Part 1: Surrender
READ: John 15: 1-5
What comes to your mind when you read that word? Victory? Success? Not likely.
Surrender is not a very popular word in our independent and competitive culture. It implies giving up, being defeated, or losing. Rick Warren tells us that many don’t like the word surrender because “it implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser.” A criminal who is cornered “surrenders” to the authorities. A nation defeated in war must often “surrender” unconditionally—they have no say in the terms of defeat. Many of us are taught to never give up, never give in, and never yield. We are a culture that nods in agreement with Vince Lombardi’s famous quote “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” And if winning is everything, then surrender simply isn’t an option.
So how might we, as Christians, approach surrender to God? If we surrender, does this mean that God wins and we lose? Do we have no say in our walk with God? Or are we looking at surrender in the wrong way?
Surrendering to God is less about you and I “losing” and God “winning”, and more about understanding the reality of who we really are. The first step towards being a Christian is to admit that we are not all right on our own. We must reach a point of realization that, as much as we would like to, we cannot save ourselves. In order to become a Christian, we must confess that we are sinners. We admit that we need God’s help. We surrender. This isn’t losing—it is simply accepting reality. We cannot be Christians until we accept that we are sinners. We must surrender to the idea that we can save ourselves. Surrender is the first step in our walk with Christ.
Jesus spoke about reality in these verses from John 15. In one of his “I am” statements from John’s gospel, Jesus talks about the reality of our connection with Him. He is the vine. We are the braches. Jesus is talking specifically about the vitis plant, what we know as a grape plant or grape vine. If you’re not specifically familiar with this image, think about one a bit more familiar to Floridians: Jesus tells us He is the trunk of an orange tree, and we are the branches. The point is the same: the braches grow out from a central connection point—the trunk or the vine. The anchor point is absolutely vital to the survival of the individual branches. If a branch falls off of the orange tree, it dies. A branch is incapable of bearing grapes, oranges, or any fruit if it is severed from the plant. Jesus tells us plainly, “apart from me you can do nothing”.
But many of us live in denial of this reality. We live like branches that do not accept we are connected to God’s sustenance. We talk about the material possessions we enjoy as though we have earned them. The truth is we did not earn these things so much as God gave them. We are quick to forget the daily ways that God has provided for us and allowed us to prosper. God has greatly blessed this congregation, and we must be careful in our understanding of what these blessings are for. The purpose of the blessings, Jesus tells us, is to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
As we surrendered to the reality of our sin in order to become a Christian, we must also surrender to the reality that Jesus speaks of in John. It is Jesus who sustains us, as the vine sustains the branches; only in surrendering can God use us to make a difference. We must accept that nothing we possess really belongs to us. God has given us all we posses, and is pleased when His children come to Him, lay our treasures at His feet and say, “This belongs to you. I surrender it. Do with it whatever you choose.”
Surrender is not easy. It is unnatural to us, and requires a great deal of trust in God. But, as Jesus told us, it is the only way. We must surrender. We must give up. If we willingly submit ourselves, we can help bring about the very Kingdom of God. For in God’s kingdom, the last are first, the humble are lifted up, and the King has a crown of thorns. By God’s marvelous grace, in surrender there is victory.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
1) Recall a time when you were forced to surrender—in a sport, in an argument, etc. How did it feel? Do you think this surrender experience has affected your understanding of surrender to God?
2) Why is it so tempting to see our material possessions as “ours” rather than God’s? 3) What does surrender to God look like to you?
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