand Rapids