by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
If you have mostly turned your will and your life over to the will of God in your life, mostly surrendered to His plan for you, have you truly surrendered? If you haven’t surrendered it all, have you surrendered at all?
Oh, how I wrestle with this question. My will versus God’s will. It should be an easy one to settle, right?
Speaking for myself, it’s the question I wrestle with. I want to surrender it all… but something inevitably distracts me. What is it that can be so distracting that I would hold back from the best that God has for me? Why am I ambivalent about surrender that I resist and therefore suppress the activation of God’s best for my life?
Do you ever feel like that… that you want it but something seems to always be distracting you from surrendering your best to receive God’s best?
You went all the way into your mess… Are you willing to go all the way into your recovery from the mess?
The story of the rich man that Jesus talked to is about a man that suggests he fulfills the requirements to experience eternal life… but he has reservations for whatever it takes for recovery into God’s best for his life.
Working the twelve steps in recovery only works when, as the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book states, it is done with rigorous honesty. This means being honest with yourself. To be anything less than rigorously honest with yourself would be to marginalize the effectiveness of your recovery efforts.
As you continue reading, it should be said that I am writing this as a challenge to myself first before bringing the challenge to anyone else. I am attempting to be honest with myself about my commitment to fully surrender my recovery with integrity reaching into every aspect of my life.
In prison, men talk about integrity as “doing the right thing when no one is looking”; and what I like to add, considering they are a community of convicted felons, is “doing the right thing when everyone is looking”.
I often facilitate discussions about how far the men are willing to go in their recovery. “You went all the way in your addiction, as evidenced by being in jail. You measured the risk against the reward and felt it was worth the risk when you acted in your addiction to obtain what you believed you deserved; to the point of needing to overcome obstacles such as the law to get what you deserve, risking everything. Are you just as willing to go all the way in your recovery? How far, honestly, are you willing to go to stay sober and stay free?”
Compassion Before Confession, Confession Before Clemency
The thing about the men is that they have all been convicted of crimes. Some would say that they are innocent of the charge they are serving time for, but of the hundreds I have talked to not one has claimed to not be guilty of at least something felonious, even if he has not been charged for it. How many of these guys would have surrendered of their own accord and confessed their crime if they knew that, not only would they be pardoned of their crime, but that they would be blessed beyond anything they could possibly imagine for themselves?
In my case and yours, we have been caught in our sin but many of us will not admit guilt. We will fight our case, claiming our right to a fair trial. In this case, though, there is no jury; only a judge, and the verdict is in.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23 (NLT)
For the wages of sin is death! Romans 6:23
In my case and yours, the consequence for our crimes, according to the lawful standard, was the process of death for eternity. As I look across the court room, I see that there has been a sacrifice paid for my crimes. My debt to the court has been paid and I am free to live……. under one condition: I must give myself up and surrender, admitting my guilt without excuse before the judge.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:8-9 (NLT)
This is the first step to surrendering my life into the plan and purpose of God. When I admit that I have done wrong and that I am in desperate need of mercy from the court, the judge declares that it is only fair that He show me mercy through forgiveness for my sin. After all, His very son is the one that paid the debt for my crimes with His life.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16-18 (NLT)
It is clear that upon my admission of guilt and acceptance of the sacrifice that was made to pay the debt for my crimes, I have been afforded a second chance. I have been given this last chance to get things right in my life through relationship with the Sacrifice for my sin, having Himself been resurrected into life.
We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are… Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Romans 3:22, 24-26 (NLT)
Another question: Can a person mostly or partially surrender to the authorities? How would he be able to give most of himself up? He either turns himself in or he doesn’t. Is it not the same thing surrendering your life and livelihood over to the will of God? Will you give up and turn your life over to The Authority that is Jesus Christ?
What Else Must I Do?
Jesus often spoke in parables because people don’t like being told what to do and that they might not be right. But after pondering something of a riddle, or parable, may come to understand a new perspective, and might be willing to look more closely at flaws in their argument, and more importantly, their way of being and living. This is not the case here. Jesus is deliberate and direct.
Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man asked.
And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:16-26 (NLT)
Well? There it is. Wow! Who in the world is fully surrendered to their recovery from addiction to sin… addiction to self? Jesus said it. If you are perfectly surrendered to authentic rigorously honest recovery, willing to let go of it all in this life in order to be receptive of the best that God wants and has for you, are you willing to give up your earned material wealth for it?
