Tag Archives: surrender

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What am I supposed to surrender?

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 8: What am I supposed to surrender?

So if you are listening to what the Spirit says, where do you go from there?

You surrender. What you do not know when you choose to keep in step with the Spirit is that you have to relinquish into God’s hands what you cannot keep. You may have thought your way of living your life is the right one, but thinking this way has a way of trapping you into producing nothing that has eternal value.

Recently I was asked by someone I mentor, “What exactly does ‘surrender’ mean?” As commonly as the word pops up in sermons and other Christian teaching, we kind of assume that people know what is meant by encouraging someone to surrender.

Defining surrender calls for insight into the story of the Fall. When Adam and Eve decided to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil, the motivating factor for them was the lie of the Serpent, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” It was a let’s-go-for-it moment for them, the opportunity to know good and evil for themselves and practice their own version of godhood. We know how badly that has turned out for them and for us.

In making that fateful decision, their deepest loss was not their life—they would surely die—but their relationship with God. Their meal was a statement. “You are no longer our God. We are our own god. We reject your right to reign over us because we can now get along without you.”

Surrender means the reversal of this belief that you can get along without God. You are confessing your total need for God’s reign over you. You are giving up. You reserve no area of primary decision making for yourself. You are now surrendering to do God’s will instead of your own just like Jesus did when he shows up to be the sacrificial Lamb of God—“I have come to do your will, my God.” (Hebrews 10:7)

Surrender is necessary to gain insight into the meaning of wholeness. This insight comes from your deepening relationship with God and what He has said in Scripture:

  • What is the truth?
  • What does this truth mean for my life?
  • What do I do with this truth now that I know it?

These three questions are about listening with spiritual ears. What is God saying to us that we now hear? What does God say we should do when we want to leave a bitter marriage? Or say about a broken relationship? Or say about a long-ago crime we committed? Or about a lifelong habit that is as destructive as it is pleasurable? Asked in humility, such questions are used by the Spirit to bring us to the decision point. Will we trust his power to change us?

Just listing these few painful examples displays why believers resist the idea of surrender. If you surrender, you do not get to ‘protect’ yourself. What if God exposes something that you do not want to have come out or to give up?

Like for example…your reputation. Think of Jesus being called a drunkard and glutton. Think of him being thought of as out of his mind by his family!

Like prejudice. Think of Jesus giving a five-time married Samaritan woman living water.

Like comfort. Think of the Son of Man who did not have a place to lay down his head.

Surrender is about trusting God in the way Jesus did, that He is good—and not just when we are in a church service dutifully reciting back the response line, “All the time.”

I know a believer whose life has been through deep waters. His wife crashed and burned not just once, but multiple times with her addiction. His life with her was turmoil and he never knew what would be next—loss of their home, his company, their bank account. After the third go-round, he was ready to walk away from the marriage, feeling he had given enough. But the Spirit spoke into his heart that he, the husband, had made vows before the Father that he would love his wife for better or worse, in sickness and health. She was deeply sick in her soul and this was the ‘worse’. He surrendered his right to walk away, accepting that, under God’s reign, his job was to love his wife. It was the toughest thing he ever did and he still has not seen the end of this journey. But he trusts God and knows He is good—all the time.

You may never face such a challenge, but you will face your own challenges in surrendering to God’s right to reign over you. If it was easy, everyone would unhesitatingly do it. But it’s not easy. Yet it is necessary if we are going to be whole. Keeping in step with the Spirit is about surrendering every aspect of your life to the Father’s will.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith

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Are you being confidently misguided?

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A Righteousness by Faith #15: Are you being confidently misguided?

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:15-18

The speaker was confident. All we, who filled the college chapel that morning, needed to do was confess all the sins that we were committing. A lengthy list of sin actions was handed out. When we finished checking off whatever we needed to confess, we would be filled with the Spirit. It could be only briefly, the speaker warned. Being Spirit-filled depended on our continually confessing sin.

That day is forever linked in my mind to Ephesians 5:18. “Be filled with the Spirit” Sitting with my fellow college students, I felt more than a little hopeless. How was I ever going to maintain such a level of confessional life? Moreover, what did I really know about my soul’s condition? What if I had sin in my life that I was not fully aware of as sin? I wasn’t thinking of the gray areas such as attending movies, dancing or playing cards, which my Christian culture had taught me were on the no-no list. I was in the dark about where the lines were for goodness and evil, integrity and deceitfulness, the knowable and unknowable parts of my soul.

I am pretty sure that I did not end up filled with the Spirit that day, in spite of a heroic effort to confess everything I could name that was wrong within me. And now I know why. Being filled with the Spirit is not about me—about my sins and my confession. It is about surrender.

This is not a chicken-or-the-egg kind of pursuit. Something does have to come first. That speaker was making a case for human effort, for us to do something—for me to do something! He was saying that cleaning up our act by making a complete confession first is the avenue by which God consents to fill us. God cannot be where sin is, the preacher thunders. And so we must dutifully track down and declare our sorrow over every spot of sin before we can be a place the Spirit can inhabit.

