Starting today I will summarize the six stages of faith and the implications of each for surrender to God’s will and His work in your life. To begin with is the stage before you are saved, before you have accepted Christ. We could call that zero stage on the path to faith. You are not yet a Christian, you don’t know Jesus, and yet one way or the other the gospel comes to you. What is the gospel? It is all about Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor 15:1-11).
Why are these events so important to us? First of all, because the cross represents the human condition and its consequences. Hanging on the cross, Jesus carried the sin of the entire human race in His body (Rom 8:3; 1 Pet 2:24). As the creator and the second Adam, Jesus represented the whole human race. His death, therefore, was a judgment of God on the whole human race. Our rebellion, our perversity, our bad choices, our neglectfulness, everything was poured upon Christ. The death of Christ, therefore, is a statement about the human condition: we are hopeless, we are sinful, we are rebellious, and we are lost without him. That message is the first fundamental truth of the gospel.
The second truth of the gospel is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ represented God’s acceptance of His perfect life of obedience. And in that acceptance the entire human race was accepted by God. While Jesus’ death represented the condemnation of the whole human race, His resurrection represented the acceptance of the human race. So a balanced view of the gospel holds two things together. Number one: we are lost, we are helpless, we are hopeless without Jesus Christ. Number two: we are accepted by God in Jesus Christ. To receive the gospel is to accept the truth of both of these statements; who we are as a result of sin and who we are in the person of Christ.
So why wouldn’t anyone accept those truths? Why would anyone reject the gospel since it’s free! I would suggest two reasons why people reject the gospel. First, People don’t want to accept that they are so rebellious and hopeless. “Don’t tell me I’m not good enough! Don’t tell me I’m a sinner. I’m not so bad! I’ve never hurt anyone.” Second, there something about the human condition that doesn’t want to be rescued. We want to do it ourselves. It’s called pride! “I can do this!” In a real sense, these are two sides of the same coin of pride. “Don’t tell me I’m not good enough! I can handle this.”
So the first stage of surrender includes the surrender of our pride. The gospel’s diagnosis of the human condition is dire. But our beliefs and the condition in which we come to the gospel can block our willingness to accept that. We don’t want other people to know how needy we truly are. On the other side the gospel is totally free, a gift from God to us. Jesus Christ accepts you as you are, but the human reaction is: “Well, I need to earn something here! I don’t deserve anything I haven’t earned.” I have a German background, and Germans are pretty good at that one. They don’t deserve anything they haven’t earned, so they work hard to earn everything they’re supposed to get in life.
The initial surrender involves accepting both of these truths of ourselves. On the one hand, we are helpless, hopeless, rebellious. There is nothing in us of which we can or should be proud. Surrender underlines that apart from Jesus Christ we are nothing and can do nothing, an admission which is very hard for us to make. On the other hand, we need to surrender to the truth that we can do nothing to earn the gift either. It is totally free, we don’t need to “deserve it.” Surrender at this initial stage of the walk with God involves yielding ourselves to the double truth of our sinful condition, on the one hand, and the complete freeness of the gift, on the other. In other words, our salvation is free but it means giving up everything we have, a double punch that human nature resists with every fiber of its being. The first stage of surrender, therefore, needs to be a double one.