The noun itself is not found in the AV of the NT, though we come very near it in ‘acceptation’ (ἀποδοχή), 1 Ti 1:15; 4:9. Instances of the verb and adjective are frequent, and are mostly equivalents of δέχομαι and its derivatives, as the following list shows: δέχομαι, 2 Co 6:1; 8:17; 11:4; δεκτός, Ph 4:18; ἀπόδεκτος, 1 Ti 2:3; 5:4; προσδέχομαι, He 11:35; εὐπρόσδεκτος, Ro 15:16, 31, 2 Co 6:2; 8:12, 1 P 2:5. We also find λαυβάνω, Gal 2:6; εὐάρεστος* Ro 12:1, 2; 14:18, 2 Co 5:9, Eph 5:10, Ph 4:13, Col 3:20, Tit 2:9, He 13:21, and εὐαρέστως.* He 12:28; χάρις 1 P 2:20; and χαριτόω, Eph 1:6. It should be noticed that in the RV the adjective ‘well-pleasing’ often takes the place of the AV ‘acceptable’; and that in Eph 1:6 the familiar expression ‘(his grace) wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved’ gives place to the more correct ‘which he freely bestowed upon us,’ etc. See the commentaries of Westcott and Armitage Robinson, in loc.
2 Co 8:17 (Titus ‘accepted the exhortation’) and He 11:35 (‘not accepting deliverance’) do not call for comment. With 2 Co 11:4 on the non-acceptance of another gospel than that of Paul, compare 1 Ti 1:3 and 4:1, 2 Ti 1:10; 4:10; see also for the ‘accepted time’ (the day of opportunity for accepting the Divine message) 2 Co 6:1–2 (cf. Lk 4:19). In Ro 15:31 St. Paul hopes that the collection for the Jerusalem poor may be acceptable to the saints; and, referring to the same project in 2 Co 8:12, lays down the principle that contributions are acceptable in proportion to the willingness with which they are given.
We are now left with the passages which speak of God’s acceptance of man. Christians are ‘children of light,’ are to ‘prove what is acceptable (or well-pleasing) to the Lord’ (Eph 5:10; cf. Col 3:20), to test and discern the Lord’s will (Ro 12:2). They are ‘to make it their aim,’ whether living or dying, ‘to be well-pleasing to him’ (2 Co 5:9).
What then are the principles and practices that ensure this happy consummation? We may first notice the familiar negative proposition set forth in Gal 2:6 and Ac 10:34 ‘God accepteth no man’s person’ (i.e. the mere outward state and presence); and over against it the comprehensive declaration of Ac 10:35 ‘In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is acceptable to him.’ This furnishes a starting-point for a detailed enumeration of the courses which are ‘well-pleasing’ to God, and which may be set forth as follows: the offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice (Ro 12:2); the serving of Christ by not putting stumbling-blocks before weaker brethren (14:18); missionary work—the ‘offering up’ of the Gentiles (15:16); the gift of the Philippian Church Co St. Paul in prison (Ph 4:18; cf. Mt 25:31–46); filial affection to a widowed mother (1 Ti 5:4); supplication and intercession for all men (1 Ti 2:3); undeserved suffering patiently endured (1 P 2:20). All these may be looked upon as examples of the ‘spiritual sacrifices’ (1 P 2:5), the offering of ‘service with reverence and awe’ (He 12:28; cf. 13:16), which are ‘acceptable’ to God. He it is who ‘works in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ’ (He 13:21).
