Your best possible life will be found exclusively through surrendering to Jesus Christ and following him the rest of your days.
I’m thinking you can imagine a lot of possibilities when it comes to a best life possible. Status and success, material wealth, vibrant health, great relationships, pleasures fulfilled to their greatest height of delight, lives of peace.
Our contention is that though these and other ideas of a best life possible can bring happiness and maybe some sense of fulfillment, ultimately they pale in comparison to the best life possible found exclusively through surrender to Jesus Christ and following him the rest of your days.
And that is what this series is all about – Your Story… your surrender to Jesus… your following of Jesus.
Week one Dave described these four categories that recent research reveals people put themselves in with regard to Christianity:
1. 25% Non-Christian
· atheist, agnostic, other religion (ie. Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc…)
2. 25% Casual Christian
· Refer to self as Xian BECAUSE grew up that way and don’t identify as Non-Xian - don’t do much with God either
· Believe there is a God maybe Jesus, but God is distant and not a priority at all.
3. 25% Congregational Christian
· Believe in God / Jesus / maybe some strong theological beliefs
· Identify with a church/denomination and attend either occasionally or even frequently, though not deeply connected
This can initially sound like Surrendered Christians, but here is where things separate:
· All priorities in life are equal – e.g. God, family, happiness, success – and the one that takes precedence at any given moment is based on that person’s preference to CONSUME
4. 25% Surrendered Christians (more accurately probably 10% or less)
· Sum this way: the priority of their life is Jesus, His kingdom, and their submission to Him from which all life flows
Last week, Dave took us to the cross – more accurately even, we looked at Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the focal point of God’s expression of His own love for us, that while and though human beings were still sinners, as Romans 5 tells us, Jesus died for us.
And all this time, we have been inviting you to come and surrender your life to Jesus and follow Him. What we have not done yet is describe all that we mean by this word surrender.
So today – through a series of questions – I want to do just that – finally define what we mean by this word surrender.
To begin that process, turn with me to Acts 20:20-21, page 788 in the house Bibles. If you are at Fishers, please raise your hand if you need a Bible and one will be brought to you.
We admittedly will be looking at a lot of Scripture today because interestingly enough, surrender is not a word that is actually used in the New Testament to describe this moment of giving one’s life to Jesus. HOWEVER, what is clear is that the stories and descriptions of what is happening to a person when they respond to Jesus’ call to follow Him is that they are surrendering.
And Paul’s explanation of his preaching begins that description.
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Paul tells us that when he called people to Jesus, he called them to repent and have faith. And this is what we are calling you to when we call you to surrender.
What is surrender?
Surrender is repenting and putting your faith in Jesus Christ.
We wanted one clear word for this moment of decision and so when we speak of surrender, we are encapsulating two primary actions that we see in the Scriptures into one: “repenting” and “putting your faith in”. Surrendered Christians are those who have repented and put their faith in Jesus.
Let’s talk about those two actions that our word surrender captures.
REPENT: why that action and how is it part of surrender?
FIRST of all, it is used commonly and poignantly in the Scriptures:
In OT, “repent” was the favored word of the prophets with the goal of calling the people of God away from idolatry to faithfulness to YHWH.
In the NT it is continually used to refer to changing from the direction your life was going in order to walk in the way of Jesus and the kingdom of God and experience grace and forgiveness! Here are some examples:
It was Jesus’ chosen word when calling people to follow Him:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
It was what the disciples preached…
They went out and preached that people should repent.
And it was declared anew at the dawn of the church:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
SECOND, repent is encapsulated by surrender because of its meaning:
· Definition – repentance is, as some of you may know, the idea of a 180 – a change in direction – Grk word = “change your mind, have a complete change of heart” – total change both in thought and behavior
Now this change of direction idea has a clear implication. As noted by one scholar, the Hebrew concept of repentance (which, remember would have been Jesus’ worldview) included not just a turning from something, but a turning to something.
Repent means “turn from sin; return to God”
To repent is to…
· …turn from sinful disobedience and turn to God
· …turn from living according to your priorities and turn to living according to God and His kingdom priorities
· …turn from selfishness and turn to (Holy) Spirit-filledness
· …turn from your idols (what you follow as the “master” of your life – money, success, your family, your reputation, your own intellect) and turn to Jesus as the master of your life.
