on acceptance

I’m currently rereading Classic Christianity by Bob George. He writes in one chapter about acceptance as a vital part of love, especially in our relationship with God.

Love becomes practically meaningless apart from acceptance…Most [Christians] can quote John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world…’ Yet, they walk around every day feeling that God is sick to His stomach over them because of their failure to live up to His standards. Often, though, it’s not even God’s standards that they are trying to keep, but regulations imposed by themselves or other people.

There is a certain mind-set that is especially destructive, called the ‘Phantom Christian.’ The Phantom Christian is that imaginary person that many of us are continually comparing ourselves to. He is the super-spiritual man who gets up every day at 4:00 a.m. so he can pray for four hours. Then he reads his Bible for four hours. He goes to work (at which he is tops in his field), where he effectively shares Christ with everyone in his office. He teaches several Bible studies, goes to church every time the doors are open, and serves on several committees. He is also a wonderful spiritual leader at home – a sterling example of a loving husband and father, who leads stimulating family devotions every day for his ‘Proverbs 31’ wife and perfect children.

Of course no one could live up to such a standard. Even if some person had the ability, he would still need 100 hours in a day! Rationally, we all know that the Phantom Christian is ridiculous, but the problem is that he is never brought to our consciousness. He is a vague ghost that sits in the back of our minds, creating a sense of failure to measure up. That is the reason why many, many Christians live under continual guilt. For those who believe that the Phantom Christian is God’s standard for acceptance, God seems a million miles away, sitting in heaven with His arms folded in disapproval. They don’t bother offering prayers because they know He would never answer them.

People in this bondage know well the biblical teaching that God loves them, but they clearly do not believe in their hearts that God accepts them. And apart from knowing about and resting in God’s acceptance, His love becomes practically meaningless and irrelevant in daily living. I have often talked of God’s love in counseling appointments and seen Christians react bitterly to the words. ‘So what?’ they say. ‘He loves everybody!’ What they are saying is that the only love they understand coming from God is some kind of vague, universal, impersonal love.

The truth is that God sees us as totally acceptable and righteous in His sight right now – not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done for us…Now realize that I am talking about ourselves being acceptable to God, not necessarily our actions. In my identity I am eternally acceptable to Him, but that doesn’t mean that everything I do is all right. He may put His arm around me, so to speak, and show me the truth about something in my life that is out of line: an attitude, action, or habit. Why? So He can change my attitude that is out of line, resulting in a change of action. But at no time is His acceptance of me ever in question. At no time does He ever deal with me except in perfect love, acceptance, wisdom, and kindness.

Even though I know that God accepts me, I notice my thought patterns falling back into a habit of merit-based relationship with Him. It’s true that if I don’t spend time with Him, I create a distance (it’s just like any other relationship in that way). But His acceptance of me, exactly as I am at any point in time, remains exactly the same: full and complete. When will I fully internalize these truths? It is good to be reminded. There is nothing more peaceful than to hear that God loves and accepts unconditionally.

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