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Total surrender to God is something He is going to be moving us towards as we grow in our relationship with Him. It’s also a subject which is poorly understood among Christians, so in this post, we’re going to clear up some common misconceptions.
TRYING TO COMMUNICATE SPIRITUAL PRIORITIES THROUGH EXTERNAL BEHAVIORS
Total surrender is a soul attitude. It has nothing to do with sacrificial giving, living in poverty, starving yourself, injuring yourself, committing to a life of celibacy, cutting ties with humans, or exhausting yourself with charity work. To understand why people get so bogged down with these kinds of things in their efforts to get closer to God, you need to understand the enormous difference between how God and humans judge.
Humans judge you from the outside, because that’s all they can see. Humans can’t hear your thoughts or see your internal motivations. Because they have no access to the most important information about you, they are forced to get by on what little information they can access, even though that information creates a very inaccurate picture about who you really are.
Now since Christians are humans, and since all humans are into judging each other, Christians are going to constantly judge you. You can’t do anything to stop this from happening, but you can learn how to reduce the influence that human judgments have over your life. For example, when Christians come along demanding that you show them evidence of where you’re personally at with God, you need to learn to politely decline and graciously remind those Christians that what you’re doing with God is between you and God and it’s really no one else’s business. But it takes time to learn how to do this. All humans want to feel accepted by others, and there are a lot of perks to being accepted by a community of Christians. When you want Christians to like you, and those Christians start putting demands on you, the temptation is for you to start trying to meet those demands. Here’s where Christians start telling you that if you were really serious about God, you’d be doing certain things and behaving in certain ways. In an effort to try and win their approval, you start trying to meet their expectations—perhaps even surpass them. The problem with this is that the longer you spend letting Christians tell you how you ought to manage your relationship with God, the more you start believing what they’re telling you.
Most humans are going to teach you that pleasing God is quite similar to pleasing humans, only He demands more. Since humans form judgments based on external works and good behavior, you’ll be told that God does the same. Once you accept these lies, then you’ll naturally conclude that if you want God to be convinced that you are fully devoted to Him, you must come up with some kind of extreme external behavior to prove it. Here is where we get into the world of well-meaning souls driving themselves into exhaustion, misery, poverty and heartache in an attempt to try and convince God of how much they care about Him. The problem is that spiritual attitudes can’t be accurately translated into external actions.
Have you ever wanted to convey really intense emotions to another human, but you couldn’t find the right words? Have you ever touched someone while you were feeling an ocean of emotion inside? When you hug the newly widowed with your own heart breaking with empathy, is your physical behavior accurately conveying the depth of what you’re feeling? Not at all. In life, we find ourselves using the same kinds of behaviors with people who we like and don’t like. In America, we shake hands with strangers just to be polite, and then we shake hands with people who we greatly admire. The behavior is the same, but our feelings are not. The point is that if external actions aren’t complex enough to be able to fully convey your feelings towards your fellow humans, they won’t come close to being able to convey what your soul feels about God.
Spiritual sentiments can’t be accurately translated into external actions, words, and behaviors. The more we care about God, the more frustrated we will become at our inability to convey what we are feeling towards Him in external ways. If God really did judge us the same way that humans do—by relying on externals—then we’d end up in the same mess with Him that we do with other humans. We’d be continuously misunderstood by God, we’d never be fully known, and then we’d end up on the wrong side of His wrath in eternity. So it’s not just a convenient truth that God judges you by your soul attitude: it’s a lifesaver. It is because God judges you so differently that pleasing Him is even possible. And because God is such a kind and gracious Being, pleasing Him is not just possible, it’s simple, straightforward, and quite doable for every human on the planet, regardless of their level of maturity or understanding.
