to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)
The need for some kind of protective covering is universal. Animals, birds, fish and insects all display this instinctive fundamental imperative – dens, nests, hides and caves…nature constantly finds, digs, creates or builds a place of covering, of safety and of protection. Man is no different, but we’ve taken it a little further in inventing ‘mobile protection.’ Think of armour, for one thing. And think of the humble umbrella which, though it has some definite limitations, nevertheless is a universal favourite against both rain and sun, depending on where we live and our particular culture.
The physical need for covering is a very simple reflection of the spiritual need for coverning. Without it, we’re vulnerable, easily seduced and easily deceived. But, more than that, when we drift out from under a healthy spiritual authority we’re out of the will of God, and an easy target for anything that may come against us. Of course, the abuse of spiritual authority is the opposite side of the spectrum and is very real, although that isn’t the subject of today’s reflection.
Think of the umbrella for a moment. It is, despite its humble simplicity, a very innovative accessory to everyday life. The concept of something that can be folded down and carried around is ingenious. It’s light, portable and very practical. But it’s also little use in strong wind and has a limited lifespan – usually giving in when we need it most. But the concept is good, except that the very thing that makes it so practical is the same thing that renders it vulnerable. It’s designed to be ‘mobile’ and easy to carry around, and so it has absolutely no durability. It is, at best, a temporary protection against the most basic level of discomfort rather than danger.
And yet, in many ways, it provides a good example of the attitude of many Christians to the covering we have in Jesus. We keep it handy and duck under it when we need to, but it’s basically portable protection. It’s a completely separate thing, not a part of us at all, and remains a ‘tool’ rather than a way of life. It’s useful and even possibly advisable, but we decide whether to use it or not and for how long.
Sadly, this attitude is far removed from God’s original intention. Where we condescend to carry around the ‘umbrella’ covering because it suits us to do so, He intends that it operate more like a haz-mat suit. We’re to be inside it, completely covered and protected – even unrecognisable as ourselves. The self that is me is to be utterly ‘buried’ in Christ so that when the Father looks at me He sees Jesus. Always. Not just when we have an identifiable need or because its convenient. The covering in Christ is always, eternal, constant and unshakeable – providing we choose to remain in it.
Aside from the purely practical aspects of protection and safety, there is a much deeper level of security. In Christ, we are accepted. In Christ we become a part of Him, of the Beloved, the Son of God. In Christ, we become acceptable – something we can never be outside of Him. Acceptable is far more than approval or recognition. It implies taking ownership of something or identifying with something on a personal level. It implies willing receiving something in order to make it our own.
That is the level of acceptance we have in Jesus. In Him we truly become the sons of God. In Him there is no condemnation because the Father sees only the Son. But, like the umbrella or the haz-mat suit, the protection only applies if we remain in it. Step out, even a small step, and the protection is compromised. We are not accepted ‘beside the Beloved’ or ‘behind the Beloved.’ We are accepted in the Beloved.
And this is the crux of the matter. In stepping into that place where we are totally and completely accepted in Christ, we accept that the Father does not see me. He sees Christ, and He sees me in Christ – not what I am, but what Jesus is, and what He purposes that I become. The more immersed we are in Jesus, the greater the protection. Our acceptance is directly related to how much we’re prepared to lose self in Jesus. If we persist on hanging on to things that are ‘me’ – my plans, my desires, my goals, my habits, my needs – the flesh remains outside the covering. God, in His grace, will accept all we yield in Jesus. We decide how much we will yield, so we decide how much acceptance we receive.
It’s a very basic and practical principle. Accepting implies receiving. Receiving implies giving – or yielding – something. If I choose to give my friend a book, and she willingly receives it, the book is no longer mine. It now belongs to her as I have given it to her. But that doesn’t mean she has access to my bookshelf. All the books on it remain mine. I have not, in giving her a single book, given her the right to take all the other books as well. God is a very practical God. He’s set things up so that we are required to yield. Once we yield, He will receive what we have yielded. He will never forcefully take what He desires we give freely.
The eternal, constant, gracious, total and complete acceptance of God remains available and accessible. He has already provided every single thing we need through Christ and the cross and will never take it back. The determining factor is our willingness to step fully into Christ. If I am willing to be accepted, totally and completely as God’s child in Christ, then I must be willing to become God’s child in Christ – and that means leaving the old me behind.
His grace is such is that He accepts us despite how we are, and does this by putting us in Christ. But, as we continue to dwell in Christ – to wear the ‘suit’ – so the process of transformation begins. It’s not humanly possible for us to reach ‘perfection’ immediately. That’s why we’re in Christ. That’s love and grace and mercy and compassion at work, because He knows that we could never do it ourselves.
Yielding is a process, a lifetime of letting go, laying down and willing surrender. We’re going to stand strong or fall, stand firm or slide, make mistakes, mess up and fail. But in Christ is the place of the heart, and it’s the condition of the heart that God uses to work in us. Accepted in the Beloved is God’s plan for permanent protection, not ‘as needed’ protection. It’s the place of intimacy with Him, unity with Him, the place of living in His love and grace. It’s the place of provision for every need, and the place of unreserved praise and worship to our God. We cannot be closer to God than we are when in the Beloved, for Father and Son are united forever.
What a gracious, loving Father You are, Lord. Your ways are perfect, Your plans utterly complete. Help our hearts to see and know the full measure of Your provision for us. Help our hearts to take hold of Your truth, and help us to live in Christ, to live always in that place You have provided. Help us to lay down self and enter in, to yield self and remain in Him, to submit willingly and joyfully to Your work of transforming us daily into the image of Your Son.