Acceptance is a central theme in the Bible. God calls us to accept others just as Christ accepted us (Romans 15:7) and to live in unity as members of one body (Ephesians 4:25-32). However, the Bible also teaches that we should not accept or tolerate sinful behaviors that go against God’s commands (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). Finding the balance between showing Christ-like acceptance while still upholding godly standards is an important part of the Christian walk.
- We are called to accept all people because we are all created in God’s image, but we cannot accept sinful behaviors.
- Acceptance means showing love, compassion and forgiveness to others, just as Christ showed acceptance to us.
- Living in unity requires accepting our brothers and sisters in Christ even when there are disagreements over non-essential issues.
- While we cannot control whether others accept us, we are responsible before God for our own attitudes of acceptance towards others.
- Acceptance is not the same as approval. We should accept people while directing them towards godly living.
- Showing partiality and favoritism is wrong. Acceptance in the Bible means valuing all people equally.
- Pride and self-righteousness are barriers to acceptance. We must humbly admit our own flaws.
- Acceptance brings fellowship, joy and glory to God. Refusing to accept others isolates us and dishonors God.
What Does “Acceptance” Mean in the Bible?
To understand the Bible’s teachings on acceptance, we first need to explore what “acceptance” means in a Biblical context. The English word “acceptance” or “accept” is used to translate several Hebrew and Greek words in Scripture that convey the idea of receiving favorably and welcoming someone or something.
Some key Biblical terms relating to acceptance include:
- Prosdechomai (Greek) – To receive favorably, welcome, embrace (Romans 15:7; James 2:1).
- Lambano (Greek) – To take or receive something offered or given (John 1:12; 13:20).
- Apodechomai (Greek) – To fully welcome, receive gladly, accept (Acts 2:41; Luke 8:40).
- Paralambanō (Greek) – To take someone alongside oneself in fellowship and commitment (Galatians 2:9).
- Kabal (Hebrew) – To take on oneself, bear up, contain (Exodus 28:38).
- Nasa (Hebrew) – To lift up, carry, take (Leviticus 22:27).
So in the Bible, acceptance involves gladly welcoming someone, taking them in, receiving them into fellowship and bearing with them patiently. It means valuing them and identifying with them. Biblical acceptance goes far beyond just tolerating or coexisting with someone.
We Are Called to Accept Others as Christ Accepted Us
One of the clearest principles in the Bible regarding acceptance is that we are to accept fellow believers with the same grace and love that Christ extended to us.
Romans 15:7 (NKJV) states:
“Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”
The call here to “receive one another” uses the Greek word prosdechomai, meaning to welcome or embrace someone. And we are to do this in the same manner (“just as”) Christ received us. The way Jesus embraced us is described in Romans 15:3:
“For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’”
Part of how Christ accepted us was by bearing our reproaches and burdens upon Himself even though He was perfect and did not deserve reproach. Though completely innocent, He took the weight of our sin and shame.
Similarly, 1 Peter 2:24 tells us:
“Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
So we are called to follow Jesus’ example of acceptance by bearing with one another, taking on one another’s burdens, overlooking flaws and reproaches, and helping carry the shame and sins of others. We accept each other “just as” Christ accepted us.
Accepting others as Christ accepted us brings glory to God, as Romans 15:7 indicates. Our Christ-like acceptance and unity testify to the power of the gospel that broke down barriers between Jew and Gentile and forged one people of God out of many. Our acceptance of fellow believers demonstrates the love of Christ to the world (John 13:34-35).
Accepting Others Shows Love as Christ Loved Us
Closely tied to the principle of accepting others as Christ accepted us is the command to love one another as Christ loved us. Accepting each other is a key way we demonstrate Christ-like love.
1 John 4:11 states:
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
In the previous verses, John explains that God showed His love to us by sending Jesus to die for our sins and propitiate God’s wrath (1 John 4:9-10). This sacrificial, atoning love is how we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Part of walking in love is accepting each other rather than judging, shunning, or casting stones. We leave judging to God and humbly accept our fellow believers. John 8:7 records Jesus’ words to the Pharisees who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery:
“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
Of course, we all fall short, so we are in no place to judge others harshly or refuse to accept them. Jude 1:22 advises:
“And on some have compassion, making a distinction.”
