Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’
Like most Jews of his time, the Apostle Peter grew up not fully comprehending God’s take on favoritism. God revealed his plan of salvation to the Jews. He gave his word to the Jews. The Savior of the world was born a Jew. Certainly, it seemed, the Jews must enjoy most favored nation status with heaven. Then God sent Peter to the home of a believing Roman soldier named Cornelius
There are prominent Gentile believers in the Old Testament. Some of them are even included in Jesus’ family tree. The prophets predicted large numbers of non-Jews drawn by God to the Savior’s glory. Over and over the Lord told the Jews that there was nothing better about them. But he had to use some people or another to accomplish his purposes, and they were the ones he chose. Their qualifications, however, were exactly the same as everyone else: thoroughly corrupted sinners in desperate need of a Savior.
Do we get it? Martin Luther King Jr. is credited with being the first to make the observation, “…the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” That has changed little since he made this observation. Prejudiced ideas about race and nationality are not always to blame. Cultural preferences and personal comfort are often bigger factors in church choice than false ideas about the kind of people God wants for himself. But we need to police ourselves for racist prejudices.
Still, we are not immune to false ideas about the kinds of people God wants. God wants to save Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents equally as much as each other. None of them is easier or harder to save, despite what you might hear from certain partisans. All of them need Jesus. Medieval Catholicism made it seem as though God preferred single, celibate people to married people. Today the churches may have turned that around and give the opposite impression with all their talk of family this and family that. God favors neither and desires all, because he doesn’t play favorites. We are opposing his saving plans if we do.
This does not mean that God is a universalist. It does mean the qualifications are the same for everyone–sinners who need a Savior. God wants all to be saved. He calls all to the same salvation. But Peter says more than, “he accepts men from every nation.” He “accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” To fear God is not to be terrified of him. It is to recognize God’s greatness, his “bigness.” It is the respect that comes from recognizing that God is superior to everyone and everything in every way.
Such fear or respect is a natural and necessary feature of our faith. In his book Love Must Be Tough, James Dobson points out that respect is necessary for a successful married relationship. You won’t love someone, and you can’t trust someone, that you don’t respect. Ponder that for a few moments, and I’m sure that you’ll come to the same conclusion. This applies to our relationship with God as well. We won’t love or trust in him if we don’t respect him. It is interesting that Luther put these same three concepts together when he wrote his explanation of the first commandment: we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Though not exactly the same as each other, these three things go together. Where you find one, you will find the others, too.
So even though Peter does not use the word “faith” or “believe,” he is in complete agreement with the conclusion of John 3:16, “…whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Instead of mentioning faith itself, Peter presents the first fruits of faith–the attitudes and actions that show a living faith is in place. Believers– the kind of people who fear the true God, who offered his one and only Son as the sacrifice for sins; the kind of people who do what is right by repenting of their sins, trusting Jesus for their forgiveness, and responding with a life of love–are the kind of people God has accepted. He plays no favorites. He seeks all and receives those who come to him in faith.