Addressing Calvinism, 2 of 4: God Wants Everyone to Repent unto Salvation

Maybe as a child, you went up to a parent, or to a parental figure, as you stretched your arms out to the left and right as far as they would go, and said, "I love you this much!" I heard someone say that as Jesus stretched out His arms on that wooden cross while they drove the nails into His hands, it was as though He were saying to the world, I love you this much. It's difficult to understand how Jesus could love us so much, wicked as we are without Him. Yet we know from the Bible that God dwells in love, and in fact, that God is love. As we get to know Him through His word and through our personal relationship with Him, we begin to understand just how loving He is.

My biggest objection to Calvinism is that it takes away God's love for the vast majority of the world. It teaches that God prefers to leave most in their sins with no hope of salvation from before they were even born, so that He could have vessels of wrath, or as some would go so far as to say, "simply for the good pleasure of his will." That is not love.

I realize that there are different kinds and degrees of love. And yes, in some limited contexts, the words "love" and "hate" can be simply relative (Luke 14:26). But if we have been saved, then we understand the nature of true love toward another human being, at least in part. It causes our eyes to tear up for that wayward family member on the road to hell. It grieves us at our hearts, making us wish they would repent. Are we to believe for the vast majority of men and women and boys and girls, that God has no such love? That His "love" for them is only some sort of temporary politeness? Such a doctrine seems so very foreign to the God we have come to know and to love ourselves. This causes what I believe to be a justified and reflexive repulsion against the doctrine of Calvinism in the hearts of many, including mine. True, there are so many things we have yet to learn about God. But that shouldn't cause us to doubt what we clearly have learned about His character; and we simply know that He is not like that.

I think we should beware of someone who has been educated beyond his capacity for charity. Paul said, "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth" (I Corinthians 8:1). In my opinion, that's probably the biggest problem with certain types of Calvinists; they are haughty and look down at those that they consider to be poor and unenlightened. I think that subconsciously, it's a byproduct of their belief that God has no real love for the non-elect. If only we could grow in charity as much as we grow in knowledge. If only we cared about the triumphs and burdens sweet fellow saints faced this past week, more than we care about the logic Luther used in the 1500s to defend Calvinism. I certainly need a lot more charity myself and have been trying to focus more on that. Charity is the greatest of the three abiding virtues, the other two being faith and hope, while knowledge doesn't even get a place at that table (I Corinthians 13). I think of knowledge as being like a mental crutch, if you will, upon which we who are saved can limp along until we reach heaven; important, yes, but only temporary; and when we arrive in heaven, we will immediately cast it aside. It will seem so elementary, so incomplete, so childish, so "yesterday," in the beautiful context of very heaven!

Key Passages

Ezekiel 33:11 says, "As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" I think the repetition of "turn ye" implies strong emotion from God, the way we might say, "Please, please repent." In context, it seems clear to me that God is talking about final life and death (i.e., heaven and hell). But even if He is referencing only the temporal sword coming on Israel, wouldn't it make the same point? If God took pleasure in the eternal damnation of the wicked, then surely He would take pleasure in this first part of that. Yet God takes pleasure rather that "the wicked turn from his way and live". Obviously, He wants the wicked to repent unto salvation and life.

In Luke 13:34, Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Luke 13:34) Jesus is grieved at their rejection of the prophets, who incidentally, preached repentance and faith. That is, He wanted them to obey the prophets and repent unto life.

I Timothy 2:4 says that God wants "all men" to be saved, including the "all" for whom we are to pray in II Timothy 2:1verse 1. John 3:16 says God "so" loved the world--not a "love" of mere politeness, but a love so deep that it caused Him to send His only Son (in the previous post, we discussed the meaning of words like "all" and "the world"). This is consistent with our mandate to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15); if God commands them to repent and believe the gospel, He obviously desires that they do so. And further, God orchestrated world events for humanity, "if haply they might feel after him, and find him" (Acts 17:27).

