The act of surrendering is very difficult for those who realize that the battle is lost. In his book No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda tells a fascinating tale of being one of the last Japanese-born soldiers to surrender in World War II.
Onoda had been stationed on Lubang Island in the Philippines when it was taken over by U.S. forces in February 1945. Almost all of his comrades were killed or captured, but Onoda and several other men hid deep in the jungle. While his fellow evaders were eventually killed, Onoda held out for 29 years, dismissing every attempt to coax him out of the jungle as a trick.
His primary motivation for not surrendering was his devout belief in the Japanese military code of discipline and honor. Because of this, he had been ordered by his superiors to never leave his post until he received a specific order enabling him to do so.
In 1974, the Japanese government sent its commanding officer to Lubang to order Onoda to surrender. When Lieutenant Onoda stepped out of the jungle to accept the order, he did so in his dress uniform and sword, with his rifle still in operating condition. Even in surrender he maintained his discipline and retained his honor.
This incredible tale of one man’s discipline, honor, evasion, and surrender could be compared to our Christian walk. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are duty-bound to him—purchased by his blood and redeemed from sin—and we are to be disciplined by grace through his teachings, drawing near to him as he drew near to us. As believers, we make Christ a daily priority—but all too often we mix our duty and honor to God with duty and honor to ourselves.
Sometimes we evade being captured by God because doing so would mean surrendering areas of our lives that we like to control. To live the life that God has planned for us, which he promises is best (Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11), we need to wave the white flag of surrender.
But how do we do this?
In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus Christ gives us very clear instructions on how to surrender to his loving authority:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The answer is: Yes! In this passage, there are four challenging but necessary steps to take if we want to lead a surrendered life following Christ our Lord:
The first step is perhaps the hardest one. Please note Christ’s subtle invitation to join him: “If anyone would come after me.” Here is an open invitation to surrender to, and walk through life with, the Creator of the universe and the Savior to sinners.
As wonderful as that sounds, it is hard to do, for surrender goes against the grain of our stubborn, sinful hearts. For a non-believer, it takes admitting that you are a sinner in need of a Savior and embracing Jesus Christ by faith, receiving his eternal, loving grace, which enables a person to surrender in the first place. As for me, it took many years to surrender to him.
For believers, your Christian walk reveals that you have the greatest Advocate (1 John 2:1) and Friend that you will ever have in Jesus (John 15:15). But he has expectations that are for your good, and he lays out some very specific conditions to his disciples on how to follow. This brings us to our next step.
…let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (v. 24b)
The second thing Jesus calls us to do is to “deny ourselves,” which means that we are to surrender self-will and embrace his perfect will. It is daunting task to be sure and one that we are under-powered to do on our own (2 Timothy 1:7).
Think for a moment of your life. Are you living it on your terms? Or are you living it on his terms? When you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you said in essence, “I surrender all to you, Lord.” Can you honestly say that you have done this in all areas of your life?
If you are like me, the answer is No—but I really want to. Take a moment now and pray to the Lord to reveal those areas in your life that you have failed to surrender to him.
The third thing Jesus calls us to do is to “take up his cross” (v. 24b). What does this mean?
As followers of Jesus, we know that we were crucified with Christ on the cross (Galatians 2:20). Because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sins of all mankind, his crucifixion gives us the opportunity for open fellowship with him for all eternity (1 John 1:3). But it also means that we will share in the burden of carrying the cross (Matthew 10:38). We are to seek and follow God’s will no matter the cost (1 Thessalonians. 4:3).
In today’s world, your relationship with God might cost you your family, your friends, your job, or, in some extreme cases, your life. Fortunately for us, Jesus Christ was the perfect model of surrender (John 5:30). Because he loved his Father and us so much, he surrendered his perfect and sinless life to God, making a way for us to enter into fellowship with him (Matthew 26:39).
Believer, will you surrender the self-will that hinders you from having a better relationship with Jesus Christ? Or will you evade capture by his Lordship, holding tight to earthly things that will eventually fade away at the expense of forfeiting all that God has for your soul?
The last thing Jesus asks us to do is to “follow me.” For humans, following anyone is a difficult task—especially when it involves giving up any measure of control.
A perfect example of this is Jesus inviting Andrew and Peter to follow him (Matthew 4:17-19). They left everything behind when they did. Jesus also encouraged the rich, young ruler to follow him (Luke 18:18-23), but he refused to sell everything he owned and thus wouldn’t follow him.
It is tough to follow because we like the feeling of leading. How many of us like to drive behind a slow-moving truck on a two-lane highway? As impatient as we are, it won’t be long before we pass it, thereby enjoying the wide open road ahead of us. How often do we feel that God is moving too slowly, causing us to sprint ahead and leave him behind?
When we do this, we leave the safety of his will for the uncertainty of our own. That usually doesn’t lead anywhere good. Being dedicated followers of Jesus Christ takes strength and wisdom but, more importantly, it requires us to surrender control of lives once and for all to him, the Lord of all creation, for he is the source of such strength and wisdom.
Will you deny yourself, take up his cross, and follow him?
It is worth pondering: Is there any downside to not surrendering?
In verse 25, we see a clear warning for failing to surrender to Christ:
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Quite simply, anyone who seeks to save his life by pursing their own interests and rejecting God’s gift of Jesus Christ will live a shallow, meaningless life devoid of him and an eternity apart from him. While he may choose to bless people with earthly riches, those who reject him will have no place with him in heaven. Hell is full of “wealthy” people who never surrendered any portion of their lives—and especially not their souls—to God in Jesus Christ.
That’s why total surrender to God through faith in his Son is the most important decision a person can make.
In the final analysis, Lieutenant Onoda needed to be coaxed into surrendering. If you have not placed Jesus on the throne over your life, can I encourage you to do that today? Can I encourage you, my fellow believer, to make the choice to surrender all you have to God? I fear that if we, the body of Christ, don’t surrender all, we will be like Lieutenant Onoda and stubbornly stick to man-made duty, honor, and plans that do not draw us closer to God.
Waving the white flag of surrender never looked so good.