Confesson: I do things that I know are bad.
Every church I’ve ever been to as tried to teach me that I should stop doing bad things and seek after Christ instead. Every church I’ve ever been to says I should surrender my sin to God and adopt a new and holy life style.
And that’s true. It’s important. The body of Christ needs to purge itself of bad habits and adopt holier habits.
But I also do things that I think are good. There are parts of my life that I’m actually quite pleased with. What am I supposed to do with those?
And what if I’m actually able to get rid of all the bad things in my life and do only good things?
Where does surrender come in then?
Or does it?
If I live my whole life as a good person, I may see no reason to surrender myself at all. The New Testament may tell us that we need to die to ourselves in order that Christ can live in us, but if we’re doing good things, why would we want to die to ourselves? If I attend church every Sunday, give a significant portion of my income to the poor, treat others with respect, and try very hard to be a good person, then why on earth would I need to die to myself? After all, I can be just as nice of a person as Jesus was without also having to die on a cross for it, right?
I mean, I’d rather work hard to be a good person than die to myself. Taking up the cross sounds painful and difficult. I’m happy to give up my lust or my anger, but I’m charismatic and likable, why would I want to give that up too? I’d be thrilled to get rid of my greed and my hatred, but I love my relationship with my wife, and I don’t want to hand that over to God when I think I’m doing just fine with it on my own.
And so what I think winds up happening is that I disguise myself as a follower of Jesus, when really I’m just a guy who likes some of the things Jesus taught. I want my morality to match up with Jesus’ morality, but I don’t want to die with him.
I’d rather be a mercenary Christian, who offers to do good in exchange for heaven, than someone who joins Christ on the cross.
I’m happy to stop doing bad, but I don’t want the other stuff to die with it.
But when we die to ourselves, we die to our whole selves – the bad habits, but also the good ones. The things that shame us, but also the things that make us proud. And for most of us, it isn’t our shame that keeps us from relationship with God, it’s our pride. It’s not my anger, or my greed, or my lust that keeps me from surrendering myself to God, it’s my belief that I’m not such a bad person after all.
And I mean, what did Christ even have to die to? Everything Jesus ever did was loving. Every one of Jesus’ actions was good, and yet he still gave himself up to death on a cross.
If the only perfect person ever to exist submitted himself to death, what makes me think I’m okay if I just stop doing bad things? Jesus only did good things, and he gave himself up anyway.
Because really, if we aren’t fully surrendering ourselves to God, not even the good things in our lives are really good things. Jesus tells us that the only One who is Good is God.
No matter how noble, and loving your relationship with your spouse, or your parents, or your kids, or your friends is, if it isn’t fully given up to God, then it isn’t good and it must be surrendered.
No matter how skilled you are at something, if you don’t give it completely over to God, it isn’t good and it must be surrendered.
No matter how hard you work to improve the lives of other people, if you’re not letting God be in control of that, it isn’t good and it must be surrendered.
Jesus surrendered so fully that it led to his death on a cross. And he didn’t do that so that we wouldn’t have to. He did it so that when we also experience death, we won’t be alone.
So we join Christ in his death. We strip away all the sin that wraps us up, but we also surrender the good things in our lives. We give everything we have over to God’s keeping, and trust that God will use us in the way that best serves the Kingdom. Even if it hurts. Even if we aren’t ever appreciated in the way we think we ought to be. Even if we have to die on a cross.
May we abandon ourselves, all of ourselves, as we seek after God, and may we be replaced with the Christ who lives in us.