Thursday, June 19, 2008

God is No Respecter of Persons

For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:11)

Over the past month or so, I have seen this verse used to defend the idea that those who haven’t heard the gospel of Jesus Christ may still be covered by the blood of Christ even though they would not have placed their faith in Christ. I have also seen this verse used as the primary Scriptural cudgel used to attack the “demonic doctrine”1 of predestination. In either occasion in my experience, when it comes down to it, the issue that is being defended is the free will of man to choose God apart from divine sovereignty.

This verse seems to be utterly debilitating to the doctrine of election if, as the King James Version puts it, “there is no respect of persons with God” means that God gives all men everywhere from all times the exact same ability and opportunity to respond to the gospel. Whereas the individuals who I have seen use this verse may not have stated their position in just this way, the issue remains the same because users of this verse for this reason hold that God would be a liar if this were untrue. And I agree, if Romans 2:11 means that all people everywhere for all time have the same opportunity and ability to respond to the gospel, then God would be called a liar if the doctrine of election were true. But is that what this verse is saying?

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is making the case that all men everywhere, in fact, have not honored God as they ought and therefore do not measure up to God’s standards. In fact, the summary of Paul’s argument up to that point is one of the most memorized verses in the New Testament,

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Paul goes into great detail as to why man is in this predicament, whether or not he’s heard the law of God before, and the end result is the same; Man falls short of God’s perfect standard and is justly under condemnation because of what we have done. And moving forward from Romans chapter three, Paul begins to unfold the great doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law or any human righteousness.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

With the general flow of the first few chapters of Romans established, we now have the perspective to look at Romans 2:11 to find out if using this verse to proclaim or defend the more Arminian understanding of the doctrine of free will. In the whole flow of the first few chapters of Romans, Paul is not addressing the issue of election or free will; he is making the case for the universal depravity of mankind. He does address these issues in detail, specifically in chapters eight and nine, but that issue has not been introduced in the first few chapters.

In the first 17 verses of chapter one, Paul gives his salutation and opens his letter with some statements concerning the gospel and the fact that it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). Paul also gives us glimpses of the gospel in chapter two when he admonishes us that it is God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience that lead the sinner to repentance (Romans 2:4). However, what Paul is saying in verse eleven is made very plain with the immediate context of that verse.

9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; (Romans 2:9-12)

Paul’s statement about God showing “no partiality” or being “no respecter of persons” (KJV) is a statement regarding God’s judgment on mankind. Furthermore, I submit that he is saying that all men stand condemned by God in this text even though verse 10 speaks of God giving a positive reward to those who do good. The reason is that in just a few lines, Paul quotes the Old Testament stating that there are none who do good, and his conclusion is that all men fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the penalty of this offense is death (6:23).

It is true that God doesn’t discriminate on account of race, gender, or social status when it comes to salvation (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). In other words, being a woman, a slave, a barbarian, or a Jew doesn’t disqualify you from the God’s promise to forgive your sins if you repent of them and trust in His son. This is not either affirming or discrediting the doctrine of election, it simply affirms that there can be (and there will be) people of every tribe, tongue, and nation in Heaven with Christ (Rev 5:9).

It is also true that Christians are not to show partiality in regards to Christian fellowship. One believer is the same as the next. James condemns showing favoritism for a rich man over a poor man in the gathering of believers. Again, we are all of equal worth in Christ Jesus, and we must not discriminate on account of social status, ethnicity, or gender when it comes to our fellowship.

In short, the truth that God is no respecter of persons is in no way related to the doctrine of election, whether you agree with that doctrine or not. This verse is explicitly talking about the universality of judgment and condemnation of mankind on account of sin. This is seen from the surrounding few verses as well as the overall argument that Paul is making in the first three chapters of Romans.

1 TheVineRhyme, “Predestination”, youtube video. 0:40 – 0:54. Uploaded on 5/21/08.

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