Acceptance Does Not Imply Approval


There is a fallacy in the minds of many people that if you accept something or someone, you are tacitly demonstrating your approval.

When the conversation comes to a person’s practice, lifestyle or opinions, the contrarian is often heard to pronounce: “That’s wrong. I just cannot accept that.”

What we need to realize is that there is a vast difference between accepting someone and approving of their choices, behavior or beliefs. Let me illustrate from God’s Word.

On one occasion Jesus was teaching in the Temple when the Pharisees brought him a woman caught in the very act of adultery. Moses’ law commanded she should be stoned. They asked Jesus, “What do you say?”

Jesus realized the hearts of the Pharisees were corrupt. They didn’t care about this woman. They were simply trying to trap Jesus. To find some fault in Him. To turn the people against Him.

Jesus’ response was simple, but profound. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Then Jesus stooped to write something in the sand. Some commentators suggest he wrote the names of some Pharisees who were guilty of adultery. Others offer that He wrote down some of their sins. Regardless, when Jesus arose all of the woman’s accusers were gone.

He then turned to the woman and forgave her with these parting words, “Go, and sin no more.”

Jesus did not approve of sexual immorality. But he accepted this woman. Showed compassion. Extended to her forgiveness. And taught us how to treat sinners. (John 8:1-11)

Throughout the life of Christ we see him mixing and mingling with sinners. In fact, it was the constant criticism of the religious leaders, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:1) They thought his acceptance of sinners implied His approval. It did not.

Jesus’ answer to his self-righteous critics was straightforward and succinct. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matt 9:12-13)

Jesus teaches us that we can accept others without approving of their choices or conduct. As Christians, we are called to love others by showing mercy and compassion. Jesus, the consummate expression of Godhood, is our perfect example.

God wants us to accept others with respect, regard and dignity. The consideration we accord others with whom we disagree does not imply our agreement or approval of their positions, politics or personal preferences.

When we treat our enemies with kindness we are showing acceptance, not approval. The fellow Christian with whom we disagree is not be treated as an enemy, but as a brother or sister in Christ. We may not approve of their decisions, but we accept them in the way the Lord does.

Our love for others is not an endorsement of all they do. It is, however, a way to say I accept and love you regardless of what you do.

Consider the command to honor rulers, pray for governmental leaders and respect all in positions of authority. (1 Tim. 2:1-3; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). Does our deference to them, suggest our approval of their political agenda? The laws they pass? Or the moral positions they espouse? Obviously not. But we can accept and accord them the honor of their office.

Let’s eliminate this false premise that acceptance means approval. And let’s begin by applying the principle in our churches.

“Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7, NASU)

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman



Filed under Christian Living

3 responses to “Acceptance Does Not Imply Approval

  1. David McKee


  2. Boyd King

    I am not contradicting what you wrote, just asking for clarification of terms used.

    I agree that we want to have compassion for the sinner, and spend time with them to lead them to their Savior, for “such were some of you.” But do we need to define “accept?” How do I best fit this into my concept of acceptance: “Have no fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them,” (Eph 5).

    • Great question, Boyd. Thanks for asking. I’m defining “accept” is to allow people into your life. To tolerate their thoughts, feeling, and opinions. To demonstrate love, exhibit kindness and extend friendship even when I disagree with them. I think the many examples of Jesus’ interaction with sinners is the best example of what it means. However, my willingness to accept others the way they are does not give me the right to participate with them (fellowship) in ungodliness. Or to suggest that I even approve of a sinful lifestyle. I think most Christians are “forced” to do this almost everyday in their jobs. Where they accept clients, co-workers and supervisors with whom they may not approve of their lifestyle. We do it to get a paycheck! However, out of that “forced” environment in our daily relationships we may not do as good a job. Lifestyle evangelism demands an attitude of respect for others, even those with whom we disagree. And our disagreements may be more of personal opinion or preference or political persuasion. I’m seeing too much of that on facebook where good brethren are vilified because they don’t agree with someone’s point of view. I hope that clarifies the point a bit more.

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