Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

God Makes a Wish: The Free Offer of the Gospel

This is a response to an article called "God Makes a Wish," by Bob Gonzales of Reformed Baptist Seminary. The article is here: Reformed Baptist Seminary Blog

Dr. Gonzales provides exposition from the book of Deuteronomy in support of what is commonly known as the "free offer of the Gospel." In the process, he advises us to embrace paradox, keep the Biblical balance, and refrain from reading the foregone conclusions of our systematic theology into a Biblical text merely to maintain the appearance of coherence. That's great advice.

But is the "Free Offer" Biblical?

There are varying streams of thought among modern Calvinists. Some have recommended we discard the term, on the idea that the Gospel is more of a "command" to repent and believe than an "offer" of salvation. However, Scripture and good theology would seem to argue for retaining the term and all that it implies.


On one hand, there is ample Scriptural warrant for a universal Gospel call, expressions of a passionate desire in God for all people to be saved, and divine love for the reprobate:

Ezekiel 18:30-32 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Acts 17:26-31 "and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us . . . Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

Matthew 5:44-45 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Matthew 22:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling."

John 3:16 "God so loved the world . . ."

On the other hand, there is the self-evident reality that God has not decreed the salvation of every person, but has elected some to salvation:

Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Romans 8:29-30 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

John 6:65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

NOTE: You'll have to forgive me for this brief bit of proof texting. It's not as good as solid exegetical analysis, but this is a survey of the topic to show there is some Biblical warrant for my conclusions below.

Taken collectively, these verses show that what God desires is not exactly the same as what He intends. As it has been articulated by various Reformed thinkers, the "free offer" expresses God's desire for all to be saved, while the decree of election enacts His intention to save a remnant of mankind. Can a passion to save all exist side by side with a choice to save only some? Arminians would shout, "NO!" But I will take a Reformed approach and answer this question with a resounding "YES" on the following bases:

1. The Will of God. A "will" in God is not equivalent to a "will" in man. Our wills are impaired by sin, so we cannot imagine a volition that is wholly and comprehensively good. The divine will contains categories of desire and intention to which we are not privy. We are limited by non-omniscience (i.e., ignorance), non-omnipresence (i.e., spatial boundaries) , non-eternality (i.e., time boundaries) and non-omnipotence (i.e., weakness) in such a way that we can barely grasp God's omniscience, omnipresence, eternality and omnipotence. Likewise, we are limited by a fragmented will and are incapable of conceiving an all-encompassing and fully integrated volition such as that found in a transcendent and benevolent God.

2. The Glory of God. Man's salvation is subservient to God's eternal glory. God's passion to save is subject to His higher passion for revealing His glorious nature. If saving every person would provide a more thorough demonstration of God's glory, He would save all. However, according to Romans 9, there is a mystery through which God is more glorified by graciously saving some than He would be if He saved all. The reasons for this may not be readily apparent, but do we trust Him to act wisely, justly, and for our good? If we don't, we are not saved, and we will receive that which is according to our faith (or lack thereof). Those who accuse God of injustice and malevolence ironically receive justice and holy wrath. Those who trust God to extend mercy through Christ's atoning work receive mercy through Christ's atoning work.


In regard to the free offer, Reformed theologians and confessions can be quoted ad infinitum. Calvin's own words tend to affirm the idea of an offer, as this nicely balanced (and somewhat paradoxical) excerpt from his commentary on Psalm 81:13 demonstrates . . .

"If it is objected, that God in vain and without ground utters this complaint, since it was in his power to bend the stiff necks of the people, and that, when he was not pleased to do this, he had no reason to compare himself to a man deeply grieved; I answer, that he very properly makes use of this style of speaking on our account, that we may seek for the procuring cause of our misery nowhere but in ourselves. We must here beware of mingling together things which are totally different as widely different from each other as heaven is distant from the earth. God, in coming down to us by his word, and addressing his invitations to all men without exception, disappoints nobody. All who sincerely come to him are received, and find from actual experience that they were not called in vain. At the same time, we are to trace to the fountain of the secret electing purpose of God this difference, that the word enters into the heart of some, while others only hear the sound of it. And yet there is no inconsistency in his complaining, as it were, with tears, of our folly when we do not obey him.

