My fiancee and I had an interesting discussion about God’s fore knowledge and man’s free will. I think I will be doing a series of posts on this as I suspect it will be on my mind for a while. Below is some clear thinking (in my opinion) put forward by John Piper on the subject.


Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to be Saved
Written by John Piper

My aim in this chapter is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for “all persons to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) and his will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion. A corresponding aim is to show that unconditional election therefore does not contradict biblical expressions of God’s compassion for all people, and does not nullify sincere offers of salvation to everyone who is lost among all the peoples of the world.

1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, and Ezekiel 18:23 might be called the Arminian pillar texts concerning the universal saving will of God. In 1 Timothy 2:1-4 Paul says that the reason we should pray for kings and all in high positions is that this may bring about a quiet and peaceable life which “is good, and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who wills (thelei) all persons to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In 2 Peter 3:8-9 the apostle says that the delay of the second coming of Christ is owing to the fact that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day. “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not willing (boulomenos) that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” And in Ezekiel 18:23 and 32 the Lord speaks about his heart for the perishing: “Do I indeed delight in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather in his turning from his way that he might live? . . . I do not delight ()ehephoz) in the death of the one who dies, says the Lord; so turn and live” (cf. 33:11).

It is possible that careful exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:4 would lead us to believe that “God’s willing all persons to be saved” does not refer to every individual person in the world, but rather to all sorts of persons, since the “all persons” in verse 1 may well mean groups like “kings and all in high positions” (v. 2). It is also possible that the “you” in 2 Peter 3:9 (“the Lord is longsuffering toward you, not wishing any to perish”) refers not to every person in the world but to “you” professing Christians among whom, as Adolf Schlatter says, “are people who only through repentance can attain to the grace of God and to the promised inheritance.”

Nevertheless the case for this limitation on God’s universal saving will has never been convincing to Arminians and likely will not become convincing, especially since Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11 are even less tolerant of restriction. Therefore as a hearty believer in unconditional, individual election I rejoice to affirm that God does not delight in the perishing of the impenitent, and that he has compassion on all people. My aim is to show that this is not double talk.

The assignment in this chapter is not to defend the doctrine that God chooses unconditionally whom he will save. I have tried to do that elsewhere and others do it in this book. Nevertheless I will try to make a credible case that while the Arminian pillar texts may indeed be pillars for universal love, nevertheless they are not weapons against unconditional election. If I succeed then there will be an indirect confirmation for the thesis of this book. In fact I think Arminians have erred in trying to take pillars of universal love and make them into weapons against electing grace.

Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least “two wills” in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure), etc.

Clark Pinnock refers disapprovingly to “the exceedingly paradoxical notion of two divine wills regarding salvation.” In Pinnock’s more recent volume (A Case for Arminianism) Randall Basinger argues that, “if God has decreed all events, then it must be that things cannot and should not be any different from what they are.” In other words he rejects the notion that God could decree that a thing be one way and yet teach that we should act to make it another way. He says that it is too hard “to coherently conceive of a God in which this distinction really exists”

In the same volume Fritz Guy argues that the revelation of God in Christ has brought about a “paradigm shift” in the way we should think about the love of God—namely as “more fundamental than, and prior to, justice and power.” This shift, he says, makes it possible to think about the “will of God” as “delighting more than deciding.” God’s will is not his sovereign purpose which he infallibly establishes, but rather “the desire of the lover for the beloved.” The will of God is his general intention and longing, not his effective purpose. Dr. Guy goes so far as to say, “Apart from a predestinarian presupposition, it becomes apparent that God’s ‘will’ is always (sic) to be understood in terms of intention and desire [as opposed to efficacious, sovereign purpose].”

These criticisms are not new. Jonathan Edwards wrote 250 years ago, “The Arminians ridicule the distinction between the secret and revealed will of God, or, more properly expressed, the distinction between the decree and the law of God; because we say he may decree one thing, and command another. And so, they argue, we hold a contrariety in God, as if one will of his contradicted another.”

But in spite of these criticisms the distinction stands, not because of a logical or theological deduction, but because it is inescapable in the Scriptures. The most careful exegete writing in Pinnock’s Case for Arminianism concedes the existence of two wills in God. I. Howard Marshall applies his exegetical gift to the Pastoral Epistles. Concerning 1 Timothy 2:4 he says,

To avoid all misconceptions it should be made clear at the outset that the fact that God wishes or wills that all people should be saved does not necessarily imply that all will respond to the gospel and be saved. We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will. The question at issue is not whether all will be saved but whether God has made provision in Christ for the salvation of all, provided that they believe, and without limiting the potential scope of the death of Christ merely to those whom God knows will believe.

In this chapter I would now like to undergird Marshall’s point that “we must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and [that] both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.” Perhaps the most effective way to do this is to begin by drawing attention to the way Scripture portrays God willing something in one sense which he disapproves in another sense. Then, after seeing some of the biblical evidence, we can step back and ponder how to understand this in relation to God’s saving purposes.
Illustrations of Two Wills in God
The Death of Christ

The most compelling example of God’s willing for sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin is his willing the death of his perfect, divine Son. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet in Acts 2:23 Luke says, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan (boule) and foreknowledge of God.” The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan; but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin.

