Surrender or Submit: Part I
The Biblical Concept
What do you think when you hear the word submission? If you are a history major with an interest in wars, you may think of General Lee turning himself, his troops and his arms over to General Grant. If you are police officer you may think of a “bad guy” turning himself over to the authorities. The English Thesaurus includes such terms for surrender as give in, give up, lay down your arms, capitulate, and admit defeat. What is striking about those terms? They tend to be or are decidedly passive. Yet the person does something – he gives in and gives up to some higher authority or at least someone who holds the upper hand. The person gives into something outside of himself. Other terms that may substitute for the term surrender or capture the idea of surrender include submit and yield. Submission moves us closer to the biblical concept of dying to self and living to God or what theologians would call progressive sanctification.
I often hear the word surrender used by Christians. They tell me that their pastor calls them to surrender to Jesus. I ask them to define the term and how they intend to accomplish the command. Too often, it is to stop what they are doing and do something positive. Often it is let go and let God. A proper definition of what the believer does and does not do at and after salvation, is fundamental to a proper understanding of salvation.
Salvation includes humbling oneself before God based on the proper knowledge of God and self which results in the proper motivation for coming to Christ. For a full-orbed understanding of what it means to bow one’s knee we must consider what is involved in surrendering, and how a person will know whether he has or not. A logical question that follows is: by what power is anyone able to surrender? Further, should the Christian use the term surrender?
The English word surrender is used very infrequently in the Old or New Testaments. In the Old Testaments the term refers to laying down one’s weapons or handing over a wicked person (Judges 20:13; 1 Samuel 11:3, 11; Jer. 38:17-18). The word is rare in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 13:3, the word surrender translates the word meaning to entrust or to deposit: If I give all I have to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. The term surrender indicates resolution and even passivity. In this case, the fire does a work on the body.
In terms of how to surrender, most people tell me that they have to turn it over Jesus, let go and let God, and to stop fighting Him. They believe that they have made a decision for Christ based on their feelings or the decision itself. Most often the decision is made in one’s own strength. These are very interesting concepts that are presented in the answers. Painted in the best and biblical light, I think the term surrender is intended to have the person acknowledge his rebellion against God and have him cease in that action. The believer may be aware that change must come. This desire to change characterizes the believer given his changed heart. This blog presents truths that help to decide if the term surrender captures the believer’s move from self to God.
The magnitude, intensity, pervasiveness, and frequency of the pull and inclination to please self are something to behold individually (self) and in others. It seems amazing that even a short duration as a member of Satan’s family and kingdom should have such profound influence on a person’s thoughts, desires, and actions. At the moment of conception, man is anti-God and pro-self (Ps. 51:1-5). No one today gives much credence to what some would consider a heartless statement. However, the Bible teaches that man was conceived and born as a sinner. Yes, sin is the problem, but we must remember that sinners are the problem. God saves sinners not sin.
Man does not learn to sin. It is part of his nature. What man won’t acknowledge is the fact that sin, any and every sin, is an attack on God and His goodness and God-ness. That is the bad news. There is good news! Jesus came to and for His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:4-5). That rejection did not deter Christ. He saved a people in order to please the Father. The unbeliever is a member in Satan’s family and kingdom but the believer has been removed from that family and kingdom. He will function at various times and in various ways as if he was still a member of Satan’s family. Previous membership in Satan’s kingdom exerts a tremendous influence. It is a sad but true reality of living in the continuing present evil age as a believer (Gal. 1:4).
As above, the call to surrender is not found in the Bible unless you equate, and perhaps confuse the call to submit as surrender. The Bible locates the believer’s moral drama within , in his own heart, regenerated though it is. The Triune God knows that saved sinners are still sinners. Sinning is patterned in terms of thoughts, desires, and actions. Unfortunately, believers, in varying degrees, continue to do what they have done for so long and are too comfortable with their patterned approach to God, self, and others. Surrendering tends to look at the consequences of doing or not doing. Submission focuses on the God of this universe and the war that the sinner has been arrogantly, ignorantly, and miserably carrying on against Him. The call is for the person to submit.
- Catch the difference in meaning between surrender and submit. What is the difference?
- How is submission and surrender similar and contrasted?
- What does God’s call to submit entail? See Ephesians 5:21-22, 24; Hebrews 12:9; James 4:7; 1 Peter 2:13.
Surrender or Submit: Part II
The Biblical Concept
Once saved the believer is called to grow in Christ-like character (Rom. 8:28-29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Peter 3:18). Progressive sanctification is an ongoing process. The believer is called and equipped to walk (conduct himself) in a radically different manner than he did as an unbeliever (Rom. 3:12-14; Eph. 2:1-3, 4-7; Col. 3:8-10). He is called to a radically changed lifestyle that involves the whole person: thoughts, desires/affections, and actions. The believer is called and equipped to step down and move over because he has lived the lie as an unbeliever. He has competed with God. No man, pre-fall or post-fall, has been in charge or on the throne. God will not share His glory with any man (Isa. 42:8; 48:11).