So what do you do with all of the Christians who are pressuring you to meet their stereotype of a “committed Christian”? You need to realize that their stereotype isn’t worth a hill of beans. Even if you could do what they are demanding of you—which in many cases is impossible—their approval is worthless. God is the One who you answer to in life: He is the Judge. It’s His opinion that matters. His verdict of you cancels out all other verdicts. So you need to pick one master and stop trying to please both God and humans, because they want very different things from you. If you focus on pleasing humans, it is guaranteed that they will encourage you to wreck your relationship with God. This might not be their conscious intention, but this is where their advice will take you, because humans are notorious for humanizing God and trying to work with Him on the same basis as they do other humans. You can’t get far with God by treating Him like a human because He’s not a human—He’s a totally different kind of Being. Relating to God is a new kind of dance—one that you’ll never get good at until you start following His lead and stop telling Him what His next move ought to be.
UNDERSTANDING TOTAL SURRENDER
So now that we understand that God judges us by our soul’s response to Him, and not by our external actions, let’s talk about what total surrender is. Surrender only comes up when there is a conflict of wills: when God wants one thing, and you want something else. In such moments, God is going to tell you to yield to His Authority by choosing to embrace a soul attitude of “Have Your way with me. Pleasing You is more important to me than pleasing myself.” Total surrender is a soul attitude, it’s not an earthsuit attitude. You will never be able to get your earthsuit to take an attitude of total surrender to God because your earthsuit doesn’t care about pleasing God.
The soul-earthsuit relationship is much like a man who pulls on the steering wheel of a smart car when he wants the car to change course. Sometimes the car responds to the wheel turning, other times, it just ignores it. Regardless of what the car does, the man has done all he can do by turning the wheel. The movement of the wheel sends a command out to the rest of the car, but since the car has a mind of its own, the car will not always do what the man is telling it to do. In this analogy, the man is like your soul, and the car is like your earthsuit. Soul surrender is when God tells you to turn the wheel and you do it out of a desire to please Him. Soul surrender may or may not result in a change of your earthsuit’s behavior. Your soul does not have total control over what your earthsuit does. Often your earthsuit will flat-out refuse to do what your soul is telling it to do.
Because Christians often refuse to acknowledge the difference between your soul and your earthsuit, they often talk as if the two are one and the same. They then say that if you don’t physically do what God is telling you to do, then you are guilty of disobeying Him. Well, no, you’re not. It’s your soul that God judges you by. If God tells you to turn the car, and your soul pulls on that steering wheel, has your soul obeyed God? Yes, it did all it could do to turn the car. But suppose the car doesn’t turn because it doesn’t want to. Does God have the power to override your car’s will and force it to do what He wants? Yes, and He does this all the time. But other times, He doesn’t override anything. He sees you turn the wheel in response to His conviction, and then He says that He’s pleased with your obedience, and that’s the end of it. But other Christians who are judging you from the outside see that your car has not changed course, so they accuse you of being a rebel.
“Don’t tell us that you are fully devoted to God when we saw you drunk at the bar last night.” This is the classic Christian comeback to the alcoholic who claims to be fully submitted to God yet he can’t stop drinking. What humans cannot see is that on a soul level, the alcoholic is fully submitted to God, because he is agreeing with all of God’s convictions and sincerely wanting to do everything God says. Because the man’s soul attitude is so fabulous, God is quite pleased with him—far more pleased than He is with the recovered alcoholic who no longer drinks yet is frequently ignoring God’s convictions. On the outside, the fellow who beat his addiction looks far more committed than the fellow who remains stuck. But on the inside, the addict is in a far better place with God (see Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy).
When God calls us to fully submit to Him, He means that He wants us to surrender our entire will under His. What does this look like? Well, total surrender is about giving back to God something He has given you without trying to put any restrictions on what He does with the things you’re giving Him. In the case of total surrender, what we’re giving God is ourselves: our lives, our earthsuits, our relationships, our property, our money, our emotions, our minds, our health, and even our option to make choices in life. We’re putting everything that we are and everything that we care about into His hands and saying “Do whatever You want.” What makes total surrender so scary is that we don’t know what God will do. He’s an unpredictable Guy, and He has a long history of putting people through some horrific things. Plus, He made Hell—how is that not intimidating?
