The contemporary evangelical message to both unbelievers and believers (described in my previous post) is rooted in the assumption that grace is equivalent to unconditional acceptance.
Scripture does not use the term unconditional acceptance per se, but it is derived from the concept of grace. Since grace conveys that God accepts us apart from works, just as we are, then unconditional acceptance seems to be just a more contemporary expression of the idea of grace, or at least that is the contemporary evangelical belief and the basis for using grace and unconditional acceptance synonymously.
We must ask, however, whether this equation is valid.
Small Errors Create Big Problems
In responding, we must first note that in evaluating scriptural ideas, small errors can lead to big problems. This is the case in virtually every discipline. Perhaps this truth is more evident in brain surgery or aviation, but it also manifests itself in plumbing, accounting, carpentry, chemistry, farming, and practically every other pursuit. Therefore we might expect that Scripture, being the Word of God, would require special care in determining its meaning and that even small mistakes can lead to major problems for the individual and the church. In fact we find this phenomenon at work all too often in the history of the church.
Unconditional Acceptance Means Universal Acceptance
In seeking to determine if grace is equivalent to unconditional acceptance, first let’s consider grace as related to salvation. In that regard, let me begin with the obvious. If grace were unconditional, all would be recipients of grace and its benefits, and therefore all would be saved. I.e. if acceptance regarding salvation is unconditional, it must be universal. That would mean that there would be no need to preach the gospel other than to tell people the good news that they are already saved, recipients of God’s unconditional favor.
It would also mean that there is no hell, or at least that no human beings are headed there. Many have criticized Rob Bell for his book, Love Wins, which asserts that all will eventually make it to heaven. However, he is in essence merely taking the message of unconditional acceptance to its unscriptural conclusion. He is being consistent with the contemporary evangelical gospel message with its centerpiece of God’s unconditional acceptance. With evangelicals stressing that concept, it was only a matter of time until someone followed it to this destination.
The problem with this position is that many passages of Scripture teach that some people are lost—have not been accepted unconditionally, to whom we are obliged to preach the gospel, and that some never do receive His grace and therefore are consigned to hell.
Scripture Designates Faith As the Condition
Scripture teaches that a condition must be met to receive the benefits of grace. That condition is faith. Scripture frequently states this truth. Its best known expression occurs in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Many other passages also convey that faith is a condition for being accept by God.
Therefore, God bestows saving grace, His judicial acceptance, conditioned on faith. Those who meet the condition of faith are saved, accepted by God into His family—His kingdom. Those who do not meet this condition are not accepted.
Unconditional Acceptance Except for the Condition… Makes No Sense
Some may argue that God accepts unconditionally those who believe. However, this position is irrational. In essence it asserts that God accepts unconditionally those who meet a condition—faith. We can’t designate something as unconditional if conditions exist. The term unconditional is very stubborn and demanding. If a watch is guaranteed unconditionally except for the condition that…, it is guaranteed conditionally.
This brings us back to the point we made earlier about small errors leading to big problems. If we use the term unconditional where it does not apply we are bending the truth of Scripture. Doing so in relationship to the gospel where the eternal destiny of human beings is at stake is especially dangerous. Tomorrow’s post will reveal more of the confusion and danger created by the concept of unconditional acceptance.