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Please explain: Does God favor certain people?

In the world today, it seems like the worst thing you can do is show favoritism. Free market capitalists want to tear down regulations so that no company is shown any favoritism. Social justice warriors want to overthrow systems of oppression they believe show favoritism to some groups rather than others. And woe to the teachers, parents, and government officials who are caught in the act of nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism! We Westerners feel deeply that our systems of morality should in some way reflect a deep sense of fairness.

As your friends and family probe your Christian faith, one of their biggest questions you may need to answer is, “Does your God show favoritism?”

Most people quickly say, “Yes!” God shows favoritism to the good people and wants very little to do with the bad ones. The Bible seems full of God picking favorites, people like Noah, David, and Mary. God favored these individuals because they were favorable, right? The Bible says, “Noah was a righteous man” (Genesis 6:9). David was a man after God’s “own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). And we’re told straight up that Mary “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). There must have been something special about all of them that made God choose them, right?

Basically, what we think of religion is God rewarding the really good people. Those who do good things for God become his favorites. Is that true?

Here are a few useful thoughts to keep in your back pocket for conversations about Jesus.

God is so fair, it hurts

Right in the middle of giving the Israelites hundreds of laws on how to live, God said, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). To be holy means at its core to “be set apart.” God is holy. He is set apart because he is perfect and without any sin. To stay morally perfect, he can’t have anything to do with imperfection—he has to stay set apart. So he told the Israelites, “You have to be perfect too.” That’s his requirement for all people everywhere. If you want to be in the presence of God, you need to be like God. You need to be perfect.

How many people are perfect? Not one! The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). You can substitute that word glory with moral perfection or holiness. This means by nature, no one—not even Noah, David, or Mary—has what it takes to be in the presence of a holy God. The Bible makes this clear too, when it tells us of Noah’s sins of drunkenness, David’s sins of adultery and murder, and Mary calling God her Savior (Luke 1:47). Why would Mary call God her Savior if she didn’t think she needed saving?

Every human being needs Jesus, and every human being can have Jesus. Someone just needs to tell that person about Jesus.

How many sins does it take to no longer be perfect? Well, how many losses does it take to break a team’s perfect record? Just one. This is what the Bible means when it tells us, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). According to the Bible, the whole human race needs saving, because every member of the human race in some way falls short of God’s demands for perfect, ethical holiness.

It might seem shocking to think that perfect justice pushes every human outside of God’s holy presence. But when we let it sink in that God is perfect, what’s going to be most shocking is what we talk about next.

God paid for the sins of the whole world

The Bible makes it crystal clear that God is not only perfectly holy but also perfectly loving. In fact, he is love (1 John 4:16). Being the embodiment of perfect love, he extends his love to every person. Despite our imperfections, God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). This love of God moved him to do something otherwise unthinkable. A morally perfect God took us imperfect people into his perfect presence anyway.

But how? Entering our world in the person of Jesus, he lived the perfect life we could not, gave that perfect life to us, and then on the cross took the punishment that ought to have been ours. And after Jesus died for our sins, his resurrection assures us that he really is who he claimed to be. God provided a way for us to be holy and perfect through Jesus. God came to pay for the sins of all humanity.

The Bible not only tells the history of how Jesus did this for us but also overflows with different ways of describing how this life, death, and resurrection are for every human in the past, present, and future. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23,24). “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).

How, then, could God look with favor on Noah, David, and Mary? Since they trusted in what Jesus would do, God didn’t see their sins and separate himself from them. Seeing Jesus’ perfect life instead, he brought them into his presence.

Of course, if someone doesn’t want Jesus to be his Savior, that’s another story. They refused God’s solution and without Jesus won’t be saved. But this doesn’t change the fact that Jesus died for that person’s sins and the sins of every other person.

Our message to share

These two truths we’ve discussed give us a unique message to share. Jesus is like no other person. We can say two powerful truths about him.

First, Jesus is the most inclusive person in history. There is no human being for whom he did not live, die, and rise. Every human being needs Jesus, and every human being can have Jesus. Someone just needs to tell that person about Jesus. There are no qualifications: age, gender, ethnicity, IQ, or personality. There is certainly not a moral qualification: It’s for that very reason Jesus died!

At the same time, Jesus is the most exclusive person in history. He says without qualification, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God has provided only one Savior: Jesus. He’s the one who has lived, died, and risen for us. No one else has lived in your place. No one else can. Only Jesus.

We can find favoritism in every area of life because as sinful humans we are not morally perfect. Despite our best intentions, we often are not fair and play favorites. Yet there is one who does not play favorites. Jesus and his message are for all.

Author: Luke Thompson
Volume 108, Number 9
Issue: September 2021

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Luke Thompson

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