The New Testament is replete with the call for every believer to become more like Christ. Said another way, the believer is to put on the character of Christ. The call has many different facets, but underlying the call is its priority and aggressiveness. Growth in Christlikeness is certainly not passive. It means coming to one’s senses as did the prodigal (Luke 15:17-18). It means taking off the mantle of self-pleasing, self-righteousness, and self dependence; it means acknowledging being clothed in Christ’s righteousness; and as a result, it means conducting oneself as a child of the King energized by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit will not let the believer, who is prone to wander, do his own thing and thereby live the lie. The Holy Spirit, through the double grip of the Father and the Son , will not let the believer leave the God Who loved the believer in spite of himself (John 10:28-30; Rom. 5:6-10; 8:32-37). God is not interested in a simple surrender, a putting down of one’s rebellious spirit. God has changed people and He expects a return on His work through the Holy Spirit. Putting on Christ as one puts off self is key (Rom. 13:12-14).
One problem for every believer is the continued practice of me-ism. Every believer, again in varying degrees and in various ways, thinks and acts as if he is in control and thereby he lives the lie. In reality, this is God’s world and man was created and placed in it by God’s design. God’s design for man included privilege and blessing because the believer has been rescued from Satan’s kingdom and placed in God’s kingdom and family (Col. 1:13-14). Whenever a believer sins he is saying, among other things, that this is his world and he can run it his way. He goes back to Garden and follows Adam’s choice to side with Satan against God. The believer is telling God to move over. In a real sense, sin and sinning is illogical. It is involvement in a deadly exchange – the glory of God for the pleasure and glory of the creature. The Creator-creature relationship is disrupted. The worker wants to be and functions as the boss.
Every sin is a legacy from the Garden. Moreover, sin is agreeing to Satan’s logic which was embedded in his challenge given to Adam and Eve. He encouraged lawbreaking and sinning as the way to be like God. What a sad day it was! But Adam’s and Eve’s response was the real issue. More correctly, Adam’s response was the deciding factor for God’s response. God judged Adam and the whole human race in him. But God was not and is not finished with His people and His world. God promised salvation through the seed of Eve and His promise was partially fulfilled at Christ’s first coming. Christ’s first coming pointed to and assured His second coming which ushered in the new creation and the fulfillment of bringing a people to Himself. Surrender is not part of the new creation unless surrender means denying self and putting on Christ and biblical truth. Clarity in understanding is a major key for proper growth in Christ.
- Rethink your use of the word surrender. Define it and prove it from the Bible.
- Make a spiritual inventory according to Hebrews 4:12 and James 1:22: determine your “beef” with God and answer the question: whose world is this? (See Psalms 24:1-2.).
- How have you lived the lie and what have been the results?
- Study Psalm 46:10: what do you learn about God and yourself?
Surrender or Submit: Part III
The Biblical Concept
Several aspects of the surrendering mentality are worth highlighting. The term as defined in the dictionary does indicate warfare and the benefit of stopping it. The term highlights the major combatant – the person. Too often we mention Satan as one of the combatants. However, Scripture focuses on the believer. Growth through submission, trust, obedience, and love are essential to growth in Christ.
The call is for every believer to become more like Christ in thought, desire, and action. Believers still carry too much of satanic resemblance from previous membership in his kingdom and family. One of the wonders of regeneration is its radical and supernatural character. A new heart has been given to the believer (John 3:3-8; Ezek. 36:24-26). Grace, both saving and enabling, are part of God’s gift to the believer so growth in Christ is viewed as a privilege, blessing, and duty.
Here is a smattering of passages from the New Testament that call for growth rather than surrender. The believer is to:
- Pursue holiness: Hebrews 12:14; 1 Timothy 6:11
- Be diligent in his Christian growth: 2 Peter 1:10
- Be zealous for good works: Titus 2:14
- Purify and circumcise himself: Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6
- Practice radical amputation: Matthew 5:27-30; Hebrews 12:1-2
- Submit to God and others: Ephesian 5:21-24; James 4:7
Someone may say that one must surrender before he can submit. When one surrenders often conditions and terms are presented and person makes an effort to obtain preservation of some dignity and even rights. The surrendering party often negotiates for better conditions. The believer is to submit and not simply to surrender. He is not in any position to negotiate terms.
The term submission carries the idea of standing up under. It means to place oneself under something or someone in an orderly fashion for proper function. It is a dynamic word. It stems from an active inner man who desires to please God. Functionally, it is stepping down from a position that was never the person’s.
Biblical submission requires humility. Biblically, humility is not humiliation. Jesus was placed, and He placed Himself, in humiliating circumstances. Those circumstances did not humble Him. Rather He responded by humbling Himself because He had a proper understanding of who He was, who His Father was, and what the Father desired. Jesus was focused on one thing: pleasing the Father (John 4:31-34). His humiliating circumstances were the stage on which He displayed His God-ness as the faithful Son of God, fully God and fully man. His commitment to the Triune God took shape as He fulfilled God’s eternal design of salvation.
