Do the stages of faith and surrender imply some subtle or sophisticated system of righteousness by works? I have never thought so. In a real sense the stages of surrender are simply learning how to exercise faith, trust in God, at each stage of one’s life experience.
A recent re-reading of the book Steps to Christ, by Ellen G. White, confirmed my impression. Steps to Christ is one of the clearest places in all literature (along with C. S. Lewis, Dante and Milton) where the human struggle to understand God is set in the larger context of a cosmic conflict regarding the character of God (the first two or three chapters in particular). Suffering and misapprehension of God’s character are the result of rebellion against God, not any flaw in God’s character or actions. God graciously limits Himself so His creatures can be free to live and to love. That freedom also opens up the possibility of rebellion with all its consequences. Any solution to the problem of sin must include a change of attitude and an exercise of will within human hearts. This change on our part is not the cause of the atonement, but the outcome of it. We are won back to God on account of the revelation of His character in the person of Jesus Christ.
While there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, we are invited to trust in the gracious, loving God that we have come to know in Christ. That trust is not works-righteousness, it is a whole-bodied response to who God is, including our thoughts, our choices, our will and our actions. We see this delicate balance in Scriptures like James 2:14-26 and Matthew 18:21-35.
So I was delighted to see the stages of surrender reflected in other words in Steps to Christ, pages 95-99. The author writes: “There are certain conditions upon which we may expect that God will hear and answer our prayers.” (SC 95) These conditions are described as: 1) Feeling our need of help from God, 2) Turning away from any known sin, 3) The exercise of faith as trusting that God will fulfill what He has promised, 4) Coming to God helpless and dependent, in humble, trusting faith, rather than paying attention to our doubts and fears or trying to solve our problems apart from faith, 5) Having a spirit of love and forgiveness in our hearts, 6) Persevering in prayer, being found in places where prayer tends to happen, 7) Above all, not neglecting secret prayer, and 8) Taking God’s presence with us throughout the day and the life. These eight “conditions” for answered prayer are all found in pages 95-99 of the book Steps to Christ. So in this book Ellen White does not see human effort as necessarily acting in contradiction to a focus on the gracious character of God as manifested in the context of the cosmic conflict.
Hopefully these thoughts will be helpful to those seeking to apply the stages of faith and surrender to their own walk with God.