For Evangelical Christians, Love Doesn’t Always Mean Acceptance

For Evangelical Christians, Love Doesn’t Always Mean Acceptance September 6, 2017

The Tension Between Culture and The Church

Christians are at an impasse; the tension between the secular culture and Christendom is critically high. As society around us becomes more accepting of progressive ideologies like gender fluidity, abortion, and homosexuality the church is forced rethink 2,000-year-old stances and doctrines. Recent documents like the controversial Nashville Statement or Denver Statement are indicators of the aforementioned tension and evidence that lines are being drawn. Whether in the organizational context or in individual relationships it is becoming harder for Christians to navigate through secular cultural pressures.

For many, the answer is to pass a white blanket of love and acceptance over the above-mentioned issues and welcome its advocates into the fold; I am reminded of the popular slogan: “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.”  This is an attractive option for some as it offers an answer that blends acceptance with love. It mutes criticism and hangs its hat in secular cultural being more advanced than religious. On the outside looking in, it claims to embody the accepting nature of Jesus with no strings attached.

For others, such as conservative evangelical Christians, the issue is more complicated and problematic as it threatens to undermine foundational elements of the church. When culture changes doctrine it always comes with consequences.

When the church takes steps away from confessional Christianity, it brings serious challenges against the existence and nature of objective truth. This is almost always followed by threats to the authority of scripture and the nature of God. An abandonment from historic Christian positions poses new questions on the traditional family structure and its intrinsic values for children. There are even difficulties in resolving debates about identity and what it means to be Imago Deo (made in the image of God).

Do not be deceived; we are at an impasse and, despite the tension, the loving thing for the church to do is hold to her convictions and speak the truth into darkness.


Acceptance is not a Synonym for Love.

For many today, “acceptance” is not only a synonym for “love,” but the relationship is interdependent; one cannot exist without the other. However, conservative evangelical Christians have a unique definition and understanding of love, qualified and exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ. Blanket acceptance (with no qualifications) in the name of love cheapens grace and the work of the cross. Acceptance is not always a replacement for love.

A common progressive rationale argues being unaccepting of other’s morals is to be an unloving bigot. Although this is rarely the case. Just because a Christian disagrees with choices doesn’t mean they hate progressives; in fact, in many cases, the disagreements can be rooted in truth and love.

True Christ-like love speaks the truth in all situations and must tell you of the sin that God surely sees. Love communicates humanity’s need of a justification so radical it required God on a cross to make it possible. The human condition is so wretchedly sinful, no man can come into God’s presence or even look upon Him apart from the cleansing blood of Jesus. Any message of love void of this truth is a cheap imitation. Only Jesus can make us acceptable and lovable.

Critics, I ask you to put yourself in my shoes for a moment. If I truly believe your actions are driving you away from God towards eternal punishment, why would I not speak out against it? It would be unloving for me to act like nothing is wrong in the name of acceptance. Christians should speak the truth even when it’s unpopular.

One doesn’t have to examine the life of Jesus very much to see this replicated. He was hated and despised by the cultural norm. So much so, He was executed for His opinions. However, everything He said and did was in the context of reconciling a Holy, Just God with a broken church. At the culmination of this was the cross, the single greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen. Consider the words of The Apostle John, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The best of friends are the ones who are looking out for your interests and are willing to speak clarity even when none is desired.

One rebuttal I hear commonly states that “Jesus came to save sinners and was accepting of them” and was “a friend of sinners.”  For this reason, the church should dump decayed religious doctrines and meet the world where it is. After all, Christians will never reach the world it doesn’t understand. Well, it is true that Jesus came to save sinners and meets us where we are. Nevertheless, it is an incomplete statement. In Jesus’ deep love and friendship for sinners, He did more.

It is a grievous theological error when progressives argue the cross was a metaphorical demonstration of love aimed to prepare the world for future philosophies on sex and gender. The cross was about Jesus securing a salvation for His people, for His glory! He bore their sins and purified them so that the great chasm that exists between broken humanity and God would be restored. Through faith, sins are forgiven, and the sinner is justified before God. Deep-rooted in Jesus’ friendship and love for sinners was justification.

