WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT ACCEPTANCE?
There are two issues that every believer must settle as soon as possible. The first is, does God fully accept me? And the second, if so, on what basis does he do that? This is crucial. What devastation always permeates the life of one, young or old, rich or poor, saved or unsaved, who is not likely to be acknowledged, even on a human level?
Still, so many believers, struggle in their travel through life without this precious truth to rest and to build on: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Eph. 1:5, 6).
Every believer is approved in Christ by the Father. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:” (Rom. 5:1). Peace is God’s intention towards us, through His beloved Son — on this, our peace is founded. God can be at peace with us through our Lord Jesus Christ, “Having made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Col. 1:20). And we must not forget that His peace is built entirely on the work of the cross, totally apart from everything in or from us “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8).
Our faith is a fixed attitude as soon as it starts to rest in this wonderful reality. Then it can be, “…disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious” (I Pet. 2:4). This is the steadying influence that most believers need today. A hundred years ago, J.B. Stoney wrote: “The good God never changes or deviates from the embrace with which He received us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Alas! We are diverging from the state in which God can ever be toward us, as recorded in Romans 5:1-11. Many assume that because they are conscious of sins, they must renew their acceptance with God.
The truth is that God hasn’t changed. His eye rests on the work that Christ has done for the believer. When you do not walk in the Spirit, you are in the flesh: you have turned back to that old man who has been crucified on the cross (Rom. 6:6). You have to return to fellowshipping with God, and when you are returned, your acceptance of God remains unchanged and unchangeable. There is a doubt that God has changed when sins are introduced. He hasn’t changed, but you have. You are not working in the Spirit but in the flesh. To be restored, you have to judge yourself. But if the sins are not met here, where can they be met? “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” (Heb. 10:18). God has made reconciliation; he remains true to it. Alas! We diverge from it; the tendency is to suppose that the blessed God has changed toward us. He will surely judge the flesh if we don’t, but He never departs from the love He has shown to the prodigals, and we find that when the cloud, which walking in the flesh produced, has passed away, His love never changed.
The basis of God must be our basis for acceptance. There’s no other basis. Our heavenly Father is totally satisfied with His beloved Son on our behalf, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t. Our satisfaction can only spring from and rest in His satisfaction. It’s from God to us, not from us to Him. J. N. Darby was very specific on this: “When the Holy Spirit speaks to us, He doesn’t reason from what we are to God, but from what God is to us.” Souls think from what they are in themselves as to how God can accept them. He cannot accept you if you look for righteousness in yourself as a ground of acceptance with Him. You can’t get peace if you’re thinking that way.
The Holy Spirit continually reasons down from what God is, and that brings about a total transformation in my soul. It’s not because I hate my sins; indeed, I may have been walking very well; but it’s “I abhor myself.” That’s how the Holy Spirit reasons; He shows us what we are, and that is a reason why He always seems to be so hard and doesn’t give peace to the soul, because we are not relieved until we acknowledge what we are from our souls.
Until the soul gets to that point, he doesn’t give it peace — he couldn’t; it would be healing the wound slightly. The soul will go on until it realizes that there is nothing to rest on except the goodness of God; and then, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)’
Unfortunately, today, most Christians reason the opposite — from themselves to God. When all is going well, and God appears to be a blessing, then it is that He loves and accepts them. But when they fail and everything seems hard and dry, they feel that He doesn’t love and accept them. How can this be? There isn’t anything about us to commend us to God, our acceptance of being in Christ, and the fact that most of our true spiritual development comes through the dry and difficult times. Thank God, He has accepted us in His Son, and on this fact, we must rest our faith. As in the case of justification, our acceptance is by Grace alone.
Grace, once given, is not withdrawn: for God had understood all human exigencies beforehand: His action was independent of them, not dependent on them.
THE COURAGE TO RECEIVE ACCEPTANCE
There is a fundamental concept of theology that states that religion or Scripture provides the answer to the most difficult questions of the human heart. Faith is a question of life. Faith is like an x-ray of human existence. This allows us to live better, to be more compassionate and to be more integrated. Faith is to know that there is only oneness: God is the deepest basis of your being.