Matthew 5:43-48 teaches us that God loves everyone and commands us to do the same. You ask, "But Peter, what kind of love is this?" It is the same sort of love we ought to have for our neighbor (Matthew 5:43-44v43-44a), which in turn ought to be the same sort of love we have for ourselves (Matthew 22:39). In other words, just as you would be terrified at the thought spending eternity in the lake of fire yourself, so too God, out of loving compassion, grieves in His heart at the thought of a sinner spending eternity in hell. Clearly, this is real love (Jonah 4:9-11). If God did not care at their coming torment, or worse, desired it over their sincere repentance, then whatever we might call that, it wouldn't be anything of the kind of "love" mentioned in Matthew 5. I cannot imagine that God is less loving than Paul, who intensely desired the salvation of the non-elect Israelites (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1), going so far as to say He could be willing to give up his own salvation for theirs! And surely, after personally feeling a measure of God's love for a lost person's soul in your own heart after praying for them, wouldn't you have to agree that God must love them, too?

II Peter 3:9

In II Peter 3:9, we read that God "is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." You say, "Yeah, but we have to look at the context: it says to us-ward. In other words, God is not willing that any of the elect perish, but that all of the elect come to repentance." But speaking of context, if we look at the whole passage, wouldn't the "us" include the scoffers and ungodly men mentioned earlier? I.e., the "us" is humanity as a whole. This is why the verse says God is "longsuffering" toward us: He puts up with such nonsense from us for so long, because He doesn't want any of us to perish, but rather, to come to repentance.

Further, if this verse meant only the elect, then the whole idea wouldn't make much sense. Pardon the silly illustration, but have you ever seen one of those doughnut factories? As a child, I loved standing at the window as we watched the doughnuts go up and down various wire conveyors, falling into cooking liquid, passing under a dripping sheet of glaze, and coming out hot and fresh. Now suppose you noticed that the bakers are exhausted, and you know they want to go home. You ask, "Why don't you just stop and go home?" They reply, "Because of the doughnuts on the conveyor; we don't want to leave them here all night to get stale." You think, Okay, that makes sense; but the bakers will be out of here in a few minutes, once the conveyor runs these final doughnuts through. But to your surprise, you notice them placing brand new doughnuts onto the conveyor; and then you see them gathering heavy bags of ingredients to make the biggest batch of dough that you've ever seen in your life, so that countless more doughnuts can go on! Suddenly, their reason doesn't make much sense anymore. The real reason for keeping the conveyor going is the host of doughnuts to come.

We have the same problem with God's reason for delaying His return, if we look at this verse through the lens of Calvinism. Why would God claim that it was to keep the elect of that day from perishing, if God had unconditionally elected a vast majority who hadn't even been born yet--in fact, whose great great grandparents hadn't been born yet? Wouldn't they be the real reason for His delay?

On the other hand, looking at this verse without the lens of Calvinism, it makes sense. God personally loved everyone in that day, and He didn't want to see any of them perish. While patiently working in their lives, more were born whom God also loved and didn't want to see perish, et cetera, et cetera, until the present day. Yes, more were born, and more perished, grieving God's heart and causing Him more pain. But God loves each of us individually (implied with the word "any"); that is, He loves each specific person--each with a name, personality, joys, sorrows, fears, and dreams--and didn't want to see him or her spend eternity in the lake of fire. And indeed, God's delay has resulted in the salvation of so many who would otherwise have died. And of course, in His foreknowledge, God knew He would hold off, and why, and thus it was part of His plan. His longsuffering will come to an end, but I am thankful it is so long.

Answering Objections

Pharaoh and Hardened Hearts

What about when God hardens hearts (e.g., Pharaoh, Exodus 9:12)? First, it seems that God does this only after we harden our own hearts first. We pick up with Pharaoh's life in the book of Exodus; but I'm sure that before this time, he had some serious rebellion issues against God. Yet even in Exodus, we see Pharaoh willingly hardening his own heart at least three times (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34). And in II Thessalonians 2:11-12, God sends strong delusion because first, they didn't believe, but rather had pleasure in sin.

