The Bible tells us that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He didn’t wait for us to change our behaviour or even our beliefs – He died for us, accepted us and told us we belong with Him.
We would do well to follow His example. When we get it wrong it causes people to be alienated from Jesus rather than drawn to Him. This must break God’s heart as He is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
In my early years as a Christian I attended a church that emphasized behaviour and belief as conditions for belonging and acceptance. As a young guy with long hair, an earring and op shop clothes, there was great pressure on me to get my hair cut, take the earring out and buy a suit and tie. Emphasis was placed on certain beliefs as well and people who didn’t embrace these beliefs were shunned rather than accepted.
Repeatedly Jesus demonstrated the importance of acceptance first. Consider His parable of the Lost Son as well as His interaction with the woman at the well (John 4) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8). He taught us to love and accept people just as they are.
People who are safe in the knowledge that they belong and are unconditionally loved and accepted will be in a position where the Holy Spirit can work in their life to bring the change that He wants.
Make a choice not to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit. He will bring the desired change. Our job is to love and accept people as well as provide an environment where people belong – a safe place where radical change is possible.