What does it mean that God is not a respecter of persons?
If God is no respecter of persons does this mean that He looks NOT at who the person is (if he is a Christian or not, baptized believer or not, gay or straight, Buddhist or Muslim, rich or poor, criminal, drug addict, etc.) but looks at the heart, the purity & goodness, or the wickedness of it? Who goes to heaven?
Acts 10:34 tells us that God is not a respecter of persons.
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons . . .” Acts 10:34 (KJV)
The Greek word that is translated as “respecter” is prosopolemptes. It means “to show favoritism.” Therefore, what does it mean that God does not show favoritism? In some Bibles the word “partial” is used instead of “respecter.” That communicates the same idea. God is not partial or we could say God is impartial in His dealings with people.
Principle of Impartiality
When we see the word impartial in the Bible, it is easy for us to assume that the word means people should be treated equally. But a careful examination of the principle of impartiality in the Bible does not teach us that everyone should be treated equally. Instead we learn that everyone is to be treated identically according to a divine standard or principle. The book of Proverbs provides an excellent example of the meaning of biblical impartiality.
These also are sayings of the wise.
To show partiality in judgment is not good.
He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,”
Peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him;
But to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight,
And a good blessing will come upon them
He kisses the lips
Who gives a right answer. Proverbs 24:23-26 (NASB)
Notice that one who is partial is someone who states that the wicked are actually righteous people. That is, they ignore what God says about our behavior. Righteous people obey God’s precepts and laws and the wicked do not. This proverb reveals that people were being partial at the time it was written. People were ignoring the truth in favor of the wicked. That is, they were being partial. They honored the wicked as if they were godly individuals. We still see this occurring in our world today. Next, we discover that someone who rebukes the wicked will be a delight to others and blessing will come to them. That is, the principle of impartiality means that we hold to biblical principles regardless of circumstances and persons. We are impartial in our judgments and in our statements. That is, we say sin is sin, the wicked are wicked and the godly are godly.
First Illustration of Impartiality
In the New Testament, we find four illustrations of God’s impartiality. The first illustration starts in Acts 10:34 where the apostle Peter states that God is not partial in salvation. That is, God offers salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. He is not the God of the Jews only.
Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” Acts 10:34-35 (NASB)
A few verses later in Acts 10:43 the apostle says that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be forgiven their sins. This is a great promise for the one who believes in Jesus, because then there is no fear on judgment day he or she will be sent to hell or the Lake of Fire. One who is forgiven their sins is called a Christian. God tells us that there are only two types of people: the wicked, who are going to hell, and Christians, who are going to heaven. This not a subjective decision but an objective decision. Christians are those who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins and returned to life three days later (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) are repentant over their sins (Luke 5:32; Acts 11:18) and have turned their life over to God (Romans 10:9-10).
Second Illustration of Impartiality
The second illustration is that God will be impartial on Judgment Day. This illustration starts in Romans 2:4. We are told that God will judge the unrepentant and everyone who does not obey the truth, but He will give glory, honor and peace to those who do good. That is, God will call the wicked, wicked, and call sin, sin. Then we are told,
For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:11 (NASB)
Third Illustration of Impartiality
The third illustration starts in Colossians 3:23. In that verse we are told that slaves are to do their work as unto the Lord rather than to men because they will receive the reward of inheritance from God. Then we are told,
For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. Colossians 3:25 (NASB)
The message is that God evaluates our conduct without partiality. He does not evaluate us on some subjective standard or because He likes us or hates us. He does not give preference to the rich, famous and powerful. In Revelation 20:12 we are told,
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. Revelation 20:12 (NASB)
Notice, God says that the great and small will stand before Him on the Day of Judgment. There will not be any exceptions. It is important to note that this judgment is for non-Christians only. The evaluation of their works is designed to demonstrate that they deserve hell or the Lake of Fire. Christians will also be judged according to 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, but this judgement is one resulting in rewards for good behavior. Please see the study on Bema Seat – Judgment of Christians for more information.
Fourth Illustration of Impartiality
The final illustration that we will look at is in 1 Peter 1:17. The message is a repeat of the last two illustrations.
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth . . . 1 Peter 1:17 (NASB)
When scripture tells us that God is impartial, it means that He does not bend or ignore His standards for certain individuals. A common experience in every country is that the rich, powerful and politically connected are favored, but the common person is not. The rich and famous escape prison but not the average person. But that is not true with God. God impartially saves everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. They do not have to do any good works in order to go to heaven. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone and in Christ alone.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)
We have explained that when the Bible says God is not a respecter of persons, this means He does not ignore or change His standards for anyone. The Bible teaches that God knows our thoughts and, consequently, our hearts (Proverbs 15:11; 21:2; Matthew 9:4; Mark 2:8). From a human perspective, this is bad news since God has a standard that every person must satisfy in order to go to heaven. We cannot deceive God.
