Word Study #122 — “Surrender”

This is another word about which we hear far too much!
Ubiquitous in hymnody, mystical literature, and groups with a pietistic orientation, it does not exist in New Testament writings! Find it if you can!

And with good reason: surrender is the last recourse of the conquered – those who have lost a war – a last-ditch effort to avoid total destruction! It is uniformly coerced – and there is no coercion in genuine Christian teaching! Jesus’ invitation is to deliberate, voluntary enlistment in his Kingdom! His people are called to join the winning team, not to plead for relief from disaster!

Now, it is certainly true that Jesus also spoke of “denying” (#68) one’s own self-interest, and “forsaking” possessions and other attachments (Mt.19:27,29; Mk.1:18, Lk.5:11, 14:23). But please note the tone of the parables with which he commended such action: Mt.13:44-46.
There is no coerced, mournful resignation or renunciation here!

The finder of the treasure in a field is so excited about his discovery that he hurries to sell everything he has in order to purchase the field – apo tes charas – out of his JOY!

Likewise, the merchant, who had been seeking (present tense – continuous effort) for fine pearls, upon finally discovering one of supreme value, deemed it well worth the expenditure of “all that he had.”

These gentlemen were neither mourning nor boasting of what they had “sacrificed” (#95) / “surrendered”. They were celebrating their great good fortune!

The writer to the Hebrews describes even Jesus’ endurance of an ignominious death as being “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb.12:2) – and that expectation as being fully and gloriously vindicated! Even such a dire situation is represented, not as “surrender”, but as ultimate triumph!

So where did all the “surrender” themes come from? My best guess is that it was an artifact of medieval mysticism, which arose as a lonely, introspective pursuit, that resulted when devout individuals were crowded out of the increasingly oppressive and opulent hierarchical institution that had replaced the simple New Testament brotherhood. Lack of a brotherhood leaves one who wishes to be faithful no alternative but a choice between two equally impossible options: either to withdraw into individualism, or to “forget the whole thing”. An extremely painful position.
It was also perhaps enhanced by the elevation to “sainthood” of spectacular “converts” like Augustine, who, tired of their lascivious luxury, “surrendered” it in favor of its opposite; or others who had actively opposed the Kingdom before signing on with the King.

The resulting atmosphere, in which “you have to be really, really bad – or at least say that you are – in order to be properly converted”, creates a dilemma which we have witnessed, in which serious young people have protested in confusion, “I want to commit my life to Jesus, but I can’t say I ran away from him or fought against him! It isn’t true!” It is just plain wrong to put people into such a situation!

If a Kingdom citizen’s deepest desire is faithfully to serve the King, what or to whom is he supposed to “surrender?” I strongly suspect that this teaching is just another effort to play on the vulnerability of sincere people, to feed their tendency to focus on self-condemnatory introspection (which, in addition to being contrived, is only self-centeredness in another costume), and keep them feeling “guilty” enough to be manipulated!

Lord, deliver us from those who demand “surrender,” and free us joyfully to seek your Kingdom above all!

2 Responses to Word Study #122 — “Surrender”

  1. Dan Martin says:

    You have a good point here Mom, with regard to the artificial piety version of “surrender.” But I think there may be another legitimate sense that you’re overlooking. The Philippians passage on Jesus choosing obedience over “grasping” at equality with God (itself a contrast to humans seeking to be “like God” in Genesis) is certainly a form of submission… dare I say surrender? The “not my will, but thine” calls up a similar sense, I think.

    I get as sick as you do of the insipid “worship” notion of surrender…nevertheless I still have found value in coming squarely to terms with the reality that God is God and I am not…and that’s a good thing!

  2. ruthpmartin says:

    Yes, that is certainly in the category of what some folks might call “surrender”, although I think it is really more parallel to the parables that I referred to. It is much more “get with the program, and do whatever has to be done to create the Kingdom”, than it it sitting around trying to tell folks (or yourself) how “holy” and “surrendered” you are. There was no hint of coercion, or having lost a fight, in any of those passages. It was not a change from an opposing “side”, either.
    I would not object to the word, if it was used exclusively (or even primarily) for the “submission” that Jesus modeled. But unfortunately,it is not. Both “submission” and “surrender” in modern parlance and teaching, carry the sense of reluctance and loss (and self-congratulation for “accepting” it), not eagerly joining the supreme effort of the Creator and King to model and create “man in his own image”, and the Kingdom for which everything exists.

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