There are a number of Bible verses that are consistently misused. One of these verses is 2 Peter 3:9. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (NKJV).
This verse is often used as ammunition against what we have come to call “Calvinism,” specifically the doctrine of “unconditional election.” There are several facts that must be addressed.
First, when we read that “the Lord is not slack concerning His promise,” we must ask, “What promise?” The context indicates that the promise being referred to is the return of the Lord. Jesus made it very clear that He will come back and that He will not ever “cast out” or “lose” any who are His own, because they are the ones His Father has given to Him. Each and every one of them will come to Him for salvation, and the seeming delay in His return will give all of them time to be saved. None of them will be left out. His redeemed ones are safe and secure. This is a promise.
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:37-40, NKJV).
Second, we must determine to whom He is writing. 2 Peter 1:1 answers this very clearly: “To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (NKJV). This letter, including Chapter 3, Verse 9, was written to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. When Peter says that “…the Lord…is longsuffering toward us,” it is very obvious that the “us” (NASB and ESV say “you”) in the passage refers to those to whom He is writing. Since he is writing to believers, he is saying that the Lord is longsuffering toward all believers, all of His own, or that term that so many fear, all of “the elect.” It violates the context to suddenly shift gears and claim the passage says He is longsuffering to all the world, even though God clearly is longsuffering, or He would likely have destroyed the world a long time ago. He certainly was longsuffering in the days of Noah as the ark was being built, but when the flood came, only Noah and his family were on board. My point is that we should not use this passage incorrectly to support doctrine that is not addressed here. We must base our doctrine on the Scriptures rather than selectively finding verses to support our doctrine.
Third, we must realize that when Peter says that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,” he is not talking about the all-inclusive “all” that means every person who has ever lived or ever will live. I knew someone who was fond of saying, “All means all and that’s all all means.” There is a sense in which that is true, but in reality, it would be more accurate to say, “All means all and that’s all all means, except for when it doesn’t.” In the context of 2 Peter 3:9, this is the limited “all” that means “all of a specific group,” in this case, the group that is referred to as “us” or “…those who have obtained like precious faith with us.” God is not willing that any of that group should perish, but rather it is His will that they all come to repentance, and they all will. If the “all” in this passage means “everyone in the world,” then “everyone in the world” will be saved. That is the false doctrine of universalism. It is impossible to establish from Scripture that it is the sovereign will of God that all people will be saved, because we know that not all people will be saved. God is all-powerful, and His will is going to be done. What kind of an omnipotent God would be unable to perform His sovereign will?
Regardless of where someone stands on the issue of “Calvinism” vs. “Arminianism,” it is important to base doctrine on Scripture. I believe it is illegitimate to use 2 Peter 3:9 to say that God wants everyone to be saved, but He is somehow unable to accomplish His will. It is more accurate to let the verse say what it says: The “all” that God determines to be saved will, in fact, be saved. “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing…” (John 5:39, NKJV).
Some would say that God's electing grace is unfair and unjust, but in reality, it is a glorious truth for all believers. Not one of us can ever be lost or tossed aside. We are safe for all eternity. The truth of the matter is that without His electing grace, we would all choose condemnation because of our sinful nature, but that is another topic for another time.