In the post entitled Tentative positions on the topics of 'Common Grace' and the 'Free Offer', I've made the statement that
God delights in repentance because it brings conformity with His Law. Therefore, to say that God likes and loves repentance does not imply that God desires the salvation of someone, although repentance would necessarily lead to salvation. As an analogy, just because person X wants to eat lots of ice-cream does not imply that he desires to be fat, although he would be fat (simplistic scenario), as his reason for so desiring is that he just loves the taste of ice-cream.
In this post, I hope to deal particularly with this statement, as it may seem counter-intuitive. Does God desires repentance but not salvation of everyone? What does the Bible say about this issue? And how does this impact how we proclaim the Gospel? Later, continuing the interaction with certain points made by Tony Byrne on an old TeamPyro blog post, we would look as to how some Reformers and Puritans tackled the issue also.
Now, when we talk about God 'desiring to save people', typically the whole issue should be placed within what is known as the preceptive will of God, or the commands of God, as in this is contained what God commands people to do. This is especially so if we are not to have anything to do with the heresy of universal or common salvific grace, and thus of necessity limit such a desire to the preceptive will of God. So then the biblical question is: Does God command people to be saved, or rather as I have contented, God commands people to repent?
A glance through the Scriptures does not seem to support the contention that God commands people to be saved. Rather, they seem to support the idea that God commands people to repent and be saved. Some passages that states this can be seen as follows:
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, (Is. 30:15)
“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Is. 45:22)
Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, (Ez. 13:22)
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. ... Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? ... Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. ... For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ez. 18:21, 23, 27, 32)
Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez. 33:11)
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, (Acts 3:19-20)
When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18)
As it can be seen, the message of salvation both in the Old Testament and the New Testament not only links repentance and salvation, but places primary importance on repentance. The message of the Gospel is even stated as "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mt. 4:17). We can even see the primary importance of repentance as seen in Acts 17: 30 where God is said to command all people everywhere to repent.
As it can be seen, the Scriptures teaches that with regards to the commands of God, God commands repentance, not salvation. Yes, God commands people to repent and be saved, but not to be saved as fiat. Since the fuit of repentance is salvation, it is thus valid to say that God desires people to repent and be saved, but not just merely 'be saved'.
God thus commands all Man to repent of their sins, and this is His preceptive will for their lives. As I have stated, theologically, this is due to the fact that repentance is a virtue God desires, in the same way that God hate rebellion, and therefore that God desires repentance has nothing to do with His desiring salvation but more because such an action is pleasing in and of itself.
That said, how should we preach the Gospel? We should not preach the Gospel like the Arminians or the Neo-Amyraldians; that God desires everybody to be saved. Rather, we should follow the Bible more closely and tell people that God desires their repentance leading to their salvation. As such, the focus should be on their need to repent rather than God's desire to save. Presented this way, the Gospel would glorify God more and be used by the Holy Spirit to bring more of His elect to Him, to the praise of His wondrous grace.
In the next post on this topc, let us look at some of the Reformers and Puritans' view on this topic.
[to be continued]