In every journey there is the first step that must be made. If the journey has any hope of being completed, that first step needs to be taken. You may be able to take other shortcuts along the way, but without the first step, the journey won’t even begin.
This is true for many areas of life. To practice the violin the musician needs to set aside what she is doing and pick up the instrument. To write the paper the student needs to research and take notes. To play basketball the athlete needs to spend time shooting baskets to perfect his shot and form.
There is a fundamental act that precedes all others in spiritual formation. That act is the choice to surrender our lives to Jesus Christ.
Dallas Willard wrote:
Those who are not genuinely convinced that the only bargain in life is surrendering ourselves to Jesus and his cause, abandoning all that we love to him, cannot learn the other lessons Jesus has to teach us. They cannot proceed to anything like total spiritual transformation. Not that he will not let us, but that we simply cannot succeed. If I tell you that you cannot drive an automobile unless you can see, I am not saying I will not let you, but that you cannot succeed even if I do. (Renovation of the Heart, p. 66)
Our intentional spiritual formation in Jesus has a clear starting point. That starting point is our choice to surrender our entire life to him. To surrender to Jesus is more than declaring that we believe he is God’s Son who rose from the dead after dying for our sins.
Surrendering to Jesus is the intentional act of laying aside what we believe life is all about, and following Jesus. It is responding to the call he has made on our hearts to follow him, to find our life in that calling, and to trust him to give us the life that we need. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, we trust him, even if he leads us into hardship and death.
If we do not surrender our lives to Jesus, it is impossible for us to experience true spiritual formation. Spiritual formation in Christ requires that we trust him more than we trust ourselves.
Jesus told his disciples:
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. (Matthew 16:24-25; NLT)
The only way to experience the eternal life that comes from spiritual formation is to surrender to Jesus. If we are still preoccupied by holding on to our lives and trying to create the life of our dreams, then we will not follow Jesus wherever he wants us to go. We will question him and hesitate to obey, only following him when it makes sense to us.
This is why surrendering is vital to spiritual formation in Jesus. When we surrender we are declaring that we believe Jesus will give us the true and abundant life we crave. We trust him, even when what he asks us to do seems to be the exact opposite of the life that we want. The trust that is developed through the act of surrendering is crucial to the spiritual formation of our lives.