Lippo Cikarang, West Java, Indonesia
For a while now there have been certain phrases often repeated in Christian circles that annoy me. Now part of this annoyance is simply that I am critical of what people say but most of it is because people do not always think carefully before they open their mouth and so they turn to very generic phrases that they hear without comprehending the larger implications. I will likely turn this into a series so here is phase number uno:
“All you have to do is surrender yourself to God!”
*submit or give up are acceptable substitutes for surrender.
I recognize that this phrase is biblical and may be useful. However, it is generally employed in such a way that indicates if we, that is humankind, give up ourselves to God then God’s love will be able to change us. It is used to spur on the action of self-denial and instead focus on God. It is used to say that our faith starts with surrender.
My first problem with this phrase is that it is unspecific. In all practicality, what does it mean to “surrender” to God? What am I, French?
The second reason I dislike this phrase is that it places the burden on me. It is a completely legalistic dogma, holding to the Law, what we should do rather than the Gospel of what God has done for us.
The reality is that I am incapable of submitting myself to the Holy Spirit. My sinful human nature means that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” (Martin Luther, Explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed).
Faith doesn’t start with me surrendering. But rather “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
I think that a better way of discussing the general statement of “surrender to God” is to say “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). This makes use of the Law to announce that we are sinners. I need God because I am at my very core evil not because surrendering to God is like giving up everything to become a Bielieber.
God is not just a fashion trend that takes over our lives and fades when the fame does. No, God is a father.
Another problem, particularly in the cultural context in which I am in is that of Islam. When I say that the most important part of Christianity is submitting to God’s power I am blurring the distinction with Islam. Islam means Submission and that is the chief idea in the religion. It can certainly be a talking point of comparison but I should never blur the two and thus imply that they are basically the same thing. They aren’t the same at all.
As I mentioned above, the chief problem of this statement about surrendering places the burden on myself but I am incapable of carrying it. Even as a believer, there are times I think to myself: this is crazy. I honestly believe in a God who loves me? Lord, help me to believe.
No, it was Jesus Christ who took my burden. My hatred, greed, selfishness and inability to believe – Christ took my sin as His own burden and it is buried in the empty tomb. Christ is greater than my burdens, I am not. After all, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
By making our “surrender” (whatever that means) into the conditionality for God’s grace we are turning the Gospel into a Law and thus diminishing the power and love of Christ.