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God Is No Respecter of Persons? Dispelling the Myth That God Has Favorites

Photo of Daniel McCoyDaniel McCoy | Bio

Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He is the editorial director for Renew.org as well as an online adjunct instructor for Ozark Christian College. He has a bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). His books include the Popular Handbook of World Religions (general editor), Real Life Theology: Fuel for Effective and Faithful Disciple Making (co-general editor), Mirage: 5 Things People Want From God That Don't Exist, and The Atheist's Fatal Flaw (co-authored with Norman Geisler).

“God is no respecter of persons.” This is what the apostle Peter concluded when God led him to baptize a Gentile (a non-Jew). Samaritans (Jewish relatives) had been baptized before (Acts 8:4-25), and so had proselytes to Judaism, as was likely an Ethiopian official (Acts 8:26-40). But Peter’s baptism of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, marked the first time that someone was baptized into Christ without first coming through a form of Judaism.

In the context of Cornelius’s conversion, Peter exclaimed, “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, NIV). Or, as the KJV puts it, “God is no respecter of persons.” “Showing favoritism” and being a “respecter of persons” comes from a Greek compound word that means “taking the face” (prosopolemptes) Although we tend to judge each other based on external features such as the face, God doesn’t receive us (or not) based on how we look or any other external feature.

God doesn’t have a favorite group of people. And yet, it’s super easy to think he does.

In this article, we will look at four messages God gives us which we tend to translate into, “God must like me best.” We’re messing up the translation, however. Far from suggesting that God has favorites, these four messages actually teach us that God is “no respecter of persons.” We find these four messages in Romans 2.

Misreading the Message

In the book Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, there’s an odd clergyman named Mr. Collins. And the single Mr. Collins is convinced he’s way more of a lady’s man than he really is. Mr. Collins starts really liking Lizzy, the main character in the book. They don’t even really know each other very well; it’s just that he made her acquaintance, and he has decided that Lizzy is the woman for him. Mr. Collins just assumes that Lizzy feels the same way about him. Why not, after all?

So, Mr. Collins rather awkwardly proposes to Lizzy by saying to her, “I’ve singled you out as the companion of my future life.” And then he begins to list all the reasons why they will marry each other. Finally, she just has to interrupt him and say, basically, “Hey, you’re forgetting that I haven’t given an answer. I appreciate the offer, but my answer is no.”


“Mr. Collins rather awkwardly proposes to Lizzy by saying to her, ‘I’ve singled you out as the companion of my future life.'”


And he says, basically, “Oh, I know, I know. It’s customary for a young woman to say no, but they really mean yes. They just want to tease the men.”

And she says, basically, “No, I can’t marry you. Will not happen!”

And he says, “No, it’ll be great.”

And she says, “No.”

And then he says this: “As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”

Lizzy was trying to get across a message to Mr. Collins, and he heard her message, but he got it completely wrong.

In Romans 2, there are four messages that people hear but which most people get completely wrong. They hear the message but understand it exactly opposite of how it was meant to be taken.


“In Romans 2, there are four messages that people hear but which most people get completely wrong.”


Romans is a letter from the apostle Paul to the church in Rome. Paul is in Corinth, Greece, at this time, writing to the church in Rome, a city of around 1 million people and the capital of the empire. Paul really wants to go to Rome and meet these Christians face-to-face to encourage them and to teach them about the gospel, salvation, justification by faith, and how we are made holy. But Paul is not sure he’ll ever get to go to Rome, so he wants to make sure that, even if he never gets to go, they’ll still be able to hear these extremely important things.

Let’s look at the four messages in Romans 2 and see whether we’ve been understanding the message or just hearing what we want to hear.

Message #1 – Sinners I Know

The first message we tend to get completely wrong is the “sinners I know.”

“You, therefore, have no excuse when you pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things…” (Rom. 2:1, NIV)

When it comes to “those sinners,” what message usually forms in your mind? Nine times out of ten, when you see an obvious sinner, you are probably thinking a version of these two thoughts: “Wow, that’s a really bad person,” and, “Wow, I’m a really good person. In fact, I must be one of God’s favorites.” Compared to that person, you might very well feel saintly.

But that’s exactly the opposite message of what you’re supposed to be getting. Think about this: What’s the root of that sinner’s sin? Either the person isn’t loving God like he should, or he isn’t loving people like he should. Every sin comes down to one or the other. And when you see somebody who isn’t loving God or people like they should, is that really something that should make you say, “Wow, I’m a really good person”?


God is no respecter of persons: “When you see somebody who isn’t loving God or people like he should, is that really something that should make you say, ‘Wow, I’m a really good person’?”


Unless you’re loving God and people exactly as you should, you should probably see the sinner as more of a mirror than anything. The sinner is really just giving you an opportunity to see what it looks like when people aren’t loving God or people like they should.

The message I should get when I see sinners is this: “Wow, I really need to humble myself before God.”

Message #2 – The Life I Enjoy

Pause for a moment and consider all the ways God has blessed your life. Do you live in a free country? Do you live in a house? Do you have food to eat? Friends? Entertainment?

Unfortunately, a lot of people look at the life they enjoy and typically translate it as, “Life is good? I must be a really good person! I’m probably one of God’s favorites!” Yet what message should the life I enjoy communicate to me?

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4, NIV)

In other words, the message that God’s kindness should send me is, “Wow, I really need to humble myself before God.”


