"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
Over the years I've thought in terms of sincerity versus surrender, rather than sincerity and surrender, because Christians tend to choose one path or the other. Early on I chose the path of surrender, not knowing what it was all about, but thinking it was what we are called to do.
No one could say we shouldn't be sincere. The Bible says that we are to be sincere, and we are to love and serve God sincerely: "And this I pray ... that you may be sincere and without offense ... " (Phil. 1:9-10 excerpts) "Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth ... " (Joshua 9:14a) "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen." (Eph. 6:24)
The Bible also says that God desires us to commit the entirety of our being to Himself. David wrote, "I will praise the Lord with my whole heart ... " (Ps. 111:1a) We are called to love God with everything that we are: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:5) Jesus even expects our whole inner selves to be full of light. (Matt. 6:22) I believe that these messages call for more from us than mere sincerity, that they call for surrender.
Problems With Sincerity Without Surrender
A Christian life that is lived with sincerity as its goal runs into a lot of problems. For one thing, there are many Bible verses that don't make sense except in the light of surrender. Paul wrote, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling ..." Popular Christian thought says, "We don't have to worry about fearing God because 'Perfect love casts out fear.' " (I've heard two pastors say that.)
Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." (John 12:24) How can we find out what this dying means unless we are seeking surrender? Without surrender, people can be sincerely wrong, shallow and/or deceived.
Sincerity can partner with self-righteousness. Surrender seeks to demolish self-righteousness, to give it no quarter, no place to hide. The battle against our own good feelings about ourselves is very tough. We need a foe to vanquish that evil, and God is the only one who can do it. "The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save." (Zeph. 3:17a)
Galatians tells us to live the Christian life the same way we enter it, by faith. Sincerity can be a work of the flesh because people tend to be subjective in evaluating their sincerity. If a person seems sincere to himself or to others, he is often content with himself and his Christian walk. When we evaluate ourselves, where does the fear of God enter in? Paul wrote, "In fact, I do not even judge myself." (I Co. 4:3b) Surrender, on the other hand, is a repudiation of self by its very nature.
It is very hard to get to the place where we can say with Paul, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells ..." (Romans 7:18a) The desire to cling to some hope that there is something inherently or intrinsically good inside of us is very intense. I think some people will do anything rather than admit this to themselves. There are many Christians who say, "I know that in me there isn't anything good," who don't believe it. They secretly assume there is something there.
A life of surrender will not be without sacrifice, pain, and
loss. The illusion that we are inherently good is so strong that it
is impossible for us to be cured without loss. This is not a
popular topic among Christians, though the Bible is quite clear on
the subject. "For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges
every son whom He receives." (Heb. 12:6) Some translations soften
this, for example: "the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he
punishes everyone he accepts as a son." (NIV) This is not an
accurate translation, though, because the word translated
"scourges" is the same word that describes our Lord's scourging by
Roman soldiers. In no way does this signify simple father/child
discipline and punishment. The fact is that we have serious
attachments to sin, and God has to use firm measures to deal with
them. This is something that people living a life of sincerity
without surrender do not understand. (Other passages on this topic
include: Matthew 5:10 - 12
Matthew 5:10 - 12
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
11 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
, Romans 2:29 Romans 2:29
29 But he is a Jew; which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
, Romans 5:3 - 5 Romans 5:3 - 5
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
, Romans 8:17 Romans 8:17
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
, I Peter 4:13 I Peter 4:13
13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
, I Peter 5:10 I Peter 5:10
10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
, Hebrews 12:27 Hebrews 12:27
27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
, Phil. 3:8 - 11 - esp. v 10. Phil. 3:8 - 11
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
"Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (II Tim. 3:12)
One thing I've noticed is that people who are not living a life of surrender tend to misunderstand people who are. People who are operating out of sincerity rather than surrender will not understand the more demanding life, and they will tend to do things that are not helpful. "But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now." (Galatians 4:29)
The damage can be in many forms. One of the hardest is that opportunities are lost. Fellowship, the sharing of the gospel, brotherly love, joy in worship, and emotional well being can all be damaged when church members, especially those in leadership, do not seek God's ways. Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, "you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in." (Matt. 23:13b) I believe that this message is not just about basic salvation. I believe that it is about all the blessings that God wants His people to experience here and now.
Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10b) How often is it that church people experience this abundant life that Jesus promised? David longed to see the Lord's goodness in the land of the living. (Ps. 27:13)
"Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy...." (Col. 2:8a) Until the heart becomes set on surrender, a Christian is still stuck in philosophy, which is the love of abstract wisdom or knowledge rather than love for Christ Himself personally. It's like young people who are in love with love. We need to move out of the perceived safety of being in love with faith to the courageous place of loving the unseen Lord.
There is a separation that God calls us to that involves the cross and rejection: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."' (Gal. 6:14) "Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach." (Heb. 13:13)
In the Christian life, sincerity is not an adequate substitute for surrender. There is no substitute for surrender. When a person is saved, he must surrender to the fact that he is a sinner in need of deliverance. He must surrender to the salvation that is offered by Jesus Christ in His atoning work on the cross. He must surrender to the glorious news of the resurrection. It is all surrender. There is no life of faith apart from surrender.
In the same way, the Christian life is to be lived by surrender. Anything else constitutes a false gospel, concerning which Paul wrote, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to another gospel, which is not another but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Gal. 1:6-7) To substitute sincerity for surrender in living the Christian life is a perversion of the gospel. There is not, nor can there ever be, another gospel. That is why substituting sincerity for surrender is so dangerous.
One of the reasons people tend to choose sincerity over surrender is that they want to live their own lives. In surrender, the small (and small minded) life is exchanged for the Christ-in-you life, which is anything but insignificant in God's eyes.
Is it God's desire that the Christian faith serve as an ornament in a person's life, that it be an addition to a life, something vague but pleasing in a person's life? I think that the Christian life is supposed to alter a person's life from the inside out. My will, my wishes, my judgment, and my thoughts are supposed to give way for Christ's presence. Being a Christian is not only about going to church on Sunday morning and occasionally thinking nice thoughts about God. It is to be transformed. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (II Cor. 5:17)
"(Look) carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness spring up cause trouble, and thus many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears." (Hebrews 12:15-17)
One of the sad things about a life set on sincerity is that it gives no power over sin. In Esau's example we see that he rejected the thing that which was most important and settled for second best, which had no value at all. Indeed, the story of his rejection should give us pause for thought, for it is not a small thing for God to warn us, "he found no place for repentance."
In this passage we see many ills, including bitterness, trouble, defilement, fornication, and profanity. Those who are familiar with the church will recognize that these things occur among us regularly. There is no threat in the embarrassment of scandal that is strong enough to prevent these evils. There is no conscience that is strong enough to avoid them. The only thing that is strong enough to overcome raw evil is the grace of God. This grace can only be found in embracing all that Christ is and all that he has for us. Giving God second place gives Him no place in our lives to preserve us from evil.
In my experience, there is very little in the way of sin that cannot find itself into the life of a "sincere" Christian.
When a person who is trying to live a "sincere" Christian life is honest with himself, he will admit that he isn't being sincere. Sincerity cannot produce the life of Christ in us, which is the only firm truth that there is. Because of this, sincerity as a goal in life becomes insincere, manipulative, defensive, and potentially vicious.
I've seen a lot in my life, but it wasn't until I started to walk in surrender that I began to realize how really evil evil is. Satan saves his big guns for things of God, and so do people. "The world cannot hate you," Jesus said. I think everyone knows that the world can indeed hate us, but not nearly as intensely as it hates God.
God wants so much to bless us, most especially with His love and presence. He hates pride, though, and resists proud people. Sincerity breeds pride, but surrender demolishes it. Sincerity says, "I'm good enough;" surrender says, "Lord, show me my sin and help me!"
The Lord is so good. He even gave the Israelis things they didn't need and answered their complaints. "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul." (Ps. 106:15) This transition word "but" is huge. God gives people gifts all the time, but the gift He most wants to give He will not give to people who are intransigent against Him. Indeed, His gifts will work against us if our hearts are not right with Him.
With mere sincerity, there is no stability. There is no way you can ever get the place where you have enough sincerity in your heart to really feel right inside. Sincerity is all about pleasing yourself and other people, and this approval is always in danger of disappearing. It's a vapor.
Surrender, however, gets a person to a place where he understands God's heart. Walking with God is about "with-ness", that special sharing that only comes when there is real affinity and real friendship. A life grounded in this experience of oneness will not be easily shaken, though it will be tested to the uttermost.
All scripture taken from the New King James Version (unless otherwise noted). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved