What Shall We Give Him? Surrender to the King

At West Lisbon this Advent season, we have been exploring the Miracles of Christmas each Sunday morning. These miracles have caused us to think about gifts that we may give to Christ or to others that are uniquely spiritual in nature. Some of the gifts have included giving Jesus our fellowship and our hope. Last Sunday, we learned how the angels came to announce the presence of the Christ in the first advent. The message challenged us to give the gift of unconditional presence to our own family and friends—no matter what. In this blog post, I want to explore another gift that we can give to the Lord—the gift of surrender.

War Elephants . . . Now That’s a Gift!

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln wrote a cordial letter to the King of Siam to politely reject the offer of a most generous gift. President James Buchanan was the actual addressee of the two letters from the King, which were received on February 14th, 1861—the same year the Civil War began—but President Lincoln was left with the responsibility of responding to the King’s offer. The gifts of the King were fourfold—namely, a sword of costly materials and exquisite workmanship; a photographic likeness of His Majesty and of His Majesty’s beloved daughter; and also two elephants’ tusks of length and magnitude indicating that they could have belonged only to an animal which was a native of Siam . . .

The fourth gift was really something. President Lincoln wrote,

I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States. Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.

The President ended the letter: Your Good Friend, ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

It is very interesting to study the gifts given between the leaders of nations and the occasions that prompted their international generosity. The beauty and thoughtfulness are striking at times. As I looked into this a little, I thought to myself,

Yes, a king knows exactly how and what to give to another king. But what do you and I know about giving gifts to a king?

I think we all probably feel a little like Clark W. Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when he delivers his gift to his boss, only to find a mountain of other, unopened, underwhelming gifts that preceded his own. You can see and sense the feelings of both resentment and insecurity that begin to take hold of Clark.

He doesn’t need anything, but I have to give him something . . . I can’t look bad, but, really, what can I give to him?

It’s Christmas time. The King with whom we are concerned during these days is the Lord Jesus. What do you give such a King? The King of Kings. The One who has the name above all names, before whom one day every knee will bow and tongue will confess that he is indeed Lord and Master of all creation. What do you give to God?

Perhaps, and quite honestly, it hasn’t occurred to you that you should give God anything at all. Maybe others of you have wondered about this question. Possibly, you’ve given it some extensive thought — what does God want from me and my life? What should I give him? Maybe others of you are in a place where you feel that you’ve given God quite enough—life has been hard this year. Yet, deep down, you know that Jesus possess the words of life, and you love him even in the midst of difficult days.

If we read the story of the manger scene where the Shepherds flocked to see the baby King or the narrative about the visit from the wise men to the young child Jesus, we can envision quite a reception. Time has passed since the infancy and childhood of the Lord Jesus. The mature King eventually offered his life as an atonement for the sins of the world – the righteous one for the unrighteous ones – and he demonstrated his power and right to rule by defeating death through resurrection, wherein the church places her hope for life eternal.

Shepherds and wise men aside, what now does the modern person have to offer a resurrected and returning King like Jesus? I’d like to suggest to you that Jesus answers this for us himself. He tells us in the Gospel of Mark 12:13–17 just exactly what he wants from us. In a word, he wants you. He wants you to surrender yourself, your life, to him as King.

WDJW or What Does Jesus Want?

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him (Mark 12:13–17).

King Jesus is very clear about what he wants in this passage. God wants those on which he has stamped his own image. He wants boys and girls, and men and women. He wants YOU. The idea of surrender to Jesus as King brings three thoughts to my mind, and they illustrate the internal process we go through as we weigh the meaning of surrender.

First, We Resist Surrender to God’s Ownership.

Maybe we, like the men in this story, try to avoid surrender by means of flattery. We flatter Jesus with our bumper stickers, with our wristbands, with our donations, and even like these men, with our words. But Jesus did not come to be flattered by people. He came to rule. Jesus seeks to rule the heart by his grace and with his power, for the heart, he says, is the place, the source, out of which his image is defaced daily by evil deeds, thoughts, and feelings. God wants to restore his glorious image in you by transforming your heart. The King does not receive flattery from an unyielded heart; he despises it.

Maybe you don’t flatter Jesus, but also like these men, you look at King Jesus with false pretenses—false pretenses about who he is and why he has come and what he will do to cause you to remain unsurrendered to him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Maybe you don’t believe him and his claim upon you as someone on whom he has stamped his image of ownership.

Sometimes our process of surrender stops there. We resist and that’s it. End of story. But some of us hear the Scriptures and are willing to go a little further, discovering within ourselves a bit more humility toward God about this whole surrender thing. The next step in the process of surrender is a place of insecurity.

Second, We Question the Value of Our Surrender to God’s Ownership.

We come to believe that, yes, indeed Jesus is King, and he has stamped his image on me. He’s not only the King, but he’s MY King.

But then, we look at what we have to offer him, and we grow insecure, which results either in despair of ever bringing anything worthy to offer to God, or in an endless attempt to try to bring him something to earn his favor.

