Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Commitment vs. Surrender (Romans 14:7-13)

I recently heard a story of Lord Nelson, the commander of the British Navy. The British had defeated the French in a battle, and the French admiral came on board Lord Nelson’s ship to surrender. He walked up in all of his regalia with a sword swinging by his side. When he put out his hand to the British commander, Lord Nelson impassively said, “Your sword first, sir.” Before we embrace the Lord Jesus, we have to lay our sword down. We have to abdicate the throne of our hearts; this is what the Bible calls surrender!

We often hear about commitment, but this is this really a Biblical concept? It is more or less since the 1960's that Christian writers and preachers began to use the word. Today people are asked to make a commitment to follow Christ, to commit to go to the mission field, to give financially, to pray for a certain issue. The Bible speaks of offering myself self on the alter (Romans 12-1-2), of taking up my cross (Luke 9:23-26, 14:25-27), of being a bond servant or a slave for Jesus Christ! In the New Testament, the word ‘servant’ is used 69 times. As such, it is an important word. Out of those 69 times, 50 times the word ‘servant’ means “bond servant.” A bond servant is a servant who has been allowed to go free, but chooses to stay with his/her master as a servant. The slave surrenders his/her rights, never to be free from serving. Several apostles described themselves as bond servants of Jesus Christ, as they surrendered their freedom and gave their life to serving the Master. Is this a commitment or a surrendered life?

The word commit means: promised devotion, to pledge devotion or dedication to somebody or something; to be committed to, to entrust something or somebody to somebody else for protection. The loophole with commitment though, is that we can still decide what and how much we want to commit. The decision still lies with us. We are still in control. It is more of a humanistic concept than a Christian concept. Scripture speaks of surrender, not commitment. The definition of surrender is: to give up possession of something: to relinquish possession or control of something, unconditional submission, abandonment of legal rights, an act of willing submission to authority, capitulation, renunciation, to hand over, to give up a fight, an act of declaring defeat at the hands of an opponent. 

Paul could say, “I am crucified with Christ, it is not I that lives but Christ that lives in me, the Life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20) Is this simply a committed life or is it something much more? It is a surrendered life, a life which realizes I have no rights of my own because I am not my own! I have been bought with a price! (1 Cor. 6:19)! When we are surrendered to the Lord ship of Christ, it is not for us to decide what we want to do with our lives, possessions and future. It is only in surrender that the Lord can do with us what He wants to do. Surrender is unconditional commitment. It goes against the grain of this era of humanism. It is in total surrender that we can really pray: "Your will be done." It is through total surrender that we get out of the way so that God can work in and through us or even set us aside to work through someone else to do what needs to be done. Surrender is an absolute act of faith, saying: "Lord I trust you." Praying from a position of surrender, not commitment, allows the Lord to work far above and beyond what we can think or imagine. One of the biggest differences between commitment and surrender is the fact that in commitment things depend on me. In surrender I give all to the Lord. I will fail, but He will never fail. Commitment without surrender is often trying to do what only the Lord can do through me when I surrender to Him (Phil. 4:13).

It is not that commitment is wrong, but it comes after surrender. After our unconditional commitment (surrender), we follow through on our commitment, whatever the cost. Like John Mark or Demas we can commit ourselves for instance to do something, but as soon as other pressures come, we can easily give up along the way and go back to what we know and are comfortable with, like Peter who said I’m going fishing after he had experienced failure! But a surrender life is much like Elisha who slaughter the oxen and burnt his plough and followed Elijah to be his servant! This was more than commitment it was total surrender (1Kings 19:19-21)!

The problem with making commitments to God is that their focus and success is based on us, and our effort. It is up to us to keep our commitments. Though we may have the best intentions, we don’t have the power to overcome the sin that continually trips us up. What we need is surrender.

I read the story of Judson W. Van DeVenter (1855-1939) who was raised in a Christian home and accepted Jesus as his Savior at age 17. He graduated from university with a degree in art and was employed as a teacher and administrator of high school art. He travelled extensively, visiting various art galleries throughout Europe. Judson also studied and taught music, mastering 13 different instruments, as well as signing and composing music. He was involved in the music ministry of his Methodist Episcopal church and eventually found himself torn between his successful teaching career and his desire to be a part of an evangelism team.

His struggle lasted for almost five years. In 1896, Van DeVenter was conducting the music of a church event. It was during these meetings that he finally surrendered his desires completely to God. It was when he made the decision to become a full-time evangelist, and surrendered to the will of the Lord that a song was born in his heart. “I Surrender All” was put to music by Winfield S. Weeden (1847-1908).

Weeden so loved this song that the words “I Surrender All” were engraved into his tombstone. The words and melody of “I Surrender All” have appeared in virtually every English hymnal, and are just as readily sung in churches that prefer contemporary music. The words are as follows;

Refrain: I surrender all, I surrender all, All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.

All to Jesus, I surrender; All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live. All to Jesus I surrender; Humbly at His feet I bow, Worldly pleasures all forsaken; Take me, Jesus, take me now. All to Jesus, I surrender; Make me, Savior, wholly Thine; Let me feel the Holy Spirit, Truly know that Thou art mine. All to Jesus, I surrender; Lord, I give myself to Thee; Fill me with Thy love and power; Let Thy blessing fall on me. All to Jesus I surrender; Now I feel the sacred flame. O the joy of full salvation! Glory, glory to His Name.

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