I recently had a comment on my previous post, "Man's Part in Salvation." I wrote a response, but the comments section would not accept it. Perhaps it was too long. Therefore, I have revised my response and am making it into a new post. If you read the original post and the comments, it will help put the following in context.
It is clear that many examples in Scripture are used because they help us understand difficult truth through illustrations we humans can understand. When Jesus talked about the new birth, Nicodemus came to the concept of being born again or born from above because he understood physical birth. When the Scripture says we are “dead in trespasses and sins,” we see a picture of the lost condition of the unbeliever. No example should be carried past its intent. If carried too far, it would seem to teach false doctrine, such as extrapolating to imply that the resurrection of Lazarus means lost people who die in their sins will get a second chance or that universalism is true.
As I pointed out in another post, “Scripture complements itself; it does not contradict itself. Whether we understand it or not and whether we like it or not, when someone comes to Christ for salvation, God gets all the glory, and when someone is condemned, he gets all the credit for his own condemnation.”
We can never use one Scripture to disprove another. Instead, we need to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture. When one passage seems to conflict with another, then we need to look at the massive weight of the overall teaching of the Bible and interpret the seemingly contradictory passage in light of that teaching.
2 Peter 3:9 is a prime example of this. It may well be the most misused verse in the entire Bible. So often we hear that this verse teaches that it is God’s will that all people be saved. Of course, the Scriptures make it clear that God’s will is going to be done, so if this meaning of the verse is true, then universalism must also be true. We know that not to be the case from many passages, such as Matthew 7:14. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (NASB).
In it’s proper context, we must conclude that Peter was not writing to the whole world when he said, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” He was writing to believers, as is stated in 2 Peter 1:1, “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (NASB). In other words, 2 Peter 3:9 is simply teaching that it is not God’s will that any of His own should perish, and that He is patiently waiting for all of His elect to come to Him. He is patient “toward YOU” and is not willing that any of YOU should perish. This “you” or “us” (KJV) refers to His own people – the elect.
Jesus said this very thing several times, such as in John 6:37-40. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not 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 Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (NASB). He also said, “…other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16, NASB). He had not forgotten his other sheep who would yet believe on Him.
A major point of difference relative to this discussion is the issue of “free will.” I find it interesting that so often the word “free” is put before the word “will,” and yet the Scriptures make it very clear that the will of man is anything but free, unless we rightly conclude that we are "free" to choose within the confines of our nature, which means the natural man will always choose the wrong thing. The will of man is in bondage, as Martin Luther pointed out so well in even the title of his book, The Bondage of the Will. Adam, before he became a sinner, had a free will in a way that no human has since – he was able to choose to be a sinner or not. Believers also have a type of free will – we are free to choose to submit to the Holy Spirit or submit to the old nature (Romans 7:14-21). However, unbelievers have no free will at all in these matters, and their will, by nature, surrenders to sin. They can do nothing about their lost condition. That is the massive weight of the teaching of Scripture relative to the matter of man's will.
John 3:16 is a great truth. Obviously, it is the most well-known verse in the Bible, and it is true. It does not contradict any other Scripture. It merely says that whoever believes in Christ will be saved. It does not say that all will believe, and it does not say why some believe and others do not. That is where Ephesians 2:8-9 comes in. In that passage we have reinforced for us that even the faith to believe is a gift from God. Without His grace, we would all be lost with no hope of salvation.
I once had someone tell me that “whosoever” means “everybody.” In reality, it simply means “anyone who.” Anyone who believes in Christ will have eternal life. The Bible teaches that. I certainly believe it. The problem is that no one will believe if left to their own devices. Drawing someone to Christ is God’s business, as the Bible teaches and as men like Charles Spurgeon illustrated by preaching the Gospel to all and leaving the results where they rightly belong – with the Lord.