In the second place, I am convinced that there is a crucial distinction when God hardens a heart. When we harden our own, that's a forbidden sin (e.g., Exodus 9:34 "sinned yet more"; Hebrews 3:8, 15; 4:7). It worsens our spiritual state. But when God hardens a heart, I think that's different. He hardens only a "double heart" by cutting away the soft manufactured fa├žade of deceit, revealing the true hard heart to the world (Proverbs 26:23-26; see also for duplicity: I Timothy 3:8; James 1:8; 4:8; Acts 2:46). This process drastically worsens their apparent condition, but it does not worsen their actual condition in the least; in fact, it might help slightly by forcing honesty. How nice it would be if we could "harden" certain politicians, in the sense of somehow forcing them to reveal their true hard heart, before they flatter their way into office. I had rather a politician say coldly at the first, "I don't care about ending abortion," than to warmly pretend that he will fight for the unborn, only to turn his back on them once he gets into power. The broken trust of a friend is worse than the open reproach of an enemy. (Psalm 55:12-14)

Third, in one sense, "hardening" is making "permanent" our spiritual condition, which will happen to us all at death. A potter can harden clay in two ways: by making it into a beautiful glaze through the kiln, or by leaving the unresponsive clay to harden in its own devices (Revelation 22:11; Romans 9:21). In other words, now is the day when clay can be molded; but after death, no one can cross the great gulf to switch sides (Luke 16:26). After much forbearance with stubborn clay, God may set it aside to harden even before death (Romans 9:22, "endured with much longsuffering"; II Thessalonians 2:10-12; Matthew 12:31). It's not unfair that God created mankind, even though He knew that most of them would never repent and would end up in hell. Nor is it unfair that He punishes man for his wickedness, even if it brings God glory in the end (Romans 3:7; 9:19-20). But none of this changes the fact that God would much rather each person had, to begin with, repented sincerely (Exodus 10:3).

Jacob and Esau

But didn't God love Jacob and hate Esau before these twins were born? (Romans 9:11-15) First, I believe the word "hate" here refers to a strong preferential choice for something else, rather than a wishing of ill on someone. For instance, Jesus says in Luke 14:26, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Of course Jesus doesn't mean that we ought to think hateful thoughts against father or mother, or to desire their demise, or anything like that. He is speaking of a love for Jesus so strong that you will choose Him even if your family shuns you. With Jacob and Esau, the words "love" and "hate" seem to be relative as well, especially taking Romans 9:12-13 together: "... it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." (The perpetual "indignation" in Malachi 1:1-5 seems to be in response to their subsequent actions of "wickedness".) On a related note, I would say that God hates the sinful flesh of the wicked yet loves their soul (Romans 5:8; 7:18 "that is"; Jude 1:23Jude 23; Psalm 11:5).

Second, I suspect this symbolizes group election. God said the twins represented two nations and two manners of people (Genesis 25:23), and I think God elected the children of faith as a group, which isn't the same as electing which individuals would have faith. For example, God asked Gideon to choose those who lapped water as they drank, which isn't the same as decreeing which individuals would lap water. (I do believe in a separate doctrine of individual election, but in that context, it is based on God's foreknowledge of our faith.)

Third, Paul emphasizes the timing of God's statement. On the one hand, it comes before the twins were born, showing that salvation cannot be of works (Romans 9:11v11); nor is it of lineage, since they were both twins of Isaac (Romans 9:10v10). But interestingly, on the other hand, God's statement comes after (even because of) a struggle between the twins in the womb (Genesis 25:22-23), which evidently was rather violent. Who knew that babies can throw feisty punches at each other before taking their first breath! This struggle represented enmity of spirit, between them individually, between their future nations, and between the children of faith in Jesus Christ and the unsaved children of the devil (compare context of Galatians 4:29). I believe God chose this precise time window because it provides the perfect picture of salvation, symbolically excluding the works of the law while preserving the willingness of spirit (cf. I Kings 14:13). The thief on the cross provides a similar picture; Jesus promised him heaven even though, nailed to the cross, he was unable to perform any good deeds to help earn it; yet he still had a willing spirit (Matthew 27:44 vs. Luke 23:39-42). Cf. Psalm 51:16-17.


In the previous post, we saw why I believe that Jesus died for everyone. In this post, we have seen why I believe the Bible clearly teaches that God loves everyone, in that He desires that they repent unto salvation. In the next post, we will see why I believe that faith comes before the new birth.

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