In the invitations which he addresses to us by the external word, he shows himself to be a father; and why may he not also be understood as still representing himself under the image of a father in using this form of complaint? In Ezekiel 18:32, he declares with the strictest regard to truth, 'I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,' provided in the interpretation of the passage we candidly and dispassionately take into view the whole scope of it. God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner: How? Because he would have all men turned to himself. But it is abundantly evident, that men by their own free-will cannot turn to God, until he first change their stony hearts into hearts of flesh: yea, this renovation, as Augustine judiciously observes, is a work surpassing that of the creation itself.

Now what hinders God from bending and framing the hearts of all men equally in submission to him? Here modesty and sobriety must be observed, that instead of presuming to intrude into his incomprehensible decrees, we may rest contented with the revelation which he has made of his will in his word. There is the justest ground for saying that he wills the salvation of those to whom that language is addressed, (Isaiah 21:12,) 'Come unto me, and be ye converted.'"

Jonathan Edwards, another heavyweight theologian, likewise affirms that Christ offers Himself to sinners:

"Seeing therefore that it is so evident, that you refuse to accept of Christ as your Savior, why is Christ to be blamed that he does not save you? Christ has offered himself to be your Savior in time past, and he continues offering himself still, and you continue to reject him, and yet complain that he does not save you." (Sermon on The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners." Works, Vol 1 BOT p.676/677)

Ultimately, we must face the fact that there is a theological paradox at work here, and we may not find a human solution for it. The paradox points to a Biblical balance within which we must faithfully abide, even if we cannot fully understand it. This is an aspect of faith with which some are uncomfortable, but it is nonetheless required by Scripture.

The paradox looks something like this:

A: There is a sense in which God wills (and desires) the salvation of all people (by command or precept, i.e. His revealed will)
B: There is a sense in which God wills (and effects) the salvation of the elect only (by decree, i.e. His hidden will)

The implications of these two statements would seem to be contradictory, but both are clearly revealed in Scripture. What is not revealed, what remains a mystery, and what creates a paradox in the human mind is the exact sense in which these two statements are true. It is the sense of the statements that remains hidden in God. We must be careful not to invent senses to accommodate our theology, but leave hidden what God has left hidden. If we cannot tolerate unrevealed nuances of truth, we cannot long abide in the presence of an incomprehensible yet self-revealing God.

Some would say this "two wills" approach divides God's personality, and presents Him as a schizophrenic deity. Let's consult Frances Turretin for clarification on this point:

I. Although the will in God is only one and most simple, by which he comprehends all things by a single and most simple act so that he sees and understands all things at one glance, yet because it is occupied differently about various objects, it thus happens that in our manner of conception, it may be apprehended as manifold (not in itself and intrinsically on the part of the act of willing, but extrinsically and objectively on the part of the things willed).
II. Hence have arisen various distinctions of the will of God. The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37).

Turretin, Institutes, 1:220-225 (full text can be found here)

Turretin rightly notes that the duality of wills in God is only apparent. Without question, there IS an apparent contradiction here - but if we will be constrained by Scripture, this might be the furthest we can go in understanding how God can will what He does not choose. Rather than denying God's revealed will, let's choose to remain in the place of the creature, and leave the divine prerogatives to God.

What does all of this mean to us? Simply this: we have the privilege and blessed duty of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people everywhere. We are sent as His ambassadors to call the entire world to faith in Him. We must not fail to evangelize, discriminate amongst the unregenerate, or needlessly limit our presentation of the love of God. The following is a crude illustration, but it fits the topic.

In my High School days, there was a popular heavy metal band with a t-shirt that read: "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out." (nice, huh?) I didn't wear that shirt, but I had a crazy looking t-shirt of my own with the bold title, "Teenage Mutant Kamikaze Disciples." One of the kamikaze disciples on the shirt was yelling out, "Evangelize 'em all, and let God sort 'em out." That is a perfect summary of the free offer.

The revealed will of God is a free offer or general call of salvation for all. The unfolding decree of God is a particular and effectual calling of the elect alone. It is through the indiscriminate preaching of the cross to all people that God "sorts out" the elect and the reprobate. The direct cause of the reprobate's damnation is his own choice. The secondary cause is his non-election. The direct cause of the believer's salvation is God's choice. The secondary cause is his own choice. For the reprobate, his own choice is decisive. For the believer, God's choice is decisive. This is the Reformed doctrine of election. If we begin to argue from the standpoint of decree, against the will of God as revealed in the command, we can only do harm to the Scriptures and our own minds. This would be equivalent to removing the gas pedal from one's car and using it to break out the windows. The fact that there is a hidden will of God is contained within the revealed will. Separating out the hidden will and using it as a philosophical crow bar for the purpose of negating the free offer can only be a self-defeating exercise in futility.