Such repenting is what we see as part of the surrender of so many stories in the Scriptures: (just a few examples)
· Matthew, the tax collector, one of the 12–in surrendering himself to follow Jesus, repented – turned from his idols, his selfishness, his sin (esp. of greed) and turned to Jesus.
· It was clearly what Saul did in repenting - turning from his life as a Pharisee persecuting Jesus and the church and turning to life as an apostle loving Jesus and leading the church – a surrender marked by repenting that was so dramatic that he got his name changed from Saul to Paul!
· It was what the rich young ruler COULD NOT do when Jesus challenged him to sell all he had in order to give it to the poor and to come follow Jesus. He COULD NOT turn from his riches and turn to the economic justice of God’s kingdom and Jesus (Mk. 10). He COULD NOT surrender his wealth (his version of the life he wanted to live) for the life Jesus had for him.
Now, it is true we can often have horrible images related to this word – something like…
· Image: a street preacher screaming through a bullhorn– “REPENT Sinner!” Right? Angry… yelling. “Sinner… repent!”
But that is NOT the way this word should be depicted!
Remember, God is NOT disgusted with you. You are NOT worthless. You bear His image; you are packed with potential. God wants to adopt sinners as His sons / daughters. What parent, who is adopting, adopts out of anger, disgust, or thinking the child is worthless?
None - and certainly not the divine parent who is the triune God of love.
An angry, yelling, vile-filled God is NOT crying out “REPENT”. That’s a false image.
Yes God is called a jealous God, a God who expresses wrath even, BUT as Scot McKnight says,
“God’s wrath is God’s jealousy at work to woo back human beings to God’s love.” Scot McKnight
So let’s hear this word differently. Repent is a beautiful word - a word of hope! Let’s hear it in the spirit in which Paul speaks of it in Romans,
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
A beautiful word because it is God’s kindness – God’s love – God’s wooing that leads us to REPENT!
When you surrender to God, you are repenting, turning from sin to God.
As Paul indicated in Acts 20, that, however, is just the first word that we are using surrender to summarize.
When you surrender to God, we are also saying you are putting your faith in someone: God in Jesus Christ!
Now… why and how is faith part of surrender?
FIRST, we see “faith” – “putting your faith in / having faith” - as part of surrender and because of its emphasis in the Scriptures.
Not surprisingly when we consider his statement in Acts we see it with Paul especially in His letters:
Romans 3:22 (NLT)
We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:25-26 (NIV)
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. […] he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
o “justifies” – think “makes right with God” – reconciles
For it is by grace you have been saved through faith...
SUM: Faith is an action of surrender because of the Scriptures.
SECOND, faith - putting your faith in - is summarized / encapsulated by surrender because of its meaning:
· “Faith” – pistis – “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance;” “to have confidence in;” “dependency”.
To put your faith in someone / something is to place trust in them / it. To have faith is to be dependent – to rely on them. The connotation of faith is to entrust oneself to another.
And this is what is happening in surrender! When you live dependent, reliant on another – trusting another – you are surrendering your independence… you are surrendering life on your own terms / in your own control.
And this is what is happening with Jesus. Putting your faith in Jesus is to trust Jesus. To become dependent upon him – reliant. And this real trust and confidence “can only be placed in someone who is believed to have the qualities attributed to such a person.”
Therefore putting your faith in Jesus also means putting faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the historical act that reconciles us back to God – that unites us into communion with God as our sins are forgiven. It is having faith that he is who he says he is and what he did for us – the cross and resurrection - actually did happen to the effect of redemption of the whole world including human beings.
Once again, the stories of Scripture point to this action as we see “faith in Jesus” – trusting yourself to Jesus - as part of the surrender of so many people: (again, just a few examples)
· People like the disciples when Jesus calls them to lay down their fishing nets and follow him.
· People throughout Acts putting their faith in Jesus – like the Ethiopian eunuch, who upon hearing Philip’s explanation regarding Jesus as Messiah from Isaiah, chose to be baptized as the sign of his repentance and faith in – his surrender to Jesus.
It is best pictured though, in my opinion, in the Scriptures through the image Jesus gives of receiving Him and His kingdom as a child.
15Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Putting your faith in Jesus, trusting Jesus, entrusting ourselves to Jesus – however you say it – this action is like that of a child who has faith in their parent. Children live in dependence on a parent to love and care for them, to guide them, to protect them – save/rescue them when necessary, to help them discover who they are and the gifts they bring to the world - to see their potential unleashed.
Children by their faith in their parent are surrendered to the priorities and purposes of the parent.
And this kind of dependent faith is one of the aspects of this image that Jesus is conveying - this image of receiving the kingdom as a child. Receive it – receive Him – in faith, in dependence, in reliance, in trust… in surrender. For God in Jesus is adopting each person who comes to him in faith as His beloved son / daughter.
NOW… an aside for a moment. For some of you, this is a stumbling block to your decision to surrender. You can’t surrender because you hear of God as Father – as parent – and you associate God, then, with your hurtful parent. Maybe abuse, maybe neglect, maybe indifference. Bottomline: the thought of surrender to God who is a loving Father / loving parent, is difficult (maybe even unthinkable) for you because you have projected your earthly parent(s)’ character as God’s character.
BUT… can I paint a different picture?
He is as He says of Himself, the father to the fatherless. And when you have been hurt, abused, neglected, treated indifferently, you are fatherless –parentless… and God is your Father… your Parent. Everything you wish your father had been – your mother – everything you know your parent(s) SHOULD have been to you – loving, kind, present, caring, etc… - God is as parent.
Could you consider surrendering to Him?
So the Scriptures, the meaning of “faith”, and the stories of those who put their faith in Jesus all point to faith being part of what is happening when someone surrenders to Jesus.
It is the compliment to repent in the act of surrender. If repenting is turning from our sinful disobedience - our rebellion to go it on our own without God - and turning to God in Jesus Christ, then faith is the vehicle that turns us to God. Turning to God in Jesus Christ by putting your faith in Jesus - putting your faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to forgive that sin and reconcile you into relationship with God.
What is surrender?
Surrender is repenting of your sinful disobedience and putting your faith in God in Jesus Christ - in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to forgive that sin and reconcile you into relationship with God.
It is the first act in beginning to follow Jesus.
Now, how do you do that?
How do you surrender?
This is a harder question to answer in some ways because we are talking about something that is a moment of decision as well as ongoing / every day as a follower of Jesus. Followers of Jesus determine each day when they wake up to surrender anew for that day.
But there is also a decision point for many if not all to commit to a surrendered life. AND THAT IS WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT HERE. THAT IS WHAT WE ARE CALLING YOU TO DO if you have not done so already with your life.
This decision point of surrender coupled with ongoing, daily surrender is analogous to the wedding ceremony of a marriage. The wedding ceremony is the moment of decision when a couple enters into a covenant relationship, determining that they will live a life of marriage – a commitment expressed in this momentary decision.
And that is really what you are doing when you surrender your life. Oh you will have plenty of opportunities to surrender yourself to God over and over again as you follow Jesus – just like a marriage affords plenty of opportunities to re-commit to the vows made at the wedding ceremony. But at the moment of surrender, you are determining / committing yourself – you might even say “vowing” - to a life of surrender to follow Jesus.
And that commitment - vow - is expressed through the acts of your heart, mind, and will coming together in an act of surrender to God through repentance and faith.
It is the DESIRE OF YOUR HEART to love God above all! Your desire to be for Jesus, to know and love Jesus above all other affections. It is how we choose NOT to commit idolatry. To desire God as the priority of one’s life.
It is the DECISION OF YOUR MIND – an intellectual choice - to confidently believe that Jesus was who He said He was – the Son of God, who lived, died, and rose again to break the power of sin, death, and evil in this world – including the hold that those have had on individuals – YOU! The choice to confidently believe that in Jesus you are now God’s beloved son / daughter.
· A choice that can overcome doubt because doubt is not the opposite of faith; doubt is the opportunity for faith.
It is the CHOICE OF YOUR WILL to be submitted to the will of God - you choosing God’s agenda for your life, not yours; you choosing Jesus as your master instead of yourself.
And the totality of these three together – heart, mind, and will - in repentance and faith is the act of surrender.
