God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked

By Roger Carswell - Reading the book, ‘War and grace’ my thinking was challenged as to whether I really do believe that God’s grace is sufficient to forgive, reconcile to Himself and one day to welcome into heaven the vilest of war criminals who truly repents and believes.  Praise God, His grace is sufficient!  How do we know?  Not because Don Stephens, the author of the book, says so, but because the Bible teaches it.

If we want to know what is the heart of God, then we have to go to the Bible, where He has revealed who He is, and what are His desires.  The word of God instructs and corrects.  So we need the Bible to straighten up wayward thinking that persistently wheedles its way into the Christian consensus, becoming accepted as the norm.  This can have devastating consequences, not least, the misrepresentation of the character of God even amongst evangelical Christians.

The Christian consensus

 Let me ask you: what do the lager louts of the UK, the idol worshippers of the Far East, the savage, fear-ridden tribal members of PNG, the callous, unscrupulous business leaders of the West, our anti-God politicians, the promiscuous university student, the wealthy abortionists, the prodigal son or daughter, the unbelieving spouse, the cynical media celebrities, the warmongers, the fundamentalist atheists and the masses of people with whom we rub shoulders, have in common?  The answer: God’s passionate desire is for them each to be saved.  How do we know this?  We go to Scripture to see what God has revealed about Himself, and find that there is consistent teaching of this truth throughout. 

The Bible’s teaching

There are numerous general passages of the Bible that teach this.  Think for example of our some of our well loved texts: ‘For God so loved the world   … that whoever ….’ or ‘Come unto me all you who labour ….’  But there are also very specific verses which seem as though they were written with an intention of pre-empting any wrong teaching.

Ezekiel was a wonderful character.  Called to be a prophet by the River Chebar in Babylon, he loved and warned the people.  In 18: 23 & 32 he repeats God’s word, “‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘And not that he should turn from his ways and live?’… ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of the one who dies’ says the Lord God: ‘Therefore turn and live!’”

Then, hear the pained heart cry of the Lord Jesus, looking over His beloved city of Jerusalem – the city which would shortly scream for His crucifixion – and say, ’O Jerusalem, Jerusalem how often would I have gathered you … but you would not.’

Later, His outspoken disciple, Peter, re-iterates what he had learned from his Lord, ‘The Lord is…long suffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,’ (2 Peter 3:9).

Paul, the believer who is an example to all believers, speaks similarly in 1 Timothy 2:4 & 4:10, ‘God our Saviour desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ and ‘For to this end we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe.’  Norman Geisler says, ‘All means all, and that’s all that all means!’

This is what drove the apostle Paul.  Eavesdrop in and listen to his message to the Areopagus, “(God) gives to all life, breath and all things. And He has made us from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth … so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him …. (God) commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:25-27 & 29).

There is a teaching in evangelicalism today, which has become an attitude, that God will save those whom He wants to save.  It has led to the demise of earnest, urgent pursuing of the lost both in personal living and in public ministry.  This has diminished because as Christians we are not seeing those around us as lost, without hope, and desperately needing to hear that Jesus came to save them.  Nor are we convinced that our lips were shaped for the purpose of telling them the gospel.   

In 1 John 2:2 we read the unequivocal statement about Jesus Christ: ‘And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.’  Jesus, who died for the sins of the world, is the expression of the Father who wants to save everyone, and has entrusted the spread of the good news to His people.

Is it right to weep for the unsaved?

I have been in prayer meetings and missionary meetings where I have witnessed people weeping for the lost.  Are we to believe that these people have a greater concern for the lost than the Lord Himself?  Is their burden self-imposed and unnecessary?  I could never say to a would-be missionary, go and tell them, and those God wants to save, He will, and those He doesn’t want to save will be lost.  Let us learn to weep, weep and weep again for the plight of those outside of Christ.

Of course, we are unable to save an individual, but the Lord of the harvest has sent us into the fields which are white and ready either to reap, or to rot because they never were reaped.  We are labourers together with Him, and He works with us, that is why we both pray and proclaim.  It is only by faith in the finished work of Christ that people can be saved, so we are to preach Jesus, that those who hear may then be able to believe.

So begone the laid back, take it or leave it, lethargic approach to those around us who are lost.  A shepherd leaves the flock and goes to look for the lost sheep, the fire fighter risks everything to rescue the person trapped in a blaze, the solder deployed in Afghanistan crawls across the ground, to avoid enemy fire, to recover a friend hit by a  sniper’s bullet, and do we simply say ‘God will save those He wants to.’  The Lord Jesus came from the sheer glory of heaven to the intense suffering of the cross to save people, so how can we shun the challenge to rescue the perishing and speak to them of Jesus the Saviour? 

We must not resign ourselves to a fatalistic approach to the lost state of men and women.  WWJD? is a popular question.  Surely, He would do what He has told us to do:  ‘Go and preach to every creature’.  And He gave this command not for us to merely go through an exercise of spiritual activity, but because He desires – His will is for - every creature to be saved.   We know that, sadly, millions will not be saved, but that does not change God’s love and desire for them.  He has no delight – none whatsoever – in the death of the wicked.