Consider our FEEBLE KNOWLEDGE in light of the all-knowing God.
Measure our FALLIBLE WILL in light of the holy God.
Discern our FICKLE EMOTIONS in light of the God who is perfect in justice and mercy.

There is some truth here about the insecurity of the value of our surrender to God, for even the Scriptures say,

There are none righteous, not even one,” and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

It is proper to feel insecure before such a God, such a King, no matter the quality of life we may think we have brought to him. Perhaps, we could call this healthy insecurity “the fear of God.”

However, the wrong kind of insecurity can breed anger and bitterness, and these are certainly the wrong gifts to bring the King. Rather, the right response to the insecurity over the life that we have to surrender to God is humility—a crushed and lowly heart, made so by an encounter with the greatness of God.

The realization that not even my life is of great enough value to win the favor of this King—this realization should crush us and bring us low, low enough to bow the knee, the head, and the heart before the King of Kings. And it is here now that our surrender meets grace and favor. For it is written,

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite (Isaiah 57:15 ESV).

At this crushing point of surrender, the heart bows low before God, and we can understand exactly what it is that God has done—why it is that the Holy Child came to earth. He came so that the humble heart may rejoice in the hope of salvation.

Lastly, We Welcome Surrender to God’s Ownership.

As the Holy Spirit opens the heart in surrender, humility leads us into the hope of salvation. When we give to God what belongs to God, as Jesus said, we are ready to experience the hope and treasure given to us in the work of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 8:9 offers the basis for why Christians should be generous to one another by restating the good news about Jesus Christ’s coming into the world. The first part reads,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

God’s grace finds the one who has been brought low in surrender. You say, that’s it?! I mean, the King of Siam sent a flawless stock of war elephants to President Lincoln—war elephants! But remember the words of the songwriter,

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

By God’s grace, such a humble offering satisfies him.

The passage goes on,

. . . that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Here the writer speaks to us of the Great Exchange that took place at Christ’s first coming. He become poor, so that you and I could possess all the treasures that are in Christ and his gospel—pardon, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, a new birth, a new life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, a new talk, a new walk, fellowship with God, justice and creation made right, eternity with God in his glorious presence, forever and ever. God offers these treasures in Christ. When you welcome surrender to God’s ownership of your life, you discover the fullness of the Great Exchange of Jesus Christ, that by his poverty you are made wealthy in him.

Surrender Your Heart to the King

Will you welcome surrender to King Jesus this Advent season? Invite God’s ownership into your life. Will you let his ownership spread, allowing his rule in every nook and cranny? Will you, as the children sing, “give him your heart”? Has God’s Spirit been working in your heart and life leading up to this reading? The Lord Jesus became poor—he died on the cross and was resurrected out of a borrowed grave—so that you could be made rich in him. Are you ready to begin experiencing the treasures that are in Christ Jesus?

The Way of Salvation

When asked about our first fight as a married couple, Aimee and I always recall the same event—the drive home from the airport after our honeymoon. We had spent a week in Florida for our honeymoon, and returned to the Columbus airport in Ohio. We hopped into our car, and for the very first time, we headed to our new apartment together. It was really our first drive home together. Aimee wasn’t headed to her parents’ home, and I wasn’t headed to mine.

I was driving. The problem, however, was that I had not driven in Columbus very much, and I really did not know where I was going. For my younger friends, this was during days prior to smartphones—how I would have dreamed to have had Siri speaking flawless directions into my earbud that day! I was lost in no time, and I was not interested in directions, especially from my new wife; I mean if I couldn’t get us out of Columbus and home, then would I ever be able to lead us in anything?! A fight followed. Long story short, she was right, and my pride was wrong. She knew how to get us home, and I didn’t know which way to go.

That little spat seems so long ago and insignificant now, ten years later. However, there is a set of directions that God wants us to know, which have eternal relevance. God really and truly wants us to know the way of salvation, his way of salvation, without any error or confusion. The problem is that many times when I talk to people about the way of salvation—be it here in rural Illinois, in the south where “everybody is a Christian,” or in the Bronx of New York City—I find that there is more confusion than clarity. Paul’s disciples in Galatia faced confusion about the way of salvation. Some other teachers had followed Paul’s visit to them, and they had spread confusion throughout the church there. Paul wrote a pretty serious warning to them,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (read “let him go to hell!”). As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6–9).

False teachers had slipped into the Galatian congregation, and they were teaching a “Christ plus works gospel,” which really isn’t the gospel. This “gospel” said that in addition to trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection for salvation, the people also had to be circumcised to truly be saved and a part of God’s forever family.

Even though Paul is very strong in his letter to the Galatians, many people today who would identify themselves as Christians do not understand the true gospel of grace that the Galatians had first received from Paul. Friend, do you know the way of salvation that God himself has provided for you in Christ and through his faithfulness? Compare the graphics below, and ask yourself which way you view as the way of salvation?

