Why Arminian Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons
I often hear the charge against those who hold to a Reformed understanding of unconditional election and effectual grace that it cannot be true because it makes God a respecter of persons.
I think it is important to face up to this charge to see if it has any validity. To do this we need to understand how the Bible uses the concept "respecter of persons" and then let it interpret itself as to what it actually means, and then determine whether or not God would be guilty of it if unconditional election were true. Below is a wide sampling of its occurrence in the Scripture:
"Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour." (Leviticus 19: 15 KJV)
"Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous." (Deuteronomy 16: 19 KJV)
"For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means,
that his banished be not expelled from him." (II Samuel 14: 14 KJV)
"Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts." (II Chronicles 19: 7 KJV)
"These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment." (Proverbs 24: 23 KJV)
"To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress." (Proverbs 28: 21 KJV)
"And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear." (I Peter 1: 17 KJV)
"God is no respecter of persons." (Acts 10: 34)
"For there is no respect of persons with God." (Romans 2: 11)
"My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors." (James 2: 1-9 KJV)
Here we have multiple instances of this phrase in both the Old and New Testament. So what are these passages talking about? They are clearly warning the believer against showing favoritism or partiality, because they declare that God Himself does not show partiality or favoritism. And. most importantly, in each of these instances it means neither we nor God give special treatment to a person because of his position, merit, wealth, influence, social standing, authority or popularity. Thus 'respecter of persons' means we are not to favor one person over the other because of ANY superior personal trait in the one favored, and likewise we are not to show prejudice toward those who lack these characteristics.
So when God unconditionally elects a person in Christ does he first determine who he will choose based on their position, wealth, good looks, influence etc? No. By definition unconditional election means unconditional. It is not conditioned on ANYTHING in us or potentially in us. God does not stand to gain from currying anyone's favor ... even those who are in high positions ... because God gave them that position, wealth, authority or social standing to begin with. The Bible unambiguously teaches, therefore, that God is no respecter of persons in election. Those who are chosen are chosen "in Christ" not because God is thinking about what he has to gain by helping them over others.. God has no need for such things, so, by definition, his choosing us cannot be tainted with such a motive.
I want you to notice, however, the last quote from the apostle James that I offered above. In the midst of his commands to be a respecter of persons it asks: "...Hath not God chosen the poor of this world?" James question is rhetorical, of course. Because yes indeed God HAS chosen the poor of the world ... i.e. those who are spiritually bankrupt who have lost all hope in themselves... S0 God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished. It is therefore not something God is looking for in people but a lack of something. So according to the Bible, showing special favor to the poor is the very antithesis of what it means to show favoritism or respect of persons. God is showing mercy to him who does not deserve mercy and the poor recognizes this fact. The Apostle Paul also says the same thing: "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." And then in the next line, Paul emphasizes God unconditional grace: "And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.". Notice Paul here even makes this a matter of boasting whether one acknowledges that salvation is of Christ alone.
Let's take this a step further: it is actually those who defend CONDITIONAL election who make God a respecter of persons. This is because, if it were true that meeting some condition prompted God's decision to elect his people then His choice of them would be based on their wisdom, prudence, sound judgment, or good sense to believe. He would therefore be looking at the character or merit of that person and choosing them because of it. The Bible, on the contrary, declares that we are all ill-deserving and, as such, God reserves the right to have mercy on whom he will, which is not based in any way on the will of the flesh (John 1:13; Rom 9:15, 16). If God is basing his election on who will have faith then this would, in fact, make God a respecter of persons because these persons are meeting God's criteria in order to be chosen.