We should show mercy and acceptance rather than judgment. Ephesians 4:32 explains how:
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
The tenderhearted kindness and forgiveness we are to show reflects Christ’s merciful acceptance of us. This kind of humble, patient acceptance fulfills the Christ-like love John calls us to walk in (1 John 2:6).
Accepting Others as Members of One Body in Christ
A third principle woven throughout the New Testament is that as believers united in Christ we are members of one body. Just as the parts of a physical body are joined together and mutually dependent, we must accept, care for, and feel tied to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
Romans 12:5 makes this point plainly:
“So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”
This verse emphasizes that we are “members of one another.” Your hand does not reject your foot because it looks different or serves a different role. It accepts the foot as part of the same body. So too believers with varied backgrounds and gifts are called to accept one another as indispensable parts of the united body of Christ.
First Corinthians 12:12-27 uses the example of a physical body in detail to illustrate the unity and acceptance required in the spiritual body of Christ:
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ…Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…But now indeed there are many members, yet one body…Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…”
This passage emphasizes our interconnectedness. We cannot be isolated parts but need the gifts and roles of the entire body. Just as a body accepts all its members as necessary, we must accept our fellow believers.
Ephesians 4:15-16 describes what this accepting unity should look like:
“But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
Our acceptance and unity in the body allow us to speak truth in love and supply what the other parts need so the whole body grows and builds itself up in love.
While We Cannot Control Others’ Acceptance, We Are Responsible for Our Own
Though Scripture calls all believers to accept one another, we cannot force acceptance from others, only control our own willingness to accept. Romans 14 addresses a situation where some Christians judged others over disputable matters like eating meat or keeping certain days holy. Paul writes:
“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:4-5)
We are responsible before God for our own attitudes, but we cannot demand that other believers agree with our opinions or convictions on disputable secondary issues. We are called to accept that each follower of Christ must be led by their conscience:
“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (Romans 14:5 NIV)
Rather than judging, refusing fellowship, or demanding conformity, we should accept one another in spite of differences on secondary issues not essential to salvation:
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:4-6 NIV)
Though not all believers will see eye-to-eye on disputable matters, we can control our own willingness to accept others with grace, humility and without judgment or condemnation over secondary issues.
Acceptance Is Not Approval – We Accept People But Not Sin
While Scripture calls us to accept others, this does not mean approving of or participating in sinful actions and lifestyles. We should humbly accept people as members of the human family to be loved, while directing them towards righteousness.
For example, Paul tells the Corinthians to show acceptance to an immoral brother, but not to tolerate the sin itself:
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people…But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral…Yet I certainly did not mean the sexually immoral people of this world…for then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
The acceptance is shown to unbelievers and to people in the church struggling with sexual sin. They were to humbly help these brothers, not shun them. However, they were instructed not to tolerate celebration or approval of the immoral behavior, which could poison the church. There is a difference between accepting people versus condoning behaviors God calls sinful.
2 John 1:10-11 provides a similar example, warning believers not to accept false teachers into their homes or wish them well, so as not to become participants in spreading false doctrine. However, this does not negate the many other Scriptures urging us to show love and humility towards those we disagree with doctrinally.
We also see Jesus accepting people whose lifestyles He clearly defined as sinful. He spent time with and showed love to prostitutes, tax collectors and others living in open sin (Matthew 9:10-13, Matthew 21:31-32). But He always directed them to “go and sin no more.” Accepting people as human beings to love is different than approving sinful lifestyles.
Showing Partiality and Favoritism Is Wrong
A great barrier to true Biblical acceptance is showing favoritism or partiality based on outward appearances and socioeconomic status. Scripture strongly warns against this. James 2:8-9 states:
“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
James gives the specific example of giving preferential treatment to wealthy church visitors over poor ones. He concludes in verse 9, “But if you show favoritism, you sin.” Such partiality has no place in Christ’s kingdom where all are equally valued.
The Old Testament likewise condemned showing partiality towards either the poor or rich, warning judges and rulers to be completely impartial (Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 1:17). Treating people and cases differently based on wealth or status went against God’s standard of justice.
As believers who are heirs in Christ, we have an equal high position before God regardless of earthly class, race, or background (Galatians 3:28-29). By accepting others as equals, we reflect our new standing in God’s kingdom. Favoritism has no place in the body of Christ.
