Two words you don’t want to hear if you are on the losing end of a battle. Unconditional surrender means you will give up without any guarantee of safety. You are completely at the mercy of whoever you’re surrendering to. And that is scary. Not knowing what they will do; if they’ll be merciful or vengeful, kind or cruel can overwhelm us with fear. Some people would rather die than surrender unconditionally. They would rather go out on their own terms than give in to someone else’s – even if it means death. So what do we do when the God we believe in asks exactly that of us? God wants us to surrender to him unconditionally.
But we are so unwilling to give up control that we can’t even put our trust in God!
We call upon God when WE want to. We pray when it’s convenient for us. We worship when it fits into our schedule. We put Christ on call as if Jesus were checking his text messages for some kind of signal from us. There was a short-lived show called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and in the first episode two of the characters, Jeannie and Harriet, are talking to each other about the uncertainty of the future so Jeannie asks Harriet, “Do we just let Jesus be our co-pilot?” And Jeannie replies, “No. My mom used to say if Jesus is your co-pilot, you should trade seats.” But how often do we do that? How often do we relinquish control and let Jesus guide our life? We want Jesus to be where we want, when we want, and how we want him to be. And when he’s not we conveniently tune him out. Even in church.
A friend of mine was criticized for preaching the Gospel.
We were both starting out in ministry and she was an associate pastor at a fairly big church. They had two services and she would lead one while the senior pastor would lead the other. After a while, one of the church members who attended her service came in to complain to the senior pastor about her preaching. The senior pastor sat the woman down and asked what seemed to be the problem. Was she not preaching from the Bible? No, that wasn’t it. Was she sharing a message not in line with the Gospel? No, that wasn’t it either. So what seemed to be the problem? She told the senior pastor that she wasn’t hearing the message she wanted to hear. She complained, “She’s always challenging us to improve and be better than we are. How about once in a while we hear sermons about how Jesus is like a fluffy bunny? You know? I’d like for once to hear about how following Jesus is like a beach ball floating in the wind. Just floating up in the air. How come it always has to be so serious?” Those were her exact words, “Jesus is like a fluffy bunny.” There are just some things you never expect to hear and “Jesus is like a fluffy bunny” is one for the ages. As outlandish as that might seem to some of you, it is more common than you might think. I’ve had my own “fluffy bunny” moments. Not quite as extreme, but pretty close. Some people are uncomfortable when they are challenged to change, to accept different ideas, to do something different or to think in a different way. But Jesus always challenged us to grow deeper in faith, to expand our understanding of God, and to stretch ourselves in directions we may not have thought of on our own. He wants us to put our trust in him, to surrender to his will.
Paul reminds us our relationship with Jesus is one of mutual submission.
Our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be one of mutual submission. Many of Jesus’ followers talk about this concept of mutual submission. Jesus comes to serve all of humanity. Jesus surrenders his life for ours on the cross. Jesus humbles himself by washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus modeled for us the kind of servant’s heart he wants to see in us all. Paul tells us we are supposed to submit to one another also. Husbands should submit to their wives as wives should submit to their husbands. Parents should honor their children as their children should honor them. The ideal relationship as described to us by Jesus and his followers is about mutual submission. It’s the only way it works right. And in our passage this morning, Paul talks about his own submission to Christ.
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” – Galatians 2:19-21
In this passage, Paul isn’t telling us what to do.
He’s telling us about his own experience with Christ and how it changed his life. Paul was probably thought of by many people as a zealot and maybe in some ways he was, but if so it was only because he was zealous for the kind of life we could all lead under Christ. Some of what he says might seem confusing because he uses a lot of contradictory statements. He says he died to the law so he might live in Christ. He says he no longer lives but Christ lives in him. But all he means is he finally surrendered to the fact he would never fulfill the law and so he devoted his life to the only one who could fulfill it – Jesus. And by so doing he gave up his own way of life to become an ambassador for Christ. And then he closes with this powerful statement, “I do not set aside the grace of God…” meaning he doesn’t ignore, he doesn’t belittle, he doesn’t discount God’s grace in all of this, “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” If all we had to do was follow some rules to have our sins wiped away, if all we had to do was fulfill a certain number of requirements to get into Heaven, then Jesus’ sacrifice was pointless. We wouldn’t need his sacrifice. We could do it on our own. But we can’t. As good as we can be, we cannot be perfect. We cannot be sinless. It’s not a matter of willpower. It’s not a matter of being strong enough. We just can’t do it. The only way to overcome this mountain is to submit to it, to admit it cannot be overcome. Only then can we change for the better.
Rick Warren wrote a devotional around this concept.
He wrote, “Surrendering your life means: Following God’s lead without knowing where he’s sending you. Waiting for God’s timing without knowing when it will come. Expecting a miracle without knowing how God will provide. And trusting God’s purpose without understanding the circumstances.” Following God’s lead. Waiting for God’s timing. Expecting a miracle. Trusting God’s purpose. This is what it means to surrender to God. Have you? Have you truly surrendered to God? We all fall short and will at times assert our own will, but have you made that commitment to follow Christ by fully surrendering to his will? Or are you still putting Jesus as your co-pilot? You are the pilot of your own life. You are the captain of your own football team. You are the chef of your own kitchen. But you are not the best one there. You are not the most well equipped person to be leading your own life. Are you too proud to admit that? Or are you willing to step aside and let God lead and guide you? When I worked at Disneyland, I was the captain our volleyball team – meaning I was the one who signed people up, gathered the money, and turned in the paperwork. As the captain, I was responsible for making the assignments of who would play where. My favorite position is at the net. That’s where all the action is. Heroes are made at the net. But look at me. Even then I was 5’ 10” at best. My jumping ability was about the same as that of a turtle. But I was really good at digging for the ball. I did a great job of saving the point. And I was very accurate at serving. I had to admit that I wasn’t the best person for the front line so I put myself in the back row. And even though I had the right to do it, I chose to do what was best. That’s all God wants for our lives. He wants us to choose what’s best. That’s why he doesn’t force us because then not only do we not learn, but the decision is never really ours to begin with. We have to choose to surrender to God.
Let us recommit our lives to Christ.
Let us remind ourselves that when we chose to be Christian, we chose to surrender our lives to him. We didn’t choose to surrender our lives on condition. We didn’t surrender our lives because it was convenient. We chose to surrender unconditionally to God. Let us honor that commit today as we lift up our commitment in prayer.
I surrender my control to you. I surrender my control to you. I surrender my control to you. I am not the best guide of my own life. You are. And when I surrender myself to you, my life becomes a whole lot better. But it is hard for me to do. The truth is I cannot do it alone. I cannot earn my way to Heaven. I cannot forgive my own sins. So I put myself at your mercy. And surrender to your grace. Today, I give myself to you unconditionally. And my life is the better for it. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.