We talk a lot in the church about being fully devoted followers of Christ. This is a good thing. The biblical assumption is that all believers in Christ would become his disciples…and fully devoted ones at that.
We usually, however, get snagged up on the “fully devoted” part. We are all aware how much we fall short. Most of us live with a nagging voice that says you should be better by now. Whatever image we have in our mind of what a “fully devoted follower” looks like, we are sure it’s not us. So we live with a churning anxiety that we are not who we should be. We attempt to bridge this transformation gap by a variety of ways. Some of us think we just need to know more or get a better grip on our understanding of God. Spiritual maturity becomes an acquisition of truths to comprehend and we learn to be content by getting more info about God. Some of us embark on a personal morality crusade trying to shore up our behavior hoping that will propel us across that gap. (And anybody who is not being a “good” as we are, is certainly not as fully devoted.) Sometimes, if we were honest, we just simply fake it. Becoming like Christ seems so unattainable (but it’s what’s expected), so we fake it as best we can and live with a deep sense of hypocrisy. Or, for some, we just simply give up.
Perhaps it is not our lack of devotion that keeps us from experiencing this kind of transformation. Perhaps we need a new way of looking at this transformation gap. Yes, the goal for every believer is to be conformed to the image of Christ. We, however, tend to think of “end” goals in terms of being linear. A goal is somewhere far, far “out there.” When we move from where we are and finally reach where we want to be, we’ve reached our goal. But at the end of the day, because goals by their very nature are something we must constantly strive for, we know we still haven’t made it. No matter how close we’ve come, 5% short is still short. Thus, anxiety is our constant companion and in this journey to Christlikeness and we never really experience rest, contentment or joy.
I believe our hearts have the capacity to be fully devoted…every day. When we became a believer we were fully devoted. In salvation, the surrender of our lives was equal to the truth of the Gospel as we understood it. That’s how our spiritual journey began, and that is how it continues. When new truth and understanding of God and his Word comes our way, it bumps up against our will. We can ignore it, defy it or surrender to it. Every time we surrender to it (handing over our will and embracing truth in our lives), however, our hearts are a fully devoted as they can be. Being fully devoted is being fully surrendered…in the moment. It is not “out there” but lived out in the going-to-work, dropping-the-kids-off, pumping gas, days of our lives.
In this way, surrendering to truth, not our intellectual grasp of it, becomes a transforming power in our lives; because our surrender is always to the person of Christ. We don’t surrender to a dogma but to Christ and every time we do his life is released in us. In this way he becomes a transforming presence, conforming us to be more like him.
There are far too many Christians that have lots of truth but their lives are not surrendered to that truth. They are not living into what they know. Lots of truth with little surrender turns us into Pharisees. And the Pharisees drove Jesus crazy.
I like the term surrender over obedience. Obedience connotes action (which is part of surrender) but can be in response to lofty thoughts and impersonal concepts and detached from the real condition of our heart. It can leave us unchanged. True surrender, however, requires we engage our hearts (will and emotions), which, of course, is what Jesus is after: our hearts. I think surrender is the most basic response in the Christian life. For sure, it is what is required to keep in step with the Spirit. Like in a dance, we must trust the One who is leading and be willing to follow.
We often think of surrender in heroic terms (Yes, I’ll go to Africa!) but the surrender Jesus spoke of was a daily self-surrender to the small opportunities that come our way. Jesus said it this way (recorded in all 3 Gospels): “If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.” ™ (Luke 17:33)
What that means is every day we have an opportunity to live as fully devoted followers. This gives us something to rest in. There is certainly more work to be done in our hearts but we can put our heads on our pillow at night knowing that, for today, we are surrendered as we know to be. We can give up the weight of not being good enough and rest in God’s great love. It happens daily as we pay attention to what God is saying and doing and responding by offering our lives back to him. And when we do, we “get life on God’s terms.”