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Friday, January 28, 2011

“Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad” – and “God shows no partiality.”

It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.

So says Romans 9:8-13. The verses that follow are even more explicit concerning God’s free right to choose some to bless and save and some to curse and condemn without regard to any of their own actions or anything else about them. It is a choice based entirely on God’s free will. The Bible is clear: God exercises complete freedom in election and saves whomever he wants, without anticipating any cause for his selections in the people selected. God is the prime mover in election.

The Bible is also clear about something else: God shows no partiality. He is not partial to any persons for any reason, but is completely fair and impartial. From Deuteronomy 10:17 through Colossians 3:25, God’s impartial judgment is emphasized. He judges with equity and rules with fairness. Are God’s sovereign election and his impartiality compatible?

In discussing divine predestination with a friend many years ago, I was first confronted with this dilemma. Stressing that God chooses sinners for salvation not based on anything about them—that God chooses whomever he wants—I was reminded, “But there is no partiality with God.” I stopped. In Calvinism, God is not granting equal treatment; there can be no dispute about that. It certainly gave me something to think about, and it wasn’t for a long time that I would have a satisfactory answer.

A PROBLEM JUST FOR CALVINISM?

The first thing to realize is that, when you think about it even briefly, this is not a problem for Calvinism alone. All orthodox Christians believe that God (regardless of the reasons) is not going to treat everyone alike. He is going to treat some people according to what they deserve and treat other people not according to what they deserve. The only way to get around God’s discrimination here is to teach that everyone will be condemned (which no one teaches) or that no one will be condemned (which universalists teach but Scripture doesn’t). So the difficulty stares us in the face: God is not partial in the least, but he discriminates between persons, saving some and judging others. This is equally true in Calvinist and Arminian schemes. All I would have initially have to have done for my Arminian objector is turn the tables on him.

SO… WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

Partiality in the Bible is constantly condemned. It is not only God who is to be impartial, but we as well. Under Mosaic Law, partiality was forbidden in the court of law. Verses abound prohibiting partial judgment, but most such verses are attached to a group of people. Don’t be partial to the poor. Don’t be partial to the rich. Don’t be partial to someone who bribes you. Don’t be partial to the wicked. Partiality is tied to being attracted to (either by sympathy or by being impressed or by what you’re given in return, or whatever) a certain party or group of people and, because of that, leaning toward them or treating them better, even when it isn’t just. Impartiality is a communicable attribute of God—an attribute of God that we can posses to some degree, and ought to try to. So we can be confident that God’s impartiality is the purest form of the impartiality he commands of us.

Taken this way, what it means for God to be impartial is that God will not treat anyone contrary to justice due to anything about that person that attracts the deference or pity of God or as a favor for something they can offer God. No action, no promise, no motion on your part can pull God’s favor.

BUT GOD IS FAVORABLE TO SOME PEOPLE, AND NOT EVERYONE

True. But it is not because he is partial to them. Then could it be because their works have made them deserving of salvation? If that were the case, then God’s favor would not be partiality—it would be justice. The problem is that all our so-called righteous acts are filthy before God, and the harder we try to assuage God, the further we dig ourselves into debt. But then we’re left with the same question. How does one receive favor from an impartial God if it cannot be earned?

A PROBLEM FOR ARMINIAN THEOLOGY

The answer lies in two very important things: 1) God sent his Son as a propitiation for the sins of the world so that “he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Because Jesus was a substitute who was judged in the place of God’s elect, they can be set free without an infraction of God’s perfect justice. But the question still remains: Why them? And this is the question that concerns our look at God’s impartiality. Jacob is loved, Esau is hated. Joe Schmoe is loved, Jon Doe is hated. We still have our initial partiality problem.

Here is my conclusion. Remember how partiality is defined. The reason my Arminian friend threw God’s impartial nature at me is because it seemed to contradict the Calvinist idea of unconditional election. But that’s just it. Therein lies the solution. God is NOT partial because his choice of sinners is UNCONDITIONAL. He is not attracted to his special people by anything in them or anything they do or offer in return. He chooses men and women, boys and girls, from a wide cross-section of nations, people groups, races, social classes, and backgrounds. And his choice has nothing to do with them! They cannot bribe and have not bribed God. This is strictly because God’s effectual call is a gift of free grace and “not from anything at all foreseen in mankind, nor from any power or agency in the creature” (Baptist Confession of Faith 10.2). This is why God’s unconditional election of sinners is not a show of partiality: because the recipients of his saving grace have not in any way pulled God’s favor; God has pushed it entirely on his own. They have not persuaded God, as it were, to save them over against the mass of mankind who remain unsaved.

In the final analysis, this leaves Arminian theology with the partiality problem it thought was a conundrum for Calvinism. The Arminian idea of a conditional election, an election rooted in the anticipated faith of the recipient, appears, as I see it, to pose a difficulty. It makes God partial to the faithful. You see, in Arminian theology, Jesus died for all people indiscriminately and alike, God’s prevenient grace enables any and all to accept Christ in faith, and God waits for those who respond and retroactively “predestines” those people. If this is true, if Jesus died for every single person, then what’s the difference?

It’s you.

You have effectively bought God’s favor with faith and repentance, which are not free gifts of grace, but come—in the ultimate determining sense—from within you, and, by the way, put you on higher moral ground than those around you who, though equally able (or enabled by God’s universal draw), did not accept Christ. Congratulations! You have successfully made God partial to you by bribing him with your faith and repentance.

But may it never be, for God shows no partiality.

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