God is not willing that any should perish.

A visitor to this blog posed the following question:

“why does God in Election only grant ‘some’ the faith to believe? does God ‘want’ all to be saved? Is He ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” as it says in 2 peter 3:9?”

First, God does not grant faith in election but in effectual calling and regeneration. This calling is according to God’s eternal purpose.

Secondly, the Scriptures do not inform us as to God’s reasons for his action. The reality is, He has done as was pleasing to Him and we have no right to question why He has done as He has done.

To the question, “Who is responsible if sinners perish in their sins?” we answer unequivocally, it is the sinner alone who must bear the burden of his guilt before God. God’s free offer of mercy in Christ is openly and universally published, and sincere. His self-disclosure in His created universe, in the human conscience, in His commandments and in His Christ is so resplendent that only creatures whose hearts have been blinded by sin could fail to see His glory. In fact, the Apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, has informed us that God has revealed Himself in such a way that He would leave us sinners without a reasonable defense if we refuse to glorify Him as God (Romans 1:20-21).

Yet, this is not the only question we must consider if we would be responsible students of God’s Word. We must also ask, “Who is responsible if sinners turn from their sins, embrace Christ in saving faith and enjoy God’s glorious presence for a blissful eternity?” Again, our answer and the consistent answer of Scripture is that it is God and God alone who saves sinners all by Himself.

Some, apparently in a well-meaning but misguided effort to protect God’s character and emphasize the sinner’s responsibility, have imagined a God who never intended that anyone be lost and has limited His sovereignty in this matter to the imagined freedom of the human will or made the success of His efforts to save sinners contingent on the faithfulness of Christians to spread the gospel. Such an idea is reflected in a line from a well-known gospel song that reads, “Jesus would save, but there’s no one to tell them….” Is God so impotent He can find no one to tell them? Romans ten clearly teaches that preachers proclaim the gospel because God sends them to do so. “How shall they preach unless they are sent?” Where is the verse that tells us God has limited His sovereignty in the salvation of sinners to the almighty “free will” of man?

One of the stock proof texts in the arsenal of those who would protect God from any charge of unfairness to sinners is 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord. . .is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This text is often cited as the absolute proof that God is really helpless in the matter of the sinner’s salvation. “If the sinner goes to hell, we are told, it is not because of God’s will but because of the sinner’s will.” Now, there is little question the Scripture teaches that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the sinner turn from the evil or his way and live. Because He is righteous and holy, He cannot but desire that His creatures also be righteous and holy. In His mercy and compassion, God stretches out His arms to His erring creatures and invites us to return. Yet, though we believe this is clear and incontrovertible truth, it does not tell the entire story. These truths concern the character of a God who delights in mercy. The other issue that is most often ignored concerns God’s eternal decree to glorify Himself in the salvation of sinners. We believe it is impossible to interpret 2 Peter 3:9 as it is commonly understood if we understand the Bible’s teaching about God’s eternal and immutable decree.

We would call your attention, first, to the ellipsis points in the citation of the verse in question. Ellipsis points are inserted to indicate that a portion of a text has been omitted. It is always a good rule of thumb to beware of the dots. We should always ask what has been omitted and why? We must always consider the context out of which proof texts have been extracted. What is the subject under discussion? How does the text fit into that discussion? Does the text appear to be in contradiction to any other portion of the Scripture and, if so, how can the seemingly contradictory texts be reconciled. It is in the effort to seek reconciliation between such texts that theologians are born. The reason we have so few good theologians in our day is that most are accustomed to sweeping under the rug any texts they can’t fit into their “theological systems.”

We rarely hear any quote 2 Peter 3:9 fully and in context. This is how the entire verse reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” These words should immediately raise the following questions in your mind.

1. To what promise does Peter refer?

2. How have some counted Him slack [slow] in fulfilling that promise?

3. Who are those who have considered Him slow concerning his promise?

4. Are those he calls “us” different from the “some who have considered him slow concerning His promise?”

5. Does the text say anywhere God has willed to save all sinners?

6. Is there anything in the context that tells us what the effect of God’s longsuffering will be?

If we answer these questions correctly according to the context, it will be impossible for us to hold on to the erroneous belief that God is willing to save sinners, but they just won’t let Him. This view of an impotent deity is absolutely foreign to the Scriptures.