Pride Is a Barrier to Acceptance – We Must Value Others Above Ourselves
Pride, self-righteousness and belief in our own superiority often hinder us from accepting others. Scripture warns against thinking too highly of ourselves:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…” (Philippians 2:3)
To accept others, we must humble ourselves and not demand our own way or insist on conformity to our opinions on disputable matters. We are to view others’ interests as more important than our own (Philippians 2:4).
James 4:6 reminds us, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” Our own pride blocks God’s grace to us and through us to others. But accepting others in humility pleases God.
We also must be humble enough to recognize our own flaws and need for grace. Specks in others’ eyes are easier to see than logs in our own (Matthew 7:3-5). But God calls us to the same standard of holiness we require of others. Romans 2:1 warns, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” None of us perfectly lives up to God’s standards, so we should not judge others harshly for their shortcomings.
Walking in humility opens our hearts to accept others, just as Christ in His humanity humbled Himself and accepted us (Philippians 2:8).
Acceptance Leads to Fellowship, Joy and Glory to God
Scripture links acceptance of others closely with fellowship, joy and glorifying God. Refusing to accept those Christ accepts robs us of blessing.
Romans 15:7 says accepting others as Christ accepted us leads to “the glory of God.” Our unity highlights God’s glory and the power of the gospel to break down barriers (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Accepting weaker members of the body leads to mutual joy: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7)
The parable of the prodigal son illustrates the joy in heaven over one sinner welcomed back into fellowship (Luke 15:7). Joy comes through God’s acceptance of us and our acceptance of others.
John stresses that his letter about walking in love is to promote joy: “We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:4) Loving others through acceptance completes our joy.
Refusing to accept other members of Christ’s body isolates us from the joys of fellowship in the body. If the foot rejects the hand, neither can function properly. Fullness of joy comes through accepting one another in Christ.
Examples of Acceptance in the Early Church
The early church modeled the type of open acceptance commanded in Scripture, welcoming those traditionally excluded. Acts 8 records how Philip preached successfully to Samaritans, who the Jews historically despised as outsiders. But Peter and John came to Samaria to confirm the new converts and welcome them into fellowship (Acts 8:14-17). The apostles accepted these traditional outsiders as equals in Christ.
Acts 10 recounts how Peter overcame deep-seated prejudice to accept and baptize the Gentile Cornelius, saying, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)
The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 decided Gentile believers did not need to adhere to Jewish laws to be full members of God’s people. James affirmed they should not make it difficult for Gentiles turning to God (Acts 15:19).
Paul also demolished barriers of ethnicity, gender and social status in declaring equality in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) All these groups were to be accepted as beloved equals in God’s family.
How Should We Apply Biblical Acceptance Today?
In today’s divided culture, applying these principles of Biblical acceptance presents challenges. How can we show Christ-like acceptance while still upholding moral and doctrinal truth? Here are several applications to prayerfully consider:
- Accept fellow believers who differ on secondary issues like worship styles, political positions, or charismatic gifts. Our unity in Christ transcends these disputes. We can accept the person while respectfully disagreeing on doctrinal debates not core to salvation.
- Build personal relationships with those you tend to see as “other.” Get to know their stories and struggles. See them as human beings bearing God’s image.
- Be humble enough to listen to perspectives different than your own. Be willing to learn rather than demanding others conform to your view. We can understand others while still holding to biblical truth.
- Accept does not always mean agree or approve. We accept all people as worthy of love but cannot embrace behaviors God calls sinful. Welcome people into fellowship while directing them toward godliness and repentance from sin.
- Be cautious about rejecting or shunning those the culture marginalizes. Stand with the oppressed and seek to defend human dignity. Be the voice for the voiceless.
- Accept people unconditionally as Jesus did. Build relationships with the lost. Let your non-judgmental love point people to the grace of Christ.
- Acceptance means valuing people as full equals in God’s sight. Fight prejudices in your own heart. Repent of racist, classist, or sexist thinking that values some people more than others.
- Be patient with weaker members of the body of Christ as all of us are works in progress. Bear their burdens as Christ bore ours.
- Pray for eyes to see others as God sees them. Ask for His love for those you struggle accepting. His acceptance of us enables our acceptance of others.
Our world is fractured and divided along countless lines. As believers, we can model radical acceptance reflecting God’s love’s unifying power. Acceptance in essentials, grace in non-essentials, patience with all – this brings glory to our Father.