At the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur sat aboard the USS Missouri to receive the surrender of the Japanese. General Yoshijiro Umez, representing the Imperial Japanese Army came aboard in formal dress to sign the surrender. The story goes that when General Umez extended is hand to General MacArthur, he just stood there. As part of the dress uniform, General Umez wore his officer’s sword. As long as the General carried this, it was a symbol of authority and military strength. General MacArthur required him to surrender his sword before proceeding because partial surrender is not surrender at all.
In Bible times, when a king was faced with a threat by a superior enemy, they surrender. They lay down their claim to sovereignty and place themselves under the mercy of the superior force. When a soldier finds himself facing overwhelming odds, they typically surrender. This is a forfeiture of all rights and entitlements to be subject to the will of the greater force.
I spent six years in the Marine Corps infantry. I remember learning about Marines like Sgt. Maj. Dan Daily, who is one of only nineteen people to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor twice in their lifetime. The first time was when he was a Private during the Boxer Rebellion in China where he single-handedly defended his position against more than 200 advancing Chinese. When reinforcements finally did arrive, they found him still fighting with a shovel and 200 enemy soldiers dead around him. That’s what is held up to us as courage and bravery … and it is. Yet when it comes to surrendering to Christ, we cannot follow that example … but we do.
Sometimes we will fight to the last to defend our sovereignty over our lives. We somehow feel justified in our right to watch this, do that, treat “them” that way, to tell this joke or make that compromise. We cling to our pet sin and forego the pursuit of holiness. That’s not surrender. That’s like showing up to surrender while armed.
James reminds us in his letter to the church that keep the entire law and yet stumble in just one area is to break all of it because all the law has one source and purpose (James 2:8-11). If we are faithful in every area of our life, yet entertain sin in one area, we are just as guilty as if we were not surrendered to the lordship of Christ at all. It’s one thing to experience the ups and downs of growing in the pursuit of holiness, it’s quite another to fight with God in defense of our sin.
We are the temple of God. The temple, in the Old Testament mindset, is where God lived—where he met with his people. We are now the temple, where God dwells and meets with us. That makes us sacred. Notice the plural: it makes us sacred. We, together, are the temple of God and the body of Christ. No one person is the body of Christ, but we are a part of a whole (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Just like when a cancer cell threatens our bodies we have surgery to remove it or treatment to destroy it, so God will remove those pieces of the body that threaten to do harm to the sacred whole.
This ought to be unnerving to us. Our sin and rebellion never affects just us. And if we associate with the body of Christ, and yet build a rival kingdom, God will tear us down for the good of the whole. The kingdom of God has no allies, only citizens and subjects.
When we cling to lesser and worldly things, we think we are doing well for ourselves. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 16:25). Whether it’s a lifestyle choice, an addiction, a habit, a method for ministry, no matter what it is, we cling to it, justify and excuse it because we think it is good to have in our lives. What happens, however, is that we start to believe we can no longer be happy or fulfilled without it and it, slowly, takes ownership of us. Link by link and yard by yard we forge a chain for ourselves to bear just like Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The only way to truly find freedom and victory is through complete and total surrender. Only then can we fully know the goodness and faithfulness of God. But what does surrender really look like? What are we surrendering?
The Bible has a lot to say about transformation. In fact, the transformation process in a life is the fruit of salvation and God is pretty clear that if there is no process at work, there is no salvation. Romans 12 tells us that this transformation comes about through the “renewing of our mind.” In other words, God changes the way we think; he challenges our worldview and belief systems, comes against any thought, idea, or belief that is contrary to Truth, and pulls down those strongholds to bring freedom and light into those dark places.
Surrender begins with our view of ourselves. We let go of our rights and entitlements, and of the self-righteous standards by which measure what is good and right. Then we devote ourselves to seeing things as God sees them. We devote ourselves to the Word of God and shape our worldview around that. We will begin to discern between that which honors God and truly benefits us and that which only gratifies the desires of the flesh. This surrender will reshape how we understand issues like immigration, abortion, and our responsibility to the environment. It will redefine what we post on Facebook and how we vote on election day.
There is much we have to manage in this life, and God has entrusted us to represent him well as we come into unity with his work. In the last few verses of our 1 Corinthians 3 passage, Paul says that all things “are yours.” The Greek says that “all things are of you.” “Of you” can mean possessive, but it can also be relational as in the “Spirit of God,” it is God’s Spirit, but it is part of him, not just belonging to him. So what Paul is saying is that whether it’s Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (Peter) we are “of you,” one of you and from among you—people just like you, not something other, something that is to be set above you. The world is “of you,” it is what you make of it. Life and death are “of you,” they are a part of the life you must walk in. Things present and things future are “of you,” they are under your influence and able to be managed for the common good and the glory of God. And all of us, together, are “of Christ”—we are the product of his redeeming work. Like Jesus prayed in John 17, we are in him, he is in us. There is a unity there that is reflective of the unity among the Father, Son, and Spirit. If we are to realize the beauty and power of this unity, then we cannot be nurturing a rival kingdom, or harboring a traitor within the gates. We must surrender our will and our rights to ourselves completely to him. We must throw ourselves completely upon the mercy of our captor … who has shown that his mercy is never failing—new every morning.
As you surrender, you will be tempted to wrestle with God. You will want to justify your belief, your ideology, your habit … your idol. You cannot. Wrestling with God over an issue and trying to convince him that you’re right and he’s wrong will wound you as it did Jacob who walked with a limp the rest of his days after wrestling with God at the river. Conviction is when God comes against an idea or belief and speaks truth against the lie. When he does so, the goal is confession, homolegeo in the Greek which means “I say the same as.” We want to bring our thinking and will into unity with God and repent, or change. That is the process of surrender. Wrestle if you must, but wrestle with the issue before God. Do not wrestle with God. You will overcome your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, for God gives you weapons with which you can pull down such strongholds. Surrender to God. Know real victory.