WE HAVE come to the point where we need to consider what Ellen White terms "the substance of the teachings of Christ" (The Desire of Ages, p. 523). In another place she refers to it as the keynote of His teaching.
A popular dictionary gives us as the first definition of substance: "the real or essential part of anything; essence ... " What is it that is the essential element of Christ's message to you and me?
Before we answer this question, let us think awhile of something else. Let us consider something of the "mystery of godliness," that great mystery which the human mind can only partly, and will never fully, understand.
Think of Christ, Creator of all, all-powerful, all-pervading, the Honored of heaven. Surrendering all of this, He leaves the celestial courts, all His glory and power, and becomes encompassed and bound within human flesh, subject to its infirmities, its weaknesses, its temptations.
The Divine Humiliation
He lives as men live, endures as they endure, knows poverty and hardship as the poorest know it. He identifies Himself with the humblest of humanity. That humiliation we can never grasp.
But His descent from the pinnacles of honor and glory goes far deeper than this. For in Gethsemane He is weighted down with a supernatural horror, an unspeakable woe, such as no man has ever experienced. That horror is because of your sins and mine, the sins of a whole world, that overshadow Him. How awful that experience is. He does not need to go through it. He can shake Himself from it, and go back to heaven. The temptation is strong to do so. The cup trembles in His hands. But He says to the Father as He has said during all His earthly life, "Not my will, but thine be done." And, because He has always been submissive to His Father's will, He goes on to that distillation of sorrow and pain: "unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:S).
What the Father Asked, I Ask
Having gone through all of this-for you and me-He says, "I ask of you the same that My Father asked of Me. I did what My Father asked-for you. I must ask you to take the same step."
And so we come to the answer to our question: What was "the substance of the teachings of Christ"?
It was self-surrender.
Christ placed Himself totally in His Father's hands, to be used as the Father saw fit. He taught His followers that they must do this. And you and I must do as He did. We must surrender self to Him, entirely, utterly, completely." 31
Entire self-renunciation is required. Unless this takes place. we carry with us the evil that destroys our happiness. But when self is crucified, Christ lives in us, and the power of the Spirit attends our efforts. -Our High Calling, p. 21.
In other words, what Jesus Christ, in love, makes mandatory for us, that we might reach the attitude of heart and mind represented by the 180-degree mark of our previous diagram, is a total giving over of ourselves to God, an absolute self-abandonment.
There are those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ who have never died to self. They have never fallen on the rock and been broken. Until this shall be, they will live unto self, and if they die as they are, it is forever too late for their wrongs to be righted. -Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 284.
What does surrender mean, in concrete terms?
Perhaps, in considering surrender, some of us are inclined to think in terms of things. We have previously referred to the incident in which, according to Mark's account, a rich young ruler came running to Christ, so eager was he to find salvation. "Good master," he earnestly inquired, "what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (Matt. 19: 16).
And, on the surface, Jesus' answer was in terms of "things," but we shall see that it went deeper. Jesus said:
"If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me" (verse 21).
God Didn't Want Isaac
Consider Abraham on the occasion of the supreme test that God brought to him, the sacrifice of Isaac. That was giving up a "thing," if I may be forgiven for using a word that would be belittling, ordinarily, used in that way. But was God's command simply that Abraham give up Isaac to Him so totally that he would be willing to offer him as a burnt sacrifice? Only in a secondary sense. What God wanted was not Isaac but Abraham. And by Abraham's demonstrating his willingness to give up even that which was dearest to himself, he demonstrated that he was indeed surrendering completely to God." 32
Similarly, Christ was not primarily interested in having the rich young ruler separate himself from his riches. He made that a requirement, apparently, because it was the thing that stood between himself and total surrender to Jesus.33
Man must be emptied of self before he can be, in the fullest sense, a believer in Jesus. When self is renounced, then the Lord can make man a new creature. -The Desire of Ages, p. 280. (Italics supplied.)
We cannot advance in Christian experience until we put away everything that separates us from God. -Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 329.
The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought. The yielding of self, surrendering all to the will of God, requires a struggle; but the soul must submit to God before it can be renewed in holiness. -Steps to Christ, p. 43.
Self must be crucified before you can overcome in the name of Jesus and receive the reward of the faithful. -Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 221.
