May I pose a question? Does acceptance occur before or after change?
Consider the truth that is revealed in Ephesians 1:6, Jesus “…made us accepted in the beloved…,” and then began the process of conforming us to His image! When you and I got saved, it was “To the praise of the glory of His grace…!” It had nothing to do with our acceptableness but all to do with His grace. He was willing to take us where we were and lead us to where He wanted us.
As maturing believers, I fear that sometimes we forget what we were when God found us and the process by which we have come to where we are. We can become hesitant of helping people along the same path that we have taken, fearing that they may taint our testimony of separation or even impede our own forward progress. When we are unwilling to accept those who do not behave like us, look like us, or think like us, we support an unhealthy and inaccurate view of our own self-righteousness. You and I did not make ourselves righteous: we were made righteous in Christ, and we still have a very long way to go. The process of our being conformed to His image began with our acceptance by Him into the beloved, when we were yet covered with the mire of the world! Let me suggest three blessings that we miss if we are not accepting of people where they are.
We miss the blessing of evangelism.
Unsaved people are not like saved people; they are lost! Yes, I know that is stating the obvious, but it is also, in a way, profound. Too often our Christian lives can be lived in a “Christian club” atmosphere. In other words, we expect people to sign on to all of our criteria, and then we let them in. Certainly, our churches are to have ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and standards for leaders and members; but those are the goal not the starting place for lost people. They have to be saved to be baptized. They have to be taught the things to observe before they can observe them; and all of that starts with someone accepting them where they are and sharing the gospel with them. Sadly, some of those most concerned about righteousness in the church and the community rarely or never share the gospel with a lost person. Acceptance into the beloved must occur in their lives, as it did in ours, before growth into maturity. We must share the gospel with the unwashed, the un-churched, and the unlovely before they can be conformed to the image of our Savior.
We miss the blessing of perspective.
One of the lovely things about our Savior was His incredible ability to see the need and possibility in every life. He could sit with Lazarus and his sisters in a nice home in Bethany and help them see their need of salvation. But He was equally concerned with a woman taken in adultery, a blind Bartimaeus, or a demon-infested Mary Magdalene. His compassion allowed Him to understand that whatever their outward circumstances, in each heart was a need to be loved and to have hope. If we are not careful, our isolation can cause us to think that the people who surround us could never have our perspective, would never want our Savior, and could never think like us. But if we will be accepting of them as persons - not their ways - but as people who have a need to be loved and to have hope, we may find that under the surface there is a heart that longs for something real. They too could love Jesus and have hope in their lives. Perhaps it is our perspective that is the real hindrance, not theirs!
We miss the blessing of influence.
We want to be world changers! We want to change the direction of our nation and our communities, but we fail to see that the primary vehicle of changing a community is to influence the members of that community, one life at a time. Jesus impacted an entire world; but I would suggest that He focused on influencing twelve men. The Apostle Paul did engage rulers with the truth of the gospel, but his greatest success came when he engaged individuals with the gospel and then mentored them in the faith: men like Timothy and Titus. Our greatest influence can be life to life. But that must begin in our acceptance of one who is not where they need to be and investing ourselves in them. It can be frustrating work, and at times we can be disappointed; but it can also be one of the greatest sources of victory in our lives. I thank God for those who took me as I was and, through influencing my life, helped me to become what I am.
Change does not precede acceptance in the Christian life; if it did, none of us would be saved. Christ accepted us in the beloved and is even now changing us into His desire for our lives. Let each of us have the same heart. Remembering what we were, let’s accept that others could love our Lord like we do. And let’s accept them where they are, to help them get to where Jesus wants them to be.