Frankly put, God doesn’t ‘accept’ us as we are, because what we are is fallen and flawed sinful people. God loves us as we are, but God is insistent that we all change, repent of our sinful inclinations and ways, and become more like Christ. A loving welcome by Jesus does not exclude incredible demands in regard to our conduct, and indeed even in regard to the lusts of our hearts. As it turns out, God is an equal opportunity lover of all humanity, and also an equal opportunity critiquer of all our sin, and with good reason— it is sin that keeps separating us from God and ruining our relationship with God. This is why the only proper Biblical approach to everyone who would wish to be ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the body of Christ’ is that they are most welcome to come as they are, and they will be loved as they are, but no one is welcome to stay as they are— all God’s chillins need to change. Welcoming does not entail affirming our sins, much less baptizing our sins and suddenly calling them good, healthy, life giving.
…Then we will realize that to be welcoming and loving of all persons does not mean to be accepting of all personal choices and behaviors. Then we will realize that Christ invites all of us to come as we are to him, but he expects all of us to change, he expects none of us to stay as we are. Then we will realize that fallen human beings, by which I mean all of us, have an infinite capacity to rationalize our sin, and unfortunately the heart cry of all sinners is this ‘please dear God, tell me I am alright just like I am, so I won’t have to change. Please can’t we just sing a few more choruses of ‘Just as I Am’ and then I can return to being just what I am inclined to be. Please dear God tell me that I was even born this way, so I can say ‘God made me this way’, and blame you for my flaws and foibles, and stop wrestling with the troubling possibility that I was born with innate tendencies to self-centered, self-indulgent desires and behaviors.’ Yes, that really is the heart cry of sinners a good deal of the time, all sinners. Unfortunately, ‘I was born this way’ doesn’t mean its good or God-sanctioned. We were all born with flaws, and sinful inclinations. Indeed, when you think about it, if the most primal sin is self-centeredness, there is no more self-centered creature on earth than a baby– its all about ‘my needs’ ‘my hunger’ etc.
…We must take seriously the warnings in the Bible about the heart having the capacity to be incredibly deceptive, especially when we are talking about fallen people. The most primal sin of all is the heart turned in upon itself– self-centered thinking, self-centered behavior, the continual struggle for self-justification, and the rationalizing of our mistakes, and sins. There is a reason why the story of Adam and Eve tells us that once they ate the apple, they became self-centered, self-reflective, realized they were naked, and were ashamed.
Obviously, one of the main reasons it’s hard to find or be church is because church involves other directed behavior, it involves communion with others, it involves the messy process of putting others before yourself, and putting up with other people’s eccentricities. It involves the time consuming activity of developing relationships. The agape love that the NT talks about is not an infinitely indulgent love which says to the sinner ‘there there, you’re fine just as you are’. It is a holy love, a holy fire, and it should not be mixed up with the other loves which may reside in our heart, for example eros. God’s love is indeed a change agent, a purifying fire, and the end result is not that we get to be satisfied with ourselves as we are. The end result is we are told we are in the painful process of being inwardly conformed to the image of Christ (see 2 Cor. 3-5)…
(Keep reading at Ben Witherington’s blog post)
Bible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.
Witherington has also taught at Ashland Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell. A popular lecturer, Witherington has presented seminars for churches, colleges and biblical meetings not only in the United States but also in England, Estonia, Russia, Europe, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia. He has also led tours to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.
Witherington has written over forty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today. He also writes for many church and scholarly publications.
Along with many interviews on radio networks across the country, Witherington has been seen on the History Channel, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, The Discovery Channel, A&E, and the PAX Network.
Categories: Transformative Love