Those of us who grew up in evangelical Christian churches in the United States will likely have sung songs about “surrendering all” to God or Jesus Christ. With much gusto, or hesitation, we’d sing out,
“I surrender all
I surrender allllll
All to Thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all”
Though I’d sing it, the lyrics gave me pause. And maybe a bit of confusion. My confusion was mainly centered around the question,
What does it mean to “surrender all” to Christ?
That is some serious language. Let’s look at the definition of surrender.
sur•ren•der sə-rĕn′dərTo relinquish possession or control of (something) to another
because of demand or compulsion: synonym: relinquish.
To give up in favor of another, especially voluntarily.To give up or abandon.
How does one go about surrendering to Christ? As a young woman who was eager to grow in my faith and devotion to the triune God, I wanted to know, but it seemed scary and uncertain.
I wasn’t sure I would be willing to do it once I figured out what it meant.
Does it mean that I shun all forms of worldly entertainment of spend all my spare time reading the Bible and praying?
Are there any Scripture passages that illuminate that idea (that was something I only thought of much later, as in, while writing this post)?
While I wanted the answer to float down like a feather from the sky and land on my lap, it did not. Like many good nuggets of wisdom that are hard-earned after years and decades of experience and contemplation, I began to come to a realization slowly, over time.
So, really, what does it mean to “surrender all” to Christ?
What I have come to understand over time is that giving one’s all to God, or surrendering, is not necessarily an act of the will or a mental exercise that we can work through concisely.
“OK, it’s the surrender checklist! Have I done X, Y, Z, and Q today? Great! I’m done for now.”
Rather, as I have continued to walk with God and He has guided me in sanctification by His grace, the concept has become progressively clearer. But it’s taken His work in me to keep me living for Him, over time, that has made the difference.
As I read and meditate on Scripture, He reveals new truths to me and helps me apply previous ones in a fresh way.
While grappling with applying the Bible’s commands to my relationships, things become clearer over time.
What does surrender look like?
By way of illustrating that, I’ll share a few verses that have provided some “AHA!” moments for me and offer a few comments along the way.
“for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13
This verse served up some humble pie, forcing me to acknowledge that it is ALL God that does the work in me, causing me to desire to live for Him. It is not me at all. Similarly, what I call the sanctification verse:
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 1:6
That has reassured me over the years that God is always working on me. It is a lifelong process.
As an aside, He has revealed to me that He is also working in other believers’ lives. I can think of too many times I have acted selfishly, or with pride, in a way that dishonored Christ. Yet He is still working out His purposes in me. So I can trust that He is doing the same for other believers. That helps me show them grace when I see unbiblical attitudes and actions.
A few more examples
The Christian life as a hidden treasure:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
– Matthew 7:44
The Christian life as a costly pearl:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls,and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
– Matthew 7:45-46
After reading these verses dozens of times in my life, I can remember one particular time the Spirit revealed to me afresh: living for God is the highest priority in life. It is worth pursuing more than any earthly thing. The wise will gladly give all they have to seek it.
Having that realization was a big moment for me. Huge, in fact. It was a keystone in the progressive revelation of what it means to surrender my life to God.
My youthful ruminations about having to “give up” things that I love to live for God turned out to be an incomplete understanding of the process.
Instead, I learned that, as He worked in my heart, He would give me a greater desire for things and attitudes that are pleasing to Him. Conversely, the things that detract from my Christian maturity would over time become less appealing as I honed in on “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
I finally got the message
Recently as I’ve begun to internalize this more, I can’t help but smile. I think back on that confused, well-intentioned younger version of myself, and I thank God that He revealed more of His truth to me, in His ways and timing.
I remain in awe of His faithfulness and work in my life – keeping me on the straight and narrow path. That is not to say that I think I have it all figured out. Far from it.
What I have seen come to fruition is an unfolding of God’s plan and purpose in my life. In many ways, it is far different from what I anticipated. But His plans and timing are always better; this I have learned to be true, over and over again.
Encouragement and conclusion
If you are a Christian, seeking to live for and learn more about the triune God of the Bible, be encouraged. He is working out His plan in your life.
There are always more questions than answers. Fear and doubt can creep in without an invitation and linger in your heart and mind. But the God who created you, holds your life, as well as all things, in His hand (Colossians 1:16). Keep on seeking Him, reading His word, and praying. As with most things of value, life with Christ is a marathon, not a sprint.
I’d be curious to hear what you thought of this post, or about your experience on the topic of “surrendering” to God, and sanctification and/or the Christian life.
Thank you for reading!