How do I know if I am completely surrendered to Christ? It’s the question today from a listener named Maria, who listens from the Netherlands. “Dear Pastor John, I’d like to respond to APJ 1459 (‘I’m Afraid of Surrendering to Christ — What Can I Do?’), by posing a follow-up question: How do I know if I am surrendered to Christ completely? I grew up in a Christian home, studied at a Christian college, got married, worked for Christian organizations.
“From the outside, that looks good. From the inside, I wonder: How do you know that you surrendered everything? Is it, for example, a mindset of the heart, which relates to making good choices? Is it listening to a sermon instead of watching a TV show? Reading a Christian book instead of non-Christian fiction? Or is it more related to big things, such as becoming a missionary and doing lots of volunteer work? How do I know if my life is completely surrendered to Christ? I pray throughout the day, but often feel caught up in earthly chores I see no eternal value in.” Pastor John, what would you say to Maria?
Let’s start by affirming the goal that Maria expresses — namely, to be totally surrendered to Christ, nothing held back. Now, I know, and perhaps Maria knows, that the language of surrender is not explicitly found in the New Testament. But the reality is there.
The picture of surrender is that once we were enemies and our lives were at odds with God. We did not submit to him. We were not surrendered to him. We were our own masters, doing our own will, robbing God of not only everything he’s given to us, but our souls as well. Then a miracle happens: We’re born again, and everything turns around. We don’t want to withhold anything from God anymore. We are eager to be totally at his disposal: to do anything he wants at any cost. We want to do it in the power that he supplies, so that in everything he gets the glory. That’s what it means to be saved from the old way. So, the reality of surrender is there even if the language is not.
Here’s some ways that the Bible talks about what Maria means by — and what we would all, I think, mean by — total or full surrender to Christ.
Luke 14:33: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Matthew 10:37: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Matthew 22:37: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Philippians 3:7–8: “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
“We don’t want to withhold anything from God anymore. We are eager to be totally at his disposal.”
That’s what Maria wants. And she wants to know how she can know if she’s doing it. She wants to know, “How can I know if I’m fully surrendered, if I’m fully loving God with all my heart, if I’ve renounced everything for him? I want to love nothing more than I love Jesus. I want to love God with not just a part of my heart but all of my heart. I want to treasure Jesus more than everything in the world.” How can she know if her heart has arrived at this kind of full surrender, full allegiance, full affection?
Am I Deluding Myself?
Now, I have to say something very sobering even before I make some suggestions about how to move toward the enjoyment of this assurance that you are surrendered. This is very sobering. Let it sink in. None of us will ever get to a point in our Christian maturity where it is not possible, theoretically, to doubt the authenticity of our surrender. In other words, it is theoretically possible, no matter what you say or what you do, to think you might be a fake. You might not be totally surrendered, no matter what you have done.
Think of it: Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Wow. If you can actually — not just theoretically, but actually — give your life, and yet not be really loving, not fully surrendered to love, then how easy it is to imagine that dozens of behaviors less than the ultimate sacrifice will not give you a sense of assurance that you have surrendered all.
Is it not shocking? It is to me. Oh my goodness, this is shocking: to realize that John Piper could actually have the courage to be burned at the stake, and in those last horrible moments, with the flames licking in pain at my skin, to have the thought enter my mind: “You’re not real, Piper. You’re not really surrendered. You’re not a real Christian. You just want to be remembered as famous. You’re just a fake. You’re just trying to earn your salvation.” That’s a scary thought, or as I said, sobering. We never get beyond the theoretical possibility of doubting our full surrender. You can always say, “Maybe I’m deluding myself. Maybe I’m deluding myself.”
Three Steps Toward Full Assurance
So, what do we do? Live in perpetual doubt and fear of failing in the very thing Jesus requires of us? “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). It’s not optional. Have we surrendered the love of father and mother? Have we surrendered the love of son and daughter to the extent that Jesus is loved supremely? What do we do?
It’s clear to me, really clear, that the New Testament does not want us to live in such fear. It doesn’t want us to lay down our head every night and say, “Well, I have no idea whether I was real today or not.” I would say three things. I’m basically giving you how I fight this battle as I see it laid out in Scripture in three steps.
1. Speak the truth of full surrender.
Say to Jesus, and mean it with as much truthfulness as you can, “I love you, Jesus. I love you more than I love anyone.” Say it. Say it out loud — around people or not around people. Say it out loud: “I surrender all other loves as subordinate to you. I ask that if there is any self-deceit in my saying this, you would take it away. At any cost, take it away, and cause me to speak truly and authentically.”
“Ask your heavenly Father that he would work the miracle of Romans 8:16 in your life.”
I say things like that to the Lord regularly. I express my love to him, my allegiance to him, my trust. And then, very honestly, I admit to him that my heart is deceitful, there are hidden faults, and would he please kill in me all that is contrary to my confession of my surrender, and make me pure and truthful. You may be surprised how the verbal, out-loud declaration of your full surrender, full allegiance, and full trust intensifies the very thing you are affirming.
That’s number one: say it out loud, and ask God to kill everything in you contrary to what you’re saying.
2. Act the truth of full surrender.
The first one was say, and the second one is act on some godly inclinations that he gives you, which might stretch your competency or confidence so that you have to throw yourself on his mercy and power to help you more than if you didn’t do the act. And say to him, in the doing of it, that you are not trying to negotiate or earn anything. Ask him to give you the power and the love to do it in the name of Jesus, authentically, so that he gets the glory.
And you may be surprised that in the actual doing of acts of surrender, with that kind of prayer, the reality of the surrender becomes more authentic.
3. Pray for the gift of assurance of full surrender.
This is the ultimate bottom line: since the confidence that you are acting in full surrender can always be doubted — theoretically, it can always be doubted — ask your heavenly Father that he would work the miracle of Romans 8:16 in your life: that he would take away the doubt, just take it away.
You can’t make it go away. The more you focus on telling it to go away, the more you think about it. It’s like, “I will not think about white elephants; I will not think about white elephants.” Nothing you do can make it go away. But he can take it away. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).
- Speak the truth of full surrender.
- Act the truth of full surrender.
- Pray for the gift of assurance of full surrender.