I googled the words “accept yourself” when I was getting ready to write this blog post, and it came up with page after page of results. “Accept Yourself for Who You Are”. “How to Accept Yourself, Your Life, and Your Reality.” “How to Accept Yourself Unconditionally.” “Why Acceptance is the Answer to Most of Your Life Problems.”
This is just one of the many cliched phrases that our culture has taken as its mantras. They say that if we can only accept ourselves for who we are, where we are today, somehow that’s the magical key to happiness.
We might have heard this so many times that we barely give it a second thought. But as Christians, we can’t believe these things without first thinking about them and considering whether they are really in line with the Bible.
So how does this narrative of unconditional acceptance fit with Biblical truth?
The answer is, it treads a fine line. There is a partial truth in it, as well as a way it can go dangerously wrong. Here’s why: we are called to accept our circumstances without accepting our sin.
As Christians, we are called to be content with our lives. We know that wherever God has put us at a given point, it is for His glory and our good, and as such we can have joy, even if the circumstances themselves are painful.
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
So, when the world tells us to “accept where we are today”, “accept our life”, “accept our reality”…for the most part, that’s advice that Christians can take. In fact, we know the secret the world doesn’t know: when you believe in a good God, it’s a lot easier to be content with where you are.
And now, the problematic part…”accept yourself the way you are.” The “accepting your body” narrative is a little more complex, a separate issue that I definitely want to talk about some other time. But in terms of your personality, strengths and weaknesses, etc., this can so easily move into dangerous territory for Christians.
When we truly understand who we are according to the Bible, it’s really hard to accept ourselves. We know that, on our own, we are depraved sinners with no hope.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
But that verse is in the past tense!
The fact is, we are being gloriously transformed. We don’t have to accept ourselves the way we are, because we know we aren’t going to stay this way forever. We don’t have to accept ourselves the way we are, because that isn’t what our life or our happiness depends on. We know who God is, and we know who Christ is, and we know that Christ’s righteousness now extends to us.
That is what we accept in order to live joyful, purpose-filled lives. We don’t love ourselves for ourselves, but we don’t hate ourselves either. Instead, we don’t think about ourselves at all, spending our lives in worship and totally focused on God.
So accept the things you can’t control: the chronic illness, the hard life circumstance, the fact that you’re better at music than sports. But don’t ever use this as an excuse to accept some “personality trait” that is actually a sin, whether that’s perfectionism, arrogance, laziness…if something is a sin, it needs to be fought, no matter how much you feel it’s engrained in your personality.
The good news? God is on your side, sanctifying you a little more every day. One day, you will be able to accept yourself completely, as a perfect, glorified person.
Until then, don’t settle, and don’t let “unconditional acceptance” become a guise for letting sin slide by.
What do you think? Have you believed the lie that you have to “accept yourself the way you are” to be happy? Do you agree with me about its problems? Share in the comments!