Surrender: The neglected imperative in salvation

If justification and salvation are free, where do we place surrender, which seems to suggest the giving up of freedom?

Thomas A. Davis is a former editor of the Adventist Review. He writes from Armstrong, British Columbia, Canada.

When I was preparing for the ministry, leaders highly recommended beginning pastors spend some time as colporteurs— later termed literature evangelists. They felt the experience of selling gospel books helped equip a person to sell the gospel as a pastor or evangelist.

Preachers, among other things, are salespersons. They sell salvation that comes “without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1, NKJV). Or does it? Could some of us Christians, of whatever calling, be mistakenly saying it comes free but that in actuality it costs a great deal? I have listened to a number of sermons on justification in which it was emphasized that justification is free, unconditional. We are “justified freely by His grace” (Rom.3:24, NKJV). And to that my heart responds with a fervent Amen.

I have also noted something else in some of those sermons. Somewhere along the line, preachers apparently felt that they should make a reference, in one way or another, to the necessity of self-surrender. So they mention it, in a sentence or two, sometimes almost apologetically, almost as though they felt that, while they had been talking about apples, they needed to mention oranges, although they were not quite sure that oranges had a place in the scheme of things at that point.

The uncertainty is understandable. Most of us acknowledge that surrender has a vital place in Christianity, and that surrender makes immense claims upon us. But if salvation comes free, is it not contradictory to point out that actually we must pay a price, which is certainly the case in surrender? If justification and salvation are free, where do we place surrender, which seems to suggest the giving up of freedom?

Perhaps this identifies the reason why we do not often seem to hear much, in a definitive way, about surrender. We could call it “the neglected imperative.” Of course, the word surrender, does not appear in most translations of the Bible. Nevertheless, the concept runs throughout Scripture.

The call for surrender

Jesus made the demand for self surrender unmistakably plain. “ ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ ” (Matt. 16:24, RSV). He reiterated the unequivocal nature of this requirement in other words and ways: in His sermon on eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6), in His insistence that His disciples be willing to sever the hold that any possessions might have on them (Luke 14:33), and in His calling for unquestioning obedience to His requirements (John 15:14).

The fact that His followers called Him “Lord” indicates they acknowledged His authority and their need of complete submission to Him (Acts 10:36; Rom.14:28; 1 Cor. 8:6; James 4:15).

The idea of obedience always carries a strong connotation of surrender. In the Christian, this surrender will be a willing obedience “from the heart,” as a result of a loving commitment to God (Rom. 6:17, NKJV).

Paul and other New Testament writers use terms that carry the thoughts of surrender and submission. We are to yield ourselves to God and thus become slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:13, 18, 22, RSV). Paul speaks about the church submitting to Christ (Eph. 5:24). And James counsels his readers to “submit yourselves . . . to God” (James 4:7, KJV).

With surrender clearly a biblical imperative, this topic needs to be emphasized and plainly defined from the pulpit so that it may be understood by the people in the pews.

What is surrender?

By way of definition, surrender may be characterized as a response to God’s convicting, wooing love so that He can shatter all of our inner resistance to His will, change our minds, and radically re-channel our attitudes, motives, desires—the whole heart—so that our selfish “rights” are abandoned and His will continuously sought. This supernatural experience becomes possible only at the foot of the cross. In surrender, then, we recognize God’s claim upon every facet of our lives and willingly give Him the right to expect us to conform to His pattern in all respects (2 Cor. 5:17).

All this may be very well and acceptable, read with a quiet mind and tranquil spirit. But let an interpersonal confrontation stir to anger, retaliation, and resentment; let someone frustrate our wills, question our opinions, challenge our “rights,” or “let us down;” let someone seem to diminish our self-importance or fault our appetites, and the attitude may be quite different. When we become caught up in a situation in which we have to wrestle with surrendering resentment, anger, or whatever, we are struck by the abysmal sinfulness of our natures, the strength of sin, the price surrender demands, and our proclivity to resist surrendering to the Spirit. This may be a reason why we do not frequently examine surrender with the depth needed, for then we are forced to measure the depth of our own surrender to Christ.

We cannot expect, then, that the concept of surrender will be welcomed by all, once the thought becomes clearly explained. C. S. Lewis understood this. “As the real meaning of the Christian claim becomes apparent,” he writes, “its demands for total surrender, the sheer chasm between Nature and Supernature, men are increasingly ‘offended.’ . . . [N]one who will not give it what it asks (and it asks all) can endure it; all who are not with it are against it.”1

Now, let us return to the problem we introduced at the beginning of this discussion: that of the reception of justification, which is free, and of self-surrender, suggests paying a big price indeed. But let us approach the problem from another angle—forgiveness.

Forgiveness: Is anything required of us?

Is anything required of the sinner to obtain forgiveness?

A number of texts come to mind. “If my people,. . . shall humble themselves,. . . and. . . turn from their wicked ways; then will I. . . forgive their sin” (2 Chron. 7:14, KJV); “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive [you]” (Matt. 6:15, KJV); “ ‘Repent. . . for the forgiveness of your sins’ ” (Acts 2:38, NIV); “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9, KJV).