Except . . . that is just not humanly possible. True confession is led by the Spirit and not self-led. None of us know how messed up we are. What we do know—and Paul is making this point—is that we choose. We choose to surrender to the filling of the Spirit over surrendering to destructive behavior.

This is what wise people do. They know that they have no idea what is really wrong with them and that they cannot confess their way into Spirit filling. Instead, they see the damage their choices are doing to them, so they turn to God and surrender. “Fill me! Take charge of me!” This is a faith moment, when we recognize we will never be able to maneuver our way into a Spirit-filled life

And this is precisely what Paul prayed for his audience earlier in chapter 3: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Paul is not praying about taking your spiritual pulse to see if you are ready to be filled with the Spirit. He is praying about believing that God is faithful and will shape our hearts into a fitting place for Jesus to live.

The Spirit will point out the garbage. Our confession will follow. We will be given insight by the Spirit concerning what needs to be purged. But we will also receive the power to do that as well. As we choose to surrender, he will empty the trash that has its clutches on us. This submission to the Spirit is the critical difference between our working hard to be Spirit-filled, and humbly being Spirit-filled.

Keeping on being filled with the Spirit is about grace. Grace is God’s empowering action in us to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Nail that to your flag post and do not forget it. The failure to understand grace is one of the main reasons believers today are led astray by well-meaning but misguiding speakers like the one I heard that day in chapel.

More to come…

-Steve Smith


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What Have you Surrendered?

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A Righteousness by Faith #8: What Have you Surrendered?

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

There are certain places we should stay and never move on from. And the chief of all those places is remaining in Jesus. I know this sounds obvious to you who are familiar with this passage. But I found that this was the hardest anchor for my soul to secure. And I suspect it is for you as well.

Why is that so?

I think it is because we generally do not understand what it means to remain in him. I am good at taking up spiritual challenges. Read through the Bible…Check. Share my faith with someone…Check. Join with others to start a new church. Check. Live a moral life…Check. I have filled my days with the busyness of God’s business. I have invested in spiritual tasks on God’s behalf. But I find that, in spite of acknowledging Jesus’ counsel, I am more prone to assume I am remaining in him than actually doing so.

Remaining is about where we rest. Jesus is directing us to recognize the reality that we have ‘taken up residence’ in him. It is about surrender—the opposite to the striving most of us engage in. I remember Bill Hybels sharing how, at the peak of Willow Creek’s phenomenal growth and influence, the core staff members were in a workaholic mode for Jesus. If 70 hours a week were producing so much good, how about bumping it up to 80 hours to see what good would come out of it.

Then the crash came. Marriages unraveled. People walked away from ministry burnt out. Bill found himself on his face before the Lord one night pleading that God would change them—him—so that the ministry would be healed and that they would follow the Spirit’s leading on how ministry should be done.

What he prayed was exactly what Jesus was explaining. We can look at our life’s spiritual accomplishments and make a judgment call. “This has been so worth it!” or “Has this been worth it?” We wonder if anything eternal is going to come out of what we invest our life capital in. The only way for us to know that is through resting—remaining—in Jesus.

What we call our accomplishments may only be dust in the wind. Jesus told us that the outcome of living life apart from remaining in him would be nothing. Those other pursuits are illusionary. We love our achievements and maybe allow our hearts to swell with pride over them. But they infuse us with no ultimate soul satisfaction because they were built by our efforts rather than by Jesus.

The best stuff we do is always done through us by the Spirit. What Jesus called ‘much fruit’ has its genesis in the deep relationship we have with Jesus. That fruit flows out of us, out of our giftedness and passions while we are finding our rest in Jesus.

This is at the heart of Paul’s statement, “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own.” All he had done for God he now saw as waste. All he now longed for was Christ doing the producing through him. Paul’s understanding points out how remaining and not remaining differ.

To remain is a deliberate choice. We choose to rest, to be with Jesus, to recognize his leading, to submit our best plans and greatest ideas to his inspection—not so we can believe that our ideas are right, but to align our thoughts with his. So we can see what his Spirit will do. We deliberately choose to rest because often in our rush to do our next project, we can veer away from God’s path. We deliberately choose to rest because then we are ready for Jesus to work in harmony with our minds and hearts. It is then we will understand what we were made to do and find his strength flowing through us to actually produce much fruit.

I will have more to say about this in my next blog.

Steve Smith

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Is salvation free?

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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #31: Is salvation free?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

I just celebrated another birthday. This is one of the two days a year where I receive gifts—the other day being Christmas. These gifts bind me to the givers because they come from the people who love me. As I open them, I am reminded that I have family and friends who care about me. It is because of this shared human experience that I have gained clarity about God’s gift of Jesus. While we have the tendency of calling the salvation that is gained through Jesus’ death and resurrection a free gift, it is not exactly free. But it is transformational.