The desire to be valued is one of the deepest needs of the human heart. Every human being would like to be appreciated. It isn’t to say that everybody needs to convince us how wonderful we are. There’s no doubt that there is that desire, too, but that’s not fundamental. We could say that every human being desires to be loved. But even this acknowledges ambiguity. There are as various types of love as there are species of flowers. To some people, love is something passionate; for others, it is something romantic; for others, love is a sexual thing. Yet there is, however, a deeper love, a love of acceptance. Every human being needs to be accepted; we need to be accepted for what we are. Nothing in human life has such a permanent and tragic effect as the feeling of not being totally accepted. When you are not accepted, then there’s something broken in you. A baby who is not accepted is ruined by the origins of his existence; A student who doesn’t feel accepted by his teacher is not going to learn. A man who doesn’t feel welcomed by his colleagues at work can suffer from ulcers and be a nuisance at home. Most of the prisoner’s life stories show that they went astray somewhere along the way because no one ever accepted them. Likewise, if a religious person does not feel accepted by her community, she cannot be happy. Life without acceptance is a life whereby the most fundamental human need remains unfulfilled.
Acceptance means that the people I live with give me a sense of self-respect, a feeling that I’m worth it. They’re happy that I am who I am. Acceptance means that I’m welcome to be myself. Acceptance means that even though there is a need for progress, I am not compelled to do so. I don’t have to be the person I’m not. I am neither locked in by my past nor my present. Rather, I have the room to unfold, to outgrow the mistakes of the past. We may claim in a way that acceptance is an unveiling. Every one of us was born with a lot of potentialities. But unless they are brought out by the warm touch of the acceptance of others, they will remain dormant. Acceptance frees all that is in you. Only when you are loved in that deep sense of complete acceptance will you become yourself. The acceptance, the love of others, makes you the special person that you are supposed to be. When a person is respected for what he does, he is not unique; someone else can do the same job, perhaps even better than him. But when a person is respected for what he is, he becomes a special and irreplaceable personality. So, indeed, you need that acceptance to be yourself. You are nobody when you are not accepted, and you cannot come to fulfillment. An accepted person is a happy person, and he is opened up because he can grow.
Accepting a person does not mean that you ignore his flaws, that you gloss over them or try to justify his every action. Nor does acceptance mean to claim that everything a person does is beautiful and lovely. The opposite is true. When you deny the defect of a person, you do not accept him. You haven’t touched the person’s range. Only when you accept his imperfection can you accept a person.
To put that negatively: acceptance means that you never give a person the feeling that he doesn’t count. Not expecting something from a human is equivalent to killing him, rendering him sterile. He can’t do anything.
I am accepted by God as I am — as I am, and not as I should be. Proclaiming the latter is an empty message because you’re never the way you should be. In reality, you don’t walk a straight path. There are many curves, many wrong choices that have taken you to where you are now in the course of life. God knows your name: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Is 49:16). God cannot look at his hand without seeing your name. And your name, that’s you! He guarantees that you can be yourself. St. Augustine made a statement that “A friend is someone who accepts you despite everything he knows about you.” That’s the dream we all share: that one day you may find the person you can speak to, who understands you and the words you say — who will listen and even hear what’s left unsaid and then really accept you. God is the fulfillment of the dream; He loves you with your ideas and your disappointments, your hardships and your joys, your achievements and your defeats. God is himself the deepest ground of your being. It’s one thing to know that you’re accepted, and quite another to realize it. More is required to build one’s life on the love of God. It takes a long time to believe that you are accepted as you are by God.
How frequently have we been told that it is essential that we love God? And this is true. But it is more important that God loves us! Our love for God is secondary. God’s love for us is the first: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10). This is the foundation.
On the night before Jesus died, he prayed to the Lord, “that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17: 26.) It seems amazing that God loves us just as much as he loves his Son, Jesus Christ.
Tillich describes faith as “the courage to accept acceptance”, and he implies acceptance by God. We might think that such faith does not demand much courage. It can sound sweet and simple, on the contrary, courage is required. Very often, courage is lacking. Why does it take courage to embrace acceptance: first, when things happen to us that disappoint us, we prefer to complain, “How can God permit this?” We begin to doubt God’s love. It takes courage to believe in the acceptance of God, no matter what happens to us. Such an act of faith goes beyond your personal experience. Faith is, then, an understanding of life which you embrace. Second, the love of God is infinite. We can never get hold of it, grasp it, and much less handle it. The one thing we can do is jump to its bottomless depth. And we don’t like to jump. We’re scared to let go of it. A Swedish convert Sven Stolpe says that faith means climbing a very high ladder, and standing there on the very top of the ladder, hearing a voice that says, “Jump, and I’ll catch you.” The one who jumps — he is the man of faith. It takes courage to jump. And the third reason, which is more subtle but still true. It is quite easy to believe in God’s love in general, but it’s really hard to believe in God’s love for you personally. Why? There are very few people who can trust themselves, accept acceptance. Indeed, it is rare to find a person who can cope with the “Why me?” dilemma. Self-acceptance can never be based on yourself, on your attributes. Such a foundation would collapse. Self-acceptance is an act of faith. If God loves you, you have to accept yourself as well. You can’t be more demanding than God, can you?