surrender or commit? servant or slave?

I’m about to give you a  long passage from a book I’m reading.  It is long for a post, I know, I’ve got to type it! But it is paradigm shifting stuff.  Take the time, read it, and let me know what you think.

From Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s book Surrender:

Romanian pastor and Christian leader Josef Tson was exiled from his native country in 1981, after experiencing prolonged persecution at the hands of one of the most repressive Communist regimes in history.  He immigrated to the United States, where he ministered for nearly a decade, until he was able to return to his homeland, where he continues serving today.  Though his academic and professional credentials are impressive, Josef did not offer a printed bio sketch. Rather, this articulate, Oxford-educated theologian, who had suffered so greatly for his faith, said simply, “I wish to be introduced as a ‘slave of Jesus Christ.”

During his years in exile, Josef was taken aback by some of the traits of evangelical Christianity in the United States that were foreign to what he had experienced in Eastern Europe.  As he studied the historical development of American evangelicalism, he discovered that those contemporary characteristics were the fruit of a series of spiritual paradigm shifts.

The first of these changes took place at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the nineteenth-century emphasis on holiness shifted to a desire for uplifting, ecstatic experiences.

A second change took place in the 1950s and 1960s, which Josef identifies as a “shift from the call to full surrender to the call to commitment.”  He explains the difference this way:

    Christian surrender means that a person lifts his or her hands and says to God, “Here I am, I surrender, You take over, I belong to You; You dispose of me.”

But this is America, the county of independent people! This is the place of “Nobody should command me! . . . I belong only to myself!”

A call to surrender, even more, to full surrender, simply doesn’t go well with such people. Therefore, the preachers, who wanted “results,” and wanted them in big numbers, felt (and gave in to) the temptation to soften the demand, to reduce the cost, to make the message more “palatable.” And they the word “commitment.”

You see, commitment means “I engage myself to do something for you,” or ever lighter, “I promise to do something for you,” but I remain myself and may keep my promise of not. We can speak of weaker or stronger commitment, but be it as strong as possible, it still is my independent self that engages itself in a tentative promise.

This subtle change pave the way for other shifts in the Christian culture. Josef Tson goes on to say:

One of them came quietly, almost unobserved, through the new versions of the Bible. Translators did not like the term “bondslave” to be applied to people.  Who wants to be somebody’s slave? Therefore, they replaced it with “servant.” Again, a reflection and demand of the independent spirit!

In the Greek, “slave” is doulos,  “servant” is diakonos. In the Greek Bible on never, never diakoneo to God–one never serves God; one only douleo to God–that is, one slaves to God.

Jesus makes it clear in Luke 17 that however much you do for God, at the end of the day you say: “I am an unworthy slave; I only did what is the duty of the slave to do!” But all that is gone now, by the replacement of the word “slave” with the word “servant.”

As Josef Tson point out, slavery is a concept we resist in the West. We can barely swallow the idea of a servant, but the word slave sticks in our through–as it should, if we were speaking of coerced or involuntary slavery of a person who is owned against his will by another. That is an abhorrent relationship between two individuals, both of whom are created in the image of God. but it is absolutely appropriate that human beings should choose to be the slaves of the Lord Jesus, whom they love and long to serve for all their lives.



Am I  surrendering or committing? I think of all those years I sang “I surrender all” at summer camps, or during invitations.  Too me, the word surrender brings to mind defeat. If I surrender,  I’m admitting I can’t do it alone . . .

Am I a slave or servant?  Am I choosing to be absolutely subject to the will of God or am I merely performing services for Him?


One thought on “surrender or commit? servant or slave?

  1. When I read that comment in the book it has completely changed my thinking process. It has revolutionized Jeff’s and my lives. We have shared it with many people. Surrendered is my life goal and what I would want on my tombstone. There are no more dramatic guilt trips for not acheiveing my commitments and the ups and downs of my success is gone, they were all focused on me. I either surrender of not, then I have to confess and try again, but the self part has been omitted. Of course not permanently, that would be nice, but not like it was – I have surrendered, no matter what!!!

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