God is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe? What does that mean? This is one of those verses that stops you in your tracks, and causes you to pause, then scratch your head. What exactly is the Apostle Paul talking about?
I will seek to lay out three main interpretations. There are more, and there are nuanced versions of these, but for our purposes here, let’s keep it fairly basic. I will call the three views: The Universal Savior View, The Potential Savior View, and The Actual Savior View.
The Universal Savior View
Some believe this verse is teaching universalism. Universalism is a heretical doctrine that teaches that God will ultimately save everyone and take them to heaven, without exception. It may be immediate, or it may take some time, but in the end, this doctrine teaches that no one dies and goes to hell. This might sound attractive, but it cannot be squared with Scripture whatsoever.
Matthew 25:46 (ESV)
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Revelation 20:15 (ESV)
And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
So, this perspective is thoroughly unbiblical. However, more than that, it just doesn’t make sense. According to this view, what would be the meaning of the second half of the verse – especially of those who believe? That makes no sense at all.
The Potential Savior View
This is a more popular perspective and I do believe this does fall within the bounds of orthodox theology. However, just like the Universal Savior View, I don’t agree with this one either. Some will say that God makes salvation available, and He wants to save everyone, but his plan and desire can be thwarted by the free will of man. There are a couple of reasons I find this view to be unconvincing.
One, the text doesn’t say that God makes salvation possible, rather it says that He is the Savior. He doesn’t potentially save, or make salvation available, no, He actually saves. As it says in Matthew 1:21: She [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Not might. Not try to. No, He will save them.
Two, it seems to me that according to this view, we must contribute in some form or fashion to our salvation in order for it to be effectual. Is salvation something that God does alone, or something we do with God? Is it monergistic (one working), or is it synergistic (more than one working)? I believe Scripture teaches that God is the Savior – all by Himself.
Isaiah 43:11 (ESV)
I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.
I don’t believe we contribute in any way to what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus. There’s nothing we do to contribute, or make salvation possible. It is a definite atonement, executed by God, apart from our involvement in any way. (That’s not to say, that we don’t respond to what God has done in Christ by repenting of our sins and placing our trust in Jesus. However, that is merely a response to what God has already done.)
Allow me to quote a church planter/pastor/artist. He wrote:
You’re saying the cross by itself doesn’t save, that we must do something to give the cross its power. That means, at the end of the day, the glory’s ours. (At least in part…my commentary) That man-centered thinking is not recommended, the cross will save all for whom it was intended. - Shai Linne (from the song Mission Accomplished)
The Actual Savior View
This third and final view is the perspective that has convinced me. 1 Timothy 4:10 is saying that God is the savior of all people, in one sense, and especially of those who believe, in another sense.
In the Bible, to be saved doesn’t always mean to be saved from your sins, and punishment in hell. No, sometimes the term is used in a more general sense. Remember when Jesus calmed the storm? His disciples said, “Save us Lord, we are perishing.” They weren’t asking to be saved from eternal damnation; they didn’t want to drown!
Sometimes God saves people and it is not in an eternal sense, but rather a temporal one. So, in 1 Timothy 4:10 God is the Savior (preserver, sustainer, and deliverer) of all people, as He demonstrates His mercy to all people in a temporal sense. However, to another group (those who believe) He saves them from the temporal AND the eternal – an eternal destiny in hell.
When we sin, (the "we" being referred to here is all of humanity, without exception), when we sin, God should carry out His judgment immediately. Thankfully for us though, He doesn’t. He is gracious and merciful. When He doesn’t destroy us immediately, He is actually “saving” us from what we deserve, temporarily. He is being patient with us, giving us time to repent.
Romans 2:4 (ESV)
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Every sinner deserves instant death. Everytime God withholds His rightful wrath against us, He is acting as a “Savior”, however, when one embraces Christ and what He’s done for us on the cross, God is also acting as a “Savior”, just in a different sense.
What does this mean for everyone reading this blog post? Either, you are a Christian, and God has saved you in the temporal and eternal sense. Or you are a non-Christian, and God is being patient with you, and is (even at this very moment) withholding His vengeance against you because of your sin.
As one preacher put it, “It’s as if with one hand God is motioning for man to come to Him, and with the other hand He is holding back His wrath. But there will come a day when both hands will drop.” - Paul Washer
Repent and believe today, while there’s still time.