This is critical because the sinners’ justification means a sinner’s identity has been permanently imputed with an alien righteousness. This righteousness is a catalyst for change. Once in Christ, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Ephesians 1:6). This is called sanctification, and it is directly tied to our justification. Jesus is accepting of sinners, but only because He changes them to be like Him.  If someone claims to be a Christian but shows no effort to remove themselves from sinful lifestyles or patterns, I question if they ever came to Jesus at all. Without conflict, there is no evidence of life or love.

The Truth & Compassion

photo-1474649107449-ea4f014b7e9f_optWhile the church is called to speak life into death, if that’s all that’s happening then there is a big problem. Christians must remember to be kind, compassionate, and sacrificial. Christ emptied Himself for others, and we are called to do the same.

One of the hardest commandments to keep in all of Scripture comes when Jesus says that His followers must, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). It’s worth noting this commandment follows the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Jesus, in speaking of these two commands together, says there is “no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).

While we should rejoice with truth and speak it boldly, that should never come at the cost of forsaking compassion. We should learn to have meaningful dialogue with advocates of liberal ideologies. It is entirely possible to hold to a conviction and be the first person there when a need arises. Let us be altruistic with our time and energy. Often one of the best ways to remove tension in any situation is offer aid in a time of need. Seek friendships and speak the truth in love.

Finally, Christians must remember that when we speak truth into the darkness, we do so because our ultimate aim is to bring glory to God. Confessional Christianity understands that this is our chief end. Our motivation should always be rooted in bringing honor to Him who loved us first. One day, we will all be asked to give an account for our actions and words; we will reap what we sow.  Were our words and actions aimed at the pleasing of man or the pleasing of God? Let us take time to pause, reflect, and think carefully about what we say and how we say it.


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  • Tianzhu

    From Lewis:

    “Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved. Mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything, is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from love.”

    Real love is neither approval not acceptance. In fact, the phrase “unconditional love,” used frequently by both Christians and non-Christians, is not a Christian concept at all.

    • Jack Lee

      great quote!

  • ounbbl

    Love and acceptance – they are simply different words and notions.

    • billwald

      Another thread, another author raises the question of “loving the sinner but hating the sin.” Personally, I think it is mentally impossible to do both.

      Why can’t I simply dislike some people and not choose to associate with them I am a lazy culture snob and hating is hard work.

      When I’m on the road I occasionally listen to religious stations. Even if I disagree with Catholic speakers, I know exactly what the words mean. Protestant denominations have an “insider” vocabulary. It is the 2-letter words that have multiple meanings, “in” and “on,” for example. Popular Orthodox Presbyterian writers can change the meaning of a word three times in a single paragraph.

  • RustbeltRick

    In summary: conservative evangelicals take their cues from Jesus, and progressives have no values whatsoever.
    I don’t even know where to begin with something like this.

    • Jack Lee

      That’s an enormous overstatement regarding progressives. No where does it say they have no value.

      Evangelicals draw their theology from the Bible, which is the only resource to accurately know Jesus.

      • Jeffrey

        And how accurately would that be exactly, seeing that so-called evangelicals have split off into tens of thousands of differing sects, all with differing interpretations of the Bible?
        Oneness Pentecostalism is still growing, the prosperity gospel is surging globally, a group of Calvinists were recently caught trying to alter the definition of Jesus’ divinity to make it fit more in line with their ‘complementarian’ beliefs (essentially reviving the heresy of Nestorianism), Mormonism is one generation away (if that) from being regarded as just another Christian denomination, and so on and so on.
        What good does it do to say you ‘draw your theology’ from the Bible if no one can agree on it’s key meanings and doctrines?

        • Jack Lee

          This is why the article makes a distinction about confessional historic Christianity. Your “tens of thousands” remark is way off base. Opinions on certain issues can vary, this is true with almost any topic; this is good and to be expected. Even Paul says its good there are divisions among believers in the New Testament, But outside of secondary issues, there is much more agreement on primary issues that presented here.

        • billwald

          Believing (in) the Bible is like believing (in) the Constitution because there is no agreement as the meaning of the words or the context.

          And why do “True Believers” require “believing ‘in’?” Why isn’t taking the statements at face value sufficient considering there is no agreement about what the words mean. Long time ago I heard an old radio preacher claim, “It isn’t enough to believe IN Jesus, you got to believe ON Jesus.” How many times must I “invite Jesus into my heart” before Jesus takes my invitation at face value and tries me?