Jesus isn’t done…
Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”
Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” Matthew 19:37-30 (NLT)
What was that? What did He say?
That’s it! Jesus is letting me know that until I am willing to commit EVERYTHING and EVERYONE into the will and care of God in my recovery from ‘my addiction to me’, I am not “perfectly” surrendered to recovery God’s way. Again, that’s it!
Getting a camel through the eye of a needle (pictured) was like fitting a square peg through a round hole. The gated entrance to the rich man’s home was a structure just tall enough for people to walk through. It was referred to as a needle and there was no way for a camel to fit through it unless by some divine miracle, the man on the camel was able to enter in. It would be impossible without God to enter in. So when Jesus gave that illustration for what it would take to enter into God’s kingdom—His best—Peter stated that it would be impossible; to which Jesus responded, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
Jesus was speaking to anyone that gets lulled into believing that there are aspects of life not particularly in need of recovery. Even the wealthy person who is viewed by folks as altogether decent and good has holes in his or her life and is in need of the Savior to fill the need left by the defect. The man who inquired with Jesus about his standing in regards to his position in the kingdom became disappointed when Jesus exposed what was defective and lacking in his life. The defects were the places in the man’s life where he relied on his own self-sufficiency and in his heart may have felt was not in need of mercy and grace. The man was likely wealthy enough that he lived comfortably in what in today’s language would be a gated property with a wall around his estate. He probably owned a camel for transportation and parked it outside before walking in through the ‘eye of the needle’ and in through his front door.
If the rich man’s camel is emblematic of his love for material prosperity, then I suppose Jesus is telling him (and you and me) that he is welcome into the kingdom of God but his camel is not. The love of material wealth and money the Bible declares emphatically is the root of all evil. Heaven and the love of stuff are incongruent. They don’t match up. Therefore, something’s got to give. Something has got to go. The camel does not fit and cannot enter into the kingdom of God. I cannot enter into life with God in relationship with Christ riding on my own ability and earthly earnings. To enter in I need to get off my camel and let it go.
Once I have left my camel behind I am still too big; too tall and too wide to walk through the gate. To walk through the gate into where Christ is I need to stoop down and get on my knees. As I decrease, the gate becomes taller and wider. As I walk through the gate into the very best of a new life experience, God enters in and provides the increase until I am completely satisfied. To let go and give Him my burden is to decrease in surrender to all that He is. He loves that about this arrangement. I dump out all this useless, reckless, and destructive waste and Jesus fills my life beyond imagination without measure. If I ask for help with the dumping God is gracious to help me.
The man had his share of earthly treasure. As a religious man adhering to the law of Moses, he needed affirmation of his position in the kingdom of God. I will suggest that he felt pretty good about himself and his place in God’s place until challenged by the words of Jesus in a way he never even close to anticipated. “Many who are the greatest now will be least important then…” That must have dealt him quite a blow. I will guess that the man understood that then is when it counts. Then applies to the kingdom of God; something of particular importance for any religious person. Then is forever and you cannot take it with you. He became discouraged, perhaps even disgruntled as if to say under his breath, “Who do you think you are… a lowly carpenter’s son… I come from privilege and honor.” Or perhaps he felt a tinge of shame that he might be selfish about what he owned and kept for himself. I don’t know if that was the case but Jesus it seems deliberately used this opportunity to make a direct point about earthly material wealth in front of a bunch of people.
The man’s wealth and prestigious standing in his material world had become a stronghold in his life, and until he was willing to let it all go it would be in the way of receiving everything God wanted and had for him. His best through what he had earned through his efforts held more value than the best God wanted simply to give to him from His undeserved favor; from His wealth. The only effort required is to let it all go, to surrender it all. Not easily done when his trust was in his own ability and effort rather than trusting in the ability and effort of the compassionate generous Savior standing right there before him.
Surrender it all or surrender at all? That is the question.
Steps one, two, and three are as follows:
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” John 8:34 (NLT)
So here is the deal. When I admit to being powerless over my addiction to sin, which has resulted in my life being unmanageable, to what extent do I believe that? Do I fully believe that I am powerless against my addiction to me that is self-centered and constantly prone to selfish automatic thinking and reactive sinful patterns of behavior?
If I do not believe entirely that I am powerless over my sin nature, self-centered behavior, and consequential outcomes, then I am stuck there. Why? Because it does not make a difference what I believe about God, then. The house that is my life could be raging with flames burning uncontrollably and I would not realize my need for the fireman. Therefore, I would not call on the fireman and my life would burn down. Surrendering my will to God would not be in play because my blind eye to the problem dictates to me that I don’t need God, as far as I can tell.
The case for the rich man that Jesus was dealing with was that the man was likely devoutly religious. He believed in God. He appears to have believed that Jesus was the Son of God and it was important that the man was in good standing with Jesus. But the man was self-reliant to the point that he did not recognize his total desperate need of a Savior to save him from his defects and weakness.
Also at issue is the problem of disbelief. I can know that the house is on fire and burning down all around me but if I have not come believe that there is a fireman that can rescue me, then why would I call on him at all, much less surrender to what He told me to do and go where He told me to go?
The degree to which I do not believe on any level that I am powerless without control, is the extent to which I cannot and will not surrender to the will and plan of the fireman, Jesus Christ. And, the degree to which I do not entirely believe in the ability and willingness of the fireman to save me and empower me in my recovery, is the extent to which I cannot and will not surrender to the will and plan of the fireman, Jesus Christ.
The degree to which I entirely believe that I am powerless and out of control, AND the degree to which I fully believe in the capability and willingness of the fireman to save me from certain destruction, IS the degree to which I can and will surrender to the fireman when he puts the breathing apparatus over my face and says to me assuredly, “Come follow Me.” There is no holding back or holding on to what is on fire anyway. I must lay down the burdens of this life that are the strongholds restraining me from the new satisfied life that God wants and has for me.
(I know The previous two paragraphs said pretty much the same thing but I did so for emphasis)
Jesus told the rich man that even what he loves and treasures the most: “…houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property…” is burdensome in comparison to a surrendered relationship with God. Jesus challenges you and me to lay down even our most cherished possessions; our loved ones, at the feet of Jesus on the throne at the right hand of the Father.
What if I have done even that? What else might be holding me back from receiving the best of what God wants and has for me?
What about my secrets? What about those hidden places that I hope to keep secret from everyone, including God?
The following comes from the Narcotics Anonymous publication, Just For Today, September 14:
Everyone has secrets, right? Some of us have little secrets, items that would cause only minor embarrassment if found out. Some of us have big secrets, whole areas of our lives cloaked in thick, murky darkness. Big secrets may represent a more obvious, immediate danger to our recovery. But the little secrets do their own kind of damage, more insidious perhaps because we think they’re “harmless!”
Big or little, our secrets represent spiritual territory we are unwilling to surrender to the principles of recovery. The longer we reserve pieces of our lives to be ruled by self-will and the more vigorously we defend our “right”to hold onto them, the more damage we do. Gradually, the unsurrendered territories of our lives tend to expand, taking more and more ground.
Whether the secrets in our lives are big or little, sooner or later they bring us to the same place. We must choose-either we surrender everything to our program, or we will lose our recovery.
Just for today: I want the kind of recovery that comes from total surrender to the program.
Here lies the authenticity of honest recovery by way of surrender; when we can surrender our secrets. After all, God knows already. He is acutely aware of each big secret, as well as the little secrets we think are hidden in the dark.
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.
Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible.
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Ephesians 5:2-13, 15-17 (NLT)
Like I stated previously, I am writing this as a challenge to myself every bit as I am hoping to encourage you. the apostle Paul is most direct in his words about what surrender truly looks like when recovery from sin addiction is genuine. This Scripture is about going all the way in recovery. To hold on to secret sins is a power grab and not indicative of those who believe entirely that they are powerless and out of control while proclaiming also that they believe fully in the satisfaction that comes by living according to the will and Word of God. To continue to indulge secretly in addiction to sin defies the integrity of the new life experience in relationship with Jesus Christ.
Ambivalent Surrender or Armed Surrender
So is it a matter of simply wanting what God has to offer in this life over what the world has to offer in this life? That sounds like such a simple question with such an obvious response when the best of life in God’s economy is clearly worth so so much more than the best of what this world as to offer me. Of course, I want the best I can have in relationship with God through Jesus. On its face it is an insulting question.
Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” John 5:3-6 (NLT)
If it is an offensive question, well, Jesus asked it too, when he asked a paralyzed man if he wanted to get well. It’s like me asking the man in jail if he wants to be set free.
How is it that I can possibly be ambivalent—resistant—to living in the best of the life God wants and has for me?
