As mentioned in the last study and as seen in the life of Christ, servanthood is ultimately the outcome of one who, having first surrendered himself to God, is able to give himself sacrificially for God and others. This element of surrender is seen in the single-minded devotion of the Jesus who came to do the will of the One who sent Him and to complete His work (John 4:34). But Christ’s single-minded devotion or commitment to the will of the Father was the result of the surrender of His life and will to the Father’s agenda. Such surrender meant giving Himself sacrificially for our redemption in keeping with the Father’s plan (John 3:16).
Thus, as qualities that characterized the Lord Jesus, surrender and self-sacrifice form two more vital marks of spiritual maturity. These two qualities, however, are here treated together because they are so related as cause and effect or root and fruit. Further, because they are so much a part of the character of Christ and true maturity, they deserve special mention in any list of qualities of spiritual maturity and leadership.
The first step (the root) is surrender. To surrender means to relinquish possession or control to another, to submit to the power, authority, and control of another. The entire New Testament, as summarized in Philippians 2:6-8, shows us that Christ was willing to surrender His rights and prerogatives as the second person of the Trinity to the will and purpose and plan of the Father. Then, out of that surrender came the willingness to sacrifice for God’s plan no matter what the plan called for. Surrender, then, is part of the pathway to maturity and effective Christ-like ministry.
Surrendering to God’s agenda in and through us requires a clear view of the agendas we have prescribed for ourselves. Most people’s lists of things they consider important would include personal peace, happiness, comfort, prosperity, security, friends, good health, fulfilling experiences, and reaching their full potential.
The above list should make the need for our surrender obvious, for those plans often conflict or ignore God’s plan for us. It’s true that God may and often does provide for us measures of peace, prosperity, position, fulfillment, and other things on our lists, but our surrender to God’s plan is a statement that we will not live for these things (emphasis mine). They are not the things that drive us, but are simply side benefits that come through the sovereign pleasure of God.
Let’s never forget the great benefit to God’s glory and kingdom that has come through the lives of thousands of people who have surrendered to agendas beyond their own. Some have gone to faraway lands as missionaries. Mothers have surrendered careers and opportunities for significance to teach their children God’s truth. Fathers have changed careers or turned down promotions that conflicted with God’s will for them or their families. Pastors have faithfully served in out-of-the-way places where no one knows their names or asks them to speak at high-profile conferences.52
The next step (the fruit) that follows surrendering to the God is sacrifice. The aspect of sacrifice is emphasized in Philippians 2:6-8 by the words, “He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!” Surrendering to the Father’s will, He emptied Himself, became man and was found in the form of a servant whereby the Lord Jesus willingly gave Himself sacrificially that God’s will might be fulfilled in and though His life and death. While this involves the mystery of His incarnation and stands far beyond our comprehension, several levels of sacrifice are evident in the Savior’s surrender that set the perfect example for us. His sacrifices actually began when He emptied himself of His privileges and the prerogatives that were His as the second person of the Trinity. In becoming man, He veiled and laid aside the voluntary use and glory of His many attributes as God the Son. Then, in this life on earth, He did without wealth, position, status, and even acceptance in that He was rejected by His own (John 1:11). Unlike the foxes that have their dens and the birds their nests, the Son of Man had no place to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). Ultimately, of course, He made the greatest sacrifice of all in that He who knew no sin became sin for us by dying the ugly and horrible death of the cross—a sentence reserved for the worst of criminals.
The bottom line is this: Christ voluntarily emptied Himself of anything and everything that stood in the way of the glory and gain of His Father through Him.
What about us? Although rights, privileges, pleasures, possessions, expectations, and well-formed plans may not be wrong in and of themselves, are we willing to hold them loosely and even let them go—to sacrifice them—if emptying ourselves of them will enable us to fulfill God’s agenda for our lives?…
Surrendering to God’s agenda may mean sacrificing our children—or our goods, reputation, comfort, convenience, and a whole list of other things we hold so tightly in our hands as well as those things we hope and plan for.53
By sacrificing our children, Stowell was referring to the willingness of parents to give up their children in the sense of seeing them go into some form of full-time service like foreign missions or even some other type of career ministry, something many parents would not consider “solid, stable, and a real job.”
