‘God accepts you as you are.’ You often here this statement bandied about in Christian circles – but what does it actually mean?
Is it just a cheap psychological phrase used by modern evangelists to elicit hasty, shallow decisions for Christ? Or a licence to sin, hiding behind a theology of ‘cheap grace’? In truth, and when properly understood, God’s full and free acceptance of a person is no cheap slogan — it is the vital heart of the gospel, which can revolutionise our lives.
On what basis do we come to Jesus Christ in the first place? If we come on the basis of anything we have achieved, or our own worthiness, we are bound to be disappointed. Any who want to begin a new life with the Lord, or to progress in their walk with him, must come on the basis of their spiritual poverty.
As Charles Spurgeon said, ‘The poorer the wretch, the more welcome at the door of divine charity’.
Today, the term ‘wretch’ would probably be considered offensive. Nevertheless, Spurgeon’s statement makes the point — the more conscious we are of our sinfulness, the more compassionate we find God to be.
No one is closer to the kingdom of God than the person who is conscious of his sins, failures and hang-ups. This is equally true for the sinner approaching God for the first time and for the established believer.
The Scriptures are replete with examples of genuine servants of God who ‘blew it’ in spectacular fashion — only to find that the Lord was more forgiving than they could have hoped or imagined. Abraham, Moses, David and the apostle Peter are all in this category.
The remarkable experience of God’s free forgiveness that marks the commencement of the Christian life does not only last until we have ‘sorted ourselves out’. No! The whole Christian life, from start to finish, is an ongoing experience of unmerited pardon and grace.
To live by faith is to believe that God has accepted us, both now and for eternity, no matter how enormous our burden of sin and guilt. To set artificial limits to his forgiveness is one of the classic tricks of the devil.
Satan will play on the failings of insecure believers, insinuating that they have crossed the line into a no-man’s-land where actions or thoughts are no longer covered by the blood of Jesus.
But no such territory exists! ‘For by one offering [Jesus] has perfected for ever those who are sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:14; the word ‘sanctified’ here refers to a once-for-all setting apart and applies to all true believers).
Fears old and new
In the past, Christians were probably more inclined to believe they had committed the unforgivable sin. Today they are more conscious of failures, habits and besetting sins which cause enormous guilt and limit their service to God.
This fear of God’s rejection is not only caused by the lying accusations of the devil. We are all inclined to lean on our own understanding. Any sin or habit can seem like a mountain — impossible for God to forgive, impossible for us to overcome.
But the Word of God constantly exhorts us to ‘trust in the Lord with all our heart’ rather than ‘lean on our own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5). What may seem insurmountable to us is not so to God.
While there may be things you dare not confess to another human being, this can never be the case with God. He already knows everything about you, even your thoughts before you think them (Psalm 139:1-4).
Because of this, God is unshockable. What is more, if you are his child through faith in Christ, he has ‘accepted [you] in the Beloved’ — regardless of your falls and failures (Ephesians 1:6).
No licence to sin
Some who do not understand the theology of grace protest that this is to offer a licence to sin. The apostle Paul was accused of doing just this. In Romans 3:8 he comments wryly: ‘Why not say, “Let us do evil that good may come”? — as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say’.
But nowhere does the Bible encourage a complacent attitude towards sin; quite the opposite. However, the idea that God — having once received you for Jesus’ sake — will then reject you because of your sins, is also contrary to Scripture.
Such false ideas can only lead to bondage — to a religion based on fear. And as John 4:18 says, ‘Perfect love casts out fear’.
The Lord wants a people who will serve him out of love and a secure relationship. What kind of a relationship is it if you are trying to serve Christ out of fear, doubt and insecurity? That path leads only to resentment and striving, not a true love for Jesus.
Tragically, for some people, the belief that the Lord will not accept them as they are may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Thinking they have already strayed too far from God to be accepted, they wander ever further from him. Over time they see less and less reason to seek him. But God is not rejecting such people; their thoughts in this regard are the inventions of their own minds.
Any true preaching of the gospel must include the truth that Jesus has to be Lord as well as Saviour. The despising of the grace of God, practised and taught by many counterfeit Christians, seems superficially to resemble the unlimited forgiveness which the Bible actually teaches. In reality the two are a world apart.
The Scriptures plainly warn professing Christians that ‘the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God … neither fornicators … nor idolaters … nor thieves, nor revilers … shall inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10).
Who are these people that are not accepted by the God who is so forgiving? They are those who so embrace their sin, rather than Christ, that it defines their true character.
People who continually practise sin prove to themselves and God that they have rejected both him and his mercy. There will be no hiding place on the day of judgement for people who are Christians in name only.
Indeed, there will be many on that day who claim to qualify for Christ’s kingdom, but to whom he will say, ‘Depart from me, you who practise lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:23). The key word here is lawlessness.
In effect Christ tells these people that they are still ‘unconverted on the inside’ and have no claim to heaven. They ‘draw near to him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him’ (Matthew 15:8). The Pharisees he was addressing typified this kind of hypocrisy.
Jesus is Lord
To yield the lordship of our lives to Christ is a constant struggle, for Paul reminds us that ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish’ (Galatians 5:17).
But to those who, in spite of their failings, truly seek to ‘walk in the Spirit’, God is more patient and forgiving than any friend, psychologist or professional counsellor.
He invites us: ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).
The Lord Jesus will receive all who come to him in repentance and faith — whether an alcoholic from the streets, a respectable churchgoer who has been leading a hypocritical life, or a genuine but struggling believer, painfully aware of his weaknesses.
He does not expect us to improve ourselves before doing this. Rather, he delights to cleanse us from our sin and welcome us into his family — where we find ourselves ‘accepted in the Beloved’ (Ephesians 1:6).