A number of years ago, bumper stickers and other merchandise proudly bearing the motto, "God is my co-pilot," became popular. A short time later, astute individuals began promoting an answer to this pithy saying: "If God is your co-pilot, switch seats!"
This little vignette exemplifies two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, we are most comfortable leading the way in whatever charge captures our fancy at the time, trusting—often erroneously—that God is right there with us to ensure success (as we define it). On the other hand is the unassailable truth that, if God is not leading the charge, we are in the wrong role—and dabbling with disaster.
The first approach is the most comfortable, so it is not surprising that its characterizing motto broke onto the scene first. The second feels far more unnatural because it requires us to do something that most people are loathe to do: surrender. Allowing God to direct our life, without continually advising, complaining, recommending, suggesting, and giving input on the details, goes against the natural (carnal) inclination within us. Yet, experience has taught us that it is only when we finally give up, ceding sovereignty to the Almighty—who really had it all along—that things begin moving. Ultimately, matters work out far better with God in control than anything we could accomplish with our limited vision. Truly, the crucial first step on the journey—surrendering—is most often the hardest.
Romans 8:7 gives a succinct portrayal of a carnal mind—the spirit of a carnal man: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." While we may define "law" as codified right and wrong, the "law of God" takes the meaning to a higher level. We might paraphrase this verse as "the carnal mind is not subject to the rule of God," which encompasses far more than just obedience to what has been written down. The rule of God is simply letting God govern His universe—and our lives too. Certainly, this includes obedience to the laws He has instituted for our benefit, but it goes beyond this. A man can be nominally obedient to God's instructions, yet still not be surrendered to the rule of God.
The story of Jonah is about such a man, a prophet who grudgingly complies but never truly surrenders to God's will. Just three verses into the book, he is fleeing from God's presence rather than yielding to His instructions. God reinforces His rule over His creation by sending a mighty tempest to create a crisis, a point of decision on the part of Jonah and the sailors (Jonah 1:4-16). To a degree, Jonah surrenders when he instructs the sailors to cast him overboard, yet it appears to be the capitulation of a man giving up on life rather than giving his life in obedience (Jonah 1:12).
When God commands Jonah a second time, he complies, preaching the message God gave him for the Ninevites (Jonah 3:1-4). However, he becomes angry when God's Word—through him—accomplishes its purpose, and Nineveh repents (see Isaiah 55:11). Jonah is obedient in terms of following orders, but he does not surrender to God's will when things turn out differently than he expects. As when he was on the ship, he would have rather died than to live with circumstances that were not to his liking (Jonah 4:3, 8-9). Up to the abrupt ending of the book, we see a nominally obedient Jonah, yet a man never fully surrendered to the rule of God. The last we see of him, he is in despair over a life that is not according to his terms.
In absolute, stark contrast to Jonah is Jesus Christ, the beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased (Matthew 3:17). He did not seek His own will, but that of the Father (John 5:30). He always did what pleased the Father (John 8:29)—not merely obeying, but surrendering to His Sovereign. He taught His followers to pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Luke 11:2). The night before He surrendered His life for us, He plaintively told His Father, "Not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36); "Your will be done" (Matthew 26:42); and ". . . nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). "I do no want to go through this," He said in essence, "but Father, I surrender."
The outcome of this supreme surrender to God's rule is without parallel. Not only have all things been put under Jesus Christ, but the way was opened for the blotting out of sin and the beginning of the restoration of the relationship between God and man that was fractured in the Garden of Eden. When a man cedes sovereignty to the Almighty, things begin moving and ultimately work out far better than anything that could be accomplished with limited human vision.
The apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:24 that "the church is subject to Christ." An ancillary meaning of this is that the church is composed of those who are subject to Christ. The church—the Body of Christ—consists of those who are subject to the rule of God in all of its implications, and not merely grudgingly obedient. Those who are begotten by the Father are those who, like their Elder Brother, regularly and continually come to the place in their lives where they say, "Father, I surrender. Not my will, but Yours, be done." When we truly give up, we tell God that we are finally ready for Him to act.
- David C. Grabbe