Why I’m Not a Committed Christian (And Why That’s a Good Thing)

Adrian Rogers, the dynamic preacher, teacher, evangelist, pastor and man of God who has gone home to be with the Lord, once told a story of a trip to Romania and a conversation he had with his translator, Josef Tson.  Josef Tson was a revered pastor in his own right and served as the president of the Romanian Missionary Society.  Reading this discussion led to an “aha” moment for me as it talked about the difference between the words “commitment” and “surrender.”  As I began to research this difference between words I came across this article written by Bob Butler.  Bob works with a Christian organization in Cambodia. He states “Surrender has become a new perspective for my faith as I continue to learn to obey Christ fully.”  Why try to write something already well written.  I hope you will not only enjoy what Bob has to say but apply it to your own faith walk with our LORD.

Why I’m Not a Committed Christian (And Why That’s a Good Thing)[1]
By Bob Butler

“Most often I hear from God through study and reading the Bible. Sometimes His guidance works through a sermon or the spoken word. Occasionally the still, small voice is obvious during my quiet time. But, once in a while, it takes a whack on the side of the head.

One such head whacking occurred some time ago. In The Incredible Power of Kingdom Authority I read about a conversation between the late Adrian Rogers and Josef Tson, the revered Romanian pastor, author, and president of the Romanian Missionary Society who survived years of persecution and exile under cruel Communist rule. Rogers asked Dr. Tson for his perception of American Christianity.
I was surprised by Tson’s answer. After some hesitation, he replied, ‘Well, Adrian, since you have asked me, I’ll tell you. The key word in American Christianity is commitment.’ Rather than being a positive thing, he saw it as an inadequate replacement of an older Christian teaching: surrender.
Tson described the difference, ‘When you make a commitment, you are still in control, no matter how noble the thing you commit to. One can commit to pray, to study the Bible, to give his money, or to commit to automobile payments, or to lose weight. Whatever he chooses to do, he commits to. But surrender is different. If someone holds a gun and asks you to lift your hands in the air as a token of surrender, you don’t tell that person what you are committed to. You simply surrender and do as you are told. . . . Americans love commitment because they are still in control. But the key word is surrender. We are to be slaves to the Lord Jesus Christ.’

WHACK! I was stunned. Like most American Christians, I had made innumerable commitments to God. As a preacher, I had asked in hundreds of sermons for congregations to make various kinds of commitments. Now, unexpectedly, a core assumption of my vocabulary of faith was being disputed. I felt the wind knocked out of me.

Was Josef Tson correct? And if so, then why did he consider this to be such a critical issue? I immediately sensed he was speaking the truth, but knew I would have a lot of work to do to grasp the full meaning of what he said.

The Lens of Surrender

As I pondered, I realized Tson was right in identifying the root issue as control. My commitments seek to gain the blessings of God without giving up autonomy. My commitments may be righteous or noble but are merely promises about what I will do and depend entirely on me. I am retaining control to some degree, as if I could negotiate with God’s sovereignty.

Surrender concedes that in the battle of wills, God has already won. Surrender begins with the understanding that I am not God’s partner—not even a junior partner. He is my creator and absolute Lord. I am ruined and worthless without Him. Surrender is really so distasteful to us because it exposes the core issue of our sin: pride.

The characters and stories and teachings of the Bible began to look different as I read them through surrender-colored lenses. Two anointed kings, Saul and David, markedly illustrate the contrast of commitment and surrender. No doubt, Saul was a committed worshipper of Jehovah, but deliberate disobedience exposed his lack of total surrender. At Gilgal, impatience drove him to perform a sacrifice specifically prescribed to be offered only by the priest, Samuel (I Samuel 13). Later, Saul purposely disobeyed the Lord’s instructions to destroy the Amalekites totally (1 Samuel 15).

On the other hand, David’s highest priority was his relationship with the Lord. David was obviously as great a sinner as Saul. His family was dysfunctional. He made errors in worshipping the Lord and administering the kingdom. Yet there was never a doubt that David was absolutely surrendered to the glory of God, as evidenced by his response to the rebuke of the prophet Nathan, his attitude when his baby son died, and his abandoned worship as the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem.

I also saw the distinction between surrender and commitment in John 6. Here, Jesus feeds five thousand people. Then, seeking solitude with God, He leaves the crowd. They followed him, expecting more miracles and food. Jesus challenged their motives and told them He was the only spiritual food they needed. Their reaction is enlightening:

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of Israel.” —Jn. 6:66-69

Before my head whacking, I interpreted this episode as a crisis between the uncommitted crowd and the committed few. I now saw it as the difference between the merely committed crowd and the surrendered twelve. The multitude was committed . . . to a point. The Bible even calls them disciples. They had simply reached the end of their commitment. In contrast, the Twelve were fully surrendered. As Peter expressed, they allowed themselves no alternative other than following Jesus: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’

Commitment versus Surrender

How is commitment and surrender different for us? Looking at how the attitudes impact significant areas of spiritual life helped clarify the differences.

Priorities. In large degree, our secular culture measures a person’s worth in terms of success, winning, and accumulating. In this view, where winning is everything, surrender is unthinkable—even surrender to God. Commitment is acceptable, but surrender is considered foolish and perhaps dangerous. All that is associated with surrender—yielding, submission, obedience, self-denial, dying to self—either falls on deaf ears and hard hearts or else evokes hostility from those of us saturated with Western standards.