So how do you know if you have done that or not? How do you know if you are surrendered?
Well, at some level, you know by asking yourself and answering for yourself whether you have ever – by an act of your heart, mind, and will – surrendered to God.
Have you repented of life on your terms – trusting in yourself, keeping yourself as the master of your life, choosing what is the priority of your life based on your thoughts, your choosing, your agenda? Or are you holding on to doing things your way, according to your agenda?
Have you put your faith in Jesus – trusting, having confidence in Him that He was who He said He was? That He did live, die, and rise again to break the power of evil, death, and sin even in your life, bringing forgiveness, reconciling you back into relationship with God? Living in dependent reliance on God as Father, like a child does with a parent? Or do you continue to hold on to faith in yourself OR in other idols?
And I don’t mean you prayed some words of repentance and faith as if a magical prayer. And I don’t mean a partial re-prioritizing of your life – where some things are under Jesus and some are under you.
Surrendering to Jesus and following Him is a complete re-orienting of one’s life! Have you vowed your life at some point, committing to this complete re-orientation of your life?
But do you have a time in your life where you can point to and say, “I know that day – that season of my life – over the course of that year, my life became NO LONGER my own, but God’s! I know I don’t live it perfectly, but I know I am surrendered and am continually being challenged to daily surrender. And the desire and intent of my life expressed by the way I live is to follow Jesus”?
Ultimately, I can’t answer “how do you know if you are surrendered?” because ONLY God’s Spirit can really tell you. And you have to stop and listen for His Spirit to speak… whether the Spirit comes as a still, small voice that you need to quiet your heart to hear OR whether the Spirit is screaming to you through your life circumstances saying, “COME… SURRENDER!”
But I can remind why you should surrender; why you need to surrender because….
Your best life possible begins with your act of surrender through repentance and faith.
Why should you surrender your life to God in Jesus Christ?
FOR YOUR SAKE!
Because we believe it is the best life possible – and by this phrase we do NOT mean material prosperity. No it is your best life possible because of God’s love – surrender to LOVE!
It is your best life possible because of God’s presence with you in this world NO MATTER what the circumstances and experiences of your life become.
It is the best life possible BECAUSE what Jesus did in His life, death, and resurrection was re-unite humanity into communion with God.
The best life possible because in this act of surrender, you become the beloved of God – His Son / Daughter!
But it isn’t just about you… you need to surrender your life FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD - because God and the world NEED you – they need the you that is packed with potential to be a masterpiece – a masterpiece who God has equipped to do the good works of His coming kingdom!
Because God needs you to write your portion of the story of His mission in the world - you representing – re-presenting – being a signpost of Jesus and His coming kingdom.
Because the world needs you to work with God by:
· caring for the created order
· standing against injustice
· opposing prejudice
· being agents of healing for those in pain / suffering
· filling the loneliness that so many people feel in this world
· leading the broken & lost to the loving embrace of Jesus.
Your best life possible begins with your act of surrender through repentance and faith.
· What is surrender?
o Surrender is repenting of your sinful disobedience and putting your faith in God in Jesus Christ - in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to forgive that sin and reconcile you into relationship with God.
· How do you surrender?
o Through the acts of your heart’s desire to love God above all, your mind’s decision to confidently believe in Jesus and what he has done for you, and the choice of your will to submit to God’s agenda for your life – these three coming together in repentance and faith is your act of surrender.
· How do you know if you are surrendered?
o Ultimately, you have to hear the Spirit of God tell you.
· Why should you be surrendered?
o For the sake of the world’s best life possible… as you participate in the healing of the broken places of the world writing your portion of the story of God.
o For the sake of your best life possible… that you get Jesus! That whatever brokenness, pain, evil, joy, happiness, goodness that comes in this world, you are with God as His beloved child and God is with you in faithful communion.
So there is one more question to answer in this message, but in this case you truly are with only one who can answer it:
Assuming you have not done so already, will you, as I have just described, surrendered your life to God in Jesus Christ today?
In a moment, I will give you that opportunity to do exactly that – to “come as you are” to the cross, laying down whatever might be holding you back, so that you might have this moment of surrender.
So that you might make today the first day of your best life possible – your surrendered life with God in Jesus Christ as His beloved child!