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This post is the fifth in the 'Pitfalls of Christianity' Series. Based on quotes from Steps To Christ, it aims to look at the common misunderstandings that many can encounter in the Christian walk. I love this piece as it deals with the difference between our desires and our decisions! —Editor
“Many are inquiring, “How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?” Steps to Christ, 47.
Have you ever had a picture in your mind of someone you have never met but only heard about, and then you meet the person and they look really different to the way you expected? Over the years I have preached internationally and people have picked me up from various airports around the world. Usually it is not a problem as they have seen a picture of me or watched some of my sermons on TV or the internet. But it has happened that people have had a very different picture of me in their mind and therefore had other expectations of what I would look like. For example, a young couple in Austria had been told that I was a missionary. Without having met me, or ever seen a picture of me, they were confident that they would be able to recognise me easily among all the other people arriving at the airport. They envisioned a rather old guy with a beard and wearing sandals. A “real” missionary in their young minds. Those who know me will know that I had to disappoint their expectation.
When Jesus came to this earth the first time He was not recognised as the Messiah. This was not because people were not expecting the arrival of a long awaited Messiah. Anticipation was in the air as the Jewish nation waited for the promise to at last be fulfilled. However, their expectations were widely different than the reality of what He actually looked like.In this case I am not only talking about physical looks, but more importantly about the life and character of Jesus. His demeanour and behaviour did not fit with the largely accepted expectations of a Messiah figure. The disciple John pinpoints this succinctly in the beginning of his account on the life of Jesus when he said, “and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-11).
The problem was not that they had no description of Him. Later Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39). What we call the Old Testament today are the same Scriptures that the Jews possessed and read in the days Jesus walked among them. They had all the prophecies, giving them all the landmarks to discern and recognise the promised one.
False expectations blinded them from recognising Jesus. He simply did not fit into their picture of what a Messiah would be like. Could something similar happen to us as God’s chosen people today?
We all have our expectations of what God is like. Sadly, many are kept back from making a full surrender to Christ and following Him because of a wrong understanding of Him. The tragic reality is that there are millions who desire to be Christians, but in reality have never decided to follow Jesus. In “Steps to Christ”, it is written, “Many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christians”(p.48).
A full surrender to Christ makes the difference between merely desiring Him and actually deciding for Him.
False expectations can hinder this from happening. Take notice how this is described in the same book. “Many are inquiring, “How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?" You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin. Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you…”—Steps to Christ, 47.
Sound familiar? I think we have all been there at times, or perhaps that’s exactly where you find yourself right now. Our expectation of God is that He will not accept us and so we do not make a full surrender to Him. Our expectation of Him is that He will not receive us. And so we are left desiring Him but not deciding for Him. But let us look at how the same quote continues..
“…but you need not despair. What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him.”—Ibid.
Everything depends on the right action of the will. It’s the “how” part in the step of surrender. A full surrender to Christ happens with a full surrender of the will. The promise is that He will then start working in us and our thoughts will be brought into harmony with His.
If we allow Him He will remove our false expectations and open our eyes to truly recognise the revelation of His character given in scripture.
This will lead us to not only desire to be a Christian, but to decide to be a Christian!
Daniel Pel is director and speaker of Living Water ministry.