Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Path to Obedience Begins With Surrender

I think a common misconception regarding the Christian faith is in our striving to be more holy and righteous.  We will never succeed if we proceed with that attitude.  On our own, we can never be any more holy or righteous than we were before we found Jesus.  We strive in our own strength and fall and fall again and each time we try to pick ourselves up.  We eventually get discouraged and we give up. There are two ways we can give up.  One is bad and that is give up our desire for righteousness altogether and harden our hearts against the conviction of God to the point where God gives us over to those desires.  The other is exactly what God is waiting for.  That is when we realize we can not do it on our own and give up trying and finally surrendering to God.  We give up striving on our own and surrender ourselves entirely to God.  Then, and only then, can God really begin to work in us.  God calls us to do many things, but the amazing thing about God is He never wants us to strive in our own strength to do it.  He is not looking for our ability or our skill, but He is looking for our surrender.  He is looking for us to realize that we can not do it on our own and that we need to rely on Him. 

First of all, God calls us to be Holy. 
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."  1 Peter 1:15-16 NKJV
What does it mean to be holy?  It is a word we throw around, but do we understand what it means.  Being holy means being set apart unto God, it means purity, it means righteousness, and it means submitting our lives unto God.  Not only that but we are called to be holy in all of our conduct meaning whatever we do needs to be done as through it were set apart to God.   We are called to be all of that and we are called to be all that according to God's standards and not our own.  How can we ever live up to that?  Can you remain holy even through your alarm clock in the morning?  I know I can't! We can never live up to those standards, yet we are called to do it.  Here is what is amazing about God's command.  God does not tell us to be holy "like" He is holy.  God calls us to be holy "because" He is holy.  That is a huge difference.  If God had asked us to be holy like He is holy, it would be hopeless.  If we strive to be holy like He is holy, it is equally as hopeless.  But when we submit ourselves to God, His holiness is imparted to us through Jesus.  If we abide in Him and His Spirit in us, whatever we do will be set apart to Him.  If we are in Him, all we do would be for Him.  We are not to try to be holy on our own, but we are to surrender ourselves to him and allow Him to impart His holiness to us. 

Secondly, God calls us to be righteous.
And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.  1 John 2:28-29 NKJV
Not only is righteousness a sign of us being born of him, there are serious consequences for being unrighteous.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NKJV
Maybe now you are thinking that you do not do any of those specific things so that must mean you are righteous, well...
As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; " Romans 3:10 NKJV
Now we have some real trouble.  No one is righteous and the unrighteous are destined for judgment.  No one is righteous, yet we are known to be born again if we practice righteousness.  So none of us are righteous and none of us can be righteous.  We all fail God miserably on our own, yet we are called to practice righteousness.  So how do we become righteous when we can not be righteous, and how can we be seen as righteous when no one is righteous?  God again has the answer.
He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.  Romans 4:20-25 NKJV
When you put your faith in Christ, there is no point in striving for righteousness.  You already have it.  Not only that, but you have the righteousness of Christ.  His righteousness is imparted to you by your faith in Him.  How amazing is our God! He demands from us righteousness and when we come to realize we have none to give Him, he gives it to us.  When does He give it to us?  When we surrender our lives to Christ. When we come to Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior, God sees in us the righteousness of Christ, something we can never achieve on our own.

Please do not think this means that the righteousness of Christ allows us to sin. God also calls us to obedience. 
Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me. " John 14:23-24 NKJV
Now this is where the rubber meets the road.  It only makes sense as we are called to be holy and righteous. Can you call yourself holy and righteous if you are also disobedient?  Holiness and righteousness are lofty terms that sometimes lose their practical meaning.  Obedience is that practical meaning.  And here is where true surrender occurs. First we have to recognize that we are holy and righteous in Christ because our obedience is a result of our holiness and righteousness.  We also have to recognize that we have no ability to be obedient in our own strength.  If obedience were at all possible, Christ would not have had to die for us. Obedience, in our own strength, is impossible.  But praise be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ that we do not have to rely in our own strength.  In fact, God does not even want us to.  We keep His commandments not by striving to meet His standards but by surrendering to His authority over our lives.  We win the war of our flesh by surrendering it to God.
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  Romans 6:16-18 NKJV
We have to also recognize that we are God's slaves.  That will not make it onto many promise calenders or daily grace affirmations, but that is what we are.  We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God.  If we remain in our sin, we remain slaves to it through we were delivered.  At that point it is not sin that has dominion over us, but our "self."  We become slaves not to sin in and of itself but slaves of our own desires for it.  That is why we can not be obedient in our own strength.  We can abstain for a time but the desire is still there and eventually it will win out.  You will never rid yourself of that desire as long as "self" is still there to desire it.  "Self" gets in the way of our surrender.  "Self" does not want to give up its reign and will work to frustrate the work God is doing in you.  That is why denying it is so important.  When you get "self" out of the way, you are free to realize that deliverance from sin and submit yourselves as slaves to God.  "Self" needs to die.
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20 NKJV
And here is the key to obedience.  It is not our obedience at all.  It is the obedience of Christ who lives in us.  What we can not do, Christ in us does for us.  Even our obedience is not of our own but the obedience of God working in us. 

I will close with a story.  There was a time I heard an amazing sermon on rejoicing through trials.  I was inspired and I confused that inspiration with ability and told God that I was ready for anything He threw my way.  I was ready to rejoice through any trial in the world.  Another lesson today is never to test God in our pride.  That very night, that trial came.  It was not something I was expecting and I remember thinking at the time "OK I meant anything but that."  But I tried in all my might to rejoice and day after day I was just miserable. This went on for an entire week.  Seven days and seven nights I was miserable yet trying in my own strength to rejoice.  I kept giving myself things to be happy about, telling myself it was not so bad, convincing myself that things may change, but none of it worked.  Finally, on that seventh night, again on my way home from a church service, I surrendered to God.  I told Him "God, I want to rejoice, but I do not know how. I want to be obedient but I can't.  If you want me to obey, you have to do it for me because I just can't."  And you know what, He did.  It was actually rather instant.  God was not waiting for me to obey in my own strength at all.  God knew I could not do it on my own, but I didn't.  I thought I could just obey in my own strength and get a nice pat on the back from God.  God was not waiting for my obedience, God was waiting for my surrender.  God is waiting for the same from you. 
if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.  Ephesians 4:21-24 NKJV

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