His commitment is simply amazing given the fact that He was God. Yet He hid His God-ness and glory in order for God to be glorified. He was after achieving the greater good. It is miraculous that God could hide His glory. Picture the sun and its heat (10,000 degrees on the surface) coming to earth and all is well. Such an example tends to illustrate in a small way the greatness of the miracle of Jesus’ Messiahship that was birthed in eternity past and first began evident on the earth at the Incarnation.
By saving a people for Himself God would be most glorified. Jesus was focused on honoring the Father and the Father’s glory such that He left heaven, lived under the law even though He is the lawmaker, went to the cross, went to hell on the cross, and received the full measure of God’s wrath. Jesus did not surrender to the Father. Rather He aggressively functioned as less than He was. Again He hid His glory. He did not consider holding on to His glory for His time on earth was necessary (Phil 2:5-8, 9-11). Rather it was of much greater significance for Him to please the Father. And please Him He did!!
Submission is looking at the big picture and actively placing oneself in the position of serving God for His glory and the good of all believers. Submission requires a changed, and even new, view of self and of God. Biblical submission requires removing or changing demands about self and for self in order to get. It means replacing demands with thoughts, desires, and actions that please God. Submission for the believer must imitate Christ’s submission to the Father (Heb. 2:10; 5:8).
- Distinguish submit and surrender.
- Did Christ surrender or submit?
- What is required to submit? See James 4:7-10; 1 Peter 5:6-7.
Surrender or Submit: Part IV
The Biblical Concept
Biblical submission is a grace-filled and Holy Spirit-energized activity. Only the believer can submit. Salvation and life after salvation does not require surrendering. The believer actively gets busy doing things God’s way for His sake and glory. God’s way means to put off or exchange one’s patterned lifestyle for a new way of thinking, desiring, and acting. Paul uses the expression of put off and put on (see Rom, 13:12-14; Ephesians 4:17-24; Colossians 3:8-10). The put off and put on dynamic is shorthand for progressive sanctification. It is simultaneously a dual activity. The believer replaces – puts off, takes off, and undresses himself. He puts off anti-God, pro-self thoughts, desires and actions. At the same time, he dresses himself as he puts on Christlikeness. The believer dies to self because he is alive and motivated by the desire to please God. Simply he is alive to God as God and dead to self as a God-wanna-be.
What does the believer put off and put on? The believer actively and aggressively puts off himself – his thoughts, desires, and actions of self-pleasing. There is only one God and the believer is not Him. Each person has his own style of self-pleasing activity. Styles of self-pleasing thoughts, desires, and actions to be put off are identified through a spiritual inventory (2 Cor. 13:5; Heb. 4:12; James 1:22). The person and perhaps a trusted brother or sister in Christ helps define specific patterns of self-pleasing and any situations, triggers, and excuses for that lead and or facilitate self-pleasing activity. It is best that the person is to be specific. The believer will identify thoughts, desires, and actions that indicate trust-in-self and wise in his own eyes and replace them (Prov. 3:5-8).
The goal is to put off a me-first, good-feeling approach to life and replace it with a God-pleasing lifestyle. For the believer, change occurs in the concrete and in specifics usually one thought, desire, and action at a time.
Submission does not involve morbid self-introspection. A person can’t plumb the depths to find out how bad he is. He would have to go to hell and experience complete separation from God. Christ has already done that on the cross. Rather, submission is active. It means putting God and others first (Phil. 2:3-5; James 3:13-18). It means counting the cost of becoming more like Christ through the eyes of the cost to the Triune God who sent the Son to earth. God wants and deserves every bit of every believer. Jesus gave all of Himself to the Father for His children. The believer will imitate Christ for the sheer joy of it by developing full allegiance to the Triune God. .
The cross, rightly understood, demonstrates how bad any person is. The miseries of this life and the reality of hell in the next bring any person face-to-face with the reality of how bad he is. It is only the believer’s union with Christ or, better Christ’s union with him that there is hope and help. The believer does not need to go to hell. Christ did on the cross! The fact that the believer is a new creature in Christ with a new heart makes all the difference.
Duty (trust and obedience) including growth in Christlikeness will not be a burden but a blessing and privilege. The privilege of bowing the knee to King Christ was accomplished by Christ at the cross. However, God won’t let His children stay on their knees. Christ didn’t. Believers have work to do. It is becoming more like Christ.
Yet, change does not occur automatically or easily. It requires denying self (put off) and renewal – putting on that which pleases God one thought, desire, and action at a time. Pleasing God is to become a patterned way of life – a lifestyle from the inside out and not simply an activity. Submission is two-sided. The believer bows his knees as he puts off self and self-pleasing in its many forms. At the same time he is putting on Christ – biblical thoughts and desires which lead to godly actions. Pleasing God has its own fruit. It is the only way that the believer will live a satisfied and contented life this side of heaven (Matt. 11:28-30; 1 John 3:1-3; 5:3-4).
- Develop a self-pleasing list. You will be surprised. Ask your spouse or a mature Christian friend to critique it.
- Then take Galatians 5:22-23 – the fruit of the Spirit – and develop a plan to replace one self-pleasing thought, desire, and action daily with one or two fruits of the Spirit.
- Keep track of your progress.
- Rejoice in God’s grace as you demonstrate your gratitude and love for God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.