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Monday, July 29, 2013

Is it Biblical to ‘Surrender’?

If you haven’t noticed, there is quite a bit of ‘surrender’ language in the church. Popular worship songs admonish us to, “surrender all,” “surrender all to You,” and “wave our white flag,” (All songs I personally enjoy by the way). I don’t think you have to be a Freudian psychoanalyst to see that this is representing something about the way we see sanctification: the process by which we become holier, more mature Christians.

Some people may be surprised to know that not one time in the new testament, does Paul, Jesus, Peter, or anyone else encourage the Christian to ‘surrender’(see footnote 1).

I have seen the fruit of a passive approach to sanctification in the teaching of people I have looked up to over the years as well. On one occasion, the leader of our young adults group taught from the armor of God text in Ephesians 6, that with our armor, we are not supposed to fight, but only to ‘stand’. “Put on the whole armor...that you may be able to stand...” (Eph 6:11) Reading the next verse would have showed him that we do indeed ‘wrestle’.

On another occasion, I was enthusiastically sharing some insights from a book on sanctification with a pastor, and he too saw the Christian life as one of ‘surrendering’ rather than one of battle or work.

Going back to the Bible, in the absence of the word surrender, we have words and phrases like this: “put to death” (Romans 8:13), “fight the good fight” (Tim 6:12), “strive” (Luke 13:24), “run the race” “discipline my body” (1 Cor 9:24-27), and on and on I could go (see footnotes 2).

So am I advocating that we go on a crusade to rid our music and preaching of this word?


I believe this word is an imperfect attempt to communicate two good concepts or principles of Christianity:

First, it speaks of an abandonment of our efforts to be right with God, and receive the grace of Jesus Christ: His death in our place for our sins, and the gift of His righteousness. That is a good concept.

Secondarily, I think it refers to the concept expressed by Galatians 3:2-3:

“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

In other words, there IS an aspect to Christian sanctification that you COULD say is a surrendering of our fleshly desires to our spiritual ones. To fill this out, one more place where the concept of surrender is exemplified in scripture. Romans 6:2:

“How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

It is a bit of a stretch, but I believe that the concept of ‘dying’ has been reinterpreted as ‘surrendering’. So perhaps the concept is somewhat in the Bible.

So what is my problem, why do I bring it up at all?

Because I believe the term, ‘surrender’ must be carefully qualified by church leaders before being accepted wholesale into the framework of sanctification.

Think with me about the person who is trying to quit smoking, or taking second looks at girls, or who is feeling as though they must offer a particularly humbling apology, and the word the have ringing in their ears is, “just surrender”. I suppose some people might come to the right conclusion, but I’m willing to wager that most Christians will take that to mean, “Smoke the cigarette, check out the girl, and don’t apologize”.

What I’m saying is that we have to let people know that this surrender will likely be hard. Really hard. Most of us have felt the lure of the flesh, and have felt as though the Spirit needs to speak up a bit at times. So yes, we are surrendering to our spiritual desires, we are surrendering to the will of God, but it will not be easy. It will often be hard, it will often be painful, it will take work, effort, striving, and all of that.

Let’s get our surrendering right.

1 NIV uses the word ‘surrender’ once in Luke 23:25 “He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.” This word is ‘paradiomi’ which is more commonly translated, ‘to deliver or give over’. 

2 Kevin Deyoung, The Hole in Our Holiness (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2012), 88