In the Christian life, you cannot separate being from doing.
This is not what came to mind when I thought about “surrendering to God” in my earlier years of professing Christianity. Maybe you’ve heard that phrase a thousand times, too, and maybe it has helped you through many hard circumstances. I know it has for me. But what if I told you it doesn’t always mean what you think it means?
I don’t know if it was just popular in Christian culture at the time or if this is still true in many circles, but telling someone to surrender to God (regarding either a problem, a dream, a relationship, you name it) was an easy, spiritual-sounding response when you didn’t know what else to say. And right from the start I want to affirm that practicing submission to God’s will – and repentance of situational anxiety – is something we should encourage one another do. However, I also think that we have limited ourselves spiritually by boxing in our definition of spiritual surrender. This is evident in the modern church, where it seems that Christian life is lived exclusively in concert venues and other arenas where we actually feel spiritual realities transcending earthly ones for a short time. We say we have surrendered, and then we go home and life continues the same way it had been before.
What have we been missing?
Well, it’s not so much that we’ve missed some grand secret, but rather that we’ve fragmented the concept of surrender rather than committed to it holistically. Surrendering to God is not just about resigning yourself to circumstances that are out of your control, though it is good and right to do so. Surrender is about establishing a new allegiance. It involves accepting new standards and new mentalities. It is meant to humble, to bring low.
Romans 12:1-2 describes this kind of spiritual surrender:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (English Standard Version).
According to this passage, the appropriate way to worship God is by presenting ourselves to Him as living sacrifices . . . and to be a living sacrifice is to die to yourself over and over and over again. When we surrender our lives to God, we aren’t only placing things outside of ourselves on the proverbial altar. We must come and die, too. Die to worldly patterns. Die to selfish ambitions. Die to perceived “rights” to personal fulfillment. And then live to Christ and His gospel.
To surrender is to obey. It is to crucify the old self and be placed under the directives and institutions of God. It is to say, “Not my will, Lord, but Yours be done,” in regard to every aspect of life, including our behavior, our affections, and our intentions.