Because surrendering to God is such a scary concept, most of the souls who call themselves Christians today won’t go there. There isn’t any area of their lives or any aspects of themselves about which they will honestly say to God: “Do whatever You want.” Instead, they jealously guard their time, health, relationships, property, money, and jobs. When God does something that negatively affects any of these things, they instantly protest through prayers which politely and not-so-politely demand that God back off and fix the problems He is causing. If this is how we’re treating God, are we even saved? No, we’re not. There is no salvation without submission, and submission is a form of surrender. As long as you’re pushing for your way in all things and trying to use prayers to prevent God from bothering you, you are refusing to submit to Him. Instead, you’re spending your life trying to either keep Him at bay or make Him yield to you.
True Christianity is not the same as the religion of Christianity. It is the religion of Christianity that has become so popular today, and this is a system in which we try to get God to yield to us. The Christian religion promotes bargaining with God as a valid substitute for submitting to Him. You’re supposed to go to church, do good works, tithe that 10% and read your Bible as a way of keeping an unpredictable God pacified and out of your way. When God starts bothering you, the Church is right there to supply you with manipulation tactics that you can use to try and get Him to back off. Praying in groups, praying repetitively, chanting verses, fasting, temporarily increasing your rate of tithing or signing up to help in some ministry effort—the list goes on and on. But the whole time, you’re just trying to bargain, you’re not practicing true surrender because your soul is refusing to say “Anything You want.”
God is not just an authority—He is the Supreme Authority over all that is created. A Supreme Authority can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. He can do anything to anybody without having to account to anyone or justify His actions. This is how it works when you’re the top Guy: when you are the Authority who infinitely outranks all other authorities. This is how it works when you are the God who created all that exists. So you see, as long as you’re telling God that you’re only going to accept Him doing some things instead of saying that you will accept Him doing anything, you are treating Him like a limited Authority. You are refusing to treat Him like the Supreme Authority that He is.
Does God become less than God just because you don’t personally want to accept who He is? Not hardly. God is the Supreme Authority over you whether you acknowledge this or not. How you personally respond to God’s Authority over you is what determines how He will treat you in the next life. If you refuse to acknowledge His Authority, or if you try to pretend that His Authority is less than supreme, then you will end up in Hell. To acquire salvation, we must submit to God as God—not as our mere buddy, pal, or servant. You aren’t submitting to God as God until your soul is saying, “I recognize that as God, You can do anything You want and You are accountable to no one. I accept my position as a creature whose life is in Your hands. Help me to be pleasing in Your sight, because as God, Your opinion totally outranks my own.” This is the soul attitude that results in salvation. What results in eternal damnation is when we just say to Jesus: “Hey there, Superhuman. Love how You died for me because You just couldn’t stand the thought of being separated from me. I agree with You: I am pretty hard to live without. So, okay, You won me over by letting Yourself be tortured to death on my behalf. How can my ego resist? Congratulations: I’m giving You the privilege of being associated with me in this world. I’ll start calling myself a Christian, I’ll buy a Bible, and You get me into Heaven when it’s time. Oh, and remember that You washed all of my sins away, so no fair complaining if I’m blowing You off in the future. We’ll talk when there’s a crisis—right now I’ve got humans to impress.”
Talk to Christians today and many will report being wooed to Jesus because He was such a sweet Guy. They’ll describe their salvation experience as if it was some kind of hot date: a time when they became infatuated with a God who love, love, loved them, and they just couldn’t resist His graceful charm. This isn’t submission. Being infatuated with Jesus has nothing do with surrendering to Him, and until we yield to Jesus as the Supreme Authority that He is, we’re not going to be eternally accepted by Him.
