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The Doctrines of Grace: TULIP Revisited
by Carol Berubee

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Limited Atonement, Part IV

Common Questions (Continued)
Another question you may be asking is what the Bible means when it says that God "desires all men to be saved..." (1 Timothy 2:4). If God desires all men to be saved, then does that not mean that God has made it possible for all men to be saved?

In the 1 Timothy passage, "all" does not mean every single person who has ever lived. When Paul says to pray for "all men," he does not mean to pray for every single person on the planet. What he means is "all types of men," such as Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, kings and civilians. So, when he says that God desires for all men to be saved, he is saying that it is God's desire for all types of men to be saved, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, etc. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). This interpretation flows through the entire passage. In verse 6, Paul says that Jesus "gave Himself a ransom for all..." But as we have seen, if He had given Himself a ransom for every person, then all people would be saved, everyone would go to heaven, and there is no eternal punishment (which contradicts Matthew 13:42, Matthew 25:41, and Revelation 20:15). Rather, Paul is saying that Jesus gave Himself a ransom for Gentiles and not just Jews (as is implied in verse 7b).

Other passages using the word "all" come under the same scrutiny.

John 3:26
"And they came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"

Did these Jews really mean that every single person in the world was coming to Yeshua? Certainly not. They were simply exaggerating. To them, it seemed as if everyone was coming to Him. But we use this expression a lot, do we not? We say "every" and "all" all the time!

John 4:29
"'Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.'"

Did this woman really mean that Jesus told her of every single thing she had ever done in her life? Did He tell her of the time she fell out of bed when she was 3?

John 8:2
"Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them."

Does John mean to say that everyone living in Europe came down to the temple in Jerusalem to hear Jesus?

All does not always mean all. Most often, it means all types.

1 John 2:2
"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world."

John is speaking to Jews. He was an apostle to the Jews just as Peter and James were. Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles. When John tells these Jewish believers that Yeshua is the propitiation for their sins and not for theirs only but also for the whole world, he means that Yeshua also atoned for the sins of many Gentiles. The Jews knew, from their Torah, that God would bring in His Kingdom on earth that was promised to the Jews. In that scene, we know that the believing Jews will be rulers in the Kingdom and will also be evangelists to the Gentiles (Zechariah 8), but this time of believing among the Gentiles -- so far as the Jews understood -- was not to happen until the Kingdom was already set up. So, the fact that God was using Paul to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles -- even before the Tribulation, even before the Kingdom -- was very perplexing to the Jews. John is explaining that God was already saving many Gentiles; he was telling them that God's propitiation for sins through Christ was already accomplished for the Gentiles.

John 4:42
"...and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."

These Samaritans believed and they testified that Yeshua was the Savior of the world. Did they mean that He would save every single person in the world? No. This simply means that no one in the world can be saved apart from Christ: He is the only Savior the world will ever know, and anyone who is saved is saved by Christ and no one else. In addition, the Samaritans were seen as "dogs" by the Jews, but now they were given faith to believe in Christ, to be saved, so they are now testifying that Christ saves all types of people in the world, Jews and Samaritans alike.

1 Timothy 4:10
"For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe."

This verse is interpreted by universalists to mean that all men are saved in the end, but at this time only some live in faith. This verse is often interpreted by Arminians to say that Christ's sacrifice paid for the salvation of all men, but only those who accept this payment on their behalf are actually saved. This is probably what you have been taught and you may be wondering what's wrong with it.

There have been several ideas put forth by those who believe in a limited atonement, or particular redemption. One common interpretation is that God is the savior (Gr. soter) of all men; that is, He is the one who provides the air we breathe, the food we eat, etc. But this common grace is temporal for those who are not saved. For those who believe in Christ, this type of caring and sustenance is eternal.

The interpretation we prefer is one that builds on this idea of common grace but stays within the context of 1 Timothy. Paul is writing this letter to his fellow laborer, the young Timothy. Go up a couple of verses:

1 Timothy 4:8
"For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come."

Unbelievers do everything unto their own bodies for temporal profit. Their labors are worthless to God; they are as filthy rags. Godliness can only come from a life lived in Christ and this godly life is profitable, both now and eternally. Believers who exercise discipline such as the refusal to eat meat sacrificed to idols, or keeping the Jewish ceremonial laws, see some temporal benefit, but such discipline is impossible to sustain and does little in the context of the Christian life.

The "life that now is" and "that [life] which is to come" gives us the parallel for verse 10. In verse 10, Paul says that believers "both labor and suffer reproach" because they believe in God. That is, a believer will labor for God and he will suffer reproach because he believes in the living God. An unbeliever labors, but he does not labor for God; therefore, his labors are only for the life that now is. A believer labors for God and this labor counts in this life and in the one to come.

And this God is the Savior (soter) of all men in this "life that now is" (common grace), but He is especially the Savior of those who believe (who will partake of the life "which is to come"). As unbelievers labor for their own vain pursuits, God sustains them to some extent. But Paul and his fellow laborers enjoyed an extraordinary grace not given to all men. As Christians labor for God, they are endowed with a special grace that sustains beyond mere temporal comforts.

We have seen that when Christ paid the penalty for sin, He actually bought those who would believe. He died to save a particular group of people. No part of His death was in vain. He accomplished what He set out to do. When the Bible speaks of the "Savior of the world" or "all people," we have to understand the grammatical usage of such phrases. And if we have been taught that Christ died for all sins except the sin of unbelief, we have to see that such a teaching is both illogical and theologically dangerous. The death of Christ Jesus paid the penalty for all the sins of all those for whom He died. It is finished.

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