Acceptance Without Approval

Reaching the Sinner without Approving of His Sin

We cannot give approval to everyone we meet. We meet people who wear clothing of which we cannot in good conscience approve, use language of which we cannot approve, and live lifestyles of which we cannot approve if we wish to be consistent with Scripture. Unfortunately, a desire to disapprove that of which God disapproves has caused us to be perceived as rejecting the individual whose behavior we cannot condone. It is my belief that Scripture requires us to give acceptance even in those cases where we cannot give approval.

The Error of Not Accepting People

Sometimes we unintentionally give people the impression that because we cannot approve of their behavior, we do not approve of them. We do this by making the areas in which we disapprove become personal. This, it seems to me, is a mistake. I am not the one who decided that sodomy is perversion, adultery is ungodly, or drinking alcohol as a beverage is sinful. These were God’s ideas. People who disobey God in these areas certainly have a conflict with Him. I clearly wish to align myself on His side, but it is not a matter between me and the sinner. It is a matter between the sinner and God.

If we use the giving or withholding of acceptance as a tool to modify people’s behavior, we run the risk of teaching them to respond to us rather than teaching them to respond to God. The approach of giving or withholding acceptance in order to encourage certain behaviors may work for a while. Ultimately, however, we run the risk of the individual becoming irritated with us, finding fault with us, or feeling like we are trying to control their lives. This will not be the case if we have always directed their attention back to God and urged them to make their decision in order to please Him.

The Exhortation to Acceptance

“Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye” Romans 14:1a

1. We should make everyone feel welcome. A person should not have to dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, or end certain sinful behaviors to be welcome in our services.

2. We should make them feel wanted. I want drug addicts to come to our church. I want drunkards to come to our church. I want people who live immoral lives to come to our church. I believe that the power of the Word of God can change their lives. I further believe that it is much more likely they will make changes if they come to a good Bible-preaching church where they hear the Word of God proclaimed on a regular basis than if they don’t.

3. We should make people feel like they must do nothing in order to be accepted by us. In any church where the preacher proclaims the whole counsel of God, it will soon become clear that there are many behaviors of which God and hence, the preacher, do not approve. The preacher should work hard to make it equally clear that he loves each individual no matter what their faults are and he wants them to come to the church services. (This does not preclude Biblical requirements for church discipline.) It seems to me that if we require certain behaviors in order to demonstrate love, that our love is not true love. Love which must be earned; love which must be maintained by certain behaviors, is not unconditional love at all.

A magazine to which I subscribe said that liberals are looking for heretics, and conservatives are looking for converts. They meant that liberals had become so consumed with their crusade for political correctness that they were always alert to attack anyone (even someone sympathetic to them) who was not adhering strictly to the party line. Conservatives, on the other hand were busy trying to convert people to their beliefs. They saw each person who disagreed with them as an opportunity—a chance to reach someone. It seems to me that in the church today, we would do well to spend a bit more time looking for converts and a bit less looking for heretics.

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