God is no respecter of persons: “The message that God’s kindness should send me is, ‘Wow, I really need to humble myself before God.’”


Meanwhile, if we don’t repent, then what’s happening all that time?

“…you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath…” (Rom. 2:5, NIV)

If we’re smart, we don’t want God’s justice against our sins. What do we want from God? Mercy. Grace. That’s why, when we think about the life we enjoy, we shouldn’t tell ourselves, “Wow! I must be one of God’s favorite people.” Instead, the truth is, “Wow, I really need to humble myself before God.”

Message #3 – The Morals I Have

We all have a sense of right and wrong. Paul tells us that we all have this sense of right and wrong even before we read God’s laws in the Bible. How? God has written his moral law on our hearts.

“…the message that God’s kindness should send me is, “Wow, I really need to humble myself before God.”…” (Rom. 2:15, NIV)


God is no respecter of persons: “The message that God’s kindness should send me is, ‘Wow, I really need to humble myself before God.’”


When people think about their ability to know right from wrong, how does that usually make them feel about themselves? Often, knowing right and wrong makes them feel superior—just as usually happens any time you feel like you know something important. Yet is just knowing right from wrong what really counts?

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” (Rom. 2:13, NIV)

Tim Keller told the following hypothetical: Imagine you have a recording device around your neck which automatically records every time you give any moral advice. It records anytime you tell anyone, “You shouldn’t do such and such. That’s wrong,” or “You should probably do such and such. It’s the right thing to do.” Then, let’s say that, come the Final Judgment, you’re standing before God, and God takes the recording device back and pushes play. Throughout your life, have you obeyed even your own moral advice consistently? Just knowing right from wrong doesn’t cut it.


God is no respecter of persons: “Throughout your life, have you obeyed even your own moral advice consistently?”


When you think about the morals you have, your sense of right and wrong, don’t say to yourself, “Wow! I must be a really good person. I must be one of God’s favorites.” Instead, the intelligent response is to say, “Wow, I really need to humble myself before God.”

Message #4 – The Scriptures I’ve Learned

We like to congratulate and even reward children for memorizing Scripture. This makes a lot of sense because 1) we want them memorizing Scripture, and 2) incentives help encourage them to do it. But somewhere along the way, it’s natural to begin believing that knowing Scripture (e.g., memorizing Scripture, reading through the Bible) is an impressive thing in itself.

Imagine a college business major who says, “Congratulate me. I have taken classes on how to do business. I have arrived. I’ve accomplished what I’m supposed to accomplish.” Now, are classes important? Absolutely! In the same way, learning the Bible is important. But by memorizing the Beatitudes or being able to list the 10 Commandments, have we accomplished what we are supposed to accomplish? Not even close.


God is no respecter of persons: “By memorizing the Beatitudes or being able to list the 10 Commandments, have we accomplished what we are supposed to accomplish?”


When we only learn the Bible, we deceive ourselves:

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22, NIV)

There is a false sense of security for the person who thinks, “Congratulate me! I know my Bible!” In Romans, Paul is writing to a church comprised of both Gentiles and Jews. He has just gotten done talking about the Gentiles (recall how Gentiles have the moral law written on their hearts). Now, he’s talking about the Jews. They don’t just have a sense of right and wrong; they have actually been taught the Bible itself, the very words of God. Because they know the Scriptures, is that a good reason to think, “Wow! I must be a really good person! I must be one of God’s favorites!”?

“…If you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will…you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?…” (Rom. 2:17-21, NIV)


God is no respecter of persons: “If you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will…you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?”


The point isn’t just to know the Scriptures…but to obey them. And this is something we all have trouble with. So, when you think about the Scriptures you’ve learned, it is not the cue to think, “Wow! I must be a really good person! God must like me more than he likes other people!” It’s your cue to say, “Wow, I really need to humble myself before God.”

Conclusion

When you think about the sinners you know, the life you enjoy, the morals you have, or the Scriptures you’ve learned, it’s not time to congratulate yourself. It’s time to humble yourself before God.

A wise person once explained the difference between dogs and cats: The dog looks at you and thinks to himself, “You feed me, you shelter me, you love me. You must be God!” The cat looks at you and thinks to himself, “You feed me, you shelter me, you love me. I must be God!”

If we take the sinners we know, the life we enjoy, the morals we have, and the Scriptures we’ve learned, the logical conclusion is that we are in trouble before God. The good news is that Jesus offers to take our sins and give us forgiveness. Jesus offers to take our brokenness and put us back together. Jesus offers to take our chains and set us free. In fact, Jesus offers to make us brand new. It’s called a “new birth” or being “born again.” If you haven’t accepted his offer of new life before, please do! Trade in your sins for his forgiveness. Trade in your past of sin for a future of glory. If you haven’t accepted him, then please stop thinking, “Wow, I must be a really good person!” Instead humble yourself before God.


“Trade in your sins for his forgiveness.”


Do you know how toddlers will often pick their nose and then hold up what they found to their mommy? And then what will the mommy often do? She’ll take it! We hand God our sins, and guess what? He takes them from us and gives us righteousness in exchange (2 Cor. 5:21).

If you have accepted Jesus’ offer to be born again, somehow it’s still easy to lapse into thinking that the sinners you know, the life you enjoy, the morals you have, and the Scriptures you’ve learned are badges making you one of God’s favorite people. But no, these things remain clues that you desperately need God. The logical response is to humble yourself before him. These aren’t cues to congratulate yourself. They are cues to thank God.