We hear a lot about acceptance and tolerance today. In fact, in certain Christian circles acceptance and tolerance are at the top of bad word list!
At some other time I want to tackle the idea of toleration — so let’s turn our attention instead toward acceptance.
What We Want Acceptance to Mean
All of us want to be loved for who we are. We want people to validate us and our feelings and we want them to make us feel good about the choices we’ve made. We want to be accepted.
And we want this acceptance to be conditional: the one accepting us can’t ask us to change, expect us to change, or hope that we’ll change. Nope. Instead we want them to simply take us as we are, warts and all.
And to be honest, if there’s something about us that we know needs to change, we still don’t really want people to call us out on it.
It’s almost as if we want people to accept us and then to ignore everything about us that is preventing us from living up to our God-given potentials.
We want love without risk, grace without truth, and acceptance without change.
The Kind of Acceptance We Need
If we stopped to think about it, we would gather that this kind of cheap, no-strings-attached acceptance is shallow at best. We would figure out that it’s more or less meaningless because no one is asking us to be better, to be stronger, or to be more clued in.
But when we find someone who can accept us for who we are and then love us enough not to let us stay there, we will latch onto them for dear life!
I’m sure that as you read the last sentence you thought of a person or two in your life that simply makes you a better person. Sure, they offer you unadulterated acceptance. But they also have high expectations of you. When you fail them, they don’t dismiss you; instead they help you grow. When you hurt them, they don’t run; instead they teach you how not to be selfish.
It’s people like this that are worth holding onto! In fact, if we’re lucky enough to have one or two people in our lives like this, we’re super blessed!
I can’t think of a better example of someone who demonstrates healthy acceptance than Jesus. We can catch a glimpse or two of his acceptance style in John 3.1-15.
In those verses Jesus has an interaction with a religious leader named Nicodemus. Since Nicodemus was an important person and since Jesus was a bit controversial, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3.2).
He desperately wanted to engage in conversation and dialogue with Jesus, but he was a bit scared to be seen with him.
I don’t know about you, but if someone treated me this way, I might be tempted to say something like this: “Come back during the light of day. I can’t work with you if you’re ashamed to be seen with me!”
But this is not how Jesus responds. Instead Jesus enters in to a discussion with Nicodemus. He’s patient with him. But he teaches him.
Jesus doesn’t just accept Nicodemus and let him stay there. Jesus allows Nicodemus to come to him as is and he makes sure that he leaves a different man.
Now the transition from spiritual lostness to foundness was slow for Nicodemus. Nicodemus and his pal Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus but in secret, helped ensure that Jesus’ body was taken care of after he died (John 19.39-42). This was a big deal because doing so would be at least semi-public and because the spices and tomb for Jesus were not cheap. Nicodemus and his friend had to make sacrifices because of Jesus.
Jesus accepted him, and then a long time later Nicodemus demonstrated his love for Jesus.
Tradition has it that Nicodemus continued to follow Jesus and was killed for his faith sometime during the first century. This isn’t verifiable but it has a nice ring to it.
Maybe Nicodemus’ faith started slow and grew incrementally. And maybe it continued to grow and to grow and to grow.
And it all started for Nicodemus because Jesus offered him the gift of acceptance.
Why do we find it so hard to offer acceptance to folks who are far from God? If we want to follow Jesus and lead others toward his love too, then we must offer them acceptance. What can we do to be more accepting? Let me know in the comments below!
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