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Does God Play Favorites?

• Greg Boyd

What does it mean to be one of God’s chosen people? Some people think back to middle school gym class and how they might have been last-picked for the team. In this sermon, Greg talks about the idea of being chosen by God and how being chosen isn’t the same as predestination.

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In this passage, Paul is using an image of changing clothes. He is telling us to take off our old selves, the ones that lived as a part of this world, and instead to put on our new selves. Our new selves are identified as God’s chosen people. But God’s chosen people has been misunderstood in the past.

God chose the Israelites as his people. When Abraham was faithful to God, God decided that Abraham would be the father of God’s people. But this choosing of Abraham and his people, the future Israelites, can bring up some fearful ideas in people. In fact, this brought up the image of gym class in middle school.

In middle school, you probably experienced the choosing of teams. The gym teacher would choose two people, usually the “jocks”, to be the captains. The captains would then take turns picking the most athletic people down to the least athletic people. In the end, there would be a few people that were always picked last. They were the least favorite people to be on the teams. When we talk about God choosing people, it can seem like this type of gym class atmosphere.

It seems like God is the one choosing some and passing over others. This view is expressed by John Calvin. He called this predestination. He understood predestination as God’s eternal decree that some were created for eternal life and that some were created for eternal damnation. And, he understood this predestination as happening before anyone was born. Everyone’s future was already decided before they were born.

Calvin drew this understanding from the book of Romans. In Romans 9, we see that God is the potter and we are the clay. Some people, like Calvin, think that God makes people to feel his wrath. And, because God is the potter, we should be ok with it. But there is another understanding of this passage that fits better with our moral code.

Our own moral fibers tell us that this is wrong, and God is the one that gave us our moral ability. We understand that it’s not moral to create people to be judged. This idea of predestination just doesn’t make sense when we think about it. And John Wesley said this picture of God is worse than Satan. He said that a God who creates people just for eternal damnation is worse than Satan. Luckily, there is more to the Romans 9 passage than just those who are given eternal life and those who are damned for eternity.

Romans 9 presupposes a picture of God that isn’t Jesus. The very essence of God, according to the New Testament, is that Jesus shows us the true picture of God. And, Jesus on the Cross shows us God’s true love. Jesus, however, didn’t die on the cross for just a few. He died on the cross for every human. God wants everyone to be saved and does not predestine some to be damned.

Also, the message of predestination that Calvin talks about is not what Paul was talking about in Romans 9. Paul was explaining why many Jewish people weren’t following Jesus. He wasn’t trying to espouse a doctrine of predestination as understood by Calvin. Finally, Paul was using the analogy of the potter and clay from Jeremiah 18. In that passage, God is talking about shaping clay that has been ruined and not ruining clay for his own delight. Paul was saying that God reacts to what people do with the message of the Gospel.

We should get rid of any conception of God as an evil, controlling deity that arbitrarily fashions people for destruction and punishment. This is not the picture of God revealed by Jesus. God does not play favorites. He’s not choosing some for his team and others not for his team. Rather, he wants everyone on his team. But, to be on his team, we must surrender to him and begin to let him work within us. He already chose us through the cross, and now it is up to us to choose him.

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Topics: Fear, God's Will, Power

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Focus Scripture:

  • Colossians 3:9-12

    Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

    Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

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15 thoughts on “Does God Play Favorites?

  1. Michelle says:

    Thank you.

  2. Jacob says:

    That is so good!! John 15 16 “You didn’t choose me. I chose you.” He planted that seed of faith, you came into agreement with His choice. You embrace His seed,, and made what He gave,,, yours.

  3. Jason says:

    Romans 9 along with Job and Revelation in my humble opinion have been the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages in all of Scripture. It was refreshing to see this passage expounded so forcefully and carefully. I was reminded of John Wesley’s sermon ‘Free Grace’ which was alluded to http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/Global-Worship-and-Spiritual-Growth/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-128-Free-Grace

  4. Tim G. says:

    Jason. I completely agree and what’s scary is that many, if not most, well known theologians misinterpret those scriptures(especially Romans 9) in a very deterministic way.

  5. Tim G. says:

    Bravo Greg!

  6. Really good sermon Greg!
    Calvinism is the devils work to take away the reason for mission and evangelism! 😉 Slow down the the christians with the lie that everything will be alright whatever you do.
    (Just had to get a blast for my avenge to calvisism.)

  7. Pam says:

    Glory! This teaching gave me such joy. I never believed that interpretation in Romans 9 any way – just pushed it aside and pretended it wasn’t there. Thank you Greg.

  8. chris says:

    wow. this was a terrible exposition.
    i became a calvinist because of john 6. and 2nd thess 2:13, and romans 8 , and 30,000 other verses in scripture.
    if you disagree, email me. i would love to defend calvinism

  9. Tim G. says:

    Chris said “wow. this was a terrible exposition”.

