Surrender to God - Is it essential for salvation?
This question is one that is quite debatable among genuine Christians. Some would say, "Absolutely, surrendering your whole being and everything you have is necessary to become a Christian." Others would say "No, surrendering to God is something a Christian does after salvation." Others would take a mediating position between the two. What does the Bible teach?
Let's begin with the simple Gospel message. Christ came to earth to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Because we are sinful beings (Romans 3:20), we cannot have fellowship with God. In fact, because of this predicament we are in, we cannot do anything to earn God's favor (Ephesians 2:8-9). God, however, understanding our sinful state sent Jesus Christ to die in our place (Romans 5:8). He is the mediator between holy God and sinful humanity (1 Timothy 2:5). Once I exercise faith in the finished work of Christ, my sins are forgiven and I become a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Bible speaks about two wonderful theological truths that occur within the life of a Christian the moment he believes. First, the believer is justified before God (Romans 5:1). To be justified means to be "declared righteous." Before a person comes to know Christ, he is declared guilty of sin before God. This declaration of sin by God upon the sinner makes the person an enemy of God (Romans 5:10). The death of Christ upon the cross enables man to enter into a relationship with God where God declares the sinner not guilty of sin. The believing sinner, while still sinful, is reconciled with God and comes into a new standing with God (Romans 5:11).
Second, the believer is sanctified before God (1 Corinthians 1:2). To be sanctified means to be made righteous before God. It is the idea that since I have been declared righteous (i.e., justified), I am also made righteous (i.e. sanctification). You see, once a person becomes a Christian, God begins a work in him, enabling him to become more like Christ (Romans 8:29). It is God's will that each believer grow and become more and more like Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God's role in the sanctification process is evident from Philippians 1:6, "…He (God) who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Personally, I do not see the word "surrendering" used when it comes to the salvation process. I see a similar idea with that of commitment, however. When I was declared justified before God, I realized that I was a sinner in need of Christ's provision of salvation. I made a commitment to trust Christ for the forgiveness of sin. I suppose one could use the word surrender in place of commitment. This one commitment, however, was just the first of a series of personal commitments I have made to God.
Because I am also sanctified, God is at work in me. Let me give you a personal illustration of God working righteousness in me. When I first became a believer, I drank alcohol on a regular basis, just like I did as an unbeliever. God was at work in me producing an ongoing righteousness and within a few months, I realized that my addictive behavior was not pleasing to God. So I quit drinking - just like that. I did not need 12 steps, extensive counseling, or other means to quit drinking. God was working in my life, I saw what He was doing, and I made a commitment to please Him in this particular area. All throughout my Christian life over time, I have made many different commitments to God. Again, if you would like to use "surrender," that is fine.
In summation, surrendering to God is essential for salvation, but it is not a one-time decision. Making commitments to God is an ongoing process throughout the Christian life, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).
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