Moreover Herod’s contempt for Jesus (Luke 23:11) and Pilate’s spineless expediency (Luke 23:24) and the Jews’ “Crucify! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21) and the Gentile soldiers’ mockery (Luke 23:36) were also sinful attitudes and deeds. Yet in Acts 4:27-28 Luke expresses his understanding of the sovereignty of God in these acts by recording the prayer of the Jerusalem saints:

Truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever thy hand and thy plan (boule) had predestined to take place.

Herod, Pilate, the soldiers and Jewish crowds lifted their hand to rebel against the Most High only to find that their rebellion was unwitting (sinful) service in the inscrutable designs of God.

The appalling death of Christ was the will and work of God the Father. Isaiah wrote, “We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God . . . It was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:4,10). God’s will was very much engaged in the events that brought his Son to death on the cross. God considered it “fitting to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10). Yet, as Jonathan Edwards points out, Christ’s suffering “could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer.”

It goes almost without saying that God wills obedience to his moral law, and that he wills this in a way that can be rejected by many. This is evident from numerous texts: “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will (thelema) of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). “The one who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). The “will of God” in these texts is the revealed, moral instruction of the Old and New Testaments, which proscribes sin.

Therefore we know it was not the “will of God” that Judas and Pilate and Herod and the Gentile soldiers and the Jewish crowds disobey the moral law of God by sinning in delivering Jesus up to be crucified. But we also know that it was the will of God that this come to pass. Therefore we know that God in some sense wills what he does not will in another sense. I. Howard Marshall’s statement is confirmed by the death of Jesus: “We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen.”
The War Against the Lamb

There are two reasons that we turn next to Revelation 17:16-17. One is that the war against the Son of God, which reached its sinful climax at the cross comes to final consummation in a way that confirms what we have seen about the will of God. The other reason is that this text reveals John’s understanding of God’s active involvement in fulfilling prophecies whose fulfillment involves sinning. John sees a vision of some final events of history:

And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled (Revelation 17:16-17).

Without going into all the details of this passage, the relevant matter is clear. The beast “comes out of the abyss” (Revelation 17:8). He is the personification of evil and rebellion against God. The ten horns are ten kings (v. 12) and they “wage war against the Lamb” (v. 14).

Waging war against the Lamb is sin and sin is contrary to the will of God. Nevertheless the angel says (literally), “God gave into their [the ten kings’] hearts to do his will, and to perform one will, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (v. 17). Therefore God willed (in one sense) to influence the hearts of the ten kings so that they would do what is against his will (in another sense).

Moreover God did this in fulfillment of prophetic words. The ten kings will collaborate with the beast “until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (v. 17). This implies something crucial about John’s understanding of the fulfillment of “the prophesies leading up to the overthrow of Antichrist.” It implies that (at least in John’s view) God’s prophecies are not mere predictions which God knows will happen, but rather are divine intentions which he makes sure will happen. We know this because verse 17 says that God is acting to see to it that the ten kings make league with the beast “until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” John is exulting not in the marvelous foreknowledge of God to predict a bad event. Rather he is exulting in the marvelous sovereignty of God to make sure that the bad event comes about. Fulfilled prophecy, in John’s mind, is not only prediction, but also promised performance.

This is important because John tells us in his Gospel that there are Old Testament prophecies of events surrounding the death of Christ that involve sin. This means that God intends to bring about events that involve things he forbids. These events include Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (John 13:18; Psalm 41:9), the hatred Jesus received from his enemies (John 15:25; Psalm 69:4; 35:19), the casting of lots for Jesus’ clothing (John 19:24; Psalm 22:18), and the piercing of Jesus’ side (John 19:36-37; Exodus 12:46; Psalm 34:20; Zechariah 12:10). John expresses his theology of God’s sovereignty with the words, “These things happened in order that the scripture be fulfilled.” In other words the events were not a coincidence that God merely foresaw, but a plan which God purposed to bring about. Thus again we find the words of I. Howard Marshall confirmed: “We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen.”
The Hardening Work of God

Another evidence to demonstrate God’s willing a state of affairs in one sense that he disapproves in another sense is the testimony of Scripture that God wills to harden some men’s hearts so that they become obstinate in sinful behavior which God disapproves.

The most well known example is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. In Exodus 8:1 the Lord says to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”‘” In other words God’s command, that is, his will, is that Pharaoh let the Israelites go. Nevertheless from the start he also willed that Pharaoh not let the Israelites go. In Exodus 4:21 God says to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” At one point Pharaoh himself acknowledges that his unwillingness to let the people go is sin: “Now therefore forgive, I pray, my sin” (Exodus 10:17). Thus what we see is that God commands that Pharaoh do a thing which God himself wills not to allow. The good thing that God commands he prevents. And the thing he brings about involves sin.

Some have tried to avoid this implication by pointing out that during the first five plagues the text does not say explicitly that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart but that it “was hardened” (Exodus 7:22; 8:19; 9:7) or that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15,32), and that only in the sixth plague does it say explicitly “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:4). For example R.T. Forster and V.P. Marston say that only from the sixth plague on God gave Pharaoh “supernatural strength to continue with his evil path of rebellion”


For the rest of the article go HERE.