Let’s take these questions one by one and see where the context leads us.

1. To what promise does Peter refer?

Verses three through eight make it clear that the promise about which Peter is writing is the promise of the Lord’s coming to judge and destroy ungodly men. “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised.”

2. How have some counted Him slack [slow] in fulfilling that promise?

They have scoffed at the idea of judgment and implied He will never come and punish them for ungodliness and unrighteous behavior.

3. Who are those who have considered Him slow concerning his promise?

These are the scoffers Peter has mentioned.

4. Are those he calls “us” different from the “some who have considered him slow concerning His promise?”

Peter clearly distinguishes between these scoffers and those he calls “beloved [dear friends NIV]” and “us.” In this context, he does not talk about God’s longsuffering toward the scoffers but His longsuffering toward “us.” In other passages other New Testament writers address the issue of God’s patience toward the ungodly and state the effects of that patience. In Romans 2:4-5, Paul states that God’s patience and kindness that should cause the sinner to repent actually has the effect of sinners treasuring up more wrath for the day of God’s wrath and judgment. In Romans nine, twenty-two Paul tells us God bears with great patience the objects of His wrath so that He might show His wrath and make His power known. In neither of these cases does the space God gives sinners to repent have any saving effect on the non-elect.

5. Does the text say anywhere God has willed to save all sinners?

The answer is a simple “no.” Before we finish this discussion, we want to address the issue further and ask what would happen if God had willed the salvation of all sinners. Please note there is a difference between God’s published desire and God’s eternal decree.

6. Is there anything in the context that tells us what the effect of God’s longsuffering will be?

Yes. Peter states in verse fifteen that. . .our Lord’s patience [longsuffering] means salvation. . .” In other words, the Lord’s patience eventuates not in the frustration of His purpose but in the salvation of His people. He is longsuffering toward us, not wishing that any of us (His beloved ones) should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance. Interestingly, the text says nothing about God wishing that anyone repent. A better translation would be, “. . .but on the contrary, that all should have room for repentance.” In Romans 9:22, Paul states that God’s purpose in patiently enduring the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction is “to show His wrath and to make His power known.”

Now, consider the popular assumption that God has willed the salvation of all sinners. First, ask whether there is a text of Scripture that states this concept. I suggest one does not exist unless the reader reads the concept into the verse. Second, ask whether such an assertion would contradict other clear statements of Scripture. What does the Bible tell us about everything God has decreed? The answer is unmistakable. God’s will always comes to pass. If God had decreed the salvation of all sinners, all sinners would be saved. God always accomplishes what He has purposed. Consider the following verses.

Psalm 115:3 “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases him.”

Isaiah 46:9-11 “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say; My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east, I summon a bird of prey; from a far off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”

Daniel 4:35 “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”

Eph. 1:11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

These are just a few of the texts that teach us that God acts according to His purpose [decree], and His purpose is never frustrated. What God has willed certainly comes to pass exactly as He has willed it. God saves the sinners He tries to save. Not one of them is lost. Paul wrote,

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, those he predestined, he also called, and those he called, he also justified, and those he justified, he also glorified. What shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:28-31)?


2 Responses to “God is not willing that any should perish.”

  1. December 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Most excellent exposition on this topic, my brother. How man protests that he is not God! But, as my pastor tells us (having heard it from someone else), if we humans could lose our salvation, we would. This is the nature of our flesh. How could an unregenerate soul want to be saved, much less reach out for Christ? Man wants to be in control without realizing how sinful he is.

    • December 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm


      You are right! There can only be one God, and we aren’t God. Ultimately, the aim of sinners is to usurp his throne and reign in his place. If that should succeed, we would be thrust into a hopeless situation. Your pastor is right. If we could lose it, we would. Thank God for sovereign grace.

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