If sometimes we think in terms of things when we think of surrender to God, we are not completely wrong, of course. Things are definitely included. When I surrender to my Saviour, I must say, in essence, "Jesus, I give my house to You [if I have one]. I dedicate my car to You. I present You with my pocketbook and bank account. I lay in Your hands my family, my friends, my marriage partner, or my marriage partner-to-be. I give You my job, every earthly thing I possess or hope to possess. I am willing to do with them as You will. Only show me.
"And, God, I give You my faculties-my mind, tongue, ears, eyes-my talents, for Your service." 34
Doing this, and meaning it absolutely, will not be easy. The rich young ruler was not unique among human beings, even though your and my surrender problem may be something other than money.
Things and Attitudes
But difficult though it may be to give up some thing, or things, that is frequently the easiest part of surrender. Harder, and more important, than the surrender of things is the surrender of attitudes. It is much easier to give up things than attitudes. But until I give up every wrong attitude I cannot be made a new creature.
Before I can place myself fully, unreservedly, into my Saviour's hands I must repudiate, give over to Him, all selfishness in my life-jealousy, pride, covetousness, suspicion, faultfinding, touchiness, an overbearing attitude, haughtiness, self-righteousness, the right to anger, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit; any and every ungodly attitude I may have in my heart.
This necessity of giving over to God every wrong attitude was discovered by a woman who greatly desired to be accepted of God. On her knees she earnestly offered herself to Him. But as she prayed she knew that there was one thing, one final attitude, that stood between herself and God. That was a feeling of resentment toward her husband. When she finally won the battle over self, and was able to say, "God, You take over that feeling of resentment," then she had the desired assurance that she was a child of God, and the peace that goes with God's forgiveness. Until a person is willing to go that far, to recognize and admit God's right to every thing, every attitude, he cannot be born again. 35
When the soul surrenders itself to Christ, a new power takes possession of the new heart. A change is wrought which man can never accomplish for himself. It is a supernatural work, bringing a supernatural element into human nature. The soul that is yielded to Christ becomes His own fortress, which He holds in a revolted world, and He intends that no authority shall be known in it but His own. A soul thus kept in possession by the heavenly agencies is impregnable to the assaults of Satan. But unless we do yield ourselves to the control of Christ, we shall be dominated by the wicked one. -The Desire of Ages, p. 324.
If we do not choose to give ourselves fully to God, then we are in darkness. When we make any reserve, we are leaving open a door through which Satan can enter to lead us astray by his temptations. He knows that if he can obscure our vision, so that the eye of faith cannot see God, there will be no barrier against sin. -Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 92.
Often the question is raised How may I know that I have actually surrendered to God?
If I can thoroughly and forthrightly examine my heart in the light of God's Word, and find that it does not condemn me (1 John 3:21), if I have "silence in the soul," peace in the heart, then I may know that I have surrendered to my Saviour.
If I think I have totally committed myself, but do not have peace of heart and conscience, I should ask myself Why. And I should ask God, as I search my heart, to show me why.
If, then, some cherished sin is brought to my attention that I realize I do not really want to give up, I have discovered the source of my problem. I must then earnestly pray, "Lord, make me willing to be made willing to surrender to you."
Actually, when I have surrendered I will know it. For then "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8: 16).
Continual but Complete
Another word needs to be added about total surrender.
Self-surrender is a continual process, but it must be complete at every stage. Thus it is a deepening experience.
The Christian life is one of daily surrender, submission and continual overcoming .... If self is surrendered to the divine will, the hand of the Potter will produce a shapely vessel. -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on lsa. 64:8, p. 1154.
Let us illustrate this total yet ongoing process thus. Suppose I decide to give my house, and everything in it, to a dear friend, without strings attached. He comes to the house and looks around. In one room he opens a closet and sees a suit hanging. "Is this mine also?" he asks.
"Oh," I respond, "I hadn't thought of that. But it is still yours."
In the attic he comes across a boxful of valuable books. "How about these? Are these mine also?"
"I had forgotten about them, too. But they are yours to do with as you wish."
Thus, genuine surrender is a complete thing at the time it is made, as far as we know. 36 But there are things in the life that will need to be surrendered that we do not see immediately; unrecognized habits, unconfessed or unrestituted dishonesty, forgotten transgressions, as yet unrevealed weaknesses. 37 But when Jesus brings them to our attention we say, "Yes, Lord, I see what I must do, even though I didn't know about it, or had forgotten it. I shall do what You want."
