Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly. – Ignatius
I’m finding it more and more in my own conversations lately—this desperate need we have to learn surrender and submission. Why is it that as followers of Christ when we think of following we tend to forget this aspect of it? We are so consistent at calling others (and ourselves) to Jesus as Savior, but often not as passionate about seeking him as Lord. I wonder if we don’t always understand what this means practically in our lives. Maybe it’s just me. Even the language I’m using here betrays my tendency to misunderstand it. “Learn surrender and submission.” As if this is something I do or gain. Surrender is completely opposite to the idea of me gaining or grasping something. It’s about letting go. It’s about giving up. Not giving up in the sense of quitting, but more of a giving over; giving everything to someone.
Even as I’m writing this I’m thinking that I should choose a different topic. After all, those who read this will likely just nod their head in agreement, read the rest of the article, and then move on. That’s what I would probably do. It’s not that we don’t know we need to live in submission to Christ, it’s that our hearts are too easily unmoved by this call to surrender. Jesus gives such radical calls to submission and this idea of surrendering that it can feel paralyzing to even consider how this is lived out. It’s tempting to not really deal with what lies at the heart of our own surrendered life—or lack thereof.
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33
This sounds so harsh that we can almost convince ourselves that we need not go this far. Renouncing feels so extreme and final and unnecessary, but to renounce simply means to refuse to follow, obey or recognize any further. And this is exactly what we must do. Christians who show up on Sundays to worship and listen and then live the rest of their week on their own terms are a dime a dozen. Christians who use the right language, attend the right service projects, and give some money are nothing special. They are everywhere and they aren’t compelling. They aren’t living lives that implore people to be reconciled to God.
On the other hand, a God who changes hearts and tears us apart to rebuild us in wholeness and holiness is a compelling God. But I find that we easily settle for much less. In truth, our broken hearts want much less. Or so we think. Renouncing all is harsh it is extreme. It’s also the only way we are called to follow.
Ignatius speaks of abandoning ourselves without reserve. Holding nothing back. This is the kind of person Jesus calls us to be. We must renounce everything else. The gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t just about getting us into heaven. It’s about getting us under Christ; living as his slave. And it’s so contrary to human wisdom, that even though we know the truth we fight against it. Even when we decide we want it we struggle against our sinful natures every day.
I think Ignatius is on to something—few of us understand what God could accomplish in us if we abandoned unreservedly. This way of living feels reckless and irresponsible by the world’s standards and it is…by the world’s standards. The idea of looking out for number one and self-preservation are instinctual and society only reinforces these concepts. Our own sinfulness craves this kind of control.
At the end of the day the real tension is in being called to something we cannot achieve—at least not on our own. We simply like position and power and our own desires too much. So we are left really with only one option: we need to confess. We need to admit our tendencies to be self-reliant, self-interested, and self-promotional. We need to confess that surrendering to Christ is beyond us. We need to wait on the grace of Christ to do the work in us. We need mercy. We need heart change.
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28:13
Jesus is a ferocious lover of souls. He tears us and devours us so as to mend us. He breaks us in order to heal rightly that which was twisted and bent. And this is the only way to living as a surrender people under Christ: to be torn apart so that he can pull out the places where we continue to fight to be our own person. Where we struggle to accept that our agenda, our wants, our perceptions of what should be just aren’t that important. The true mercy of Jesus comes in his ruthlessness towards our sin and his willingness to simply crush us for his glory and our good.
This submission to Christ is far more than just a seeking for humility; this is a complete dismissal of self in favor of Christ living in me. And it’s beyond us. So we must confess. And pray. And then follow wherever he may take us.
Let this be thy whole endeavor, this thy prayer, this thy desire,–that thou mayest be stripped of all selfishness, and with entire simplicity follow Jesus only. – Thomas a Kempis