For so long we have embraced independence. We use the term independent as a compliment and something to strive towards. The thought of giving up our independence is laughable. The act of surrender is the act of letting go of our independence. It is allowing another to have influence, and even authority over our actions and decisions. But so many old hymns speak of surrendering all to God. How can that be a desire if independence is so important?
The act of surrender throughout history has looked very different. The results and ramifications have also varied, but have influenced the way we view surrender. The Roman practice of surrender on the battlefield was to lay down their shields. In ancient Greece, the surrendering party would send an olive branch to the opposing forces. In more recent history, we see a white flag being waved. These are the practices or the act of surrender by the conquered side. They were then at the whims of the conqueror. Throughout history there have been very different demands placed on the conquered foe. Some empires demanded tribute. Some still killed part of the population and set up city rulers under the conqueror’s control. In most cases the conquered group or nation would be at the beck and call of their overlords. If called upon, they would be forced to go to battle for the conquerors.
We know from scripture the nation of Israel had multiple points where they were conquered and surrendered. We see this in Egypt where they are enslaved and in Babylon where Daniel and his cohort are serving the court (as eunuchs I might add). In the Roman Empire, we see a mix of slaves, foreigners and Roman citizens who could all originate from the same region of the world.
In most cases, there would be some sort of negotiation of the terms of surrender, what the losing side would need to give up. The terms have differed across the ages and depending on the nations in command. One thing, however, is constant: surrender has always been seen as a failure. To give up some control and enslave yourself to an opposing force is a failure.
In contrast to all of those examples, surrendering to God isn’t losing. Let’s look at what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, though they didn’t understand the terms, surrendered to sin. They handed all of creation over to an oppressing force that ever since has had us in its grip. We do not have the power to rise up against the force of evil that has enslaved us. We cannot rally together to overthrow darkness. What it takes is our surrender back to God. Surrendering to God is the act (made possible through the victory of Jesus) of returning to our previous state.
“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”
The trick that Satan used on Adam and Eve was convincing them God was withholding and not allowing them to be truly free. The reality was very different, however. It was true freedom they were experiencing, freedom from the oppression of sin.
The difference between surrender to God and surrender to anything or anyone else is that God created us and knows what we are made for. That is exactly what he wants for us, and what he gives to us. Complete surrender to God allows him to vanquish all other things we have surrendered to. It will remove us from oppression and make us truly free.
Scripture tells us little of what the garden was like. But we know Adam and Eve had purpose and freedoms, without anxiety, need or struggle. The only restriction given was so they would not become enslaved to an oppressor.
God is so unlike any other being or force. He has no needs, no pride or ego to serve. He doesn’t need to flex his muscles with us or prove himself. His nature is always benevolent and good. He doesn’t wish to control, but to free us.
I believe surrender is such a difficult thing to embrace because the thought of surrendering to anyone else is crippling. Especially in an age where independence is so valued, the thought of handing over our independence sounds like and feels like oppression.
Independence is something we highly value as a society. Cambridge dictionary defines independence as “not influenced or controlled in any way by other people, events, or things”. Is that even possible?! I would like someone to tell me one time they were ever independent, based on that definition. I bet I could find a way you were influenced by someone else in making that decision.
I would argue we are always being influenced by something or someone. There is no single act that is so isolated it has no outside influence. By this definition, God would be the only being capable of true independence. He existed before all other things and out of his own desire created all things.
Even though we don’t usually outright state it, we associate independence with freedom. Ever since Adam and Eve were tricked into this association, we have maintained this idea. This makes surrender so difficult for us. We need to escape from this lie. We need to renounce it. We need to embrace the truth that only in Christ are we truly free. Only in surrendering to God can we find the freedom we long for.
Surrendering to God is not like surrendering to a nation. There are no negotiated terms of surrender. We need to surrender all we are to be influenced and directed by God. He does not ask us to pay tribute, or maintain partial pursuit of independence. It needs to be a complete submission so we may be free of the other influences.
“Submit therefore to God Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
The only hope we have to find freedom from death is surrender. The only way to be free of the grips of sin is to submit to God and resist influences that oppose Him. This freedom is available but we must first hand over our independence and trust God rather than the lie of independence.