A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.Guessing the reason for his pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination. As the one lone ember’s flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and “dead as a doornail.” Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it. As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.”
Many of you have read this before; it’s still a good reminder and I believe it applies to marriages and friendship, even as it does to our spiritual fervor. Please know that while I do care about WOGF thriving, I care even more about His Church-at-large thriving. And it’s pretty clear, just from the book of Hebrews alone, that if Satan can get his way and can scatter the embers, he wins, at least a local victory over those embers he puts out. I certainly don’t want to be a part of having to account for that! (Hebrews 13:17)
One of the many email newsletters to which I am subscribed is from the Grace Evangelical Society. They are fighting the good fight and sometimes their daily article align with what I’m talking about that very week. This is a good one; Bob is using a different set of parameters, but covering the issue we’ve been calling; Relationship with God vs Fellowship with God. It’s a good read! ~Pastor Scott
The Difference between God’s Acceptance and His Approval
I grew up in a home where I knew I was loved. I was a surprise, but a good surprise. My mom turned 40 a few months after I was born. My dad was nearly 40 as well. I was the long-awaited son.
Both Mom and Dad hugged and kissed me a lot. They showed their acceptance of me in many ways.
I longed to have my father’s approval. He had grown up in an alcoholic family, and his father never approved of him, either.
When I became a Christian at the start of my senior year in college, I was overjoyed to be accepted by God forever. I knew for sure that I was saved once and for all. I knew I was part of His forever family.
I did not learn about God’s approval until seven years later when I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. I came to learn an important distinction between God’s acceptance and His approval. I believe you will find this distinction to be very encouraging.
The Difference Between Acceptance and Approval
We see this difference in nearly every area of life.
Family. If you have children, then you accept them. Period. But you may not approve of them and their behavior. If your child is a drug addict, for example, then you do not approve of him or his behavior. But you still accept him as your child. He will always be your child.
Politics. There have been times in our lives when regardless of our political views, we have not approved of the actions of our President. However, if we are mature people, we accept him as our President. It is nice when we also approve of him. But we should certainly accept whoever is duly elected as President.
Sports. This illustration breaks down a bit since teams can cut their players. But let us say that the head coach loves his players and accepts them as he would his own children.
I recently saw a documentary about one of the greatest running backs of all time, Lawrence Phillips. His college coach at Nebraska was Tom Osborne. Osborne loved and accepted Phillips. Yet when Phillips assaulted his former girlfriend, Osborne suspended him indefinitely. Later Phillips played for Dick Vermeil with the Rams. Vermeil loved and accepted Phillips too. But when Phillips came to games drunk, Vermeil cut him.
In sports, a good coach accepts all his players. But he does not approve of all his players.
Church. A good church will accept everyone who joins the fellowship who believes in Christ for everlasting life. But a good church only approves of those members that are walking with the Lord. If a member strays from the Lord and refuses to repent, then the church disfellowships the person. He is accepted as a brother in Christ. But he is not approved while he is away from the Lord.
God Accepts All People Who Believe in His Son for Everlasting Life
The Scriptures are clear on this point. Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ for his eternal destiny is accepted by God.
John 3:16 tells us that the Father so loved us that He sent His Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life.
John 5:24 says that when we believe in Jesus, we are also believing in the Father who sent Him. And all who believe in Jesus have everlasting life, will never come into judgment regarding their eternal salvation, but have passed from death into life.
In John 10:28-29 the Lord Jesus said that whoever believes in Him is held securely in His hand and in the Father’s hand. There is no such thing as someone who has believed in Jesus who is not accepted by God.
John says in John 1:12-13 that whoever believes in Jesus is a child of God. Our status as God’s children is permanent. Once we believe in Jesus, we are saved and secure forever. Once saved, always saved.
God Only Approves of Believers Who Are Faithful
God does not approve of wickedness. If a believer in Jesus Christ strays and begins to live an ungodly life, then he forfeits God’s approval.
I urge you to do a word study on approved and disapproved in the NT. I have done that and here is what I found.
The word approve (dokimos) occurs 7 times in the NT. Six of those uses refer to being approved by God. Here are four of those six references.
Romans 16:10. Paul says that a man named Apelles was “approved in Christ.” That was his current spiritual state, but it could change.
1 Corinthians 11:19. Paul said, “that those who are approved” within the church of Corinth “may be recognized among you.” Again, some in the church were currently approved by Christ, though that might change.