Someone will ask, "What about limited atonement? Didn't Christ die only for the elect? Isn't it insincere for God to say He loves and beckons people for whom Christ did not die?" Nonsense. Within this leap of human logic lie the roots of hyper-Calvinism. We do not know who will be among the elect, so by this reasoning we're left peering into the darkness when God commands us to BE the light. The Gospel is for sinners, period. Historic Calvinists, following Calvin, concede that there are universal aspects in the atonement, and that Christ truly died for all men. The difference lies, once again, in the sense in which He died for them. If you ask 100 Calvinists, you will discover 110 views on the matter, but it's safe to say that there is NO Reformed or Biblical reason to believe that Christ did not die for all people in some sense. Let us define the sense as far as Scripture defines it - and no further! The limited aspects of the atonement must never be used as a philosophical wrench for the purpose of taking the wheels off the Gospel bus!

"When Christ died, He purchased for sinners every thing they enjoy that is not part of their condemnation." John Piper (Audio message, "Boasting Only in the Cross." Although this is omitted from the text excerpts, it can be found at 23:01 on the audio sermon. Interestingly, Piper identified this statement as the most important point of the message.)

Without denying an ounce of my Calvinism, I can (and do) affirm that God calls the entire world to Himself, offers Himself to and for the entire world, gave His Son to die for the good of all people, makes Himself available to all who will come, and grieves over those who do not come to Him. The lostness of the lost person is not owing to any lack of mercy or kindness in God, but to the sinner's own will. The eternal condemnation of the reprobate is part of Gods just response, but that does not mitigate or reduce the magnanimity of divine mercy in the slightest. It simply limits the application of that mercy, ultimately, to those who believe.

Anything less than this is a mutant alteration of Calvin's Biblical Calvinism, no matter how much supposed logic is pressed into the conclusions which are spawned. In my reading of Calvin, I find that he recognizes, consistently backs away from, and passionately warns against these logical leaps - and I believe he would sternly warn us not to stray from the truth of the Gospel through the deceptive philosophy of a twisted Calvinism which misrepresents both the reformer and the Gospel he cherished.


Note to Dissenters:

Do you believe I have misrepresented Scripture or Calvin? If so, please send me excerpts from Scripture or Calvin's writings containing direct denials that there are some universal aspects of the atonement, that the Gospel should be preached to all, that God wills the salvation of all, or that the lostness of the lost directly results from anything outside of their own choice. I'm ready to hear your arguments and retract if necessary.



1. For further study, there is an excellent article by the learned Scotsman Maurice Roberts here:

Roberts concludes: "The problem we face is this. God's revealed will appears to conflict with his secret will. God appears to desire some things which he does not decree.
We must accept that both are true. This is a paradox, or antimony. Call it an apparent contradiction even, if you will. But both are revealed in scripture. If we are challenged to reconcile the secret will and the revealed will we must simply say, "We cannot". In this life we do not know how both can be true. But the Bible informs us that both are true. God's secret will elected some from eternity and passed by others. Yet he truly and really desires all who hear the gospel to repent and believe in Christ for salvation. It is pleasing to God when they do and it affords no pleasure to God when they do not believe.
I believe we can say just a little more. God is not only sovereign, but also constitutionally good, benign and affectionate. Such a God cannot but wish the best for his immortal creatures. But for reasons we do not understand, he has seen best to decree the eternal good of only some. Yet in this life God shows sinners very much kindness and even love, both in his daily providence and, more still, by offering them life in Christ. As a good judge, when sentencing a criminal to life imprisonment or death, so God passes sentence on the wicked. He must uphold the claims of justice, but he has no pleasure in passing sentence on them. So it is, surely, with the Almighty God. He would rather send men to heaven than to hell because he is by nature and constitution benign, kind and good.
It should not therefore upset us to say that God loves all sinners. By this we do not mean that he loves them with an electing love. But there is a love and goodness in God which he expresses in this life to the reprobate who hate him.
For God to 'offer' freely and sincerely both pardon and eternal life by Christ is the very highest expression of this love in God. The 'offer' is free and it is well-meant. If some sinners reject this 'offer' their blood is on their own head. They will die in their sins; but God has no pleasure in their death."

