Question: In your Sept. 1995 Berean Call you purported to answer a question about Mt 1:21 [“He shall save his people from their sins”]. Your answer could lead one to believe (using Jn:1:29, 1 Jn:2:2, 4:14, 1 Ti 4:10 out of the context of the whole Word of God), that everyone is saved. You quoted 1 Jn:4:16, Jn:3:16-17, 2 Pt 3:9 and 1 Ti 2:4 and implied from them that God loves everyone!? I suppose then we should ignore verses like Ps:5:4, 5; Prv 8:13; Mal:1:2-4 and Rom:9:11, 13-24? If no one can understand God’s Word without the Spirit of God (1 Cor:2:14) and if Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb:12:2), how can we choose God? Romans:2:10-12 says that no one either understands or seeks God. We would all go to hell unless God chose to reveal Himself to us and to give us saving faith.
Response: Matthew:1:21 doesn’t say that Christ will save only His people from their sins, or most of us wouldn’t be saved, because “his people” refers to Israel. They were the first to be called God’s elect (Is 45:4; 65:9). Again, it is Israel whom Christ referred to as the elect in Matthew:24:31, which is not describing a post-trib Rapture of the church by Christ into heaven but the gathering by angels of all Jews back to Israel at the end of Armageddon.
That God loves all and Christ died for all obviously doesn’t mean that all are automatically saved. Salvation is for “whosoever will” (Rv 22:17; Lk 6:47) and for “whosoever believeth” (Jn:3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:35; 7:38; 1 Pt 2:6; 1 Jn:5:10, etc.). Those who are lost are separated from God eternally, not because God didn’t love them enough or Christ did not die to save them but because they refused the salvation He offered freely by His grace.
You insist that “world” refers only to the “elect” in statements such as “God so loved the world” or “sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” There is no basis for such an interpretation. Furthermore, the meaning of “all men” or “world” is undisputable in other similar verses. For example, “[Christ] is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Tm 4:10). Here the “all men” is clearly different from “those that believe” (i.e., the elect). So too with the statement that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn:2:2). There is no mistaking the fact that in addition to dying for the elect’s sins (i.e., “our sins”), Christ died “also for the sins of the whole world.” “Whole world” can only mean “whole world.” It cannot mean the elect because it is contrasted to them.
Nor does the fact that God must draw us to Himself by His Spirit negate a genuine response to that drawing on the part of those who are saved. The same is true of Christ’s statement, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (Jn:15:16). Every employer could say to his employees, “You didn’t choose me; I chose you.” That would only mean that the employee could not force the employer to hire him. It was the employer’s decision that determined the hiring. But the one hired still had to apply for the job and agree to the conditions of employment.
Likewise, we could not force Christ to save us. God must initiate and only He can consummate the transaction. However, it would be meaningless if we were incapable of responding to God’s offer of salvation and thus didn’t genuinely choose to believe in, receive, and follow Christ in response to the conviction and wooing of the Holy Spirit.
That we consented to being saved and believed in Christ is neither “work” nor anything to our credit. The drowning man who allows his rescuer to pull him to shore has nothing to boast of or take credit for nor has he played any role in his rescue. He can only be grateful to the one who saved him.