I once served in an exceptionally difficult ministry situation on the island of Maui. (I know what you’re thinking, but it really was tough.) After a couple of years, I decided to get out, and put my name in my denomination’s candidate pool to be considered for a different situation. Nothing happened for more than a year. One day, after whining to God about it, I just gave up. I said, ‘Lord, if you want to leave me on this rock for the rest of my life, that’s up to you.’ I did not decide to stay or leave; I just left it up to God. I believe God was waiting for me to pray that prayer. My commitment in that place had long since expired, but my surrender to the Lord opened the door to joy and peace and effectiveness.

I served in that position for two more years—joyfully—until I was called to another congregation. Looking back, I now see the damage that could have been done to my family, the Maui church, and the new church, if I had insisted on forcing my will into that situation.

           Discipleship. My repeated failure to live up to my commitments has been an overwhelming source of frustration in my Christian walk. A growing desire emerged to get off the merry-go-round of making promises to God and to embrace the simple, joyful life of believing God’s promises. I needed a surrendered heart in place of a list of commitments and goals, accomplished or not.

As Mary Poppins said, we make piecrust promises all the time—easily made and easily broken. Every time we use a credit card, we are promising to pay for that meal or DVD or plane ticket. We hardly think about it, but that habit of making easy promises often is at work in Sunday-morning pledges to God or the church or self . . . to change or do or go or give. And, like credit cards for many, we are surprised and overwhelmed when those promises accumulate and we are unable to honor the debt we have created.

When I first learned to have a quiet time, it was a major struggle to spend ten minutes in prayer and Bible reading each morning. Wanting more, I proudly and piously committed to half an hour a day, then one hour a day. I found I could not live up to the commitment. Things might go well for a few days or weeks, and then I would fail my standard. I felt defeated instead of blessed. After I discovered the meaning of surrender, I learned to let the Lord set the agenda and draw me to Himself. I was astonished, not at the length of my quiet times, but at the discovery that the Lord sought me throughout the day. My time with God was no longer an obligation but an opportunity.

Relationship. Commitment sets limits or boundaries to relationships. Commitments are always partial and restricted. Commitment makers never give away the farm, but carefully define limits of time, cost, etc. Surrender gives away the farm . . . and everything on it. The multitudes in the John 6 episode demonstrated the limit of how far they would follow Jesus. They had reached their self-defined spiritual boundary and would go no farther.

Commitment is the mindset of the consumer; surrender is the attitude of the beloved. God woos us and paid dearly for our love. Christ invites us into relationship with Him, but He does not bargain or renegotiate. The Twelve continued to enjoy intimacy with the Lord because they were willing to follow wherever He led. They did not yet fully understand what being a follower meant, but they knew who had the words of eternal life. They were in love with Jesus and trusted Him totally. Commitment invites Jesus along for the ride, but surrender gives Him the steering wheel . . . and signs over the title of the car too.

How Do I Surrender to God?

My conclusion was that I had no choice but to surrender. But how was I to go about it? Jesus gave us the answer: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mt. 16:24). There is no more elegant and simple description of surrender than these ancient words.

Taking up my cross daily means to pursue God’s will in the place of my own. Surrender is setting aside my ambition and agenda and desires in order to pursue God’s. Jesus perfectly demonstrated this surrender at Gethsemane when he prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42).

The surrendered disciple prays like her surrendered master, saying, ‘Father, if my problem or pain or illness or loneliness can be part of accomplishing your will, do not take it away.’

Jesus’ invitation of ‘follow me’ means to obey Him absolutely. While drinking coffee early one Rocky Mountain morning at our favorite vacation campsite, I suffered another head-whacking reality check. At my age then, I collided with the indisputable fact that I could reasonably assume about three-quarters of my life and ministry had passed. The question that emerged was, How will I play the last quarter? Going through the motions? Sitting on the bench? Playing it safe? Finishing strong?

I did not know what or where ‘follow Me’ meant here, but I somehow understood that this was a surrender moment. Pulling out an old sports cliché, I prayed, ‘Lord, I want to leave it all on the field.’ I never imagined the great adventure the Lord had in store for me, spiritually and geographically.

The Surprise of Surrender

In Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray wrote, ‘We find the Christian life so difficult because we seek for God’s blessing while we live in our own will.’ Making commitments can be our subtle attempts to get God’s blessings while holding on to our own authority and lifestyle. Many fear that surrender will cost too much or make them miserable.

The surprise of surrender is that by giving control of everything we have and are to God we gain the blessings we desire. That is counterintuitive to our human nature, but Jesus promised, ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it’ (Matthew 16:25).

Giving control of my life to God means I am not in control . . . and what a relief that is! It is the secret source of peace. Failure, frustration, and disappointment are the legacy of commitment, because it is always about me and depends entirely on me to achieve some outcome. Surrender takes ‘me’ out of the equation. As I heard a person once say, ‘When I began to follow Christ, I resigned as General Manager of the Universe.’

When I acknowledge that Jesus is my sovereign and not my peer, He begins to transform me. C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, ‘The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.’ When we deny ourselves, we find ourselves.

In my surrender journey, I have discovered joy and delight and peace. I feel less pressure to achieve. I do not have to struggle to solve every problem. I do not have to fight to protect what I have. I am less concerned about the future and enjoy today more. I am learning to trust my absolutely trustworthy master.

Of course, the inconvenient truth is that if we are not surrendered, we are not really free and in control at all. The Bible says we are either slaves to sin or surrendered slaves to Christ.

I must choose to surrender to Christ. I do not want to leave him. Where else would I go?



[1] Taken from DJ Discipleship Journal printed by NAVPRESS, 2013

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