2. Another extremely helpful resource is John Piper's article "Are There Two Wills in God?" 1580_Are_There_Two_Wills_in_God/

Piper begins thus: "My aim here 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. Great post, Derek. Piper's article "Are There Two Wills in God" is one of the most helpful things I've read on the subject. I've seen several attempts to refute it, but in my estimation they all fail.

  2. Barry,

    I truly believe these paradoxes (the two wills in particular) protect Reformed theology from morphing into the sad caricature which is too often perceived by non-Calvinists, and too often presented by Calvinists who can't tolerate the tensions inherent in Calvin's thoroughly Biblical system.

    Grace & peace,

  3. Finally getting into some controversial paradoxes eh Derek? ;-) Wish I had time to read this, looks like you did a good job.

  4. Chris,

    The post is too long, of course. Also I was admittedly weak on the Biblical foundations and there are some philosophical clarifications that should have been included. I'll be posting a follow up soon, which will be shorter and much more to the point - and much more textually focused.

    I saved the main points for the end, so if you read what's below the Turretin quote (starting with "What does all of this mean to us?") you will quickly be able to see my major conclusions. Also, the quotations included with the NOTES at the very end are well worth the read.

    With this article, I've placed myself firmly in the "Moderate Calvinist" camp. Here I stand. I believe it is the best balance of all the Biblical material, even though it's easy to attack on logical grounds. But that's why this site is called THEOparadox - the "God logic" *(i.e. SUPRA-logic) is what creates the Biblical balance and holds it together, not the human logic. Human logic alone will always destroy the inherent Biblical balance and force us Calvinists to present a God who is less loving than He says He is in His Word. By the same token, human logic forces Arminians to present a less sovereign God than Scripture reveals. I refuse to deny either His (sovereign) POWER or His (universal) LOVE, any more than I would deny His (sin-condemning) POWER or His (electing) LOVE.

    Psalm 62:11-12 NIV - "One thing God has spoken, TWO THINGS have I heard: that You, O God, are strong,and that You, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.:"

    Someday I'll present a post on this passage. This says it all.


    Let us never reduce either of these truths in the slightest, but rather uphold them both in tension. They are "one thing" to God, but "two things" to us when we hear them. Logic says "no way, Jose," but this is Bible truth and we must hold fast to it in the face of all opposition.

    This does not make me a "Cal-minian," (God forbid, me genoito, horrors, eek! [shudder]). I'm an ardent believer in sovereign grace with a Biblically balanced TULIP in one hand an a Gospel tract in the other.

  5. hey Derek,

    You say:

    "With this article, I've placed myself firmly in the "Moderate Calvinist" camp. Here I stand. I believe it is the best balance of all the Biblical material, even though it's easy to attack on logical grounds."

    Na ah, I resent that remark.
    ;-) <--smilie.

    Actually, I think the moderate position is immune to logical attack, in all seriousness. In 9 years we've not seen a sound AND valid argument that works. Here is why I think that is, the high and hyper positions all rely on logical fallacies to work, like invalid negative inferences, hasty generalization fallacies, etc.

    So if the opponents position itself relies on an invalid inference, it cannot provide a sound and valid criticism of our position. For all we have to do is point out the fallacies underlying the opponents counter.

    If I had time I could point out quite a few examples of this, but then your comments would be cluttered.

    Take care,

  6. David,

    Your point is well taken. To clarify, I'm not saying that the moderate position is illogical. Rather, I think it is "easy to attack" on logical grounds (yet hard to attack on Biblical grounds, when the exegesis is sound). And I certainly don't think it can be defeated on logical grounds.

    On the surface, the Arminian position seems most logical, and it resonates with the thinking of the natural man. But when you go deeper (Biblically speaking), the problems become apparent. On the other hand, classical Calvinism appears less tenable on the surface, yet it makes the most sense when explored further.

  7. I really like your articles Derek. They make a clear presentation and speak volumes of God's love working through your life!

  8. Nancy,

    Thanks for your kind comment. I am grateful that the Lord uses these articles for His good purposes. In a way I find it ironic and unbelievable, perhaps as Peter must have felt when his passing shadow healed the sick. "Who, me? An unschooled fisherman from Galilee - used by God to bless someone!?!? [chuckle]"



Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.