  • Alan Drake

    Jesus Himself, not a disciple or Paul, spoke against divorce. He, Himself, was silent on other issues of contention.

    I see complete acceptance of divorced and even remarried people within evangelical churches, with minimal if any preaching against their sin.

    So why then is it so difficult to accept others ?

    • Jack Lee

      There are clear instructions on divorce in the bible and even grounds for it (in some cases). I am aware of many pastors who will not marry a couple if someone has been divorced. Your statement is general to do much else with, but I understand your point. As whole, the issue should be no different than any other sin (when it is indeed sinful).

      • Alan Drake

        Why not treat, say, a gay couple just like a previously married straight couple ?

        BTW, for logical consistency reasons, I rejected solo scriptura decades ago. Pi does not = 3.0, etc.

        • Jack Lee

          There should be consistency. If a heterosexual couple is sexual active and/or immoral before marriage they are in sin, just like a gay couple would be for acting out that which is spoken against.

          I have incredible respect for Christians with homosexual desires that don’t act them out. This is evidence of life. Every Christian on the planet struggles with sin (lust, greed, pride, etc..) and those that resist temptation in the name of what is holy before God is amazing. When i speak of change being possible because of Christ in the article, i speak more towards change towards holiness and the shedding of self for piety. Progressive often think evangelicals hate homosexuals – it couldn’t be further from the truth. Many, like myself, want consistency across the board (heterosexual and homosexual immorality/lust/etc..). I would speak out against heterosexual sin the same as homosexual sin. We are all broken and in need of grace.

          • Alan Drake

            While I have no doubt that you bear no hate or profound distaste for gay people, that is not typical for most evangelicals. That is one of many reasons I renounced my Southern Baptist membership over a decade ago.

          • Jack Lee

            Would you consider yourself a christian?

          • Alan Drake

            Definitely yes ! However, I am in majority of Christians that do not believe in solo scriptura (a concept that goes back only 1/4th of the time of Christ). And I no longer seek to define the Trinity. Rather I weekly seek guidance from the Holy Spirit with a group of Friends. What should I do as an obedient servant ?

          • Alan Drake

            One side note. You say every Christian struggled with sin. Since becoming a convinced Quaker, the intensity of that struggle has diminished remarkably. My one remaining struggle is anger, boardering on hate, towards evil & evildoers. I struggle to emulate John Woolman’s loving attitude towards slave owners. He was very concerned for their moral degradation but did not condemn most of them as people.

            John Woolman was a modest Quaker tailor from New Jersey that was used as the Divine spark that lead to the world-wide abolition of legal chattel slavery. In my view, a modern moral Miracle.

  • Dave Again

    “Only Jesus can make us acceptable and loveable”. What a smug and crude statement. This damns about five billion humans on earth, many of whom have never come into contact with Christianity. I would hazard a guess that many of my devout and very loveable Jewish friends would disagree with this statement. This statement is neither “acceptable or loveable”.

    • Jack Lee

      Dave again, you are hinting at something very true. The quote in your comment, “only Jesus can make us acceptable and lovable” is understood to mean, before a Holy, Just God. Outside of Christ, no can stand before God and all are sinful. This is the gospel message. God became man so that He might fulfill the law, so that all in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. Without Christ there is no hope.

      I can image devout Jews would not like this now, they certainly did not like it then as they were the ones who crucified Him for His teaching.

      • Dave Again

        Would a Just God damn all pre-Christians? Reason suggests this. Would a Just God damn all those who have never heard of Jesus?

        • Jack Lee

          As someone familiar with Jewish heritage, one doesn’t have to look deep in the old testament to gather some insight to your question. Consider the great flood or the fact that God selected a single nation to establish a covenant with. What about the other nations and the people in them? What about those not on Noah’s boat? Everyone I am referencing would have been pre-Christ and outside the covenant with God.

