I often hear people say “I’m sold out to Jesus” or “I have given my life to Christ”. I understand what they mean but I confess, I struggle to say those words just as I struggle to sing “All to Jesus I surrender” or any variants of this powerful hymn of consecration and commitment. My reluctance to say that I have completely surrendered my life to Jesus comes from what I believe are the biblical implications of such a choice.
In two separate passages, Luke details the cost of discipleship. The first passage captures three exchanges involving Jesus. In the first exchange, someone says to Jesus “I will follow you wherever you go” and Jesus replies that it won’t be a comfortable experience. Later, Jesus calls another man to “follow Him” but the man asks if he could sort out some family business first. Jesus responds by counselling him to prioritise God’s business over his family. Thirdly, someone says to Jesus, “I will follow you, but first I want to say goodbye to my family”. Jesus responds by warning that anyone who takes on the work of God and then yearns for the life they forsook isn’t worthy of God’s kingdom [Luke 9:57-62]. This last exchange haunts me because I often long for the things I have given up in pursuing Jesus.
In the second passage, Jesus makes it unequivocally clear that it will cost us to follow Him. For instance, 11 of the 12 Apostles were martyred and countless others died brutally at the hands of the authorities in the first century. Even today, many Christians across the world are martyred for their faith. Many passages in the New Testament tell us that hardships and even persecution may befall us if we choose to follow Jesus. In one of those passages, Paul says: “…for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” [2 Corinthians 4:17]. A cursory look at some of what he refers to as “light and momentary troubles” makes me shudder [see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28].
Paul’s attitude despite the hardships he faced is convicting because I often lack the same resolve in my life. We can glean the reasons for his convictions in his letters. For instance, in the letter to the Romans, Paul explains we were doomed to certain death because of sin before God saved and adopted us as His children. As a response of gratitude for everything God has done for us, Paul says: “…I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” [Romans 12:1 NIV]. Not our minds or spirits, but to offer our physical bodies. This is an unavoidable prerequisite that transforms our mindset, enabling us to discern God’s will for us [Romans 12:2].
God is jealous for His children and will not permit other masters in our lives [Exodus 34:14]. Therefore, our surrender to Him must be total so that we no longer live for ourselves or anything else [Deuteronomy 6:4]. Instead, we’re set apart to serve His will. I think of the Levitical sacrifices which Paul would have known intimately, where a very reluctant animal is dragged kicking and screaming to the altar of sacrifice. In the book of Leviticus, God details 5 types of offerings which some have broadly divided into gratitude (burnt, meal and peace) and guilt (sin and trespass) offerings. The gratitude offerings were offered in response to God’s blessings, such as a good harvest. While the peace and meal offerings were shared, the burnt offering was placed on the altar whole, and completely set ablaze. It was only for God and not to be shared. I think Paul had a burnt offering in mind as he wrote Romans 12:1.
Rather than act like a reluctant animal, Paul is urging us to willingly surrender ourselves on the altar because we can’t be used greatly by God otherwise. I’m to forsake my desires, comforts, and even my own life to follow Jesus. I wonder if Jesus called me just as He called His first disciples to follow and serve Him in places which were inconvenient, uncomfortable and dangerous, would I say “yes”? What if God called you to give up your lifestyle, career, fame, wealth, status and so on, would you say “yes”? If there’s something we wouldn’t give up for Jesus, can we say “all to Jesus I surrender?” These questions plagued me and when I hear people profess their faith in certain terms, I often wonder if they understand the implications of their words. I don’t know, but one thing is certain, following Jesus isn’t a trivial endeavour.
Nevertheless, I’ve found that following Jesus is a slog if I focus on myself and the hardships. I am no longer responsible for the outcome of my life if I’ve surrendered it to God. Therefore, I am to focus on how much God loves me, what He’s done for me and what he has planned for me beyond my thin slice of time on earth, as I serve Him. On my Christian walk, I must become more intimately acquainted with who God is and His character. I must always remember that a sovereign God of grace, mercy and compassion, who loves me enough to die for me, could never let me down. How could I lose surrendering my life to Him?
I take solace in the fact that God knows my heart. My spirit knows surrendering to God is the right thing to do, even though my body is reluctant. Daily, I must make a conscious choice to place myself on that altar knowing that even if my body wants out, God in His love and mercy will drag me back on there, kicking and screaming.