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 11.25.14 AM

 

The “works alone” view of salvation often comes up in a conversation like this:

Evangelist: On what basis do you think you are saved and will spend eternity with God?

Person: Well, I think that I have lived a pretty good life—I am a pretty good person. I haven’t cheated on my wife or killed anyone.

The “works alone” person looks at the Ten Commandments and says—I have kept all of these since my youth. God will accept me based upon my good works and keeping of his law. Yet, Paul says in Galatians 2:16 that no one—not even the Jews who first received the law of God—will be justified by works of the law. Paul says in another place—“None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:23). In other words, all of our works are like what Isaiah describes,

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:6–7 ESV).

Isaiah says in another place that our sins have caused a separation between us and God. Therefore, the testimony of Scripture seems to indicate that rather than our works healing the divide between us and God, rather our works and deeds have separated us from God. So, this cannot be the way of salvation.

The “Christ + Works” view of salvation is tricky. Oftentimes, people get confused, because they think that surely God requires obedience as a requirement for salvation in addition to Christ’s work. Many times, the person who holds such a view has no assurance that they are saved and has no certainty when it comes to his/her eternity. Those who teach such a view end up heaping all kinds of regulations and rules onto people that have nothing to do with the way of salvation. A person—even if they once considered themselves saved—might even feel that they didn’t keep up their end of their bargain with God and lost what salvation they may have once possessed. Further, this view misunderstands the place of obedience in the way of salvation. It doesn’t fully recognize that salvation is a process that God initiates, sustains, and finishes. Yes, obedience is a part of salvation, but the important question is where should it be found in the process? Christian salvation can be broken down into three parts:

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 1.11.29 PM

There is much more to salvation than this simple graphic represents, but let’s start here. Justification refers to when God declares a person righteous by faith, like Abraham in Genesis 15:6, “And he [Abraham] believed the Lord, and [the Lord] counted it to him [Abraham] as righteousness.” Paul says it this way in Galatians 2:16, “yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” He says the same thing again in Romans 3:21–22,

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed– namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.

The NET Bible does a good job instructing us that we must believe in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to be justified or made right with God. He did the work and finished it; we just need to trust in its necessity and sufficiency. Justification frees us from the penalty of sin. The step of obedience with regard to justification is to simply believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Genuine justifying faith leads to growth in holiness at a pace and through seasons that God determines. Sanctification refers to the process of spiritual growth, or becoming who we already are in Christ. God’s Spirit gradually over time sanctifies us—makes us holy. Sanctification frees us from the power of sin. The step of obedience here is to continue believing the gospel in such a way that we yield our lives to the death and resurrection of Christ—dying to sin and living a new life. The Galatians also misunderstood this. Look at Galatians 3:1–4,

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?

We both begin and continue the Christian life by faith and by the Spirit. Later in the letter when Paul warns them about “falling from grace,” he means not that true believers would somehow lose their salvation, but rather true believers who seek to grow by a method of law-keeping cut themselves off from the true means of Christian growth—the grace of God in Christ. Such a person then becomes a useless Christian, drowning in immaturity and carnality, inviting the chastisement of his/her heavenly Father, and out of fellowship with God. The sanctifying power of God through his Spirit in the believer opposes our sinful natures and brings us back if we wander. This prevents any kind of license to sin after we’ve been justified (see Rom. 6:1ff). D. L. Moody once said,

Christians should live in the world, but not be filled with it. A ship lives in the water; but if the water gets into the ship, she goes to the bottom. So Christians may live in the world; but if the world gets into them, they sink.

Lastly, glorification frees us fully and finally from the presence of sin. This is what God’s people will experience in the resurrection or at the rapture of the Church. You can read more about the process of Christian salvation in Romans 8:26–30. The step of obedience here is to rest in the assurance that Christ is enough to save us completely. As the apostle John says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

The “Christ Alone” view of salvation is the true way of salvation. This is it. When the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30 asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they respond in 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. . . .” Christ’s own faithfulness on the cross and in the resurrection saves us. It’s Christ plus nothing. You see, God himself has done the work of salvation for us—this is why there will be no boasting in our works, like it says in Ephesians 2:8–9,

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The only boasting in heaven will be about the faithfulness of Jesus’ work.

So, have you trusted in Christ alone for your salvation? There is no other name under heaven by which people may be saved. If you have never trusted Christ alone as your Savior, won’t you do so today? Listen once more to the Scriptures in Titus 3:3–7,

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I hope you now feel that you have clear directions to get “home” — home to heaven and life with God forever. No one explained the clear directions to God better than Jesus himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Don’t be like I was with my new bride—prideful and arrogant about my own ability to find the way. Humble yourself before God as a sinner, and admit your need for Christ alone to be your Savior. When you first believe, God will justify you and set you free from the penalty of sin, which is hell. Then, he will gradually grow you each day—sanctifying you by faith in the gospel and by the power of his Spirit in you. Finally one day, God will transform you fully and finally—body and soul—and you’ll spend forever with him. May this good news find you today and set you free.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex