Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Acceptance or Approval? (2)

Another sermon-based topic, which has been brought home in more ways than one through conversations with friends this week - conversations in which I did not initiate the topics discussed.

As children, we are very often (incorrectly) taught that disapproval of things that we do (eg. punishment if we are naughty) means that we are rejected as a person. This usually happens because we are not reminded that we are accepted - especially at the time when our actions are/were disapproved of.

Part 1 of this topic was intended to illustrate a story from the Bible - but there are many other stories that make it very clear that disapproval does NOT equal rejection - and that God very definitely loves each one of us, even if he disapproves of the choices that we make. This is the whole basis for what Jesus did on the cross. If one reads about Jesus life, one will see clearly that He walked among sinners - talked to them, and furthermore ate with them (had fellowship with them) - but in no way did their actions and choices rub off on Him - He was still sinless.

There are three perspectives that we can use to observe this story.

Firstly, consider the relationship between Jesus and his critics - the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. The critics have an agenda - as usual. They want to catch Jesus out, and Jesus knows it. They appeal to Moses' law - but they abuse it at the same time. The law says that both parties caught in adultery should be stoned - not just one - so, where's the guilty man? If Jesus says that they should stone the woman, he breaks the prevailing Roman law which forbids this, but if he says they should not, then he breaks Moses' law. Jesus' answer is therefore all the more brilliant, because it ignores both laws (without breaking them), and invites his critics to get serious and consider their own state. If we are all serious about our lives, we will all find ourselves guilty, one way or another.

Secondly, consider the relationship between Jesus and the woman (and by inference, God's relationship with us). We observe in the story that Jesus refused to condemn the woman. This can be confirmed through looking at John 3:17, which states: For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (KJV) Jesus COULD have judged the woman, but this was not His role here on earth, and so He did not do so. At the same time, he did not condone her sin. He told her to 'go and sin no more'. He had compassion on her as well - because He would have known that she was a victim of circumstances - a pawn in the plot of His critics. Therefore His words offer her forgiveness, acceptance (of her as a person), and a fresh start. This interaction demonstrates why Jesus needed to go to the cross. He freely withheld judgement, and forgave people's sins - because He was going to pay the price of their sins Himself.

Thirdly consider the relationship between us and others. We need to accept that we are accepted. Too often, we feel that we need to win others' acceptance - and that of God, but this is false. We also need to accept those people (Christian and non-Christian) who we disapprove of (their actions). Jesus shows us very clearly that it is possible to hold high moral standards while accepting those who break those same standards. Also, we need to accept other Christians whose beliefs may not be the same as ours. We need to be kind, compassionate, and as forgiving of others as Christ is of us - unconditionally, and unending.

"Many of us will never feel a real peace with God about our own personal salvation until we break the stranglehold of this childish confusion." - David Seamands