I can well remember when I made the decision to attend Dallas Theological Seminary. I had been raised on a small cattle ranch in East Texas and had a degree in animal husbandry from Texas A&M University. Through my experience on the ranch and my studies at A&M, I was fairly well prepared to manage a cattle ranch. After graduation, I was offered an excellent job working for a large feed company in our area while managing a large ranch. But God had also been at work in my heart and I had become convinced that God’s will for my life was to prepare for the pastorate (shepherding sheep rather than herding cattle) through attending seminary.
My father thought I had lost my mind! He claimed I would be wasting my life, my education at Texas A&M, and did his best to dissuade me. He was almost ashamed of the fact I would be going to seminary rather than taking a job in the market place. Ironically, I was also offered a position with a pharmaceutical company in the Pacific Northwest, and this would have been okay in my dad’s eyes because this job was with a well-know company and came with an excellent compensation package. I would not have been using my training in cattle and pasture management, but that didn’t seem to matter. Though his attitude changed before I finished seminary and my dad became very supportive, at first, before God had worked in his heart, my dad was simply not willing to see his son go into full-time ministry. To him this was a sacrifice he was not readily willing to make.
In your own words, what are some of the principles and imperatives the following passages teach about self-sacrifice as one of the marks of spiritual maturity needed in the Christian life? See Matthew 6:19ff; 10:37-38; 19:29; 16:24; Luke 9:23; 1 Cor. 9:15-23; Rom. 12:1ff; 14:1-15:3; 1 Cor. 8:13; 2 Cor. 4:7-18.
Based on scriptural principles, what are some of the guiding factors and motivations or reasons for the necessity of self-sacrifice in the Christian’s life?
The following are offered as a few principles and challenges drawn from the above listed passages:
(1) The “therefore” in Romans 12:1 shows the call to surrender ourselves as living sacrifices is predicated on the reality of the “mercies of God” described in chapters 1-11. These first eleven chapters of Romans instruct us in God’s plan for sinful man through the saving life and death of Jesus Christ. In other words, in view of all that God has done and is doing for us in Christ, it is illogical for the Christian to do anything else but give his life back in devoted surrender and sacrifice to God.
(2) What a person does with his life depends on the clarity of his vision as to what is truly valuable and lasting. As Jesus made so indelibly clear in the metaphors of Matthew 6:19-24, a man’s heart (his aspiration, desires, pursuits) depends on his treasure, and what he treasures depends on his perspective or insight to life according to biblical and eternal values versus worldly and temporal values. Thus, holding tightly to God’s kingdom values determine priorities which in turn will determine one’s objectives and pursuits—what one is willing to surrender to and sacrifice for. Therefore, one who holds tightly to God’s kingdom values (because of time, testimony, ability, or influence) may often have to say no to many things, even many good things, because they will get in the way of those goals that are based on biblical values and priorities. This is the issue of pursuing what is excellent or best over against what is simply good (see Phil. 1:9f).
One of the obvious qualities of spiritual maturity and leadership so completely possessed by our Lord was His willingness to make sacrifices in accordance with His values, priorities, and objectives as One who was totally surrendered to the will and plan of the Father. This always included surrendering to the Father’s will first, and then the blessing and well-being of others, but neither of these can exist without sacrifices, without counting the costs.
(3) Self-sacrifice means putting the Lord first above self and even family (see Matt. 10:37; 19:29). Without this, no one is free to follow Him and properly influence others for Christ. Sacrifice means “taking up one’s cross” regardless of the cost (Matt. 10:38; 16:24; Luke 9:23). Taking up one’s cross, according to the culture of the day, was an act of submission, a willingness to pay the price and do whatever God asks. Historically and culturally, the analogy of “taking up one’s cross” meant to cease rebelling against the King’s rule and submit to His rule over one’s life.54 In practical terms for the Christian, it means dying to one’s own desires and will in total submission to God to be, go, and do whatever He calls one to do.
One of my wife’s sisters and her husband served for many years in South Africa as missionaries. They then served their mission board here in the states for the past eleven or twelve years. They are now in their fifties, have two married daughters, and are about to be grandparents, yet, they believe God has led them to go to a foreign ministry where Christians are often persecuted, where the weather is hot and humid, and the living conditions anything but ideal by U.S. standards. Because of their faith and surrender to the Savior, they are willing to sacrifice their comforts in the States and seeing their precious little grandchildren grow up. This is a decision that has been extremely painful, but a sacrifice they are willing to make for the Savior and for the lost.