When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. Romans 7:5-6 (NLT)
I don’t know about you, but this Scripture, for me, makes it all that much more complex. If I have been released and am no longer held captive to the power of the law and the knowledge of good and evil; and if I am no longer controlled by my old nature and sinful desires and intentions, then why do I continue to be drawn back in to do what I no longer want to do in the sense that I am freed up inside when I turn away from such things that are captivating for all of the wrong reasons? I am free to serve God and love how it feels when I do intentionally engage in exactly that.
The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 7:14-25 (NLT)
As I attempt to speak the truth about a surrendered life in recovery from my sin addiction, asking the questions about why I do not just choose each time to pursue and take hold of what God wants and has for my life, it appears to me that Paul engaged in the same problem. Paul reconciled himself to this reality of inner disagreement and conflict about what God wanted for him versus what the world wanted for him; about what he wanted from God versus what he wanted from the world. He concluded that this ambivalence—this inner conflict—is good. If his sin nature was in control, controlling his desire to behave in sin, he would give into it each and every time, so long as there is no internal disagreement over what to chase and be chased by. Having internal conflict at least gave him a choice and chance to engage in right best living.
I believe that so much of what Paul wrote in the New Testament, while inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, reflected his personal internal battles. He concluded with this about the weapons needed for the war within.
We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NLT)
I must surrender to the truth as Paul did in order to have a chance at defeating the enemy within raging war in my thoughts. I am not necessarily talking about the devil, though that is a part of it. I am writing more specifically about the role of my sin nature and of the selfish “go” system in my brain that fight against me to do what is good, right, and best.
All this talk about surrender. What does it really mean to admit that I cannot on my own fix my life and change my world? How does absolute belief in the ability and willingness of God through relationship with Christ actually translate into trusting Him with my everything and everyone? What does it actually mean to give up my secrets? What does it actually mean to apply all this talk about surrender to how I live my life from one day to the next?
It means that I need to let go. I am not free as long as my hands are tied up with everything I cling to because I believe it is what and who I need and deserve, and what and who I believe needs me. It means letting go of control and the “need” to be right.
In the curriculum we use at the prison, it’s referred to as my “belief clutch”. My belief clutch is what I will hold on to as if my life depended on it. Even if the thing I am holding on to will ultimately take me down and lead to my demise and ruin, if I am not willing to let it go, it will at some point destroy and kill me. I will suggest that it is what Paul was writing about in the Romans 7 passage. My core beliefs rooted in selfishness when left undeterred will short circuit or override even what I believe to be true about the real-life presence of God in my life working in and through me.
Jesus is knocking at the door of my heart all the time. I will invite Him in and we will fellowship together and my experience is strength and peace and joy. My experience is relief from disappointment, pain, and struggle. My experience is compassion, mercy, and love. My experience is kindness and patience.
My experience is………. wait for it………. wait for it……….. can it be?
Temperance, meaning self-restraint (self-control), is attained through the action of obedient surrender, surrendered obedience, or however you want to say it. Surrender is central to a responsible, disciplined life, free of incessant urges to gratify every thought and feeling that is selfish and consumed by entitlement; entitlement being the belief that if I want a thing, I must need the thing; therefore, I deserve the thing I need.
Through my experience, with Jesus in the house, I can let go of my secret cravings and urges that serve my need for instant gratification. Through my experience with Him I can let go of my lies that serve my need to protect myself. I can let go of my justifications and rationalizations that serve my need to defend myself. I can let go of my secret jealousies, secret resentments, and secret grudges that serve my need to feel better about myself. I can let go of the sarcasm that serves my need to look good by cutting someone else down to size. I can let go of the gossip that serves my need to be entertained at someone else’s expense. I can let go of being right that serves my need to…. well…. be right.
Surrender Your Best for His Best
Jesus has contrasted for me the distinction between clutching my best according to my own efforts, and letting it all go, living according to His best on His terms His way.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life… Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:19-25, 27, 31-33 (NLT)
A surrendered life unto Christ changes everything. Your values about what you own change as you are willing to let go of whatever it is you value that owns you in exchange for that which God owns and values for you; and wants for you to own. It is in the surrendered life that the rivers of living water flow into you, then through you, and then out from you (John 7:37-38) as you touch others with the message of the surrendered life.
“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:9-10 (NLT)
Jesus said that my camel will not fit through the gates of heaven… So why do I invest so much into my camel? I guess that about sums it up. I need to finally let it all go… this time.
I must surrender it all—everything and everyone, from my most cherished loved ones to my best kept secrets—to experience the full measure of God’s generosity; blessing God wants and has for me and for His family.