If this is, and has been, our attitude, we need not be discouraged if today we are impressed that there is something more in our lives that we must give up. Under those circumstances, the call for surrender in a new area tells us that we are growing and that God is calling us to come that much closer to the Saviour.
Meanwhile, it is our duty to pray that God will show us recognizable sins and failings (Ps. 139-23), that we may repent of them and harmonize every detail of our lives with His will. Neglect or refusal to do this makes dangerously possible our shutting ourselves off from God.
Some people may be troubled about how to deal with certain specifics in their lives when they surrender. For example, they might wonder, Having surrendered, should I now spend more hours giving Bible studies? Do I have an obligation to give more offerings than I have been giving? Should I sell my house and give some of the proceeds to missions, and rent? There are endless questions that one might ask.
The answer to each such question must be found in each heart and mind. Having given himself, his talents, his time, his possessions, into God's hands, the Christian must not feel under stress about them. He must leave them, unreservedly, in His hands, ask for guidance in every respect, watch for His providences, and follow as the way opens.
Does Surrender Mean Slavery?
There are some who feel that in surrendering to God they will be giving up their individuality, relinquishing their freedom, losing all rights, and becoming slaves without the liberty to think and act for themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. 38
Consider. How can a man count himself free when the cravings for self-indulgence-appetite, lust, or some other harmful or destructive habit-rule him? How can he call himself free when he is a slave to an ego that constantly demands satisfaction, attention, protection? How can he be free when every little fancied or real slight or offense can ruin his day? How can he be free when outside the home he has to put on a pleasant mask over the home scowl, and assume a kindly, concerned voice, in place of the home snarl, all the time being fearful that what his family knows him to be will be discovered? 39
Compare that with the marvelous sense of freedom that comes when you discover you no longer have to wear a mask, to pretend, to protect yourself. You are forgiven by God. You have nothing you feel you must hide. You are at peace. Your sense of guilt is gone. You can be as open as the sky, as transparent as the sunlight. You do not fear exposure, for you can candidly admit your sins, your failings, and say, "Yes, I am a sinner. But Jesus has forgiven me. I shall go on to victory in Him." 40
That is real freedom. And it comes through surrender to Jesus. 41
Let us now look further at the person who is not fully yielded to Christ: "Many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christians. They do not come to the point of yielding the will to God. They do not now choose to be Christians." -Steps to Christ, p. 48.
What Accepting Christ Means
There is, then, more to finding a relationship with Jesus than saying, "I believe in Him and I accept Him as my Saviour."
There is more to it than my merely accepting the robe of His righteousness as my own, believing that by this act I stand faultless before God.
I may say, "Come to Jesus just as you are, and He will accept you." This is right. But that coming must be synonymous with complete surrender, and nothing less.
A relationship with Jesus is more than a matter of our accepting Him. (This may be a matter of being deceived by what the old-time, and some modern, theologians called "cheap grace.") It is also a matter of His accepting us. And while He is eager to do so, He can only on condition. "God will accept nothing less than unreserved surrender" (Review and Herald, May 16, 1907).
There is great and joyful assurance in such words as, "We are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute." Selected Messages, book two, pp. 32-33. But on what basis do these words apply for us? We are holding on to a false hope if we do not understand and act within the context in which the statement is made. Before she makes the statement Ellen White writes, "When we surrender ourselves wholly to God, and fully believe, the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin." And almost immediately after the statement in question, she observes, "The Lord shows, to the repenting, believing one, that Christ accepts the surrender of the soul, to be molded and fashioned after His own likeness." (Italics supplied.) Thus it is the totally surrendered one who is to trust to what God thinks of his Substitute. This point we must not miss.
There are certain steps that must be taken for a person to become accepted by God. First, as we have seen, must come complete surrender. This permits Jesus to justify the sinner, to impute to him His own righteousness so that he is regarded by the Father as if he had never sinned. Then begins the process of sanctification, or the impartation of Christ's life to him.
Note these two statements carefully:
God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place. -Ibid., book 1, p. 366.
Justification means the saving of a soul from perdition, that he may obtain sanctification, and through sanctification, the life of heaven. Justification means that the conscience, purged from dead works, is placed where it can receive the blessings of sanctification. The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on 1 Thess. 4:3, p. 908.
