A Christian businessman asked, “How do I yield, and submit control of my life, when all my background, my teaching, and my role models have taught me the opposite?”
This is a good question. Our experience teaches us the opposite of trusting, yielding, and submitting. Instead, most of us are taught:
- Do unto others before they do unto you.
- Take charge.
- Success comes through intimidation.
- God helps those who help themselves.
- If you don’t look after yourself, no one else will.
- You are the master of your own destiny; you create your own reality.
- Control the situation or the situation will control you.
We hear Paul’s encouragement to the Ephesians (5:18) and to the Romans (6:11–14; 12:1–2), as well as the words of James’s epistle (4:7–8), urging us to trust, yield, and submit to God.
Biblical Encouragement to Trust, Submit, and Yield
“… be filled with the Spirit …” (Ephesians 5:18)
“… do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:13)
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7–8a)
But the real question is how do we do these things? What keeps us from doing them? And what might happen if we really trust, yield, and submit to God?
There are three obstacles that keep us from coming to Christ, and they’re the same barriers that keep us from yielding to, trusting in, and submitting to Him on an ongoing basis:
- The emotional barrier: Is it safe to trust God?
- The intellectual barrier: Does it make sense to trust God?
- The volitional barrier: Am I able to trust God?
The Emotional Barrier: Is It Safe to Trust God?
Do you remember your reaction when you first yielded your life to Christ? Did you laugh or cry tears of joy? Did you feel released and free? That moment was probably as yielded as you will ever be on this earth; hence the emotional response. Consider for a moment 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
After our conversion experience, our inner person matures and grows, but our flesh is neither removed nor improved. It is always telling us, “You’d better take charge.”
How do we stay yielded to God? The most important thing is to realize that once we come to Christ, the barriers do not disappear. They are ongoing.
At the Windy Gap youth camp in Weaverville, North Carolina, there is a trapdoor at the end of the high ropes course. Climbers think they will go down the wire smoothly. But when the lever is pulled, they have a 20-foot free fall. A Baptist preacher was heard to yell, “Oh, [expletive]!” What happens when the trapdoor opens in your life? How will you respond?
Five Assurances for Trusting
The following are five assurances that will help you overcome the emotional barrier to yielding to Him, even in those free-fall moments.
- You can be secure in God’s love, which is a demonstrated love, a sacrificial love, and a caring love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10, 19).
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
- You can be assured of God’s intentions—that He has your best interests at heart (Jeremiah 29:11–13; Hebrews 12:10).
He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Hebrews 12:10b)
- You can be confident in God’s ability to handle your problems (Job 38–41).
I know that You can do all things. (Job 42:2a)
- You can be comforted by God’s commitment (Psalm 46:1; Luke 15:11–32).
God is … a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
- You can count on God’s promise (Joshua 1:5; Deuteronomy 31:6; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).
I will not fail you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5)
In the world, seeing is believing, but in Christ, believing is seeing. We overcome the emotional barrier when we believe that it is safe to yield to God.
In the world, seeing is believing, but in Christ, believing is seeing.
The Intellectual Barrier: Does It Make Sense to Trust God?
Whereas the emotional barrier says it is not really safe to trust God, the intellectual barrier says it really doesn’t make sense to trust God. The emotional barrier dealt with bad experiences, but the intellectual barrier deals with bad teaching.
Christian author A.W. Tozer acknowledged the paradoxes of a believer’s life and thinking:
A real Christian is an odd number, anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels the worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passeth knowledge.1
Much of the ministry of Jesus was devoted to correcting bad teaching; see, for example, Matthew 5:21 on murder, 5:27 on adultery, and 5:33 on oaths. Consider some of the teachings of the world, such as “Never give a sucker an even break,” or “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Contrast these with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12), which define a path to spiritual happiness and true significance totally contrary to what we’re normally taught. Jesus says we are blessed, for instance, when we relinquish pride and maintain a mindset of meekness. He isn’t appealing to the irrational, but to a higher truth. This is similar to how the higher law of aerodynamics supersedes the “lower” law of gravity for a hang glider.
Four Reasons to Trust
So what are some reasons we can and should trust God, the holder of this higher reason and truth? Here are four reasons it makes sense to trust God.
1. Trusting God gives us a better perspective. Trust in God is a mindset focused on a higher truth (Isaiah 55:7–9). It’s wrong to say, “Christians aren’t better—they’re just different.” We really become better people when we trust God and have His perspective (Jeremiah 29:11–13). (Of course, this is not our own doing, but Christ’s, “so that no one may boast,” as Ephesians 2:9 says.) Contrast this with Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Consider the prayer of an unknown Confederate soldier that appeared in a journal in April 1862:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.}
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.2
2. Trusting God gives us direction. “If I only had direction,” is a common lament we hear every day. But this is exactly what God promises to do when we trust Him:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5–6)
3. Trusting God gives us confidence. I’m not speaking about a flesh-driven confidence or confidence in the wrong things, like money or possessions, or wrong motives (see James 4:3). Rather, this is a confidence rooted in God and His Word. Acts 17:11 points to the Bereans as exemplifying this type of confidence: “These [Berean Jews] … received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
By contrast, false confidence looks something like this: A man adopted an investment strategy that involved a legitimate arbitrage and guaranteed him a $60,000 profit with no risk. Halfway through the contract, he decided to remove the hedge, because he thought interest rates couldn’t go any higher, but they immediately did. The $60,000 profit became a $200,000 loss. The man would have done well to consult Proverbs 28:20, which reminds us, “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished.”
4. Trusting God gives us true success. Proverbs 15:22 advises, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” Trusting God is not always nebulous, emotional, or unquantifiable. God often speaks to us through His people.
The Volitional Barrier: Am I Able to Trust God?
