I have been challenged in regard to stages of faith and surrender, and that challenge is worthy of some attention at the close here. It is suggested that the stages of faith and surrender leave God out of the picture and may even imply some sort of sophisticated system of righteousness by works. That thought never occurred to me as I had always seen these stages as stages in relationship with God. Rather than focusing more and more on ourselves, we come to focus more and more on God and His unique purpose for our lives. As we focus on God we become more and more like Him. But since the stages of surrender can be heard in a legalistic way, I thought it would be helpful to reflect on the relationship between the stages of surrender and both a gracious God and the righteousness which can be obtained only by faith. Are these stages of surrender an alternative to faith or do they simply describe practical ways in which we can exercise our faith (which I define as our trust in God)? Can we truly surrender to God if we do not trust in Him?
Let me begin with the first concern. Do the stages of faith and surrender leave God out of the picture or do they actually tell us some important things about God? I am convinced they have a lot to do with God. First of all, the stages of faith and surrender are grounded in a God who is not static, but relates to us in a developmental way. That is why He created the universe and the human race. He is a relational being and desires relationship with other free beings. That is why the concept of a trinity is important. If God were “one” in the isolated sense, love would not be essential to His character, but something He came to exercise only after creation. But if God is not only one but three, it tells us that love is inherent in God’s nature. From eternity God was love in a relationship of three. Creation then became a way to extend God’s love in ever-expanding circles. Relationships are never static, there is always growth and development. The very possibility of relationship within the godhead, therefore, must arise from a God who is not static. Instead, through creation He desires the further growth in experience that expanded relationships provide.
Furthermore, if God is affected by relationship, then the way that human beings respond to God matters to Him. Human beings make a difference, not only in relation to each other, but also in relation to God. The choices we make affect God; our trusting responses please Him, our rebellion brings Him pain. God will never be static in the way He relates to us. Eternity will not be boring. Their will always be new heights to surmount, new challenges to overcome, new delights to sample. A God who relates to His creation in a developmental way is a God we will delight to know and who will find delight in us throughout eternity. So the stages of faith and surrender echo a beautiful picture of God.
A related picture of God that I see in the stages of faith and surrender is of Someone who at the core of His being is self-sacrifice. The stages of faith and surrender take us on a path to becoming more and more like God in our renunciation of pride and our willingness to sacrifice for others. Surrendered husbands will love their wives the way Christ loves the church. The wives of such husbands will glimpse a picture of God in the self-sacrificing love of their husbands. It is the picture of a self-sacrificing God that evokes our trust in Him and motivates us to surrender. It is safe to put God in control of our lives because of who we have come to know Him to be.
Finally, the stages of faith and surrender highlight a God who graciously gives His creatures freedom. We can surrender to God or we can choose not to. While the freedom is a gift from Him, it is very real. In that very gift of freedom we catch a glimpse of a God who loves His creatures so much that He gives up some of His own freedom to act in order that we might be free. While we see the self-sacrificing love of God clearly portrayed in the cross, it was very much there also at creation. Creation itself was an act of self-sacrifice in which God yielded up His own freedom of action so that His creatures could be truly free and free to love.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think the stages of faith and surrender offer up a beautiful picture of God.