“When our child asks, “Daddy, does God want to save me?” the last thing you do is go to God’s Private Book, and say, “Well, I don’t know honey, because I don’t know if you are one of the elect.” Put that book down. That’s God’s Private Book. You have no right to it and there’s no benefit in it for you. Instead, pick up God’s Public Book and on the basis of 1 Timothy 2v4, say, “God wants to save you with all His heart! He doesn’t want you to perish.”
Did you hesitate? Even for a second? Then you have a warped Calvinism. And there’s lots of it around.
When our son or daughter asks that question we must be able to look them in the eye and say with all the certainty we can muster and all the passion we can summon, “Yes, my son (daughter), God wants to save you.”
Verse to prove it?
1 Timothy 2v4 which speaks of God our Savior “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Sadly this “simple” statement of profound truth has been both perverted and explained away over the years.
Perversions and Evasions
Some have used it to support universalism, the idea that God will save everyone. However, that view ignores the rest of 1 Timothy which clearly speaks of some being lost (1:13; 3:6; 4:1; 5:24; 6:9-10); it also rejects many other parts of the Bible.
Others have used the verse to deny election. They say, “If God wants to save everyone in general then He did not choose anyone in particular.” But then we have to cut out multiple verses and chapters which do teach particular and individual election (e.g. 1 Cor. 1; Rom. 9).
Then there are those who say that as the previous verses are about civil government, “saved” here means physical preservation. However, Paul goes on immediately to speak of Christ as mediator and redeemer, and in the pastorals “salvation” most commonly means deliverance from sin (1 Tim. 1:15; 2 Tim. 1:9; 3:15; Tit. 2:11).
Some Calvinists, out of a well-meant desire to honor the sovereignty of God, change the meaning of “all” to “all the elect.” They say, “If God wills the salvation of all, then all will be saved as God’s will is never thwarted. But not all are saved, so all here must mean all the elect.”
This is very logical; but is it biblical? Is it the meaning that Timothy and the church at Ephesus would have understood when the letter was being read? Would they have made all the steps of logic required to get “all” to mean “all the elect?” Would they not have taken the words in their plain and simple meaning? God desires ALL to be saved
God’s Two Books
But not all are saved, so how do we understand this text without dishonoring God and making Him look defeated in His desire and will? The answer is found in the two books of God we find in Deuteronomy 29:29:
The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever that we may do all the words of this law.
God’s Private Book contains the things that He has decreed will happen or not happen from beginning to end of time. They include all the events of tomorrow, when and how we will die, the end of the world, the names of the saved, and so on. As its name suggests, this is a private book for God’s eyes only. He has not revealed the contents, will not reveal them, and we must not enquire into them either. God keeps that book behind the counter and forbids us from trying to look into it.
God’s Public Book is what He has revealed in the Bible, which, as Moses said, is all we need to know, believe, and do. It’s on the counter, open, and available for study.
In God’s Public Book, God often expresses a desire for certain things to happen that do not actually happen because He has not written them in His Private Book. For example, God desires all people keep His moral law which does not actually happen.
God also forbids things in His Public Book which He has decreed to happen in His Private Book. For example, in the Bible God forbids betrayal and murder and expresses His desire that no one be a victim of this. Yet, in His Private Book He ordained that His Son be betrayed and murdered (Acts 2:23).
Biblical but Illogical?
This is sometimes called an antinomy, a logical contradiction that cannot be resolved. Although we cannot square them in our minds, we must hold both because both books exist and are true.
Maybe if we personalize this, it’ll become clearer. Ask yourself, “Does God want me to live a holy life or an unholy life?” His Public Book tells me that He wants me to live a holy life (1 Peter 1:16). But it doesn’t happen. Does that defeat God or take Him by surprise? No, His Private Book contains all my sins and all my successes. His Public will is “thwarted,” but His Private will never is.
Now take the question, “Does God want me to believe the Gospel?” According to God’s Public Book, “Yes” (Isa. 45:22; 55:1; Ezek. 18:23; 32; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9). But I never did it at all for 22 years and I still don’t do it perfectly or steadily. Again, no surprise to God, as His Private Book contains all my ups and downs, my faith and unbelief.
The Kiddie Question Test
Finally, back to our first question. When our child asks, “Daddy, does God want to save me?” the last thing you do is go to God’s Private Book, and say, “Well, I don’t know honey, because I don’t know if you are one of the elect.” Put that book down. That’s God’s Private Book. You have no right to it and there’s no benefit in it for you.
Instead, pick up God’s Public Book and on the basis of 1 Timothy 2v4, say, “God wants to save you with all His heart! He doesn’t want you to perish.” So, repent and believe the Gospel with the assurance that if you call on the name of the Lord, you will be saved (Rom. 10:13).
If you can’t say that, your Calvinism fatally fails the Kiddie Question Test.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.