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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Does God Get What God Wants?

I was reading a book a few years ago and was challenged with a very tough question: Does God get what God wants?[1] At the time, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question. It seemed like somewhere in the Bible I had read that God wants all people to be saved, but I also held the belief that not all people will be saved. If both of these beliefs are true, then God doesn’t get what he wants.

The author of the book concluded that God does get what he wants, and since he wants all people to be saved, then all people will be saved. Of course I wanted to believe that everyone will be saved, but I couldn’t accept that answer seeing as there are numerous passages in the Bible which clearly contradict universalism.[2]

Yet, I couldn’t get this question out of my mind. It haunted me. Some of my friends encouraged me to stop wasting my time trying to answer the question. But I couldn’t. Its implications were far too great. If God gets what he wants, then we can say he’s sovereign. But if he doesn’t get what he wants, then we can’t say that he’s sovereign. This isn’t a “makes-no-difference-to-my-life” type of question. Answering this question is absolutely foundational to my understanding of the character of God. If God isn’t sovereign, if he isn’t in control of the entire universe and is incapable of doing whatever he pleases, then he’s not God and therefore is unworthy of our worship. As you can see, the implications of answering this question the way most of us would tend to answer it, that God doesn’t get what he wants because not all people will be saved, leaves us in a very difficult conundrum.

This article is the result of many hours of research, study, and heartache which led me to the belief I hold today: God gets what God wants.

God Desires All People to be Saved

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”[3] Peter also wrote in a letter to the church, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”[4] Taking these verses at face value, as I did for many years, it seemed obvious that God desired for everyone throughout all of human history to be saved. Not only was it written in the Bible, it also aligned with my beliefs.

As I began studying these passages more in-depth, I consulted the commentary in my Study Bible to see what it said. The author explained how the Greek word which was translated “all” really didn’t mean all, but meant all types of people or all of God’s chosen people. I quickly dismissed this thought with the assertion that he was twisting the Greek in order to make it conveniently fit his own theological beliefs which revolved around God choosing to save some people and not others. After all, God gives everyone a fair and equal opportunity to accept him, right?

But after all my study, I failed to arrive at an acceptable conclusion. The only conclusion I could draw was that God didn’t get what he wants, meaning that he’s not sovereign. I wasn’t willing to accept that he wasn’t sovereign, but was unable to prove otherwise. So I tabled my study for a couple years, hoping that maybe a break would eventually lead me to the answer.

God’s Chosen People

In the meantime, the Holy Spirit began one of the biggest belief shifts I’ve ever experienced. By no means did it happen overnight. And in no way was it overt that the Holy Spirit was at work. But slowly, over the course of about a year, the Holy Spirit began unveiling my eyes to clearly grasp portions of the Bible that had formerly passed right over my head. Here’s a bullet point summary of what I began to see with astounding clarity:
  • Everyone who has ever lived is a sinner through and through and there’s nothing they can personally do to escape God’s eternal punishment.
  • God chose to rescue a select group of people from this fate. This promise was originally made to a group of people who were descendants of Jacob (Israel), but after Jesus was on earth, was extended to specific people of every ethnicity around the world.
  • Jesus took the place of these people by enduring their punishment. This allowed them to be in a relationship with God.
  • God gives all of his people the gift of faith to both believe in and follow him.
  • God will accomplish all of his purpose saving those whom he has chosen to save.

I can’t even begin to tell you how hard I fought the Holy Spirit on these beliefs. I didn’t like them and didn’t want to believe them. I wanted to believe that everyone has an equal opportunity to receive salvation by faith in Jesus. After all, the Bible says, “whoever believes in him will not perish”[5] and “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[6]

But after I started reading the Bible through this new lens, I couldn’t deny what I was reading. Over and over again, I saw these same beliefs being manifested in some way or another. How had I missed this for so many years? God no longer looked like a homeless beggar pleading with us to accept him into our hearts so that he doesn’t have to send us to hell. Instead, he began to look like the sovereign King who “does all that he pleases,”[7] whose purposes cannot be thwarted,[8] and who accomplishes all of his purpose,[9] both in carrying out salvation for some and punishment for others.

When I resurrected my former study which sought to answer whether God gets what God wants, the question appeared far less challenging than it had a few years earlier. As the sovereign King of the universe, of course God gets what God wants. The Bible says so over and over again.

My Final Dilemma

Getting to this point was a very important first step. But now I was faced with the question of how God could get what he wants if not everyone gets saved who he desires to save. Wouldn’t you know it, the answer was right in front of me all along, but I was too stubborn to accept it when I first read it. The answer was found in my Study Bible’s commentary! Who was the one twisting the Greek to conveniently make it say what he wanted? Not the author of the commentary, but me!

The Greek word pantas is often translated “all” in our English Bibles. Although “all” is probably a good word choice in translation, the word pantas has nuances associated with it which get lost in the translation. Have you ever heard someone in our society say that everyone showed up to an event? What was their definition of the word “everyone?” Did they mean everyone in the entire world showed up to their event? Did they mean everyone in the United States showed up? Did they mean everyone in their city showed up? Or did they mean a lot of people showed up? The word everyone is a relative word which can mean lots of different things depending upon the context in which it’s used. The Greek word pantas is the same the way. It’s a word which can take on different meanings depending upon the context in which it’s used.

In 1 Timothy 2 when Paul said that God desires for all people to saved, he’s in the midst of a discussion on praying for a variety of different types of people, including kings and those in positions of authority. One possible definition of the word pantas is “every kind of.” Based on the other verses around it, it’s a good guess that this was Paul’s intended definition in this verse. If this was Paul's intent, then this verse does not in any way stand in contradiction to God getting what he wants.

How about 2 Peter 3? The same Greek word, pantas, is used here when Peter said, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Once again, we need to look at it in the context of the verses around it. Peter began the discussion by talking about the day of judgment for nonbelievers. Then he contrasted it with the day of judgment for believers. Based on the context, we can conclude that “all” in this verse is most likely referring to “every applicable part,” yet another way the word pantas can be translated. In this case, all the application parts would be all of God’s chosen people. This verse, then, also does not stand in contradiction to the belief that God gets what he wants.


I came away from my study more convinced than ever that God is sovereign because he always gets what he wants, even if what he wants isn’t always what we would think he wants.

Do you agree that God gets what he wants? How does your conclusion impact the way you live? What other implications naturally flow out of your conclusion?

[1] As asked by Rob Bell in his book Love Wins.
[2] For a more in-depth look at some of these passages, I’d encourage you to check out my article titled, “Will Everyone Be Saved?”
[3] 1 Timothy 2:4.
[4] 2 Peter 3:9.
[5] John 3:16.
[6] Romans 10:13.
[7] Psalm 115:3.
[8] Job 42:2.
[9] Isaiah 46:10.


  1. Matthew, take a look also at 1 John 2:2, which may also speak to this question. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

  2. Rube: Definitely a great verse and one which could appear to contradict what I've written. However, based on both the context and other usages of the Greek word holos (translated whole in English), it would appear that "whole" is not referring literally to every person in the entire world, but to mankind. To quote from my Study Bible commentary: "This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general. Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe" (John MacArthur Study Bible). Another Study Bible with commentary from a different author says something very similar: "[This] does not mean that every person will be saved, for John is clear that forgiveness of sins comes only to those who repent and believe the gospel" (Crossway ESV Study Bible). No doubt, this is hard stuff to swallow and I don't necessarily like it, yet it's what God appears to be telling us about the way he's chosen to run the universe.