If you overcome the emotional barrier (is it safe to trust God?) and the intellectual barrier (does it make sense to trust God?), one more barrier still remains. The volitional barrier asks, Is it possible to trust God?
The natural gravity of the flesh pulls us away from grace toward law-based living. This gravity is like a built-in magnet that draws us toward controlling, creating, and manipulating. Have you ever wondered why we get caught in the same sins over and over again? In addition to natural gravity, Satan uses the same methods repeatedly—and they work much of the time.
Here are three tools Satan uses to keep us ineffective on the volitional level:
1. The flesh. The NIV Bible translation wrongly translates the flesh as the “sinful nature.” We therefore get a confused view of what the flesh is, with different meanings of “sex” depending on the context. Romans 7:14 uses the term “flesh” to refer to human needs for food, security, sex, rest, and the like. Examples abound in the Bible where we see these needs of the flesh “take over,” leading to sin.
- Esau’s Hunger (Genesis 25:29–34): Esau was very hungry and tired upon returning from the field one day. His basic need for food had gone unmet, causing discomfort. His flesh took over (who of us can’t relate?), a demanding spirit surfaced, and he foolishly sold his birthright to his brother Jacob. (Jacob then fed the famished Esau, who later “despised his birthright.”)
- Saul’s Insecurity (1 Samuel 13; 18–end): Like hunger, our bodies can send us good signals (e.g., about impending danger), but these signals can be problematic if they take over and create a distorted picture of our situation that doesn’t take God and His promises into account. When he became king, Saul began to see everything as a threat against himself. His extreme need for security led to anxieties regarding Samuel the prophet as well as Jonathan and David (leading him to attack the latter two).
- Samson’s and David’s Sexual Drives (Judges 14–16; 2 Samuel 11–12): Samson missed his purpose because his sexual drives led him to liaisons with foreign women. David, in his adultery with Bathsheba, also illustrates what happens when sexual drive takes over.
- The Sluggard (Proverbs 24:30–34): Our bodies were made to need periods of rest, but the sluggard overindulges in this basic need, leading to both spiritual and physical consequences: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man” (verses 33–34).
2. The world. The Bible uses the word “world” in several ways, but I’m referring here to the world system: the organized system of temporal values that are opposed to the life of Christ in a believer.
Here’s an illustration from modern life: A man buys Car and Driver magazine to read an article on a Saturn. He sees a nearby article about another, nicer car. Soon, he finds himself looking into purchasing a limited edition of one of these nicer cars, rationalizing that its features make it “the one he really needs.” The desire for reliable transportation isn’t wrong, but the world system tempts us to spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.
Another illustration: David L. Paul was president of CenTrust Bank in Florida. To impress customers, he started out with a nice building, but he ended up with $14,000 gold bathroom fixtures. The bank later folded, the federal government seizing its assets for “excessive and inappropriate expenses and investments.”3
3. The devil. Satan has three desires for us. First, he wants us to behave as if we are dead or lost (Ephesians 2:1–3; 1 Corinthians 3:3), so that people can’t tell the difference between believers and nonbelievers. Second, he wants us to think as if we are blind (2 Corinthians 4:2–3). Third, he wants us to live as if we are captives (Romans 7:21–25).
Ephesians 2:1–3 explains the interrelationship among these three tools that work against the life of Christ in us and present the volitional barrier to our trust in Him. The world system is shaped by the manifestations of the flesh and satanic warfare (the devil), which together seek to appeal to and entice the flesh.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Ephesians 2:1–3)
What are we to do about all of this? How should we then live, as Francis Schaeffer put it?
As with many of God’s principles, the answer is simple, but not necessarily easy. Galatians 5:16 calls us to “walk in the Spirit.” The Greek word for “walk,” peripateo, means “to walk around, to conduct oneself.”
Walking is a step-by-step process, a sequencing process of behaving habitually. We’re to make a choice—to make up our mind whether to trust and serve God or not, and then act accordingly.
Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21)
“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The people answered and said, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods …” (Joshua 24:15–16)
For practical tips on walking by the Spirit every day, download the free online training guide A Guide to Practicing God’s Presence.
Turning Toward God
In our choices, we don’t so much turn to evil as we turn from God. Similarly, repentance is not so much a matter of turning from evil as much as it is a matter of turning to God.
The absence of God’s restraining grace is produced when we begin to turn from God’s will for our life to our own will for our life—giving in to the natural gravity of the flesh. This is what the Israelites did when, out of a desire to “be like all the nations,” they insisted on an earthly king (1 Samuel 8:20). Ignoring the will and warning of the One who knew what’s best for them, they finally got the king they wanted—and the results weren’t pleasant (see 1 Samuel 8:9–18). Choosing our own way over God’s is always a losing option.
The question is, which way are you turned? Are you turned toward God in an attitude of prayer and trust? Are you hiding His Word in your heart? Are you yielding to His Spirit? Even when life isn’t going our way, we can still trust Him and turn to Him. In fact, there’s nowhere else we can go; as the apostle Peter said, true life—eternal life—is with Him alone.
The choice is yours.
For a beautiful example of how to turn toward God, read King David’s words in Psalm 8.
- Tozer, Root of the Righteous (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1955), 156.
- Quoted by permission of Dr. Howard A. Rusk from Soterie, Journal of the Protestant Christian Medical Organization of the Netherlands, vol. 12 (December 1961). Accessed from BBC, October 26, 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/blackcountry/features/2003/12/creed.shtml.
- Myra MacPherson, “The Banker’s Toppled Tower,” Washington Post, March 19, 1990. Accessed February 7, 2018, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1990/03/19/the-bankers-toppled-tower/77b1be32-d493-4065-a68f-f88d3158a366/?utm_term=.271178f34311.