I have long been troubled by the pervasiveness of insistence upon (or bragging about) people being coerced into “accepting the Lord.” I suppose this notion, which is never mentioned in the New Testament, is enhanced by the familiar pictures of Jesus standing forlornly outside a closed door, which has neither doorknob nor latch string, as if begging for admission. What a travesty upon the character of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings! The wonder of wonders is not that a mere human should be so arrogant as to claim to “accept” the Lord of Glory, but that the Lord himself, in his incredibly gracious kindness, should deign to “accept” such bumbling, stumbling creatures as ourselves, into his Kingdom – his family – even his very Body! “Acceptance” is the gracious welcome proffered by a superior toward an inferior supplicant – not the rote recitation required of a hapless victim who has succumbed to the “theological” arguments of a well-trained accuser!
Indeed, the word “accept” appears only six times in the most traditional of translations (KJV), and is used for four different Greek words, all of which appear many more times with other renderings, but never with our Lord as the direct object!
In Ac.24:3, Tertullus is referring to favors received from the Roman overlords; in II Cor.8:17 and 11:4, Paul refers to his readers’ acceptance of his message; in Lk.20:21 and Gal.2:6, the reference is to God’s refusal to play favorites; and in Heb.11:35 to people who refused to “accept” deliverance from persecution at the price of unfaithfulness.
The adjective, “acceptable”, appearing 11 times, and representing five different words, uniformly refers to people or behavior that God considers acceptable. Likewise, of similar words rendered “accepted” (7x), five refer to God’s acceptance, one to the failure of a prophet’s own people to listen to him (Lk.4:24), and one to Paul’s desire that his service be accepted in the spirit in which it is offered, by the brethren in Jerusalem (Rom.15:31). Most notable in this latter group is the much-neglected discovery announced by Peter as a result of his encounter with Cornelius (Ac.10:34,35) – “Then Peter opened his mouth and said, ‘In truth, I perceive that God does not play favorites, but in every nation, the one who respects him and does justice is received [accepted] by him!’”
Funny – it doesn’t say a word about reciting a litany about what an awful, “sinful” person he is! This must be another place where the “literal” crowd managed to hit the “delete” button and substitute their own formula!
It is certainly true that the verbs in question – apodechhomai, dechomai, prosdechomai, and lambano – are very common in both the New Testament and classical writings. In many cases, they seem nearly interchangeable. Apodechomai, used only once as “accept” appears five times translated “receive”; dechomai, 2x as “accept”, is rendered “receive” 52x, “suffer” 1x, and “take” 5x. Lambano is rendered 2x “accept”, 133 x “receive”, 104 x “take”, and scattered translations of “attain, bring, call, catch, have, and obtain.” Prosdechomai, which we noted in #124 and 125, “Wait”, and “Watch”, also includes “allow, look for, receive, take, and wait for.”
Their classical uses are also scattered, but one idea they all have in common is “receive”, in the sense of making someone welcome. This may apply to anyone, of any social status, be he compatriot or stranger. Jesus used it of the disciples he had commissioned (Mt.10:14, 40, 41; Mk.6:11, 9:47; Lk.9:5, 48, 10:8), and equated people’s reception of them with their welcome (or not) of him. Dechomai is also frequently used of the welcome accorded the gospel message in various places (II Cor.8:11; Ac.8:14, 17:11; I Thes.1:6, 2:13) as well as of its bearers (II Cor.7:15, Gal.4:14, Col.4:10). There is nothing liturgical, spooky, or “spiritual” about this: it is welcome, pure and simple.
Lambano was occasionally used, classically, of involuntary “possession”by a spirit or deity, but the other words were not. More frequently, lambano is used to emphasize that “grace” (Jn.1:16), “fullness” (Jn.1:16), “my (Jesus’) testimony” (Jn.3:11,32,33; 5;34,41), “honor” (Jn.5:44), and the Holy Spirit (Jn.7:39, 20:22; Ac.1:8, 2:38, 8:15, 17, 19; 10:47), among others, are gifts received from the gracious hand of the Lord, and not the achievement of human effort. Indeed, Paul asks pointedly (I Cor.4:7), “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you brag as if you didn’t?” This is in a paragraph sternly critical of status-tripping in the body of believers. Literally everything about a disciple’s life is a gracious gift from the Lord, to be received with thanksgiving and employed for the welfare of the brotherhood and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Other classical uses of the various words should also be kept in mind, and may color some interpretations. For apodechomai, L/S lists: to accept advice from, to follow as a teacher, to admit to one’s presence, to approve or receive favorably, to be content or satisfied with, to recover or receive back something that was lost or stolen.
For dechomai, they list: to accept as legal tender, to exchange, to understand, to accept apology and forgive, to accept as an ally, to await the attack of an enemy, to welcome, to accept responsibility for, to approve.
For prosdechomai, to admit to one’s presence, to admit an argument, to be capable of, to undertake, to take liability upon oneself
For lambano, to grasp or seize, to take by violence, to exact punishment, to catch, to find out, to detect, to apprehend with the mind, to receive hospitably, to receive in marriage, to receive as produce or profit, to receive permission, to purchase.
This is enough of a sample to show that the variety is considerable.
Perhaps the most reliable key to the proper use of “accept” among those who seek for faithfulness, lies simply in its New Testament usage. The verb appears only six times, and never refers to requirements placed upon people. Our appropriate assignment concerns the adjective – used 18x – three times as often – to act and interact in a manner acceptable to God, and giving honor to the Lord Jesus. Take a cue from brother Paul, who wrote to the Roman brethren (Rom.1:1,2):
“I encourage you all, therefore, brothers, because of God’s compassion [mercy], to present your bodies, a living offering, set-apart, pleasing [acceptable*] to God: this is your logical worship. And do not (continue to) pattern yourselves by this age, but be completely changed,by the renewal of your mind, so that you all will recognize what God’s will is: what is good, and pleasing [acceptable*] and complete [perfect].”
*The word is euarestos, “pleasing, pleasant, acceptable, in good taste”.
A focus upon becoming “acceptable”, rather than forcing an artificial and unwarranted “acceptance” upon others, is much more likely to bear good fruit for the Kingdom!