Pro Ecclesia: For the Church
Gary Thomas, in his book Seeking the Face of God, makes this statement: “Christian health is not defined by how happy we are, how prosperous or healthy we are, or even by how many people we have led to the Lord in the past year. Christian health is ultimately defined by how sincerely we wave our flag of surrender.” What he is saying is this: a major way to measure our spiritual health is to determine how surrendered we are to God. I believe that many of our greatest struggles in living a healthy, productive Christian life come to us because of our unwillingness to surrender fully to God. Our churches are full of people who are not progressively growing in their surrender to Christ; therefore, many of our churches are spiritually unhealthy. Unhealthy churches are focused on self, more concerned with the size of our buildings and budgets than on the glory of Christ in the salvation and sanctification of His elect from all people groups.
I am an American, actually an African American; I have difficulty with the concept of surrender. Americans don’t surrender. Surrender means weakness. It means defeat. It means I give up, doesn’t it? Surrendering to God is a challenge even for those who have come to know the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ.
First, let’s examine the kind of surrender I believe the Lord calls for and then the path to it. The passage that has helped me reflect on this is Romans 12:1-2. God calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. By appealing to us to “present” our bodies to God, the apostle is saying that every Christian is a priest — a believer-priest. This is nothing new, for we see the people of the old covenant referred to as a “kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6. The new covenant writers pick this up, as in 1 Peter 2:9 where the church is a “royal priesthood.” As priests who stand before God, we must bring something to Him, not to make atonement but in response to the atonement. What do we offer? The only thing we have is ourselves. The surrender God wants is the surrender of our bodies to Him. Our lives and all that we have are to be at God’s disposal. Paul has spoken about the presenting of the members of our bodies to God as “instruments of righteousness” in Romans 6:12-19. No longer are we to give our legs, arms, ears, and minds to commit rebellion against God. Since we have been justified by Christ, we are to surrender the very members of our bodies to God to do what is good in His sight. Paul speaks collectively of this act in chapter 12, showing that it is a total surrender; nothing is left out. No aspect of our lives is to be outside of devotion to God through Jesus Christ.
He calls for our offering to be living and holy. Notice, God doesn’t want a dead sacrifice; He wants a living one. He intends for His people to live in joyful surrender to Him, finding our pleasure in Him, instead of worldy pursuits. Naturally, since the Lord our God is holy, an offering presented to Him must also be holy — pure and given to His service alone. As God’s people humbly offer ourselves in holiness, Paul says our churches will increasingly experience “spiritual worship.” How we fight about elements of worship! Some dislike hymns. Some dislike contemporary praise songs. Some dislike instruments. All see their preference as more biblical than the others. But none of us truly worships God unless we are growing in joyful surrender to Christ. It is a perversion of worship to the living God that we offer Him dead sacrifices and everything but our holy bodies. We say we are His, but our lives are tainted with self-righteousness, greed, bitterness, racism, lust, and envy. How, then, can we experience the power of God in our lives and witness? The answer lies in daily surrendering our whole selves to God, singing “I Surrender All,” and trusting God to transform us by His power.
The path to this surrender is also part of our problem. Our minds are full of the things of this world. We hunger for more and will not be satisfied with less, so we go into debt. Our marriages fail as we pursue the American Dream. Is it any wonder that our children who are catechized and sanitized go off to college and act like pagans? They have not experienced or even seen many examples of total surrender to Christ and the power of God at work in such a worshiping community.
Why are we to surrender ourselves to God totally? Our heavenly Father has poured out His vast wealth of mercy upon us in Christ. Mercy is God’s compassion given to those who are pitiful. It is similar to grace in that it is undeserved. Do we really understand what we are without Christ? God’s people must ask Him to reveal to us our total depravity so that we are enabled to mourn over our sin and our culture’s sin. This is the way to blessedness (Matt. 5:4). The mercies of God in justification, sanctification, election, and glorification through Christ are most clearly seen when we understand the distance between God’s holiness and our spiritual poverty. People and churches who are humbled by the great mercies of God are more likely to grow in the surrender of their lives to Christ day by day. Our worship will be God-centered and our minds renewed by the power of the riches of His love. And by God’s marvelous grace, such churches will be enabled to make disciples of the nations who dwell in their communities.
Rev. Kevin Smith is senior pastor of Pinelands Presbyterian Church in Cutler Bay, Florida.
Each month, the editors of Tabletalk select an influential pastor or scholar to address issues pertinent to the life and ministry of the church in Pro Ecclesia.