It is interesting and instructive to compare the grounds of ‘acceptance’ in the circle of OT thought with those in the, NT. In the former these grounds, are partly ceremonial (Lv 22:20), and partly ethical (Is 1:12–15, Jer 6:20 etc.), though here and there a higher note is struck (cf. Pr 21:3, Mic 6:8, Dt 10:4); in the latter the ceremonial association has entirely vanished except in a metaphorical sense, and become purely ethico-spiritual, as the above references prove. It was largely due to the prophets that the old ceremonial ground was gradually ethicized; and, though it never died out under the earlier ‘dispensation’ (which, indeed, reached its most rigid and mechanical development in the degenerate Pharisaic cult of NT times), the way was effectually prepared for the full proclamation of the spiritual message of the gospel by Jesus, who was Himself the perfect embodiment of all that was acceptable and well-pleasing to God (cf. Mk 1:11, Mt 17:5, Jn 8:29 etc.).
There is a theological problem of importance raised by these passages—What is it that constitutes the ground of our acceptance with God? The full treatment of this problem must be sought under the art. Justification, but the following considerations may be properly adduced here. Unquestionably the Christian religion is a religion of Grace, as contra-distinguished from Judaism and other faiths, which are religions of Law, Salvation, according to the NT throughout (explicitly in the writings of St. Paul, more or less implicitly elsewhere), is of God, and not of man; not our own doings, but willingness to accept what He has done for us, and what He is ready to do in us, is the condition of initial inclusion within the Kingdom of Divine love and life.
This is the watershed which determines the direction and flow of all subsequent doctrinal developments in Christian theology; it is what settles the question whether our thoughts and practice are distinctively Christian or not. There are, however, two alternative perils to be carefully avoided—antinomianism, on the one hand, which assumes our continued acceptance with God irrespective of our moral conduct afterwards; and the doctrine of salvation by works, on the other, which makes moral conduct the condition of acceptance, thus surreptitiously introducing the legal view of religion once more.
This ‘Either—Or’ is, however, a false antithesis, from which we are saved by the recognition of the ‘mystical union’ of the believer with God in Christ. By that act of faith, in virtue of which the sinner ‘accepts’ Christ and appropriates all that He is and has done, he passes from a state of condemnation into a state of grace (Ro 8:1), and is henceforth ‘in Christ’—organically united to Him as the member is to the body (1 Co 12:12f), as the branch is to the vine (Jn 15:1–4).
This ‘justifying faith’ is, however, not an isolated act; it is an act that brings us into a permanent relation with the source of spiritual life. Now, ‘good works’ in the Christian sense are a necessary proof and outcome of this relation, and as such are well-pleasing or ‘acceptable’ to God, because (a) they are a manifestation of the spirit of Christ in us (Gal 2:20; cf. v. 21); and (b) a demonstration of the continuance of the believer ‘in Christ’ (Jn 15:8; cf. Mt 5:16, Ph 1:10f.). The relation of the believer to Christ, in other words, while it is religious in its root, is ethical in its fruit, and the quality and abundance of the latter naturally show the quality and potency of the faith-fife of which it is the expression and outcome.
Thus our ‘works’ do not constitute our claim for acceptance with God after entering the Kingdom of Grace any more than before; but they determine our place within the Kingdom. There is an aristocracy of the spiritual as well as of the natural life; the saved are one in the fact of salvation, but not in the magnitude of their attainments or the quality of their influence; and they are more or less acceptable to God according to the entireness of their consecration and the value of their service.
There is thus an adequate motive presented to us for perpetual striving after perfection, and St. Paul’s spiritual attitude—‘not as though I had already attained, but I follow after’ (Ph 3:12)—is the normal attitude of every true believer (cf. Col 1:10–12: 1 Th 4:1–3, 1 Jn 3:22). It was given only to One to be altogether well-pleasing to God; but it is the unfading ideal, and the constant endeavour of His true disciples to follow in His steps, and in all things to become more and more like Him, as well as ‘well-pleasing’ to Him.
See, further, artt. Justification, etc., and Literature there specified.
AV Authorized Version.
* On the use of these words in inscriptions see A. Deissmann, Bible Studies, 214f. The use of ἀρεστός, ‘pleasing,’ and the verb ἀρέσκω in the NT should also be noted.
RV Revised Version.