Author: Ron Graham
Grace and All Humanity
—Are All People Saved? (1Timothy 4:10)
In 1st Timothy 4:10 Paul says, "...We trust in the living God who is the Saviour of all people, especially those who have faith". Does this mean that God’s grace makes faith unnecessary for salvation? Does it mean that everyone will be saved, even unbelievers, and no soul shall be lost?
1 A Harmonius sense
—with regard to all scripture.
1Timothy 4:10 must be interpreted and understood in a sense that harmonises with all other scripture. This is true of any verse or passage in scripture. If we impose a meaning on a verse that makes it contradict other verses, then we have misinterpreted the verse. The Bible does not contradict itself.
When the Bible seems to teach one thing in one place, and the opposite in another place, we must discover the harmony. But people of opposite persuasions will often have a duel of words. They fire proof texts at each other. They should rather be sitting down together and trying to “harmonise” the scriptures. They should bend their teaching to the Bible, not bend the Bible to their teaching. But instead...
One person quotes, "God is the Saviour of all mankind" (1Timothy 4:10) and interprets it to mean that every person will be saved, even unbelievers. Another person quotes back, "Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15) and interprets it to mean the opposite.
So the first person quotes another text, "Christ himself is the atonement for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world" (1John 1:1-2). The second person fires right back, "The one who believes and is baptised shall be saved; the one who does not believe shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16). And so
You can see that these two duelling teachers are pitting the Bible against itself. One quotes verses that appear to say that God saves the whole world. The other quotes verses that appear to say some people will be damned. That's not the way to go. Rather all the verses should be considered together, interpreted to complement each other. We need to find in what sense both statements can be true.
2 A Universal Sense
—with regard to all people.
Looking at 1 Timothy 4:10, it may give the impression that all people will be saved, because it reads, "God is the Saviour of all people". Paul adds the qualifying phrase, "especially believers" but there must be a real and fundamental sense in which God is everyone’s Saviour.
Can God be everyone’s Saviour if not everyone is saved? The answer must be yes, because plenty of places in the Bible say not everyone will be saved. For example the Bible says that some "will go away into everlasting punishment but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46).
If God is the Saviour of all people, how can it be that some will go away into eternal punishment? If some are not saved, in what sense is God the Saviour of all?
The sense in which God is everyone’s Saviour is that God does not play favourites. He favours all people equally. He sends the sun and the rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). If he does not withold the rain, why would he withold salvation? There is no partiality with God (Romans 2:11).
God provides the way of salvation for all. He sent his Son to die for all without exception. His grace is his gift to all people. In this sense he is the Saviour of all. If the Lord makes salvation available to you, he is your Saviour whether or not you take advantage.
To illustrate, I live in an area where the local council provides a rubbish removal service. Every Wednesday night we put our full rubbish bin out on the street. Next morning early, a truck comes along, empties the bin, and takes the rubbish away for disposal. The contractor is the rubbish collector for the whole town. Does that mean everyone’s rubbish is collected by their rubbish collector? No, because there will be people in town who don't put out their bin. But the contractor is still their rubbish collector nevertheless. They just didn't take advantage of the service.
God’s plan of salvation provides the way for anyone to be saved. Therefore God is everyone’s Saviour. Not everyone will embrace the plan, but that does not cancel or limit the plan. It remains God’s plan of salvation for all people no matter how few take advantage —"it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16).
In this plan, God is the only Saviour through his Son. This plan is for all people. So in that sense, God is the Saviour of all people.
3 A Special Sense
—with regard to believers.
Now as we have mentioned, Paul qualifies his statement that God is the Saviour of all people. "...We trust in the living God who is the Saviour of all people, especially those who have faith" (1Timothy 4:10).
Paul’s added words "...especially those who have faith" show that there is a special sense in which God is the Saviour of believers. He is not, in this sense, the Saviour of all people but only of those who have faith —the believers. So we must ascertain in what sense he is their Saviour especially.
Theories of Special Salvation
Those who hold that everyone will be saved have to provide a special salvation of believers over and above the general salvation of all people.
- Some say believers won't have to await the Judgment and will go straight to heaven.
- Others say believers will have extra rewards and privileges in heaven that those who did not believe will not enjoy.
- Still others say that there will be punishment for unbelievers to endure, but after that they will enter heaven, whereas believers will escape that punishment.
- There may be other theories as well.
What Really is Special About Believers
If we understand the sense in which God is the Saviour of all, then none of those theories about special salvation is necessary. It will be obvious what is special about those who believe: On one hand, everyone can be saved; on the other hand, believers in Christ have been saved. There's a big difference between “can be” and “have been”.
Paul said to the Christians at Ephesus, "By grace you have been saved through faith. You haven't done this by yourselves. It is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
God was more especially their Saviour because he had accomplished their salvation. God was the Saviour of all the people in Ephesus because he was willing and able to save them all. But he was especially the Saviour of the believers in Ephesus. Paul states this special sense as follows:
"You also heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. You believed in Christ. Then, in him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance toward its redemption as our acquired possession. All this is to the praise of Christ’s glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14).
That's what makes believers special. So now we understand what Paul means when he says, "...We trust in the living God who is the Saviour of all people, especially those who have faith" (1Timothy 4:10).
There are not different grades of salvation, but rather one salvation offered to all. God is the Saviour of all by providing the means of salvation. He is especially the Saviour of those who have received that salvation, that very special gift!
1Timothy 4:10 means that God is willing and able to save everyone. He has already saved those who have faith and are faithful to him.
Something to think about...
Favour from God is Universal,
Faith is Essential,
Forgiveness is Conditional