God is Impartial: He has no Favorites
We all hate the word favoritism. And we resent those who are picked as favorites—in school, at work, or anywhere else. Why? Because we instinctively know that favoritism is unfair. The Bible teaches that God is impartial to all and that he shows no favoritism. So, if that’s true, why were the Israelites his “chosen people?” And how does this conform to the fact that only those who believe the gospel are saved? This article will answer these questions.
What does it mean that God doesn’t show favoritism or partiality? Let’s first start by making sure we understand the meaning of these words. Their standard definitions are as follows:
Partiality is unfair bias in favor of one thing or person.
Favoritism is giving preferential treatment to a person or group at the expense of others.
A good God would be impartial
Most people believe that if God is good, he could never show bias or favor to one person over another. He would offer his blessings to all regardless of their race, nationality, or background. Although some theologians don’t accept this, it makes sense to the average person.
Jesus stressed that God is good and that he extends his physical blessings to all:
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)
He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)
God’s impartiality in Scripture
The impartiality of God is a frequent theme in both Old and New testaments. God is described as an impartial judge in the Old Testament, judging the world in righteousness:
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. (Deuteronomy 10:17)
He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity. (Psalm 9:8)
God’s judgments are based on his moral laws, which apply to everyone equally. If God favored some over others, how could he judge the world? So, he is impartial in applying the laws, and this impartiality guarantees that his judgments are fair and just. The apostles recognized the importance of God’s impartiality. In their teaching, they stressed God’s fairness and justice.
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:17)
We are to be like God and not show partiality
Since God is impartial, he also expects his people to be impartial in their treatment of others. God commanded the ancient Israelites to judge fairly. This applied especially in their courts of law, where people depended on fair treatment.
‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19:15)
Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. (Deuteronomy 1:17)
In the ancient world, as in much of today’s world, the rich and powerful had an upper hand in legal disputes, where bribes could tip the judge’s hand. But God despised this.
Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. (Deuteronomy 16:19)
New Testament teachings
In the early church, the apostles taught the believers not to favor one type of person over another. They were to treat rich, poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile equally with the same love and respect. James had much to say about impartiality:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. (James 2:1)
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers (James 2:8-9)
James also affirmed that that impartiality is one of the characteristics of true spiritual wisdom (James 3:17). Paul warned slave owners that everyone is equal before God, and that God doesn’t mistreat anyone, so they should not either.
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:9)
Paul was reminding us that the rich and powerful have no advantage before God. They will be judged on the same basis as everyone.
As believers, we are not to treat a rich person differently than a poor person, a person with dark skin differently than a person with light skin, a good-looking person different than one who is not. We shouldn’t favor someone in a dispute because they are a woman or be stricter or harsher with a man, or vice-versa. We are not to adopt the biases of the world around us, regardless of the social or political trends. Those whom the world unfairly “protects” at the expense of others have no advantage with God. In fact, he condemns favoring or protecting one class or race of people at the expense of others.
God’s Impartiality in the Gospel Message
If God is truly impartial, then in the spiritual realm this means he offers his spiritual blessings to all. On one occasion Jesus told his disciples:
What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. (Matthew 10:27)
Jesus’ last instructions to his disciples was to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). They were not to be selective, but everyone was to be allowed to hear, from every nation. So, the believer’s witness for the gospel is to be totally without partiality.
God’s impartiality is actually imbedded in the gospel message, because Christ died for all. His sacrifice was God’s sufficient provision to atone or pay for the sins of all humanity. This is the meaning of atonement. God offers to all these spiritual blessings through Christ without partiality. The offer of salvation is provided free to all, regardless.
Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone is automatically forgiven. We still must all enter by the same door—the door provided by God that leads to salvation. His death is God’s provision for whoever believes. But the atonement isn’t effective in our lives unless we turn to God in repentance and faith. All who come into the kingdom of God—rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile—come in by the same means: repentance and faith. No one gets in because of their status, race, upbringing, good looks, or gender.
God doesn’t forgive people who don’t repent. If God required repentance of some but not of others, that would also be favoritism.
God’s grace doesn’t favor some over others
Because God is gracious, there’s plenty of his grace to go around for everyone. But there’s a popular definition of the word grace—undeserved favor—which confuses the meaning. To some, this means that in granting salvation and forgiveness, God discriminately “favors” some over others. In other words, he only extends his grace toward those he has chosen for salvation. But this definition directly conflicts with the fact that God does not show favoritism.
Peter’s lesson in favoritism
Acts chapter 10 records the story of how apostle Peter learned the lesson of God’s impartiality. He was fasting and praying one day, and during his time, God gave him a vision of both clean and unclean animals being let down on a large sheet. God then told Peter to get up, kill and eat. Peter protested that he would never eat an animal identified as unclean by the Law, but God reaffirmed the command three times. Immediately a Gentile (non-Jew) with a message for Peter came from the house of Cornelius. The message was an invitation to come to preach to Cornelius’ household. Peter agreed and after he arrived, the whole house of Gentiles was waiting and hungry for God’s Word. So, Peter shared the gospel message, and the Gentiles readily believed it when they heard it.