God Knows Everything About You
Luke 16:15 warns us that God knows our hearts and God has a different standard for behavior than we do.
And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. Luke 16:15 (NASB)
In Matthew 12:36 Jesus warns us that on judgment day God will judge every careless word,
But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. Matthew 12:36 (NASB)
In Revelation 20:13, we are told that God will judge our every deed.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Revelation 20:13 (NASB)
Therefore, we have discovered that God knows our thoughts and hearts. As a result, He can and will judge our motives (James 2:4), words and deeds. No one can hide from God. Matthew 6:6 says that God sees everything that is done in secret. There is no escape. This is bad news if you are trying to make God think you are a good person.
God’s Standard – Believe We Are Not Good People
What is worse is that Jesus tells us that only God is good.
There is only One who is good . . . Matthew 19:16 (NASB)
Contrary to the view of so many people, this means no human is a good person. Listen to Jesus’ words on another occasion.
Therefore, I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. John 8:24 (NASB)
Jesus clearly tells us that we are all sinners. Jesus repeats this truth in John 8:34-35. This is the first standard that a person must accept.
God’s Standard – We Must Jesus is God
The Greek text of the phrase “I am He” in John 8:24 does not include the word “He.” Therefore, a better translation of the verse would not include the word “He.” The Greek test is just ego eimi. That is, Jesus said He is the great I AM or God (see Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58). Here Jesus tells us that we are all sinners and unless we believe that Jesus is God, we will die in our sins. That is, we are spiritually dead and going to hell. This is the second standard every person must satisfy in order to go to heaven. Every person must believe that Jesus told the truth when He repeatedly said that He was God (John 1:1-2, 14; 5:18; John 8:58; 10:31-33).
God’s Standard – We Must Believe in Jesus
We must also believe that Jesus Christ 1) died for our sins on a cross and 2) returned to life three days later (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you . . . unless you believed in vain . . . For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 (ESV)
Notice that the passage says one can believe in vain. That is, someone can believe in Christ but their “belief” does not result in eternal life. This reveals that there are two kinds of faith – real faith and empty faith. Therefore, let’s discover what is true or real faith.
God’s Standard – We Must Repent of Our Sins
The third standard that we must satisfy in order to go to heaven or have eternal life is that we must be repentant of our sins. This is a characteristic of true faith.
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:32 (NASB)
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent . . . Acts 17:30 (ESV)
We already know that Jesus is God, He knows our hearts, and will judge each person equally against His absolute standards. Since there are no exceptions, this truth should cause fear because we are sinners headed for hell. Luke 5:32 and Acts 17:30 reveal that God commands us to repent or be sorrowful because of our sins and want to be changed. True faith results in sorrow over our sins.
God’s Standard – We Must Submit to Christ
The elements of true faith in Jesus Christ means that we believe 1) Jesus is God, 2) He died for our sins on a cross, 3) returned to life three days later. Consequently, true faith results in repentance over sins (Luke 5:32; Acts 17:30) and a willingness to turn one’s life over to God (Romans 10:9-10).
. . . that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Romans 10:9 (NASB)
God’s Standard – Who Goes to Heaven
God considers Christians a special group of people because they have believed in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Yet, in John 6:65, 44, 37; Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:3-8 we are told that God predestined or chose some to become Christians. This was an act of love by God because we would not have come to Him on our own (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:10-12). In Romans 8:15-17 and Ephesians 1:5 Christians are told that God has adopted them as family members. That is, God has chosen some to be Christians. Then in John 3:16 we are told that anyone who believes will never perish and are promised eternal life. Also, 1 John 3:23 reveals that everyone is commanded to believe in Jesus Christ. God says that if someone believes in Jesus Christ, their sins will be forgiven. These two truths seem to be in conflict, but this does not change either truth. Only God knows how both can be true. Some think that they have the solution, but the apostle Paul did not understand how both can be true (Romans 9:19-20).
Clearly, God has said that if someone believes in Jesus Christ, their sins will be forgiven. Those who believe in Christ will not perish and will have eternal life. That is God’s standard for everyone. Those who reject Jesus Christ are sentenced to hell (John 3:18). God is impartial. He is not a respecter of persons. It does not matter how famous, how rich, or how politically connected a person is. If they do not believe in Christ they are going to hell.
Those who are Christians will go to heaven. They will be judged also, but their judgment is one the determines what type, if any, rewards they will receive. God’s standard applies to everyone Christians and non-Christian.
P.S. Some Catholics are Christians if they do not think that they have to do good works or avoid certain sins in order to get into heaven.
Suggested Links:Searching for God
Do the dead really go to heaven or hell?
Sin and Salvation
Where is the fair judgment of God?
Predestination and Human Responsibility
Bema Seat - Judgment of Christians