Do you feel accepted? Remember how you felt when you were accepted into your dream college? How about when your mortgage application was accepted by the bank? How about when that exclusive club let you in (for a fee, of course)?
I’m not talking about that kind of acceptance. Let me explain.
What is acceptance?
When you’re accepted into college, you belong there, but your presence on campus and in the classroom doesn’t mean that anyone accepts you. Similarly, you can finally get approval to join a club, but the existing members might not accept you. Instead, they might either treat you as a second-class citizen or altogether shun you.
On the job, you might have earned a promotion or landed a better job. You belong in your new office, rubbing shoulders with people at the highest level of your profession. Still, those around you might resent your presence. Perhaps your degree came from the “wrong” university or your background doesn’t meet unspoken norms. You might be working yourself up from a lower rung on the socio-economic ladder, and your coworkers might be embarrassed to associate with you.
How about church? Chuch should be different. Right? You’ve always heard about God’s love and how “God’s people” are so wonderful. Maybe someone invited you to a worship service or you took the initiative to visit. At first, everyone seems friendly and happy to see you. Soon, however, you might even join the congregation, thinking that you have been accepted, only to find out about exclusive cliques and unspoken standards that keep you shut out from the mainstream of organizational culture. Yes, you might belong in that church as part of the congregation, but you have not been accepted.
What about family? You might form a blended family where you belong with your spouse. Heck, your spouse might even accept you, but what about those children? You belong in the household, but you’re not necessarily accepted. They don’t include you. You are not favored.
I hope you’re starting to understand my point.
Working for acceptance
People everywhere long to be accepted. I think that’s normal. I regard acceptance as a basic human need. Children belong with their family, regardless of its form, but they are not automatically accepted. During childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, a child might fail expectations, break norms or get into trouble at school or with the law. As a result, their parent(s) rejects them (the opposite of acceptance). They might still live in the home and participate in family activities, but they are out of favor. The are not accepted.
People join gangs, style their hair in certain ways, buy particular brands of clothes, choose their trips, gain or lose weight, or take myriad similar actions trying to fit in. So often, however, those efforts fail. A sense of belonging is nice, but it is formal, legal and superficial. Acceptance is elemental and organic. It is rare. Perhaps that’s why acceptance makes people feel so good.
You can be accepted
Please don’t misinterpret anything that I have said as being cynical or negative. discussing human nature is not a rejection of anyone or any organization, including a church. I’m discussing reality and supplying you with real-life examples of what acceptance is not. What, then is acceptance?
Acceptance is having favor or honor. When other people love you, respect you, and agree with you and your presence among them, you have been accepted. Acceptance, however, cannot be forced. You can demand and subsequently receive a position that belongs to you, but acceptance doesn’t necessarily accompany belonging.
Do you want to feel accepted? Everyone wants and needs that feeling. Can I tell you how to become accepted by people? No, I cannot. People do what they want. That fact, however, doesn’t mean you might never have the wonderful sensation of being accepted. You can be accepted and enjoy the wonderful feelings and benefits that come with that condition.
The Bible speaks of how God makes us “accepted in the beloved” when we accept His free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:6). Here, “the beloved” refers to the group of people who have accepted God’s redemption and are now part of God’s family. At one time, none of us even belonged in God’s family. As a result of grace, He adopts us, so that we belong to Him. The status of a believer, however, is even more intimate and personal: God accepts us. He honors us, favors us and is in full agreement with us. God’s acceptance is unconditional.
Finally, I want you to notice that we are accepted in the beloved, not by the beloved. I happen to think that a real church should make everyone feel accepted by the beloved, but – as I’ve already said – that doesn’t always happen. What is more important and significant is that we are accepted in the beloved. God’s in charge. God accepts you, even if no one else ever does. What a wonderful feeling acceptance is! Best of all, unlike people, God will never change His mind about you.
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