Before this happened, Peter had thought the good news of Christ was only for the Jews. But Peter then realized that God didn’t favor Jewish people over Gentiles just because they were Jews. God specifically led Peter to Cornelius’ house to teach him that lesson, and to open the door for the Gentiles to come to faith.
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)
After seeing the Gentiles respond to the gospel, Peter finally realized that God doesn’t have favorites. He now knew that God accepts anyone who fears him, who seeks him and calls on him in repentance and faith, regardless of their nation, tribe, or language.
Why did God choose Israel?
If it is true that God is impartial, then why is Israel called his “chosen nation?” Many people see God’s choice of Israel as favoritism. Why did he choose Israel? The answer is that God chose the Israelites to fulfill a purpose. They were given a responsibility: to share God’s spiritual blessings with the rest of the world. They were to be the means of distributing them as far and wide as possible. As God promised to Abraham:
“…all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).
The Israelites were not to hoard God’s blessings and keep them to themselves. They were to share them with the rest of the world. So, God’s intention was to show generosity, which is the opposite of partiality. But as we saw, they didn’t fulfill this obligation, but kept the blessings to themselves and excluded the Gentiles. This fact appears to lead some people to conclude that God’s choice of Israel was favoritism. But that was not God’s intent.
God’s choice of Israel wasn’t a choice unto salvation. He selected the nation as a whole to fulfill a purpose. But not every individual Israelite was truly saved, but only those who repented and believed in the true God. Many Israelites rebelled against God and thus proved they were not God’s true children.
So, the Jews had no preferred position above anyone else when it comes to being forgiven and accepted by God. The apostle Paul also recognized this truth:
But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:8-11)
If all Jews were automatically accepted by God just for being Jewish, then that would clearly be favoritism. Although many Jews believed this, Paul knew it wasn’t true.
Did Christ show favoritism in choosing his disciples?
Jesus told his disciples:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit… (John 15:16)
This is another stumbling block to some people. If God is impartial, why did Christ choose his disciples? Isn’t this a clear case of partiality?
No, it’s not. Looking at this verse in context, he’s not referring to salvation, but to bearing fruit in ministry. Christ chose them to carry out an assignment—he gave them a commission. They were his emissaries, his trusted messengers sent to spread the message of salvation as far and wide as possible. It’s like a coach choosing what players will play in the game and at what times.
Christ chose them, not to exclude others, but to include as many people as possible to hear the gospel. The goal was for as many as possible to hear the message to give them an opportunity to repent and believe. So again, it was the opposite of partiality. Christ’s intent was to spread God’s generosity and grace. The disciples were just the messengers. But when we confuse God’s choice of the messengers with God choosing who will be blessed or saved by the message, then we will wrongly see God as partial and biased.
The Apostle Paul realized he was appointed to serve Christ. He wrote:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief…. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 12-13,16)
Paul was chosen to demonstrate God’s mercy. It was Jesus’ persecutors that excluded God’s blessings from the Gentiles. The Jewish religious leaders came to hate the Gentiles, anyone else who was not Jewish by birth.
Favoritism is always at someone else’s expense. But God’s sovereign choice of some people for certain roles in his service is never at anyone else’s expense. It is always for the benefit and blessing of others. It adds to the blessing of the gospel by extending it and making it go farther, expanding God’s kingdom, not diminishing it. For this reason, it is not partiality or favoritism.
God’s impartiality in saving
The most important implication of God’s impartiality is that God is impartial with salvation. He doesn’t arbitrarily choose some to salvation and others not. That would clearly be partiality.
But if that’s true, then why are God’s people called “the elect” or “chosen” in the Bible? We can’t do a complete study of this topic in this short article. But New Testament references to “election” and “chosen” are mostly to God’s people as a group, and not to individuals. A good example is the following verse:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)
In this passage Peter compares believers in Christ to Israel, God’s chosen nation. It could be said that we believers are the “new Israel.” And what is the purpose of this new nation? It’s the same purpose that Israel had. He chose us as his “nation” so we would declare his praises and to be witnesses to his greatness and glory. This is our priestly duty, as we are a “royal priesthood.” In other words, we are to represent God to the world and to spread the knowledge of God to the greatest extent possible. So again, it’s not favoritism—it’s the opposite of favoritism.
The gospel message is good news
The basic gospel message rings true throughout church history, that:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The emphasis has always been on “whoever.” God doesn’t exclude anyone from the opportunity to be saved. It’s the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
So, the gospel is good news to everyone. It’s not good news just to some but not to others. Once we know that the message was intended for everyone, then no one can accuse God of partiality for choosing his messengers. God chose those who would carry that message, and he has the right to do so. But the messengers are not the only intended recipients of the message. If that were not the case, only the messengers could be saved!
How does this affect us?
Do you believe God favors and is partial to some people over others? Then, you have been taught a falsehood. Know that our Creator is just, fair, and impartial to all he created in his image.
I hope this answers your questions about this. May God grant you the grace to treat others as God treats them. And may this truth allow you to go into the world with confidence and share the greatest of news: Christ’s death paid the price for the sins of the whole world, and God’s impartiality extends to all. Most importantly, he offers his blessings of forgiveness and abundant life to all who would turn to him and call on his name.
Recommended reading: Flowers, Leighton, God’s Provision for All: A Defense of God’s Goodness, Trinity Academic Press, Kindle Edition.
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