          The book of Romans reminds us that everyone in the world under the headship of Adam and fell when he sinned. Everyone is born sinful, separated from God, and without Christ, under God’s judgment. God is so just and so holy that he must deal with sin righteously and punish it. If He were to ignore sin and gloss over it, he would be unjust. Anyone who believes in Christ as Lord and Savoir is imputed the righteousness of Christ. When this happens, the judgement one is due for their sinful nature is passed on to Christ. Where they were once under Adam and his fallen nature they are passed under Christ and His nature.

          2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

        • Tiny J

          “To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.” Romans 5:13

          • Dave Again

            Thanks for the reply. I was interested to see nobody was able to answer my question for more than two months. I take it then, that a modern day Muslim in, for example Saudi Arabia, who has no opportunity to experience Jesus will also be saved.

      • Dave Again

        Still no answer to my original point. There are at least five billion or so people on earth who are not Christian. Many of these people would never have heard of Christianity rather like the Australian aborigines pre 1788. Would a Just God damn all these people?

        • Jack Lee

          Sorry, I thought I did (at least indirectly).

          All men are sinful and must answer before God regardless of where or when they are born. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11 tells us those in Israel (Pre-Christ) who trusted in God’s promises of salvation have salvation credited to them through faith. In this chapter we are given several examples of men who had faith in God, but were unaware of the details God’s plan of salvation in Christ.

          Romans 1 also speaks directly to this situation and is worth considering for your question: “9 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

          The point being, that even for those who have never heard the gospel of Christ there is enough evidence of Gods attributes for God to be evidenced, trusted, and sought after. Men are without excuses regardless of where and when the live. Without faith in Christ, they will perish.

          Does that bring clarity?

          • Dave Again

            Not really. Read your last paragraph. Are you saying that if those who find evidence of God and trust and seek God, but have so message of Christ (for example my pre-1788 Australian Aborigine) will be saved?

          • Paul

            The problem is that “God” is a generic term. They may see God’s attributes and have God’s laws written in their hearts, but you kinda need Christ to KNOW God…

    • corky

      and what about the billions that lived before Christ? and the thousands of gods that have been worshipped

  • Gary Roth

    The problem is that evangelicalism has its roots deeply imbedded in a particular culture, and many of its “doctrinal positions” have more to do with cultural norms, within a particular part of our culture, than they do with either scripture or the Gospel. Evangelical theology, with its very narrow focus, has never been the belief of most of the church, and reflects understandings that are Johnny-come-lately as far as the theology of the church is concerned. Much of it is, in fact, very tortured. And, as someone else has said here, most of what is preached against is that “sin” of those who are not members. I’m reminded of an older gentleman in one of my congregations who, when he would criticize me or the church, would always finish with, “of course, Pastor, I know that when I’ve got one finger pointed at you, I’ve got four pointing back at me!” Perhaps evangelicals should look at their own house, before pointing fingers at others. In fact, Jesus, it seems to me, said that we shouldn’t be pointing fingers at all! That, in part, is what the Gospel is, and why it means, “good news.” The “Gospel” preached by most evangelicals isn’t good news to most folks – certainly not to the “world” God loved!

  • Eriu Draga

    You point suggests there is only one God to work for many, many others serve the old Gods who are much more accepting of these so called “sins”

  • Shirley Blake

    I have recently come the the conclusion that regardless of how you post your theological stance, the real disagreement between denominations and progressive verses traditional Christianity is the nature of God. Both traditionalists and progressives quote the Bible and point out precedent for their beliefs. It all finally boils down to what kind of God do you believe in. It’s no wonder people are weary of denominations, churches and the eternal proselytizing of divergent world views. Since I cannot know your God, I’ll stick with mine as made clear to me in studies of the scriptures, an all loving God unconcerned with humanities pettiness.

    • Jack Lee

      We must not confuse “pettiness” and sin.

  • Dave Again

    Exactly! Try reading Jack Lee’s responses to my comments. Gutless little fellow doesn’t respond when his argument when his argument is logically eliminated.

  • Tiny J

    I’ve seen people who identified as LGBTQI accept Jesus, re-acquire their God given sexuality and lead powerful, Holy Spirit filled, heteronormative lives. How come no one ever talks about that on articles like these? God doesn’t define us by what we want to do with our genitals, so why is it okay for us to do that to ourselves?
    How is there a debate that “love one another” and “accept people as God does” also means “there isn’t a specific, Godly way to have sex”?