Challenge and Acceptance
“The best thing about being a girl is that I don’t have to pretend to be a boy.” Have you seen the January 2017 issue of National Geographic? If you’re unfamiliar, the front cover features a photo of nine-year-old Avery from Kansas City, who has long pink hair, and is wearing pink clothes, but when you look closer, you realize that little Avery is actually a boy. The headline? “The Gender Revolution.” This article celebrating transgenderism represents the general call for acceptance from groups like the LGBTQ community, as well as religious groups and people who have chosen atypical lifestyles. The Christian is left in the middle of this postmodern society that begs our tolerance of any and all behaviors, and we wonder what to do to be the most Christ like, and show love to people without turning a blind eye. In our culture, acceptance equals condoning, but if we accept people like Jesus did, we can show people a love and grace that transcends “tolerance” of behaviors, and allows them to be challenged to a life that pleases God.
“Acceptance” is a word that we are bombarded with by the general population, so much so that we forget that the word carries significant weight. The dictionary defines “accept” as “to believe or come to recognize as true, valid, or correct.” This is the academic definition, but I was curious as to how internet bloggers would define acceptance, so I decided to read a few blogs centered around questions such as “What does it mean to accept someone as they are?” Some of the main buzzwords of people’s posts include: comfortable, nonjudgmental, supporting, unashamed, uncondemning, and the list goes on. These words convey a message of condoning rather than accepting. Condoning is simply allowing a morally wrong behavior to occur and doing nothing to stop it, this is not acceptance, and it is certainly not love. Our culture cries out not for acceptance, but for us to allow their morally wrong behaviors to occur, and sit by the wayside keeping our thoughts and beliefs to ourselves.
If we continue to allow people to distort what it means to accept people, those who cry out most desperately for acceptance will find themselves empty of love and grace surrounded by people who only serve to condone morally wrong behavior. Godly acceptance is so much sweeter than the definition that the world offers. Christian author Peter van Breeman writes in his article, “The Courage to Accept Acceptance” that “There is, however, a deeper love, a love of acceptance. Every human being craves to be accepted, accepted for what he or she is. Breeman says “Nothing in human life has such a lasting and fatal effect as the experience of not being completely accepted. When I am not accepted, then something in me is broken.” This speaks to the fact that every human being has the deeply seated need to be loved, to know that they are worthy and valuable, not because of their behaviors, but because of the innate preciousness that God has placed within every human being. Therefore, this may not be the kind of acceptance that the world desires, but it is kind the kind of acceptance that every human soul insatiably craves.
So what happens when Christians get it wrong? In the article “When did Christians get so Mean?” Michael Hidalgo explores the effects that harsh, ungraceful language can have on those around us, speaking specifically about things that we write when we hide behind a keyboard. Hidalgo says, “We forget that every venomous word we speak or write to others is an assault on the heart of a man or a woman made in the image and likeness of the Almighty.” This means that every time a believer, or at least someone proclaiming to be, launches an attack on someone because they disagree with their lifestyle, they usually believe that they are simply refusing to condone sin, which is good for the Christian to do. But when we swing so far as to attack the person behind the behavior, we are robbing them of finding the kind of acceptance that they actually need, causing the person to scream all the louder for tolerance, missing the kind of acceptance that God offers, acceptance of the person as an innately valuable image bearer.
The question that all believers should ask is, “how did Jesus accept people?” In his article, “Did Jesus Accept Everyone?” Alan Hicks says, “"Did Jesus accept everyone?" This is not a yes or no question, and the answer hinges on what is meant by "accept." If the question means, "Did Jesus love everyone and interact with them despite their sinfulness?" then of course the answer is yes. Jesus ate with and associated with “‘sinners and tax collectors.’” Jesus did not recoil from sinners, but engaged them in love. We see this with the woman in John 8 who was caught in the act of adultery, and when Jesus could have condemned her, he lifts up her face and says that he does not condemn her. But His next words are equally important, “Now go and sin no more.” With the Woman at the Well in John 4, Jesus does not condemn her for having five husbands and currently living in sin, but instead of condoning her behavior, he offers her an eternally satisfying alternative.
Think about yourself for a moment. Has Jesus accepted you? The answer is yes, he sees you as His creation with innate value and worth, worth dying for. But is Jesus content to leave you in your sin? Absolutely not! Jesus’ acceptance is not condoning, it is an act of grace, in which he pours out His deepest love, and then convicts us by the Holy Spirit to a life of righteousness. Van Breeman writes, “defects of the personTo accept a person does not mean that I deny his defects, that I gloss over them or try to explain them away. Neither does acceptance mean to say that everything the person does is beautiful and fine. Just the opposite is true. When I deny the person’s flaws , then I certainly do not accept him. I have not touched the depth of that person. Only when I accept a person can I truly face his defects.” This is what Jesus does, He sees us for all our flaws and sinfulness, and while looking on us with compassionate love, continually challenges us to “go and sin no more.”
Challenging other people is something that so many Christians miss, because our culture shies away from anyone offering rebuke or truth that may sting. And if we are to truly accept people the way Jesus did, we have to be willing to offer hard truth in order to push others toward a life of following Jesus. The first step we can take is to build friendships that are resilient in seasons of challenge and times of rebuke. Proverbs 27:6 says “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” and Proverbs 27:17 says “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” These are describing the kind of relationship that is built around Christ like acceptance and challenge, loving your friend for their worth and value, but being willing to step into an uncomfortable place to spur them toward a more abundant life in Christ.
Acceptance is by no means an easy task for the believer. The lines between love, acceptance, and tolerance are painfully blurry, and challenging others to righteousness may be one of the most difficult cultural taboos to overcome. But in the spirit of challenging, the next time you encounter someone living a lifestyle you disagree with, shock them. Do what is least culturally expected. Don’t condone any morally wrong behavior, don’t settle for mere tolerance. And don’t cast down judgement like a Pharisee, Jesus certainly didn’t. Instead, let us engage with people who disagree with us, showing them the outflow of grace that God has shown us, while presenting difficult truths in love. We have a great opportunity to give people the kind of love and acceptance that Jesus would have us give.