All of us have met people who rub us the wrong way. And there are always things that people do that we disagree with, some of them very strongly. Not everyone likes tattoos or piercings. When I dyed my hair as a youth leader I got a great many negative comments from people who thought that it wasn’t the right behaviour. Society has a great many different behaviours and attitudes that we disagree with. As Christians this is more evident as we try to follow a standard for life that the world doesn’t believe in or in many cases agree with.
I have found that many people get rejected in life because we cannot agree with their choices. We see the behaviour and stop and don’t go any further to the person underneath the behaviour. Because we cannot approve of the decisions or behaviours we are critical of them and judge them harshly. I have seen it so often and it is something I have wrestled with for many years. I came to know the acceptance of Christ and found that it wasn’t conditional based on my behaviour. And all through the gospels we see Jesus reaching into the lives of people who were in direct disobedience to what God wanted for them, and every person who met Jesus felt His acceptance of them.
If we see acceptance as approval we will never be able to build bridges to the people we come in contact with. There will always be things we cannot approve of. Approval means I am in agreement with. So if you lifestyle is not something I can agree with then I must stand in disagreement and criticize and judge. It seems to be the behaviour of many people in our world.
Acceptance however isn’t the same as approval. People can be acceptable even when their choices go completely against what we hold as values and standards. Acceptance looks at the person, not the behaviour. Acceptance can be communicated even when approval cannot be given. Acceptance says you are valuable and your value isn’t increased or decreased by your performance. This is exactly what Jesus did. Romans 5:8 “But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us.” (Voice) Jesus didn’t wait for us to get everything right so He could die for us, He accepted us completely and paid our penalty, even though He couldn’t approve of our behavior.
Acceptance seeks to listen, hear and understand a person simply because they are worth it. Approval just looks for agreement with. Our message can only properly go out as we work to separate these two. Acceptance needs to be communicated and lived regardless of who people are and the choices they are making. Acceptance is how love is communicated, and is one of the most vital needs in a persons life. We don’t need to know people approve of us. At times it is nice, but we can live without people’s agreement. We cannot live without acceptance. Something in our souls withers and dies when acceptance is withheld.
We need to receive and communicate acceptance in order for our lives to be healthy and whole. It is up to us to decide whether we are going to learn to accept people for who they are and the intrinsic value they have, or if we will fight simply for approval and only spend time with people we can be in agreement with.