2 Corinthians 10:18. Those “whom the Lord commends” are “approved” by Him.
2 Timothy 2:15. Timothy was to “be diligent to present [himself] approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed…”
The word disapproved (adokimos), the antonym of the word approved, occurs 8 times in the NT. Six of the eight uses refer to not being approved by God, though English translations sometimes translate it as disqualified, as in disqualified to win the race. One of those verses clearly shows that it is possible for a born-again person to fail to be approved by Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:27. This verse exemplifies what it would mean to be disapproved by Christ. In the three verses before verse 27, Paul called for the believers in Corinth to strive for the imperishable crown, a reference to ruling with Christ forever.
Paul knew that he and the believers in Corinth had everlasting life. However, Paul did not know, and could not know, that He would gain the imperishable crown and Christ’s approval. To have the crown and the approval, Paul would have to endure to the end of his Christian life.
Paul feared that after preaching to others about winning the crown, he himself would be disapproved.
All theologians and preachers recognize that it is important to persevere in the Christian life. However, some say that you must persevere in faith and good works to get into the kingdom. They say that if you fail to persevere, then you will end up in hell forever.
I read a thesis at DTS on 1 Cor 9:27 in which the student argued that Paul was expressing doubts about whether he would escape eternal condemnation.
Another group of theologians and preachers understand perseverance to be required to have Christ’s approval and to rule with Him in the life to come. That is the natural understanding of 1 Cor 9:27.
Paul was sure that he had everlasting life and that he could never lose it (Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 2:12). He also knew that he was currently approved when he wrote 1 Corinthians. But he knew that approval, unlike acceptance, could be lost.
I did not realize it when my dad was alive, but he was never going to approve of me. I kept striving for his approval right up until he died. I was 37.
A few years after he died, I went for some counseling because I was struggling. The counselor explained that I had been striving for my dad’s approval, but that I could not get it. He said after my dad died, I looked for father figures to approve of me.
I came to accept that my dad never approved of me. I always fell short of his expectations in sports, in my career choice, in where I chose to live, and in many other aspects of my life.
But through counseling I came to realize that it was Christ’s approval that I really wanted. His approval is the ultimate approval in life.
I’ve completed seven marathons. That is 26.2 miles. I am in training now for one on December 31st. The Christian life is a life-long marathon. It is a race that is not over until we die or are raptured.
Did you know that the Lord Jesus will say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17) to believers who persevere in the Christian life? Those whom He approves He will publicly praise before all believers of all time.
Wouldn’t you love to hear your Lord and Savior say, “Well done, good servant”? Wouldn’t you love to have His approval?
Remember the difference. God accepts everyone who has ever believed in His Son for everlasting life. But He will only approve those who persevere in faith and good works.
This question came in via Twitter after Sunday’s message on 1 John 2:3-6, which dealt with “keeping His commandments.”
Question: “If we know a tree by its fruits and are told faith without works is dead… do you believe it’s possible for someone to call themselves a Christian and never have fruit or good works in their life?”
There is a lot to unpack here. The goal of gathering as a church is to provoke one another to love and good works. Sometimes when I’m called to defend infantile Christians, I feel like I’m encouraging carnality. Please know that I’m not. I want all of us to walk in the light, hand-in-hand with Jesus!
With that said, justification is separate from works (Rom 4:5). I am justified by faith (Ibid). When I am justified, I am forgiven (Eph 1:7), I am sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13), I am adopted by the Father (Rom 8:15), I am redeemed (Eph 1:7), I receive eternal life (John 3:16), I’m baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13); etc. I can’t lose any of those things, even if I do it wrong. And some people will: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet only so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:15.
It’s true there are lots of warnings about living wrongly. I believe that the”fruits” warning to which you allude, which is found in Matthew 7, is a reference to false teachers and it lines up with my premise about 1 John. Don’t listen to someone who discounts their words with their actions.
As to the argument is James, I try to to keep this blog to one page but it’s an interesting study to compare and contrast Abraham’s faith experience in Genesis 15:6:
“Then he believed in the Lord; and He credited it to him as righteousness.”
And Genesis 22:
“He said, ‘Do not reach out your hand against the boy, and do not do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”’
In Romans 4 Paul referred to Genesis 15 to make his case of justification by faith. In James chapter 2, James used Genesis 22 to make his case for justification by works. I submit that the first was justification before God, the second was justification before man (Abraham, himself in this case). I believe that we can understand much of the apparent difference between James and Paul if we understand Paul was concerned about our justification before God and James wanted his congregation to get off the couch! 🙂
We all love babies; 25-year-old babies make us cringe. Don’t be a baby any longer than you have to be! (Hebrews 5:11-14) 🙂
P.S. If someone persists in acting like the Holy Spirit does not reside in his heart, share Jesus with him!