Some of you reading this are probably outraged by my saying salvation is not a free gift. But before you grab your Bible and hunt up verses to refute me, let me put this in its context.

When Jesus lived a human life on earth, the concept of gift giving was quite different from how we understand it today. When gifts were given, an obligation came along with accepting the gift. If you chose to receive the gift, you were essentially saying that you were now obligated to the giver in some way. Often this meant that the giver was to receive gifts back. It also could mean that the giver could call on you for favors, for help in times of need or support when he or she was seeking to accomplish some deed and you could not now say ‘No.’ If you did not receive the offered gift, your rejection was seen as a rejection of the giver, not the gift. While this was considered insulting, it sent out a clear message that ‘we ain’t friends.’

When God so loved the world, He gave. What he gave had to be received. But when whoever received it, the person understood from his or her culture that an obligation was being declared. “I am in your debt, Lord. I am willing to do whatever you ask.”

In this sense, salvation is not free. It creates a bond between you and God. You now have taken on an obligation. Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13)

Paul gives us the key to understanding this obligation. God gave so we would be obligated to receive life rather than pursuing death. So we would not continue to live in the grip of brokenness. So we would be obligated to become the people we were created to be. And to accomplish this, God also gave His empowering presence in the person of the Holy Spirit, who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves as we surrender to our obligation. All our obligations are Spirit-empowered or we could never keep up our end of the gift-giving exchange.

If you think about it, the first payback of this gift from God is that we love Him because He first loved us. And we continue in our obligations by loving each other, loving the lost, loving our enemies. We are obligated to surrender to being conformed to the likeness of Jesus. We are obligated to abide in Jesus so we can bear fruit. We are obligated to be Jesus’ witnesses.

Why? Because we received God’s gift. It binds us to Him as people who love Him dearly. It isn’t free, but it is amazingly transformational.

Steve Smith


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Coming to the End of Yourself

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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #11: Coming to the End of Yourself

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. -Matthew 5:3

Poverty is not what first strikes us about living out the gospel. We expected this good news to be comfortable, fulfilling. But the longer we live within the good news, the more readily we acknowledge that what we might in the past have thought was going to be a Sunday stroll in the park has turned out to be hazardous and we lack the goods to ‘pull it off.’

Jesus starts here because living within the gospel requires a ‘reset button.’ Many, if not most, of his followers are impoverished and his special twelve crowding in to hear him that day have abandoned their means of income at his invitation. Certainly, they welcome the idea that being poor gives them special standing.

But Jesus is not suggesting that those who do not have two nickels to rub together are better connected with God than anyone else—or that days of plenty are ahead. He is inviting these already poor people to consider what kind of poverty they need in order to move into deep relationship with this reigning God.

The poor in spirit of Jesus’ transformational gospel is what I translate as ‘coming to the end of yourself’—the moment when you recognize that what you think are your resources and strength for spiritual health are totally inadequate. This Beatitude marks the death of pride in your personal resources for reforming yourself. You cannot even start your journey towards becoming whole until you surrender. Up till that instant you still vainly believe you can find some power, however slight, in you to reform yourself into the image of Jesus. His kind of poor is about surrendering in naked humility that you have nothing.

But to come to the end of yourself is to belong. It is to receive the kingdom life for your own, to be granted access to the transformational power you personally lack. As Jesus will teach his disciples later, this is the work of the Spirit in us. Every time you come to this point of surrender, your grasp of God’s reign over you is renewed.

Do not be confused by the words “every time.” This is not about needing to be saved from the penalty of sin over and over again. God reveals that being justified is a onetime deal. I refer here to being freed from the power of sin. This is the ongoing pursuit. The gospel reminds us that we will need to come to the end of ourselves every time we become aware of sin’s control over our lives. In other words, poor in spirit is continually confessing that you have no personal power to stop sinning—not once.

To come to the end of yourself you consciously confess your dependency on the Spirit. You have no power to rid yourself of the pride that clutches at your soul, feeding the lie that you will find a way to be good, to overcome—the illusion of control. If you humble yourself and ask, the Spirit will guide you on. If you resist, don’t worry. God will allow you to crash and burn so you can see how weak you really are! So it is better to surrender willingly than to go kicking and screaming. I know this to be true because several times on my journey, I went the hard way.

For you who have grasped the need for humility, you know there is nothing to fear in placing yourself into God’s hands. You may have suffered the loss of things that really offer no help. You may have lost face with people whose opinions you formerly valued. But what God has done in exchange is to bring you wholeness. You are beginning to live free as a child of God. This is the blessing of this first Beatitude.

The Fall has conditioned us to fight or flight in response to sin’s power; the first Beatitude shows us that the more quickly we give up to God, the sooner we will be on the way to becoming whole. Stop and ask yourself, “How long does it take me to give in to God?” As you continue in the process of transformation by the power of the Spirit, the speed of your surrender should increase as you learn to trust Him better. This is how you know that you are making progress on your journey.

-Steve Smith

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