    Ha! I bet it SOUNDED terrible to you and all the other blind followers of the man-made religion called “Calvinism” or “Reformed Theology”. You guys get offended just like the religious, self righteous bunch Jesus and the Apostles had to deal with-PHARISEES! Surely all the common folk out there can’t surrender to Jesus and be saved?? Surely it can’t be that simple?? It has to be esoteric and complicated so that only a certain group with special knowledge can comprehend it-right? That’s what the Gnostics and many others in error have believed Mr. Chris. Romans 9 was written to a bunch of stiff-necks who, like Calvinist, couldn’t accept that salvation was not reserved only for them. Of course you would say “this was a terrible exposition”.
    I care not why you became a Calvinist my friend. I only hope that you are or will become a Christian. You need to be “Christ-like” not “Calvin-like”. Try reading John 3:16 void of all the reformed tradition you have learned and without using eisgesis. Then go to Romans 10 and do the same. Then go to the other “30,000” verses.
    Oh you blind leading the blind….

  10. Tracy says:

    I used to believe in Calvinism, and like you Greg, just couldn’t see how a loving God would choose to send some to hell because he wanted to show His Glory… my husbands take on it was.. “well we all deserve hell, and its amazing that he chose anyone.” That sort of thinking just makes you fearful. The God I am overwhelmed by, died for ALL men. All we have to do, is accept it and be loved. Thanks for all yr blogs and sermons. I get great insight into scripture from them. 🙂

  11. Molly says:

    I appreciate this viewpoint but could you please explain what John 6:44 means then?

    Also, I Corinthians 15:22 mentions all “in Adam”. The human race. I believe there are 3 races on Earth: the human race (in Adam), the angelic race, and the demonic race (Gen. 6:4). Could the demonic race be the vessels prepared for wrath from the foundation of the world? Hell was created for Satan and his demons, not for the human race (Matt. 25:41).

  12. Molly says:

    In the OT when God said, “if you do this, I’ll do that”, the relationship was based on the Law. In the NT, there are no such conditions under Grace. God does not change his mind – the Law was to show people that their “free will” was primarily evil, not to prove that God doesn’t know their plans ahead of time.

    Are there instances in the NT where God changed his mind?

  13. Exile awaiting home says:

    To consider Greg’s argument, there seems to be no argument. As in he’s taken the view of God has chosen some to eternal riches and chosen some to eternal damnation and rather than arguing against it, instead decides to declare his anger towards it.
    To see surely how great the atoning sacrifice, in one sense, salvation of damnation to riches, then the comparative needs to exist.
    Jesus shows us the Father as Hebrews 1 intimates, then surely take Jesus’ words! Jesus died for his sheep, for the Church. In the gospel of John, Jesus arguably talks a lot about choosing or being given from the Father more than in the rest of the books. Also
    When it comes to 1 John 2v2 as quoted uses the world, in scripture, the English word world here has different meanings throughout the Bible. If it were to mean the world as in all believers’ sins then surely how could any man go to Hell, for such sins would therefore be punished and God be unjust and send such to Hell?
    On the note of 2 Peter 3v9, God has a revealed will and a hidden will as concisely written in Jerome Zanchius’ “Absolute Predestination”.
    Talking about the invitation of the free offer of salvation, consider Jonathan Edwards as mentioned earlier, he loved to proclaim the wondrous news.
    When it comes to 1 Corinthians 15v22, the question surely he comes to if all (emphasis on all for a moment and suggest this refers to everyone) are made alive then surely is everyone going to Heaven? From this point Greg talks about God not coercing into the kingdom as that would not be love. Then how can anyone enter the kingdom for surely a dead man cannot respond to the Gospel and what point does spiritual rebirth become a reality? Looking at the book of John once again and talks about those who are children of God not being born of human decision (John 1v12-13).
    Now I’m giving up during Greg’s 39th minute.

    I can see why people would consider hating the Doctrines of Grace as described by this man. But to truly understand and taste the depths of grace, go and grapple this subject, see our unworthiness before God, see that it is He who has brought all things about, it is He who anointed David, He who called Abraham out of the land of Ur, He who met with Saul of Tarsas on the road to Damascus, He who caused Nebuchadnezzar to humble and prostrate himself, it is He who changes hearts, He would removes the veil before people’s eyes. Perhaps we wish to fight and argue against such a God when we see Pharaoh’s heart being hardened or those bound to destruction, walking on the wide way. Such is distressing, even more so when there are those whom you have loved who have passed away yet having not bowed the knee, but even in that, God has his purposes, we may not understand Him, nor least why, but simply trust Him and praise Him nonetheless not argue against Him.

  14. Sam says:

    God might have chose me. But how did God know I would say yes ?

  15. andrew sapia says:

    scares the crap out of me. I wake up every day and pray the lords prayer followed by lord Jesus Christ, son of god, have mercy on me a sinner. I am far too damaged emotionally to even contemplate difficult scriptures like this. I just shut down. I don’t want to be one of those vessels of wrath. It scares the crap out of me.

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