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Accepted in the Beloved

Category Articles
Date August 29, 2003

In the first place, Scripture clearly teaches us that neither we nor our services are acceptable to God. To the most religious people in the world at that time God said: Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies.

by John M. Brentnall

One of the most widespread but dangerous falsehoods held in the churches today is the notion that God accepts us all just as we are. It would be a great truth if this meant that He accepts us when by grace we come to Christ saying:

" Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me"

But in fact it means that there is such ‘a wideness in God’s mercy’ that no-one at all need think that God rejects him. Stated bluntly, we may be idolaters, blasphemers, swearers, Sabbath-breakers, liars, thieves, murderers, fornicators, slanderers, gossips, proud, unbelieving and even pagans, but God welcomes us all. No faith is required of us except that we believe this, and no repentance is called for except shallow apologies for hurting others.

The truth, we know, is far otherwise. Holy Scripture is not slow to assert in the strongest terms that God both rejects us as we are by nature and gives us adequate reasons for so doing. We would be foolish to ignore what it says on the matter.

In the first place, Scripture clearly teaches us that neither we nor our services are acceptable to God. To the most religious people in the world at that time God said: Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies.

I cannot away with [i.e. I cannot accept]; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.’ (Isa 1.13). Of Cain, who offered Him the best of his produce, God said: ‘But unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.’ (Gen 4.3,5). If neither Cain nor the Jews were acceptable to Him, what hope is there for the rest of us? Indeed, Romans 3.10-18, following Psalms 14 and 53 especially, expressly condemns us all without exception as unacceptable to God. In view of such a unilateral rejection, it is amazing that anyone should continue to cling to the false notion of universal acceptance. Then again, God gives us good reasons why He rejects us as we are. We mention only two:

(1) It is inconsistent with His infinite holiness to accept us into His presence and favour just as we are. Because He takes no pleasure in wickedness, evil cannot dwell with Him. The foolish shall not stand in His sight. The throne of iniquity [i.e. wherever moral perversity reigns, as it does in us all] can have no fellowship with Him. Even the ploughing of the wicked is sin in His holy sight, and even the prayer of the wicked is an abomination to Him. What a culpable misrepresentation of God it is to imagine that those who live in sin, whether gross or refined, can be admitted into His presence! Thomas Watson the Puritan speaks of those who vainly think they can ‘leap out of Delilah’s lap into Abraham’s bosom.’ Can two whose moral natures are so diametrically opposed as God’s and ours possibly be at peace with each other? When God is good and does nothing but good, and we are evil and do nothing but evil, can we wonder that God rejects us as we are by nature?

(2) He expressly informs us that only those who receive Christ are accepted by Him. ‘But as many as received Him, to them gave He power [or entitlement] to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.’ (John 1.12). Alexander Comrie explains that this receiving involves Christ being set forth in the preaching of the Gospel and being received as the great object of faith. This receiving, he continues, includes our assent to God’s invitation to believe on Him, our heartfelt willingness to take Him, the opening of our spiritual hand to let go all other supports for salvation and our embracing Christ when we perceive that we need no more and can be satisfied with no less than Himself. This truth is solemnly confirmed in the testimony:

‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.’ (John 3.36). Comments George Hutcheson: "It is the prerogative of Christ above all others . . that He is the object of saving faith." We do not perceive the excellence and fulness of Christ, he continues, till we are drawn out of ourselves and brought to close with Him by faith. All who refuse to do this are "eternally secluded" [the old word for ‘excluded’ or kept back] from God’s presence and company. God’s rejection of all ‘outside Christ’ could hardly be more forcefully stated. The awful consequence of this is that "unless God’s rejection of us is turned into acceptance we are all lost for ever." (J.I.Packer).

A Biblical phrase that expresses the glorious truth that God’s rejection has been turned into acceptance is the term ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ (Eph 1.6). Let Calvin clarify its meaning: "We were not in God’s favour till we were in Jesus Christ . . . We are shut up in the bondage of death till we are ransomed by our Lord Jesus Christ . . . The register in which we are enrolled is our Lord Jesus Christ . . . Jesus Christ is the mirror in which God beholds us when He wishes to find us acceptable to Himself." In short, it is not by ignoring our sin, nor by accepting us on the grounds of our apology for it, but by condemning it in His dearly-beloved Son and uniting believers to Him in that condemnation, that God accepts anyone.

