John 15.10: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
These words stand at the center of Jesus’ commissioned to his disciples. Knowing that he would leave them, Jesus sets about for them this most basic point: obedience to His words would be the way they would abide/remain in his love.
These are hard words to really accept and hear as they are as Protestants, at times. We have been so trained to think that our faith and God’s love is not conditioned to works, and rightfully so, that we glaze over these words sometimes. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” These words to his disciples are grounded in an analogy to Jesus’s own obedience to His Father’s commandments and how Jesus abided in His love through them.
Now, you might be familiar with Jesus baptism’s story, where the Holy Spirit comes upon Him like a heavenly dove and God speaks from the heavens “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” Clearly, God expresses His love for Jesus at the baptism. How then, can Jesus say His own keeping of the commandments allows him to abide in His Father’s love? Is it that God’s love is highly fickle and conditional? No, not if God’s commitment to Israel in Exodus 34.6-7 has anything to say about it. Why then is Jesus’ own obedience to the Father’s commands is the condition for abiding in God’s love?
Because it is through the doing that one realizes God’s will for a person’s life. Hebrews 5.7-10:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
It is Jesus who obeyed the will of His Father in heaven and Jesus was heard because of this faithful submission. And notice here the language of learning. Jesus learned obedience. The fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom, is how Jesus becomes the source of eternal salvation. It is how He fulfills the Father’s will for His life to be high priest according to the order of Melchizedek and the source of eternal salvation. In His love, God had a purpose set out for His only begotten Son and it is through Jesus’ reverence to the Father and obedience to His commandments that Jesus remains within and recieve what God had set out for Him. This is what we essentially know about in the great hymn of Philippians 2.6-11:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus as the preexistent Logos was equal with God, but he took a rather surprising route: he become born as a human. In so doing, Jesus remained obedient to the point of death. What happens? He receives what our Father in heaven had set out for Jesus, to have the name that goes beyond all names: that of Lord, signifying both Jesus’ authority but also God’s divine name from which that authority springs forth from.
Where is the language in surrender in all of this? Has our training as Protestants so blinded us to this central, crucial piece of language about obedience that we can not see this basic theme for what it is? There is nothing in these passages about an vague, possibly shifty, language of surrender. It is obedience to God’s commands. This theme hearkens back to Psalm 119.1-8:
Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.
You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
O that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous ordinances.
I will observe your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.
Surely now, you can see this now. It isn’t about “surrender.” It is about obedience. It is through obedience to God’s commands that a person realizes the blessings God has for one’s life. Surrender is about some attitude we have. Obedience is about what we do. If we wish to teach the word of God plainly, then surely, we as Protestants must speak clearly about obedience and not try to dodge around it with the vague language of surrender.
So, back in John 15.10, Jesus is telling His disciples that their relation to His own teachings to them is going to follow the same pattern as Jesus’ own relation and response to His Father’s commandments. Obey His commandments. Obey His commandments. Obey His commandments. And what is that commandment?
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
It isn’t about “surrender.” It is about how we treat one another. It is about how we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for another. It is about setting someone’s own life above your own. Back in Philippians, Paul uses the hymn about Jesus’ own obedience as the exemplar of how believers should regard the interests of others above themselves.
“Surrender” is a potential misdirection if we are not really clear as to what we mean by it, and we usually aren’t as I rarely hear any explanation of what surrender actually is. It risks making the Christian life about some attitude I have, or maybe even my own relationship to Jesus. But it isn’t about loving others, unless your definition of the vague term “surrender” is about how you love others. But why not simply be direct and say love? Why use the term surrender? What is gained by this?
I have searched the Scriptures for anything that says something that approaches either a) the conventional meaning of surrender or b) the more novel definition in religious circles. There are a lot of Scriptures used to support the notion of “surrender,” but I am aware of no passage that seems to explicitly teach anything that amounts to various definitions of surrender. The wikipedia article says that religious surrender is to “completely gives up his own will and subjects his thoughts, ideas, and deeds to the will and teachings of a higher power.” But Jesus doesn’t say to his disciples “set your thoughts, ideas, deeds, will, etc. to my teachings.” He says simply “If you obey my commandments.”
You see… surrender is one of those vague terms that allows for equivocation. Certainly, it can stand for obedience, but it can also stand for so much more. If we think we are somehow in an attitude of surrender by letting our thoughts be directed by God’s commandments, we might be tempted to equate that state of affairs to what Jesus calls of His followers. So, while on one hand we derive a sense of “surrender” from the Scriptures, we then develop subtly different definitions and senses of surrender in our heads that we don’t recognize, then we substitute “surrender” for obedience. But here we would be in error and missing the point. Here, we would let our attitude, whatever that attitude be, become a replacement for Jesus’ words.
So: here is my question to you: Are you “surrendering” or are you obeying Jesus’ commands? I know I have sought to do the latter. Are you listening? Because, let me tell you: “surrender” is of no avail when chaos and evil strike. Only those people whose lives have embodied Jesus’ words, not simply their attitudes, their thoughts, their feelings, etc., can stand against the chaos, as they have a principle within them that keeps them moving forward, that gives them a struggling tenacity against the wiles of the devil. Obedience is how we strength our spiritual muscles to fight the spiritual warfare that Paul challenges us to engage in Ephesians 6.10-17, where Paul in the end describes God’s Word as a sword of the Spirit, which preacher of Hebrews then describes:
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Not that we have the power to definitively judge and know the thoughts and intentions of other’s peoples hearts because of our obedience to God’s word. Only Jesus knows the hearts of people (Romans 2.16). However, through obedience to Jesus’ words, you become trained to see oneself and other people in relationship to our various actions as acting in love means you will have to work against your own self-interest. It doesn’t give us the ability to read minds, but it gives us eyes to see and ears to hear to be able to distinguish between that who “surrender” and those who obey Jesus’ words by training our own minds to notice how our own actions fits together. It is these type of people who have done these sorts of things and are continuing to do these sorts of things who are learning how to discern good and evil, as surrender without obedience makes us still need spiritual milk and untrained in the word of righteousness (Hebrews 5.11-14).
If your meaning of “surrender” is to obey Jesus’ commands to love one another and this is how you seek to live your life, then give me your hand because your heart is as mine. But if you mean something else, then I can only say, “Submit yourself therefore to God. Resist the devil so that he will flee from you.” (James 2.7)
So, let us speak plainly about God’s Word and commend our consciences before one another. Is it surrender or love that we seek? I seek love. What about you?