There are requirements, then, that we must meet to receive God’s saving forgiveness, among which are humility, repentance, turning from sins, confession of sins, forgiveness of others, and so on. And each of these demands a certain denial, an abnegation of self which, as C. S. Lewis implies, extracts a price for the gift of forgiveness.

Let us ponder all this in the light of a statement in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “Paul rarely uses the term ‘forgiveness,’ but in its place prefers ‘justification.’ They are to his understanding practically synonymous.”2 This is demonstrated by Romans 4:6–8, where Paul speaks of justifying the ungodly, then to prove his point, he quotes from Psalm 32:1, 2, which speaks of forgiveness.

Ellen White writes that “pardon [forgiveness] and justification are one and the same thing.”3 This being the case, the requirements for justification would seem to be the same as for forgiveness. Thus, by substitution we may legitimately read Romans 3:24 as we are “forgiven freely by his grace.” But if, as we have seen, forgiveness actually has its price, justification, being synonymous with forgiveness, must then have the same price. That price is repentance, accompanied by surrender, the abandonment of our selfish “rights” and desires of any kind—the death to self.

We find the classic expression of this experience in Paul’s stirring words in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (NAB).

This salvation, of which justification is an integral part, cannot be called “unconditional,” or “free,” in the usual sense of the term, and may be seen in two of Jesus’ parables— the treasure hidden in a field, and the precious pearl (Matt. 13:44–46).

In the parable of the treasure, the finder obviously did not pay the equivalent value of the wealth. He did not have that kind of money. He did not pay for the treasure at all. He merely paid for the land where the treasure was hidden, so the treasure came free. But the purchase of that land drained all his resources.

Commenting on the precious pearl parable, Ellen White writes, “In the parable the pearl is not represented as a gift. The merchantman bought it at the price of all that he had. Many question the meaning of this, since Christ is represented in the Scriptures as a gift. He is a gift, but only to those who give themselves, soul, body, and spirit to Him without reserve.”4 The same thing said of Christ must be said of salvation, justification. Receiving Christ is to receive justification.

Without money, without price

How are we, then, to understand Isaiah’s “without money and without price,” (Isa 55:1, KJV) and Paul’s “justified for nothing” (Rom. 3:24, Moffatt)? The context of both Isaiah and Romans tells us. Isaiah speaks to those who have tried to find the satisfaction they crave by putting their money and effort into material things which, they assumed, would satisfy their desires, but were not doing so. Paul makes this statement in the context of works of law. He writes of those who felt they could be justified by paying the price of conforming to law, as it were. So he says in effect, “Nothing at all that you can do by way of measuring up can bring you justification. So far as your attaining it is concerned, the only way it can be yours is as a free gift of God—which it is.”

According to William Ramsey, there would be no sense of contradiction in Paul’s fi rst-century Jewish mind with juxtaposing the idea that salvation comes as God’s free gift, yet that, in a sense, must be paid for by man. So, in his book, The Teachings of St. Paul in Terms of the Present Day, Ramsey has a section entitled, “The Promise the Free Gift of God, Yet Earned by Man.”5 Ramsay does not, by any means, suggest that one can merit salvation, but that we must respond in certain ways to God’s requirements in order to be able to receive His gifts.

In his book Basic Christianity, John R. W. Stott makes it plain that Jesus did not give the impression that the salvation He offered costs nothing. “Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. If he offered men his salvation, he also demanded their submission.”6

Christ, then, does not justify us on the basis of our surrender, but He cannot justify us until we surrender. Thus, although some might insist that we are justified without our paying a price—that we are simply required to have faith—we suggest this is to misunderstand the fuller picture. We must pay a price for justification—that price is not in the good works we do or in the merits we have, but in our unreserved surrender to Jesus.

Perhaps a simple illustration will help in resolving “justified freely” and the idea that God demands for us to receive justification, forgiveness.

A certain manufacturer decides to give away a number of samples of a costly product free. But in order to qualify for one, you must have a coupon, which he distributes gratis.

Suppose you qualify for a gift. Would you claim the gift was not free because you had to surrender the coupon?

God, if you will, has given us a “coupon” which we must give back to Him for free justification. He has given us life, minds, reason, and wills. He says, “I want to justify you, forgive you, freely. I will give you salvation freely, but to show your sincerity, and in order that My salvation can transform you, you must return the ‘coupon.’ You just surrender your will, yourself, to Me.”

It seems to me, therefore, that to teach or preach justification without also clearly showing the obligation to surrender self to Jesus, which makes justification possible, leaves the teacher or preacher open to the accusation of selling a cheap gospel.

C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B,
Eerdmans Pub. Co. 1972), 223.

2 G. B. Stevens, Theology of the NT (1902), 418, quoted in
Geoffrey W. Bromily, editor, The International Standard Bible
(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.,
1982), 342.

3 Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary
, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980),

4 White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review
and Herald Pub. Assn., 1941), 116; emphasis added.

5 William Ramsey, The Teachings of Paul in Terms of the
Present Day
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979),
86, 87.

6 John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.
B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1980), 107.

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Thomas A. Davis is a former editor of the Adventist Review. He writes from Armstrong, British Columbia, Canada.

June 2009

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