Let us consider this. By a unique, transcendent agreement between the persons of the Godhead, God sent and dealt with His Son in our nature as if He, and not us, had been rejected. But how could He do this justly when Christ was the object of His infinite, eternal and unchangeable love and delight? By His Son consenting to be the Substitute for us who deserve eternal rejection and by making His soul [and body] the offering for His people’s sin. The Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah (52.13-53.12) is packed with details of this glorious transaction: ‘Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed… and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all… for the transgression of my people was He stricken. . . He shall bear their iniquities. . . He bare the sin of many.’

Only by putting His people ‘in Christ’ [that is, says Charles Hodge, "in Christ as their head and representative"] could He possibly accept them; for He, and not they, gave satisfaction to God’s offended holiness and justice. As the one great propitiation provided by God Christ was accepted and justified by Him as the only Redeemer of God’s elect, according to the Messianic Third Servant Song in Isaiah 50.7-9. How wonderful that the sentence of God’s holy justice against us for breaking His holy law should be willingly borne for us by Him! (Gal 3.13). As Luther says, by having our sins reckoned to His account, Christ became the greatest transgressor the world has ever seen. It is as if God said to His dear Son: "Be thou Peter the denier, Paul the persecutor, David the adulterer. . . see that thou pay and satisfy for them." And so the law, finding Christ a sinner by imputation [not by inherent moral pollution] set upon Christ and slew Him, because the wages it doles out to sin is death. All therefore who are ‘in Christ’ suffered in Him and died with Him. The same glorious truth is spelt out again in 2 Corinthians 5.21- ‘For He [God] bath made Him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’ As Richard Hooker said long ago: "Man has sinned and God has suffered God has been made the sin of man and man is made the righteousness of God." Thus not only are believers sins [or their total nonconformity and disobedience to the law of God] imputed to Christ, the Sinless One; but also His righteousness [or spotless obedience to the entire law of God] is imputed to them. In this wonderful way God shows us just how far His love and justice are prepared to go in order to glorify Himself in the salvation of His people. "It was DAMNATION," cried John Duncan, "and He took it LOVINGLY!"

Yet a vital question still remains. How may we, whom God naturally rejects, be accepted by Him? Let Luther answer: "Dear brother," he writes to his friend George Spalatin, "learn Christ and Him crucified. Praise and laud His name, and despairing of self say to Him, ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken what is mine, and given me what is thine. Thou hast assumed that which thou wast not, and given me what I had not."’ This is the great exchange that brought so much joy and peace in believing to so many millions at the Reformation – joy in God and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. More concisely still, Paul directs: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.’ (Acts 16.31). When we go to God in an accepted Christ, we too are accepted in Him.

True believers may [and should] be sure of their acceptance with God. Isaiah himself voices this assurance when he prays: ‘O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.’ (Isa 12.1). We can say this, not because God has overlooked our sin [how could He?], nor because He has declared a general amnesty to our rebellious race, but because He has judged it to His full satisfaction when Christ our Surety-Substitute took on Himself all our legal debts and paid them off in our place. A godly woman on her death-bed in Scotland understood this. When asked what was her hope for eternity she replied: "The justice of God." Along with Toplady she could sing:

From whence this fear and unbelief?
Has not the Father put to grief
His spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that load of sin
Which, Lord, was charged on Thee?

If Thou my pardon hast secured
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine,
Payment God cannot twice demand
First from my bleeding Surety’s hand
And then again from mine.

And so, when we draw near to God with true faith in the precious blood of Christ [the Biblical way of summarizing His whole work as a propitiatory and expiatory sacrifice] we may be sure that our sin has been judged and our persons accepted. This is how those who fully deserve to be rejected by God are fully accepted by Him.

John M. Brentnall

[Author’s Note: I am grateful for material taken from Volume One of J.I.Packer’s Collected Shorter Writings for the idea behind and some quotations used in this article.] Peace and Truth, 2002:4 The Magazine of the Sovereign Grace Union www.sgu.org.uk

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