8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
To start, this does not say “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Technically that phrase is biblical but it is taken terribly out of context from the gospels. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to turn a blind eye to sin. The point of this passage is to remind us that we’re all in the same boat. We’re all sinners.
Now, let’s dig down a level deeper. James’ point is that sin is sin. Sin separates us from God. Sin needs to be forgiven and repented from. In this regard there is no difference between sins and God doesn’t show favoritism concerning them.
There are a lot of people who think that they are getting into heaven because they’re relatively good. And because they are relatively good, because God is merciful, He won’t hold their little sins against them. But this is where the idea of favoritism comes into play. God has to be fair and He has to judge everyone fairly. And fair means that one unforgiven sin is enough to keep someone from heaven. The best person in life who hasn’t asked forgiveness of their sins is just as guilty of sin as the worst person in life.
When I taught Bible classes for a university I had a grading scale that I had to go by – 90% was an A, 80% a B and so on. It was a pretty standard grading scale and of course the scale was posted at the beginning of the class so that everyone knew what the standards were and what they needed in order to get the grade that they wanted. I had a student that I really liked who finished with an 89.93%. In other words, really, really close to an A. Now, it would be easy to say that this was close enough and grant the A. I could also use the standard practice of rounding up. But if I rounded up I had another problem. There was another student whom I really liked and had also done good work. This person had something like an 89.47%. In other words, if I rounded up, this person would be 3 hundredths of a percent away from an A and they would end up getting unfairly left out while I increased another person’s grade just because they were a bit closer. In the end, the only fair thing to do was hold to the standard. The student came close but didn’t reach the mark. If I awarded an A when they hadn’t technically earned it, it wouldn’t have been fair to the people who had worked a bit harder and put in more effort.
At the other end, I had a student who failed the class. This student had missed several assignments and didn’t participate in about half of the weekly discussions which accounted for a large part of the grade. After she had received a failing grade, she contacted me and asked me to reconsider, giving me a sob story about all of the things that had been going on and this and that. Basically she was trying to explain to me how even though she didn’t do the work and didn’t ask for help during the class, that she still deserved the credit. I didn’t waste my time responding back because frankly I wouldn’t have been nice about it.
If the student was having problems and had contacted me while there was still time to do something about it, I might have been able to work something out which would have allowed her to do the work and earn the grade. But that wasn’t the case. After the grade is handed out, it’s far too late to complain about all the circumstances that surrounded it.
I believe that God works on the same grading scale that I have. He is fair. He doesn’t give extra credit just because someone is nice or seems like they should deserve it. The standard is absolutely the same for everyone.
And after fact is way too late to complain about the grade. God is there to help us in life when problems arise but if we don’t ask for help, how is that His problem? It’s not His fault when someone “fails life” so to speak and they have not once asked for help.
God doesn’t show favoritism and neither should we. It is difficult not to play favorites at times because some people are easier to get along with or we might just like them more. But God doesn’t have the same problem. He doesn’t care about economic status or race or political affiliation or anything else. God has one standard – forgiven or not. That is how he is going to judge everyone.