Will God accept me even if I'm not that good?

One of the most challenging years of my growing up experience was the year when my family moved to a new community and I had to change schools. I was in fourth grade and I didn't have a single friend in my new school. I said goodbye to every friend I had ever made and was forced to start fresh in a new location. I often wondered how hard I would have to work to be accepted by the new people I met.

We all want to be accepted, but there are very few relationships we may ever experience that show us unconditional acceptance. That isn't how people typically operate. I learned very early in life that many people in this world accept you right up to the point when you stop giving them something or stop doing something for them. But thankfully, that's not how the acceptance of God works. His acceptance of you and me is not linked to what we can give Him or do for Him. Rather, His acceptance of us is forever tied to what He did on our behalf, and what He gave us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, will God accept you even if you aren't that good? Consider what we're told in Romans 9:1-18...

I. The love of Christ is reflected in sacrificial compassion

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
— Romans 9:1-5, ESV

The Apostle Paul, whom the Lord inspired to pen this letter to the church in Rome, had an impressive pedigree. In fact, there were some people he interacted with that believed the kind of pedigree he had would just about guarantee his acceptance by God. In the natural sense, he was an Israelite, and Paul genuinely loved his Jewish brothers and sisters. I'm sure it broke his heart when he would travel to synagogues, speak to those who had gathered there about Christ, then have his teaching rejected or dismissed.

In fact, Paul was so troubled by their rejection of Christ that he would often think about the eternal fate that awaited them. Even though they had seen God's glory demonstrated, been the beneficiaries of divinely ordained covenants, and were the ones to whom Jesus first offered Himself as Lord, Messiah, and Savior, Paul had no illusions about the fact that those who rejected Christ's offer of salvation and forgiveness would one day experience the devastating wrath of God for all eternity.

When my wife and I got married and began talking about having children, I would often pray to the Lord that He would only allow me to have children if they would all come to faith in Him. I told Him I would rather not have children if those children would spend their eternity condemned to Hell. Have you ever prayed something like that? Is that an odd request to make of God?

What if God told you that He would save your children if in return you agreed to spend eternity in Hell on their behalf. Would you agree to that arrangement? Have you ever considered that that's what Paul wished he could do on behalf of his kinsmen who rejected Jesus? The Lord who allowed Paul to experience His sacrificial compassion was now bearing out the fruit of that compassion in Paul's life, and Paul honestly wished that the Lord would allow him endure the torments of being forever cut off from Christ if in so doing, those he loved would experience the joy of salvation.

Only Jesus could foster that kind of sacrificial compassion between brothers. That's not a natural way to react to another person. Have you ever noticed evidence of the love of Christ in your life through a similar sacrificial desire? Isn't it amazing to consider that Jesus can foster this kind of compassion in our hearts - a compassion that mirrors His own sacrificial compassion toward us?

Paul elaborated further on the concept of family history to demonstrate that our spiritual birth through Christ matters more than our natural lineage.

II. Our spiritual birth matters more than our natural lineage

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 
— Romans 9:6-8, ESV

Have you ever done a little research into your family history? I enjoy doing that and have learned some very interesting facts about some of my family members. A few years ago I learned that Christian Carl Stange, my great-great-grandfather who emigrated from Germany to the United States, became so well loved in Scranton, Pennsylvania that the newspaper ran coverage, not just of the fact that he died, but also the details of his funeral service, calling him one of Scranton's most prominent residents.

I enjoyed learning that about him, and my natural lineage might have impressed a newspaper editor one hundred years ago, but it doesn't impress God. Our new birth through Jesus matters much more to God than our pedigree. The Apostle Paul, at one point in his life, was quite proud of his pedigree, but he also came to learn that claiming to be a natural descendent of the nation of Israel wasn't sufficient. It might bless you with a fascinating family history, but it doesn't secure you a place in God's eternal kingdom.

Many among the people of Israel were banking on the fact that since God had made great promises to Abraham regarding the ways He was going to bless his offspring, that they were in good standing with God simply by being Abraham's descendants. But when you read through Genesis 25 in particular, you can see that Abraham had lots of descendants, and being his natural descendant didn't guarantee spiritual blessing. In fact, some of his descendants lived in constant conflict and opposition with the others. It was only those who believed in the One Abraham believed in who would ultimately experience new life. Consider what Jesus said about this very thing when speaking to those who had more faith in their ancestry than their Messiah...

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”
— Matthew 3:9, ESV

We're being told in these passages that becoming a child of God is a spiritual experience, and while we all have had the privilege of being created by God, we can only become part of His family through Jesus who is the ultimate "offspring" of Abraham through whom this world would be blessed.

III. Salvation is a calling, not a reward

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
— Romans 9:9-13, ESV

Generally speaking, we are motivated by rewards. A reward is something that is typically given to someone in recognition of their efforts or accomplishments. When I hire someone to work on my house or my car, I reward them with money. When my sons shovel neighborhood driveways, they're rewarded with cash. We also have one neighbor who rewards them with orange soda and potato chips to keep their energy levels high while they shovel.

But salvation doesn't work like employment. It's a calling of God, not a reward for effort. In this passage, Paul helps us understand the deeper nature of how we come to be the recipients of God's gift of eternal life. He tells us here that salvation is something we're called to. It doesn't hinge on whether we've ever done something good or bad. It's all a matter of grace that's tied to His divine purposes.

Admittedly, this is one of the concepts that some believers in general struggle to understand, particularly if we place a higher value on our response to God's offer than we place on His plans and purposes. So, plainly stated, God calls people unto Himself regardless of their heritage or efforts, and we would have never responded to that calling if He hadn't first opened up our eyes to see our need for salvation. Salvation is a calling, not a reward.

IV. Salvation is dependent on God's mercy, not man's will

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
— Romans 9:14-18, ESV

As this section concludes, Paul shares another dose of hard truth. He anticipated that some people might say that God isn't fair since there are some people who experience salvation and some who don't. But our concept of fairness can often be flawed and works-based, just like our perspective toward reward.

By human standards, the most fair thing God could have ever done regarding mankind would have been to cut us off from His blessing, and condemn us forever. We deserved nothing more than the crushing blow of His judgment. But God, who is the perfection of mercy, chose to utilize that aspect of His nature toward us. Those who have accepted His offer of salvation through faith in His Son, can only claim to be the undeserving recipients of His mercy. As Paul clearly states, "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."

Clearly there are some people in this world whose hearts are hard toward God, but even their hardness of heart can be used by God as a tool to display His greatness and glory. Pharaoh's hard heart was used as a catalyst for the name of God to be proclaimed throughout all the earth during the era of the great exodus of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. And there's many other examples we can give of God doing this very same thing in response to the disobedience of others. He works all things together for the good of His children, and the miracle of salvation depends on His mercy, not our will or effort.

I'm grateful that these truths are revealed in God's word, because meditating on these truths actually brings comfort to my heart. I'm grateful that Jesus did the work necessary for my sin to be atoned for, because I couldn't do it. I'm grateful that salvation is a gift, because I could never have done enough to earn it. I'm grateful that what God is doing is anchored to His mercy, because if it was anchored to my ability to be perfectly obedient, I would be doomed.

But I'm not doomed, I'm redeemed. And the same offer Christ has made to me is being offered to you as well. Will God accept you, even if you're not that good? Yes, He will. If you trust in Christ to save you, His perfect righteousness will be given to you in an instant, and you'll forever be welcomed into the kingdom and the family of God.

© John Stange, 2019