When we have accepted the gospel, we enter into the first stage of the Christian experience, which is acquaintance with God or what I like to call the romance stage. When you first come to Jesus it is such a great experience, somewhat like being in love. There is joy, excitement, a new lease on life. It may not be entirely rational, but it’s just a great feeling to know that God accepts you and that your sins are forgiven. His righteousness is now over you and you have a new life and a new experience.
There is a child-like openness and trust in that new experience. Jesus said, “Unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Note that He didn’t say “stay” in the kingdom. Childlikeness is a quality that enables entrance, he didn’t say that it is good to stay as children in our relationship with God. He said, “Unless you become like a little child you cannot ENTER the kingdom.” What does that mean? At some point you simply have to throw all caution to the wind and say, “I’m not going to make it on my own. God’s offer is my best shot and I’m taking it.” Just say, “Lord, take me as I am, I don’t have anything else to give you. Lord, I’m going to trust you as I have no other way, yours is the only way.” So the first stage of Christian experience requires that kind of childlike trust. We open ourselves up to God, we come to trust Him, either out of positive experience with God (awe) or out of a desperate realization that we have no other hope (need).
But there are challenges for people in the romance stage. A sense of unworthiness comes over you, as you don’t progress as fast as you expected or wanted to. You say to yourself, “Now that I have accepted Jesus, I won’t ever be angry again, I won’t ever overeat again. I’ll never do this, or never do that.” Then you come to the horrifying realization, “Whoops, I did it again!” So a sense of unworthiness can block the way to further growth.
Another challenge in the first stage is that you can get comfortable with ignorance. People in the romance stage often latch on to superstitions, beliefs that just have no basis in reality, yet ring true in their own minds. They might have gotten them from the person who led them to Christ or they might simply have brought them along from their previous life. An example of such a superstition is, “If I don’t have my worship this morning, God will punish me. He will make me sick, or I’ll have an accident.” But that is a very dark picture of God, one not in accord with the God we have come to know in Jesus. If God wanted to be mean he could have gotten rid of us a long time ago. The fact that we’re still here in spite of all we have done means there is still a loving God at the center of the universe. If Satan had his way we would have all been destroyed. God is not watching every moment looking for opportunities to make us sick or send us to the hospital. Superstitious beliefs like this can block one’s way to growth. We obey God out of fear and fear is not a good basis for a relationship. Nevertheless, beliefs like that can be hard to give up. They have become part of identity going all the way back to childhood, they seem as obligatory as the ten commandments.
Surrender is about recognizing what’s blocking the way and saying, “Lord, I’m sick and tired of being stuck here. I need to grow and open myself to the fullness of the relationship you have offered me. I need to go where you want to take me.” So it is important at this stage to surrender two things. The first is a sense of unworthiness. We believe that we are not worthy enough to draw closer to God than we are now. And that unworthiness keeps us from moving forward. Second, a further barrier to growth in the romance stage is a reluctance to leave our comfort zone and risk a new kind of life. We don’t want the romance to end. We want to retain the shallow, giddy relationship with God that is so appropriate at the first stage, yet never lasts long. To believe that the romance should never end is to set ourselves up for failure. A relationship with God that will last for a lifetime needs to be grounded on more than feelings and happy experiences. It needs to be grounded on God’s Word and the rock of correct beliefs about God and salvation. Those that allow God to change them at this point move on to the second stage of the Christian life, which I call the discipleship stage.