Now when we first submit ourselves to God, we are not giving Him total surrender, because we don’t even know what that means. If we’re doing it right, we are yielding to God as the Supreme Authority over us, but as sincere as our submission is, it’s very narrow in scope. It’s not even occurring to us to consciously submit certain aspects of our lives to God. We’re so used to living for ourselves, that we don’t even realize that we’re holding back. We’re like a man who is trying to please his king, so the man gives the king his most prized possession. The man feels that by giving up his most prized possession, he’s demonstrating total allegiance to the king. But then the king responds by saying, “This is wonderful, and I accept your gift. Now what about your house?” This response surprises and distresses the man, and it puts a new challenge in front of him. He really did think his devotion to his king was complete until he found himself feeling angered by the king’s request for his house. Suddenly the man realizes that he thinks he’s already sacrificed enough for the king by giving up his most prized possession. But now the king is asking for still more, the greedy tyrant. After wrestling with himself for several minutes, the man finally bows low and says, “Very well. My house is yours as well.” The king then responds, “Fabulous! What a wonderful servant you are. Now what about your wife?”
This is how it works with us and God. When we first start down the road of sincere submission to God, we’re not anywhere close to total surrender—but we’re not trying to hold back, either. It simply doesn’t occur to us that God might want more from us until He suddenly points to something and says, “What about that? Will you give Me that as well?” Perhaps He points at our career, or our time, or our health, or our spouse, or our kids. Often in these moments, the thing God is pointing to is a thing which is in some kind of crisis. Maybe our kid is dying. Maybe our future spouse is taking forever to show up in our lives. Maybe our career is in jeopardy or our time is already spoken for. When God asks us to surrender some new area of our lives to Him, we suddenly understand the seriousness of His request. After all, if we surrender our children to God by saying, “Do anything You want,” then we’re accepting the possibility of Him ripping them away from us. That’s a scary thing to sign up for. Or perhaps we’re not married yet—just desperately wanting to be. To surrender that area of our lives to God means we’re accepting the possibility of Him never bringing us anyone at all. Are we really willing to yield to God to that degree? We don’t know for certain that God is planning to bring us heartache—but He’s going to make it clear that it’s a distinct possibility, because He wants our surrender to be meaningful and unconditional. God isn’t asking us to like whatever He decides—merely to accept it. But that’s a tall order for humans, and most of us don’t want to go there.
When we first start out with God, our submission to Him is quite limited and quite conditional. When God sees that we’re not trying to hold anything back, He rewards us for our sincerity and He accepts our surrender as being as complete as we know how to make it at the time. But as He matures us, He will start pointing out the limits of our surrender to us, and He’ll start nudging us to expand our surrender more and more until we have placed all that we are and all that we have entirely into His hands. When we reach this point—when all the fences have been flattened and all the guarded treasures have been dragged out into the open—we will find ourselves in a very different place than we were when we first began the journey.
Total surrender is essential when you’re trying to relate to a God who reigns supreme. Growing into total surrender is about learning to treat God like God. It is a process through which we learn what it means to be created beings and we decide to embrace our place as creatures who are far more limited, fragile, powerless, and helpless than we wanted to believe. It is the casting aside of incorrect beliefs, and the adoption of a whole new identity as beings who are quite literally the property of the One who made them. It is the realization that we’ll never be more than creatures who revolve around God—that He is the One who will forever define our purpose and value. Many truths that threaten us before we fully submit to God become wonderful things to us after we cross that threshold. This is a journey that God leads each of us through at different paces, but it is journey which you must say yes to if you ever want to experience His best for you. And because the God who reigns so supreme is so incredibly good in Character, once we fully surrender to Him, we can’t fathom ever going back. Total surrender is not a vacation that you go on briefly and then return from—it’s more like moving to the other side of the universe. You don’t come back from it, nor would you ever want to come back, because by then you’ve realized that it was one of the best decisions you’ll ever make as a human being.
Jesus vs. the NT Jews: What it Means to Please God
The Process & Purpose of Being Dominated by God
The Benefits of Reverence: Keeping Us Close to a Loving God
The Inner Room: Understanding How God Judges You
Soul Before Earthsuit: Understanding God’s Priorities
Relating to God: Recognizing the Trap of Symbolic Pain