Everyone struggles between the negative impulses of self-seeking and self-defense on the one hand and the positive, unselfish impulses toward self-denial and self-surrender on the other. All religions maintain some concept of surrender of self to deity, ranging from heathen fanaticism to self-sacrifice for the holiest aims and achievements. But what distinguishes righteous from unrighteous surrender? Is it not knowing the truth that sets us free to worship and surrender in faith to the one true God?
A Christian's life can be described as a life of both self-surrender and self-development. To some, this may seem contradictory, but only when we surrender self-will can we realize our human potential. We must give up what our carnal nature holds dear to take hold of something greater, spiritual and eternal. In this Bible study, we will survey this noblest of human virtues—self-surrender.
1. Has man from earliest times been required to surrender himself? Genesis 2:24; 3:16; 12:1; 22:1-8; Hebrews 11:23-27.
Comment: The Old Testament teaches self-surrender in the account of Adam and Eve. Each is given to the other and both are to surrender to God in perfect obedience. Throughout the Bible, self-surrender characterizes the faithful. Abraham abandons friends and native country to go to a land unknown to him, because God called him to do so. At the voice of God, he gives up all his cherished hopes in his only son, Isaac. Moses, at the call of God, surrenders self, and in faith undertakes the deliverance of his fellow Israelites. He is willing to be blotted out of God's Book of Life, if only God would spare the people (Exodus 32:32).
2. How was Israel to express its surrender to God? Exodus 13:2, 13; 19:5-6; 22:29; Leviticus 20:7; Deuteronomy 7:6-11.
Comment: Israel itself is set apart to God as a holy people—a surrendered nation. Moreover, the entire Levitical system of sacrifice is a doctrine of self-surrender. The whole burnt offering implies the complete surrender of the worshipper to God (Leviticus 1). The law regarding the firstborn of both men and beasts emphasizes the same fundamental doctrine, as does the ritual for the consecration of priests (Leviticus 8).
3. Does self-surrender involve giving oneself? Isaiah 53:7; Nehemiah 2:5; Esther 4:16; Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37; 20:22-24.
Comment: During their return from exile, the faithful remnant of Judah endures great hardships for the nation's future and to accomplish God's purposes. We can also see this spirit in Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah. Nehemiah surrenders his position in Shushan to help reestablish the returned exiles in Jerusalem. Esther is prepared to surrender her life to ensure her people's safety. The early disciples, counting none of their possessions as their own, give for the good of all. Stephen and others give of themselves to the point of martyrdom. Paul surrenders himself joyfully for God's use, carrying out his commission not knowing what dangers might lie ahead.
4. Ultimately, what does self-surrender require? Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:20; Romans 6:6, 7; 12:1; I Corinthians 6:19-20; I Peter 2:13-17; 5:5, 6.
Comment: Our self-surrender is to die with Christ, crucifying the old man that a new man may live. In so doing, the man no longer lives for himself, but Christ lives in him. We are no longer our own but Christ's, and by making this living sacrifice, we die daily. Consequently, we must also surrender ourselves for our neighbors' welfare and subject ourselves to those in authority and to civil ordinances for God's sake.
5. Does Christ's teaching and example emphasize that self-surrender is necessary to become His disciple? Matthew 16:24-28; Luke 9:59-62; 14:26-33; Philippians 2:5-18.
Comment: When certain disciples are called, they leave all and follow Christ. This dedication requires so complete a surrender of self that father, mother, and one's own life must be loved less than God. This surrender of self is never a loss of one's personality. On the contrary, it opens the way to true human potential.
Jesus not only teaches self-surrender but also practices it for our edification. As a child, He subjects Himself to His parents, and later, self-surrender distinguishes His baptism and temptation. Throughout a life of physical privation, He does the Father's will and not His own, refusing to use His power and standing with God even for His own deliverance. With His dying breath, He surrenders His spirit to the Father. While He is no ascetic and does not demand asceticism of His followers, He empties Himself and becomes obedient even to death. His working in us both to will and to do enables us to respond to His exhortation and work out our own salvation. Our reward for self-surrender is well worth the cost: eternal life and joy in God's Kingdom!