It is most ironic that those bringing this charge are the very ones who make God a respecter of persons by making God's love and election "conditional". It is the synergist who believes God shows favoritism or partiality because it is based on whether or not that person meritoriously meets the condition God gives him. In synergism God's love for his people is not unconditional but is given only when someone meets the right condition... i.e. whether someone has faith or not. He chooses them only if they believe in him. Isn't that favoritism? This conditional love is quite different than the love we expect from parents in everyday life. Consider, do you love your children because they do something for you? No, of course not. Don't you still love them even when they do something wrong? Of course. As an example, if your child rebelled against you and made you angry then soon after ran out into oncoming traffic would you run out to save him? or would you wait until he used his own will to prove his love to you first? No as a parent who loved their child you would run out to MAKE CERTAIN your child was not hit by a car regardless of the ebbs and flows of your relationship with him. Your love for him and your choice to save him are based on unconditional love. In fact we would consider the parent who first determined the love of their child as a condition to save them most unloving and cursed.
It is important that we further draw out these every day analogies to show how unreasonable this charge against unconditional election is. Consider the very world we live in. In God's perfect wisdom and because of the fall, for His own sovereign good purposes, some people are born into better families, richer countries, healthier bodies, better times, better conditions, more intelligence, etc. Others are born into AIDS, starvation and poverty. We see these "unfair" situations all around us. Does God have nothing to do with where people are born? Did people born into starvation have any say in the matter? Frankly I do not see the Arminian shaking his fist at God for being unfair here. Yet these conditions we see in the world are there because it is part of God's judgment due to the fall. Further, everyone is born equally guilty in Adam and so it is perfectly just that not all get the same benefits in this life when they are born. If this is true of everyday life why is it such a stretch to carry the same idea into eternity? it is hypocrisy not to recognize this inconsistency.
Next, let us consider the example of Jesus himself in Scripture. Jesus chose a specific time and place to come to earth and reveal himself and not other times. He healed some and not others. He raised Lazarus, his friend, but not everyone. There were other families in the world that were just as sad as Lazarus' family...many of them just faithful, just as godly. According to human unaided reason, Jesus singling Lazarus out for resurrection this might appear to show partiality or favoritism. Jesus actually had to power to raise people from the dead and you would think that if this was the case he would help EVERY family which experienced the death of a loved on. This would not be too hard for him. But Jesus did not do so.
By defining favoritism the way Arminians do you would think that Jesus would go around healing everyone, raising everyone, and making no distinctions and divisions whatsoever. Or, you would think he would at least give everyone the choice to have their loved ones raised. But the Jesus presented in the Bible is obviously not the Jesus of Arminianism or Universalism. He's a Jesus who chooses to bring certain people to life and leave others in their own rebellion. Matt 11:27 says, "...no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
Again Jesus himself plainly teaches that he makes distinctions again in Matt 20:1-16 in the parable of Laborers in the Vineyard when He gives full wages to the laborers who worked an hour. He concludes, "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' So the last will be first, and the first last." Does this sound like the picture of God painted by Arminians.
In the end the Bible teaches that God chooses to have mercy on some ill-deserving people out of the entire mass of ill-deserving people. God is not obligated, in any sense, to save anyone because none are his children by nature, but by grace when He mercifully adopts them into his family. The others are rebelling against him and reject him, so he leaves them to their own desire. God is all wise and always conspires with his own wisdom in choosing to do what he does. By definition God's choices are always good, even if you cannot see it. If God doesn't satisfactorily explain to you the good reasons He has for what he does, do you thereby condemn Him for it? Well, most of us don't explain all the good reasons we have for what we do to our own child. Am I therefore immoral? There's several answers I could give that my child would not understand. On what basis do you think you could understand any God-justifying reason there is?
God loves his people because he loves them. Is there some better reason OUTSIDE or ABOVE God that should make him do so? The Arminian would have us think so. But to say so is to profoundly misapprehend the nature of who God is. We know God is always good, so if he wills something to be so, it is right irrespective of whether you understand.
Next, consider your own life and how you think you should treat others. Is it is okay to treat your children any differently than you neighbors or do you treat them exactly the same?
The question really is not whether God shows favorites but IN WHAT SENSE does God not show favorites because God chose Abraham out of all the people's of the earth, not because he saw something good in him, nor because he earned God's favor, but because God chose to. He saves the poor, the wretched and the sinners of the earth according to his sovereign good pleasure in Christ.