Their sacrifice and that of many others like them reminds me of something a missionary society in South Africa once wrote to David Livingstone, “Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to send other men to join you.” Livingstone replied, “If you have men who will come ONLY if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them.” Livingstone knew that such men would not last when the going really got tough. They simply could not make the needed sacrifices.
Reflecting on your own life, what are some of the things the Lord may be calling on you to sacrifice or give up in order to fulfill His will and purpose or to minister to someone in need? Though the apostle had liberty in Christ to eat meat or to receive financial compensation for his labor in the gospel, he was willing to sacrifice those rights for the glory of God and the spiritual well being of other. Following the declaration of his willingness to so sacrifice (1 Cor. 8:13-9:18), Paul made this statement,
1 Corinthians 9:19-22 For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. 21 To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. 22 To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. 23 I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.
Though we have great liberty in Christ and all things are lawful, having been freed from the bondage of the Law (see 1 Cor. 8:9; 10:23), all things are not profitable or beneficial for the building up of others or even for one’s own spiritual growth. Thus, seeking to glorify God, the biblical position of sacrificial living is seen in the following statement by Paul:
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 “Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. 24 Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person.
For a moment, think about the statement, “Others may, but spiritually mature people who want to have an impact for Christ often cannot afford to.” Though something may not in itself be wrong, it becomes wrong for a believer if it gets in the way of his or her ability to serve and accomplish the will of God. It was not wrong for Paul to receive funds from those to whom he carried the gospel, but in order to show that his motives were pure, he willingly sacrificed that right lest receiving compensation for his work might hinder the impact of his testimony.
Principle: Paying the price through dying to self or self-sacrifice means the power or liberty to make right choices in submission as a servant to God and others.
The issue is, am I willing to deny myself or pay the price so that I am free to follow the Lord and become the person God has saved me and called me to be? Whether one is willing to accept it or not, there is another kind of price tag for those who, for whatever reason, are unwilling to give of themselves for others. No one ever said it better than C. S. Lewis:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.… The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love…is Hell.55
54 See Michael P. Green, “The Meaning of Cross Bearing,” Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 140, April 83, p. 117f. On page 120, Green summarizes the meaning of cross bearing, “It is this writer’s position that the phrase “take up his cross” is a figure of speech derived from the Roman custom requiring a man convicted of rebellion against Rome’s sovereign rule to carry the cross-beam (patibulum) to his place of execution. Thus the proper starting point is the historical basis for the phrase. This starting point, as will be shown, leads to an interpretation that cross-bearing means to submit to the authority or rule one formerly rebelled against, or to obey God’s will.”
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These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study.
The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time. It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.
1. What is the definition of surrender?
2. Why are the marks of surrender and self-sacrifice being discussed together?
3. According to Philippians 2:5-8, how did Jesus Christ demonstrate the act of surrendering?
4. How would you describe your condition of surrender to the will, purpose, and plan of God?
5. What areas of your life have you surrendered to God?
6. Which ones are you still holding onto?
7. Why is it difficult for you to release them?
8. What would it mean for you to “empty yourself” in your act of total surrender to God?
9. Why is sacrifice the “fruit” of surrender?
10. Referring to Philippians 2:5-8, when did Jesus begin His sacrificial life?
11. In what other areas of His life did Jesus make sacrifices?
12. Why do you think He made these additional sacrifices before making His ultimate sacrifice on the cross?
13. In your own words, what are some of the principles and imperatives the following passages teach about self-sacrifice as one of the marks of spiritual maturity needed in the Christian life? (Matthew 6:19ff; 10:37-38; 19:29; 16:24; Luke 9:23; 1 Corinthians 9:15-23; Romans 12:1ff; 14:1-15:3; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18).
14. Based on scriptural principles, what are some of the guiding factors and motivations or reasons for the necessity of self-sacrifice in the Christian’s life?
15. Describe how you live sacrificially in:
16. Reflecting on your own life, what are some of the things the Lord may be calling on you to sacrifice or give up in order to fulfill His will and purpose or to minister to someone in need?
17. What in your life would be most difficult to sacrifice?
Paying the price through dying to self or self-sacrifice means the power or liberty to make right choices in submission as a servant to God and others.
Are you willing to deny yourself or pay the price so that you are free to follow the Lord and become the person God has saved you and called you to be?