One of the first concepts learned by persons in the helping professions is acceptance. Acceptance is the non-judgmental caring for, and interest in, the person being helped, based on the inherent worth of the individual, irrespective of their behavior and life circumstances. The late Carl R. Rogers, founder of person-centered psychology and psychotherapy, termed this concept “unconditional positive regard” and considered it one of the necessary conditions that promoted change in clients. Research and clinical practice have subsequently confirmed that acceptance is a fundamental necessity in helping people change.
Acceptance is regarded as foundational to the development of self-worth, self-esteem, and a positive self-concept. It is promoted as the positive glue of effective and satisfying human relationships whether in marriage, parenting, leading, managing, relating with colleagues or friends. Thus, humanism has apparently discovered the solution to problems involving both human vulnerabilities and human differences.
However, the very fact that people need acceptance affirms a further fact – that what is to be accepted (that is, the person) is flawed. By its very nature, acceptance has meaning only because the person desiring and experiencing it recognizes that there is something that may jeopardize that very acceptance. Victor Hugo captured the essence of this fact when he wrote: “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved, loved for ourselves, or rather loved in spite of ourselves.”
As such, acceptance becomes humanism’s greatest proof of man’s sinful nature, because unless we are marred in some way, acceptance has no real meaning or impact. There is no argument with the contention that each person is entitled to and deserves the respect and caring of other human beings. After all, we are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). That basic premise is affirmed by God in two ways: first, God is no respecter of persons, treating each individual as equally worthwhile, regardless of position or circumstance (Rom. 2:11); second, He demonstrated His acceptance of us by sending His Son to die on the cross for us (Jn. 3:16-18).
God’s acceptance was demonstrated in spite of the following facts about us from Scripture: “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23 NIV); “There is no one righteous, no, not even one” (Rom. 3:10); “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:3); and “There is not a righteous man on the earth who does what is right and never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).
Just The Beginning
However, from the standpoint of change or making a real difference, acceptance is just a door opener. It only opens the way for a person to face problems and see them clearly enough to do something about them. Every therapist knows that unless his/her client moves on to action that results in change, the therapeutic process will be unsuccessful.
That is why God, in His love for us, went beyond acceptance. He provided a means of exchanging our flawed nature for one of unflawed perfection in His sight. Romans 3:28 tells us that “a man is justified by faith” in Jesus Christ. In terms of change, justification can be grasped by a play on the word itself, which is that each of us who believes is viewed “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned. Provided with a new life in Christ, we are enabled to live as such (Rom. 6:4).
The production line in our consumer-oriented manufacturing industry provides us with a helpful analogy of acceptance. Each industry trains “quality control” specialists to identify flawed goods, removing them from the production/sales process. However, these removed goods may be sold as “seconds” or “rejects” for a lower price, if the flaws do not interfere with the function of the product. Thus, consumers can obtain name-brand goods for less money, if they are willing to overlook the flaws. In this way, people can appear quite affluent to those around them who may not be aware that they are wearing or using “seconds.”
The same is true of our personhood. People may not know or observe our flaws and vulnerabilities. We only expose them to those who truly accept us. But such is not the case with God. First Samuel 16:7 tells us this: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” While God offers us acceptance willingly, we must embrace His offer of it, which also includes the means by which we can change. Our choice will determine whether we will come through the assembly line of life flawed or perfect. You see, God is also the quality control specialist – and Satan buys all the seconds.
By James Trotzer