The sin of partiality was the subject of a ReNEWalcast episode, but we had some technical issues that prevented the episode from being streamed live. Not only was the 45-minute conversation not streamed, but it was not recorded, so it is like it didn't even happen! The fact is, having a conversation about partiality, or the sin of what we often refer to racism is not an easy conversation in today's climate of continuous virtue signaling and moral superiority on social media and even in the pulpit. Uneasy discussions about difficult subjects are often necessary. When we take sin seriously, we must have uncomfortable conversations. The sin of partiality is not an exception to this line of thinking.
One author said, "there is a sin that is often overlooked, ignored, or unseen. It can take many forms, affect many different sorts of people, and be called by many names." Of course, she is speaking about the sin of partiality that is addressed in James 2. James addresses the subject clearly and illustrates how this sin might look in the life of the church. After reading these verses, we must admit a couple of things. First, we must realize that James is abundantly clear concerning the sin of partiality. James is clear that this is a sin, and we are not to show partiality as we live out our faith. One must wonder why this sin is often overlooked and ignored in the church if the scriptures are clear.
Paul David Tripp points out that the heart prone to show partiality is one that seeks self-glory when he writes, "I am deeply persuaded that we're addicted to the pursuit of self-glory because, when we look in the mirror, we think we see someone who deserves to be glorified." When we think of addiction, we tend to think of the pursuit of alcohol, drugs, or one's phone, but not the pursuit of glory. We may not think this way about addiction, but this does not change the fact that we need to understand that we are people that are prone to think more highly of ourselves then we ought (Romans 12:3). Notice that the reason the sin of partiality is so overlooked and ignored in our midst is because we are guilty of the sin of partiality in the ultimate sense. As Tripp puts it, we have looked in the mirror, and we have seen ourselves as worthy of the glory reserved for the truly holy One. In other words, failing to love our neighbor as ourselves (James 2:8) is seeing and pursuing glory for ourselves because we believe we are to be valued more than they. We would do well to remember that the mirror that we are to gaze into is not a glass mirror that reflects our image but the mirror of God's holy and perfect word that reflects His holy and perfect glory. To look into the mirror of God's word is to see the author of it in all of His perfection, and in doing so, we see ourselves with sober judgment. We are weak and helpless and are wholly dependent upon God - who is to be glorified above all.
Not only is partiality sinful, but it also must be seen in terms of loving and hating. When one (or a group of people) think more highly of themselves than they ought to think, they love the people that are like them (or the people they idolize) and despise others who are not up to their standard. To show "partiality means that you base your treatment of someone -- or your attitude toward someone on something that should not be the basis of how you treat them" (John Piper).
The question then arises; On what are we to base our treatment of others? I think James answers this question in the first verse as he refers to our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, what James is getting at here is that partiality contradicts the faith that we claim to have in the Lord Jesus. In Romans 2, we read that God judges each one according to their works, and in verse nine, we see that Paul makes it abundantly clear that every human, every Jew or Gentile, will face the consequence of not obeying the truth. As Christians, we must remember that God does not show partiality. All of us deserve to bear the weight of our sinful rebellion against our creator. As we look into the "mirror" of God's word, we see ourselves for who we are: we are rebels who have violated God's law at every turn and deserve to bear the weight of God's wrath. On the other side, the Christian must remember that their standing before God does not depend on one's accrued or inherent righteousness but solely on the righteousness that Jesus Christ earned on their behalf. We both deserve to bear the penalty for our sins against God and do not deserve to be the beneficiaries of the grace and mercy bestowed on us in Christ. The great reformer Martin Luther captured the essence here when he said that the believer was simul justus et peccator or at the same time righteous/just and sinner. The believer should continuously recognize that we are just or righteous in Christ alone, and this is not of ourselves. The doctrine of imputation is essential in that a great transaction has taken place: our sin for Christ's righteousness. Jesus' perfect obedience to God in every respect was transferred or imputed to the believer through faith in Christ Jesus, and the believer's sin transferred to Jesus, and he bore the wrath of God on account of our sin.
The believer must look at themselves with sober judgment, recognizing that God treats them better then they deserve at every turn. Therefore, they have no right to show partiality toward others. The way we think of and treat others should exemplify how we have been treated in Christ Jesus. In verse 13, we read, "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." How can the one who has been shown the kind of mercy that you and I have in Christ, turn around and show the kind of judgmental partiality that is so foreign to the gospel?
We must say a quick word about the cultural "conversation" that is taking place in our world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Many Christian leaders (pastors, denominational leaders, para-church leaders, and many others) have been quick to call out racism as sin but resort to a very secularized understanding and solution. The solution to this cultural problem, according to a great many, isn't found in the finished work of Jesus Christ, but in dangerous postmodern and Marxist ideals such as critical theory and intersectionality that are radically opposed to the gospel. Christians should oppose the sin of partiality in all of its forms, including racism, and also affirm that the remedy for this sin (as with all sin) is only found in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Coalt Robinson was raised in a Christian family in a small community in eastern Montana and came to know Jesus at a young age. Coalt attended Montana Bible College (Bozeman), The Baptist College of Florida (Graceville), and Sioux Falls Seminary (Sioux Falls) and went on to teach Bible classes at James Valley Christian School (Huron, SD). For the past several years Coalt has served as the teaching pastor at Bethel Church in Yale, South Dakota. Coalt is married to Desirae and together they have three boys (Will, Silas, CJ).