In this world acceptance comes at a price. If you want to be accepted you have to perform, you have to deliver, you have to shine. You have to be first in and best dressed. You have to close the deal and make the sale. You have to woo the girl and win the crowd. You have to dazzle the customer and impress the boss. In other words, your acceptance is determined by other people. To win respect and approval, you have to play by the rules others have set. You have to conform to their standards.
Live like this and your legitimate need for acceptance will dictate what you do, where you live, how you talk, even what you eat, drink, and wear. Your life will be defined by other people’s expectations.
As social creatures we were created with the need to be accepted. God put these needs and desires within us so that we might look to him to fulfill those needs. When we don’t—when we seek to get our need for acceptance met outside of him—we can literally hand our lives away. In our desire for acceptance we sign up for courses we’re not really interested in, we take on jobs that suck the life out of us, and we get cozy with those who don’t love us.
The desire to ascend to the high places of acceptance and avoid the valleys of rejection is one of the strongest reasons we do the things we do.
The unholy market for performance-based acceptance
Every manmade religion trades in the market for performance-based acceptance. For Christians this unholy trade is based on the lie that says you have to work to make yourself acceptable and pleasing to God. You’ve got to toe the line, do what you’re told, and make whatever sacrifices are currently in vogue with those up the front. Some churches prescribe codes of conduct and assign people to accountability groups to make sure they keep them. Others, who may scoff at this Old Testamenty idea of writing down rules, don’t hesitate to impose with equal fervor their own unwritten expectations defining “acceptable” behavior. In either case, newcomers quickly learn what one must do to be considered “a good Christian” or “one of us.” Those who conform are welcomed (Acceptance! Hooray for me!), while those who don’t are marginalized (Rejection! Dear God no!).
Performance-based acceptance is a diabolical game with no winners and plenty of losers. Those who fail to perform are made to feel like nobodies while those who get the gold stars can end up further from grace than when they started. This happens when the applause of men deafens them to the voice of the Father that says, “You don’t need to do any of this to please me.”
Life’s winners can be its biggest losers if they become addicted to the feeling of being special that comes from accomplishment. “You love me, you really love me.” In the pursuit of that high they sacrifice themselves and their families on the altar of achievement. They may even come to define themselves in terms of their results or, in Christianese, their “fruit.” They become number-worshippers, their conversations littered with references to how many people God is touching through their ministry. “God is really using me. I must be a Somebody.”
When things turn sour and their success evaporates, they no longer know who they are. “I thought I was a minister but my ministry’s gone. Who am I?” What began as a legitimate quest for acceptance and approval ultimately robs them of their identity.
The gospel of acceptance
The market for acceptance and affirmation is a slave market. It perpetuates a system of human sacrifice based on envy and selfish ambition. It dehumanizes all who trade in it and fosters a distorted image of our heavenly Father as a loveless, scorekeeping judge. To end this unholy trade it is essential that we preach the gospel of acceptance, and here it is: The love of the Lord is not for sale. Like everything with grace, his acceptance and approval is a free gift that comes to us through Christ alone:
To the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV)
This verse is fantastically good news for those who want no part in the acceptance game. Look at the first part of that verse. Does it say, “To the praise of the glory of your service?” It does not. His acceptance of you is to the praise of the glory of his grace. Isn’t that wonderful?
But wait, it gets better. Look at the middle part of that verse. “He made us accepted.” His acceptance is not something you ever need strive for; you already have it. What relief! What freedom!
But wait, there’s more. Look at the final part of the verse: “in the Beloved.” This is referring to Jesus. God’s acceptance comes to you on account of his Son. So if you want to know just how acceptable you are to God, you only have to look at the One called Beloved.
On the day Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, NKJV). Do you know how much ministry success Jesus had accomplished before God spoke those words? None. According to the gospel writers, Jesus had not done a blessed thing. He had preached no sermons, healed no sick, and raised no dead. And yet God said, “I am well pleased with him.” That’s acceptance such as the world does not know. That is the unconditional affirmation of heaven.
[Excerpted from The Gospel in Ten Words, pp.70-71]