One of my guilty pleasures is to scroll through the YouTube home page and tell it which videos I’m not interested in. I love telling the internet that it’s offering of conspiracy theories, health scares, and nonsense involving food is never going to happen. Sometimes there is inches worth of little bars saying, “Video removed.” I asked myself the other day why that is so satisfying, it is such a waste of time. Perhaps I am more susceptible to the spirit of rejection in our culture than I previously thought.
There always seems to be more thumbs down than thumbs up on the social media I come across. Trolls are no longer the stuff of fairy tales, and in real life they’re disguised much better. It seems like there are entire websites whose sole purpose is to allow people to air their complaints. The phrase, “Everyone’s a critic” has really come into its own in the 21st century.
We have so many platforms with which to reject each other. Boy are we taking the chance to do so and to do it with relish, creativity even. If Screwtape and Wormwood were real they would be going on holiday, we’re doing such a good job of tearing each other down and casting doubt on goodness. Let alone the goodness of God. (Screwtape and Wormwood are characters in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.)
Yet into the midst of this Jesus stands up and says, “I accept you.” God joins Him and says, “I love you and I’m proud of you.” The Holy Spirit whispers in our ears, “I am with you.”
Some time ago I found a talk Pete Greig did involving the baptism and testing of Jesus. After setting up the fact that Jesus’ identity was grounded in love and acceptance from the Father, Greig turned the perspective. The words of acceptance spoken over Jesus, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” are now spoken over us (Lk. 3:22 NKJV). At the time I was just about scandalized, those words from God belonged to Jesus, not me. At the same time, I was desperately hungry for them to be mine too. For that acceptance to apply to me.
I took some time to digest this message and came to the conclusion that Greig was right to turn the perspective. If I am in Christ and His righteousness applies to me, His acceptance also applies to me. Paul eludes to this a few times throughout the epistles. I find the two clearest examples to be in Romans 3:21-26, and 2 Corinthians 5:12-21.
In Romans Paul basically says that God revealed His righteousness in a new way. Before it was the law (or the Old Testament) but now in Christ we see righteousness “apart from the law.” The law only confirms the truth of the new revelation we find in Jesus. Paul goes on to say that, “Even the new righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” (Rom. 3:22 NKJV) I take this to mean that when you come to believe in Jesus you take on the mantle of this living revelation. Jesus’ righteousness is now your righteousness and your life is now a revelation to those around you. Paul describes grace and redemption and brings it back to this living revelation, its purpose being, “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness.” (Rom. 3:26 NKJV emphasis added) Our life, now, is the continuation of the revelation of Christ and His righteousness that He is waiting to give to any who believe.
The text in 2 Corinthians echoes the message in Romans. Paul lays the ground work for salvation and redemption but it doesn’t stop there. Now our lives are lived for Jesus and His purpose of spreading salvation to others. Whatever life we were living up to the point of our salvation is over and we are made new in Christ, “therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV) Then Paul elaborates on reconciliation; how we are reconciled to God and how God desires to reconcile the rest of the world too. Paul says that our role is to be “ambassadors for Christ” and that representation of Christ through our life is like “God […] pleading through us.” Paul wraps it up by reaffirming the righteousness we have in Jesus by saying, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21 NKJV) In other words, when we are in Christ, we have His righteousness as our own.
Why would God go to all that trouble to give me righteousness, new life, and new purpose; but withhold His acceptance? No, when I unite my life to the resurrected life of Jesus all the blessings of the Father’s love is poured into my life, including acceptance. Including the words, “I love you, and I’m proud of you.”
If we are to emulate Christ, then we should incorporate the discipline of acceptance. Why am I calling it a discipline? I think rejection is so pervasive in our culture it will be something uncomfortable to practice, perhaps feeling unnatural. Yet we must work at in order to overcome the formation from culture as we are re-formed into the likeness of Christ.
Our ability to give acceptance to others, be it their work or they themselves, is like an atrophied muscle. Meanwhile the “court of public opinion” and various apps and social media have made our rejection muscle strong. We must reverse that in ourselves and strengthen the acceptance muscle and let the rejection one shrink at least to a healthy proportion.
I believe that looks like giving words of encouragement to each other in person and online. Or showing the love of Christ whether you agree with the other person’s politics, philosophy, lifestyle, etc. or not. If persuasion is necessary, let kindness and generosity be our tools of influence. They are far more effective than words have ever been. As ambassadors of Christ living out the new revelation of righteousness in the present, we too must stand in this tide of rejection and join Jesus in saying, “I accept you.”
“Pioneer Leaders Conference 2015 – Pete Greig.” Pioneer Network YouTube channel. 2015.
Sculpture in picture by Louise Bourgeois