Monthly Archives: May 2014

Stages of Surrender, Part 4

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.

Stages of Surrender, Part 3

I have been studying stages of faith that people at certain times of life go through (see the document “Stages of Faith” at the Armageddon web site). I recently came to realize more fully that those stages of faith happen because God does the miracle. It is God who grows us from stage to stage, yet we are quite capable of getting stuck at various stages. The choices we make sometimes keep us from moving forward. And it dawned on me that the stages of faith should be connected with stages of surrender, because the one thing we need to do to grow spiritually is to let the miracle happen. It is allow God to do the work that we have blocked Him from doing in the past. While we may at times slip into feelings of rebellion, most of the time we don’t even realize we are blocking the work of God in our lives. Surrender, very simply put, is letting God grow you.

What I plan to do from here on out is walk you through the stages of faith (read the above-mentioned article first if you are not familiar with them) and how at each stage surrender may take on a different form or meaning. That means some of the following types of surrender might apply to where you are right now but the others might not. Possibly you will say to yourself, “I recognize all of them.” More likely you will say, “I recognize this one or that one, but not the others.” There is no single point in all that follows that is going to fix everybody. I wish I knew such a point. But what I can do is list some of the challenges that people face at different stages in their spiritual life and how one can unblock the channel to God’s blessing in those times.

There are six stages of faith in all. But I am suggesting that moving through those stages brings us to eight different points of surrender. In a general sense, each stage of surrender builds on the others. You will not be able to surrender for tomorrow’s issue. It is sufficient that you confront the primary issue you face today. What God wants to see happen in your life tomorrow or next year is not going to happen today, but you can surrender to Him the place where you are now. As you read the blogs that follow, God may be calling you to say, “Here is something in the way! Here is something I’d like you to move forward on.”

Stages of Surrender, Part 2

I had a great-uncle who died a number of years ago and loved to tell this story: He was an engineer in his working days and he attended a convention of engineers once. They were all excited about their latest projects, like building a skyscraper in Los Angeles, or an academic building at a university. They were all excited about the great things that they were building. My great-uncle was the kind of person you might call stubborn, he was on a different page than everybody else. He stood up in the middle of the conference, and announced to everyone, “You’re all talking about this great stuff you’re doing, and I’m not impressed. Not one of you could make a blade of grass.”

Grass doesn’t grow by human effort. You can fertilize it, water it and trim it. But that doesn’t make it grow. The growth is a complete miracle from our perspective. The farmer doesn’t make anything grow. The farmer allows stuff to grow. The mother doesn’t make the baby grow, but instead allows it to grow, through care and feeding. A mother can get in the way of the growth. There are things she can eat or drink, or drugs she can take, that would be very damaging for the baby. But no matter what she does, she cannot make a baby grow. That growth is a miracle: a miracle of God. When grain grows it is a miracle. When grass grows it is a miracle.

And so it is with spiritual things. Spiritual life doesn’t grow by human effort. Spiritual growth is a miracle. No matter how hard we try we cannot make ourselves grow spiritually any more than an engineer can build a blade of grass. This is where surrender comes in. We cannot make ourselves grow spiritually, but we can surrender ourselves to the miracle-working power of God.

I realize the word “surrender” comes with baggage, it can easily be misunderstood. Some people don’t like the word because they think of it in military terms. To them surrender sounds like someone is not free anymore. They are stuck in prison, or have been sent to a slave labor camp. In those terms surrender doesn’t sound like fun. But the military sense is only the root meaning of the word surrender. In the spiritual sense surrender is not about a power differential. Surrender is not about somebody bigger forcing you to do things their way. When a lot of people hear the word surrender they think, “God is going to force me to do it His way.”

But force and coercion is not what surrender in the spiritual sense is about, rather it is simply opening the channel to God’s blessings. Surrender is allowing the power of God to flow into our lives. It is allowing the miracle to occur. Just as a mother has the capacity to harm her baby, and just as the farmer has the capacity to ruin a field, so we all have the capacity to block the miracle when it comes to spiritual growth. And surrender is all about opening the channel of blessing.

Recently my wife and I were visiting Volcanos National Park in Hawaii. There we learned the story about Kilauea Iki, the smaller of two large craters on the outer slopes of Mauna Loa. In the 1950s this crater was 800 feet deep. Then in 1959 a great fountain of lava burst forth. At its most spectacular this fountain of lava reached an altitude of 2000 feet in the air and singed people’s hair at a distance of more than a mile. The constant lava flow began filling up the crater until the lava lake was only 400 feet from the rim of the crater. At that point an interesting thing happened, because the fountain was coming out from the side of the crater rather than spraying in from the top. When the lake reached the level of the opening of the fountain, the lava poured back into the fountain and clogged it up. Because of that the fountain stopped and that means that today you can walk on the hardened surface of the lava lake (which still flows beneath). You can even walk right into where the hot lava was coming out in 1959. It’s safe today and the floor of the crater is cool. Why? There is no danger because the flow of lava has been stopped.

That is sometimes what we do to ourselves spiritually. By hanging onto beliefs or practices the flow of blessing from God stops. Not because God wants it to stop. But because we block the channel, and then the miracle of spiritual growth does not occur. If we can recognize when that is happening and work with God to remove the blockage, the power of God can once again flow freely into our lives. That’s what this series of blogs is all about.