Promise. Commitment. Surrender.
“God, I really won’t do that anymore. I promise I will read my bible everyday. I will be much nicer to my co-workers, and more patient with my friends.”
“I commit to only depending on you in the future. I’ll never put my hope in my finances again.”
“God, I surrender completely to you. I will never seek my own will, but only yours, from now on.”
Come on, Jake. Really? You are gonna make us feel bad for all these good things? Listen, Jake, these things are indisputably good. They really are. You can’t be a Christian and say that surrendering to God’s will is a bad thing or depending exclusively on God is somehow wrong. I’m done listening to your gloomy, yet extremely well-written, theological “insights” . . .
Wait! Please. Hear me out. And thank you for the generous compliment about how well I write. It’s natural for me, I come from a literate family, yada yada.
Okay, Christian commitments. Just be honest about what you can really do. Also, be willing to accept that what you are capable of in your Christian devotion is significantly less glorious than what you thought it would be.
Have you ever taken a job that you were convinced you could crush, only to find out you have no tolerance for that kind of work? Your Christian duty is fundamentally different.
Have you ever started a relationship with someone you thought you could tolerate, only to find out your well-intentioned commitment couldn’t even last a month? Your relationship with God is fundamentally different.
When you came in the door to the kingdom, God didn’t make you vow your way in. Christ makes a habit of finding the most broken and messed up, the ones who have absolutely nothing to offer in return, in order to emphasize the One-way-ness of his love.
(If you are baptist and liked to describe your salvation with “I committed my life to Jesus,” let the emphasis of committed lean more on the dependence you gave to God for his righteousness, not the glorious, unwavering tenacity of your response. Because, trust me, you really don’t want your salvation riding on you. You’ll be disappointed and convinced God hates you before your mid-life crisis is even full swing.)
But does God really want this brutal honesty from us? Can he handle it? Maybe he does really want our groundless but well-intentioned vows? Does he find glory in the rampant self-delusion of his followers?
When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.
Let’s think about most Christians prayers, which is where the commitments-to-God behavior is most obvious. Our prayers are filled with promises that we make to God, instead of an acceptance of his promise to us. Why? 1) We don’t trust his promise to us, and 2) We are offended by his promise to us.
Why don’t we trust God’s promise?
We have minor doubts even when our closest friends say, “I love you.” When we really think about our relationship with them, all the conflict we have shared, all the times we harbored resentment, we think, how could they really mean that? So much more for God. We have failed God countless times. And yet his promise to us isn’t just “I love you” but, instead, “I love you, no matter what you do, forever.” This. Is. Astonishing.
Why are we offended by God’s promise?
The same reason that whenever someone gets us a nice birthday gift, our first thought before enjoying that gift is, “Wait, what did I get them for their birthday? Was it an equivalent thought/dollar amount?” We are offended by the sheer unconditionality of God’s gift. We really can’t respond, ever. In our relationship with God, we are perpetual receivers, never able to fully shift into the position of giver. God doesn’t really need our gifts. Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
The best way to love God is to receive, while the best way to love our neighbor is to give. In our minds, this sounds a bit crazy, because we are still thinking about that debt we owe God. We really want to just pay it off so we can be free and clear. But Christian liberation is in grateful acceptance, not frantic payback.
We are trapped in transaction thinking. God isn’t going to come to you to collect the debt you owe him. He gives good gifts, without conditions.
Faith in Jesus’ work for you is giving up trying to pay off your debt to God with your commitments. The debt is too great.