Pregnant With Eternal Consequences
The implications of these quotations are very serious, pregnant with eternal consequences:
The person who is not completely yielded to Christ cannot be justified.
The person who is not justified cannot be sanctified, or "reach perfection of holiness" (Rom. 5:9, 10; 2 Cor. 7:2, Jerusalem Bible).
Without this experience of justification and ongoing sanctification, "no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12: 14).
"The Potter cannot mold and fashion unto honor that which has never been placed in His hands." -lbid., Ellen G. White Comments, on Isa. 64:8, p. 1154.
Knowing that he has sins in his life that he must overcome, an unsurrendered man, even though he may sincerely believe Jesus is his Saviour, keeps struggling with those sins year after year, seeking to overcome hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil that he knows are sinful, destructive of faith and hope, which weaken his Christian witness, and stand between himself and heaven.
After ten, twenty, thirty years of struggle he has not been able to get rid of them. But he reasons grimly to himself, "Sanctification is the work of a lifetime."
But the frightening fact is, that unless he has an attitude of complete surrender to Jesus, he has not even been justified. And the process of sanctification has not even begun.
Let us go to our 180-degree diagram once more to illustrate our point graphically:
Unless one is totally surrendered, he cannot possibly overcome his sins. But "let no one despair of gaining the victory. Victory is sure when self is surrendered to God." Ibid., Ellen G. White Comments, on Gen. 32:24, p. 1095.
The Lord can do nothing toward the recovery of man until, convinced of his own weakness, and stripped of all self-sufficiency, he yields himself to the control of God. Then he can receive the gift that God is waiting to bestow. -The Desire of Ages, p. 300.
If we will trust Him, and commit our ways to Him, He will direct our steps in the very path that will result in our obtaining the victory over every evil passion, and every trait of character that is unlike the character of our divine Pattern. -Our High Calling, p.316.
In chapter five (page 41) we used' a diagram of a heart to illustrate man's fundamental problem, which is not individual sins and faults, but self. At this point we can go back to that illustration and add another point.
We saw in chapter five that when the Spirit of God begins to speak to the heart our awakened consciences make us think in terms of specific sins in our lives. So we begin to work on those sins. But, as we have discussed in this chapter, it is not sins, or things, that God wants. It is the heart, with self dethroned.
But it goes further than that. God does not want the heart to renovate it. He wants to replace it entirely by a new heart. "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances" (Eze. 36:26, 27, R.S.V.). "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5: 17).
What does this mean? When we defined what we understood by the heart, in chapter five, we stated it meant the desires, feelings, motives, impulses, interests, tendencies, attitudes. So the new birth-for this, of course, is what we are discussing-results in new desires, new feelings, motives, impulses, interests, tendencies, attitudes.
Same Man, but Different
We have described a perpetual miracle. That God can take a man, a being with a will of his own, with certain educational, environmental, and hereditary set of character, and make an altogether different man of him is unbelievable, humanly speaking. The face is the same, the voice is the same, the brain cells are the same, the abilities are the same, the over-all personality is readily recognizable. It is the same man, yet it is not the same man. The characteristics that count in him are different. His thinking and attitudes, his likes and dislikes, are different. There is a new direction to his ambitions.
When the Spirit of God takes possession of the heart. it transforms the life. Sinful thoughts are put away. evil deeds are renounced; love. humility. and peace take the place of anger, envy, and strife. Joy takes the place of sadness, and the countenance reflects the light of heaven. No one sees the hand that lifts the burden, or beholds the light descend from the courts above. The blessing comes when by faith the soul surrenders itself to God. Then that power which no human eye can see creates a new being in the image of God. -The Desire of Ages, p. 173.
This change is brought about because there is a union of divinity (the indwelling Christ) with our humanity. Through this union we may live the Christ life.
The experience of the new birth may be depicted by the right-hand portion of the diagram below. At justification (see chap. 17) and the new birth, symbolized by baptism (Rom. 6:4, 5), the pardoned sinner receives the new heart. The life is then directed from within by the indwelling Christ.
But baptism does not automatically mean that a person is born again. "Many, so many, who assume the name of Christ, are unsanctified and unholy. They have been baptized, but they were buried alive. Self did not die, and therefore they did not rise to newness of life in Christ." -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Rom. 6: 1-4, p. 1075. (Italics supplied.) They arose from the baptismal font with the same hearts they possessed before they were immersed. And just one cherished sin will have this result.