|Twelve different artistic representations of Jesus. Image source.|
What is that one thing? It's your understanding of the definition of "surrender to Jesus."
Back when I was a good evangelical, I worked hard every day to surrender my life, 100%, to Jesus. But as it turns out, I wasn't actually surrendering to Jesus, but to one particular version of Jesus. This was a Jesus who was very concerned about my friends going to hell, so he wanted me to go out and do evangelism, start conversations and try to "lead them to Christ." It was a Jesus who believed in purity culture- he had a plan for my life, and it definitely meant I should have as little sexual/romantic experience as possible before being married to the guy that Jesus picked for me. It was a Jesus who loved me with a fierce, possessive love, who monitored my every thought and was jealous and angry whenever I was selfish, proud, or otherwise sinful. It was a Jesus who believed that my very nature was sinful, who was helping me become less of me and more of him.
I surrendered to him by waking up early every day to read my bible and pray. I surrendered to him by praying and praying and praying for my "unsaved" friends- that God would "open their eyes" and that they would "see their need for him." I took risks in evangelism. I asked people awkward personal questions about religion. I started bible study groups and invited my friends. And I prayed and prayed and prayed so much for their salvation.
I surrendered to him by worshiping, by singing and raising my arms and not caring what people thought. I surrendered to him by praying in desperation whenever I had a crush. I needed a "yes" from God before I would be allowed to "act on" my feelings. I surrendered by shutting down those feelings, viewing them as temptation. No, I wouldn't give in to the temptation. I would trust God and obey the rules, and he would bring me the future husband he destined for me. And when that happened, I would surrender to Jesus by submitting to my husband. The Jesus I followed believed that the husband is the spiritual leader.
I surrendered by wearing modest clothes. The Jesus I followed believed my body was dangerous and that I needed to protect men from it.
I surrendered by believing that my needs didn't matter, that I had to always "consider others better than myself", always put others first, or else I'm selfish. If I wanted something and felt sad when I couldn't have it, that meant I wasn't "content in God", and that was a sin. I surrendered by telling myself it was wrong to have those kinds of emotions. God is always with me, and God is all I need.
At the time, it was obvious to me that all of the above were what "surrender to Jesus" meant. I was only aware of one version of Jesus- the one I met in the white American evangelical church. Yes, I knew there were other so-called Christians who believed other things about Jesus, but those were "liberals" who "watered down the gospel" because they cared too much about "the world." Obviously their version of Jesus was not the real Jesus.
But then I started reading what other Christians had to say. I found that they weren't "led astray by the world", that they loved the bible just like I did and were doing their best to follow God. But they believed in a different Jesus. A Jesus who didn't think men were meant to be leaders and women were not. A Jesus who wasn't going to automatically send non-Christians to hell. A Jesus who never claimed that following the purity rules was "God's way of dating", never told people they should "wait for God's best" instead of asking someone out. A Jesus who believes that our emotions matter, that mental health is a real thing and it's bad to force ourselves not to have emotions. A Jesus who wants us to stand up for ourselves instead of "submitting" when people treat us badly. A Jesus who gave his blessing to same-sex marriages. A Jesus who believes that racism is a real problem in the US. A Jesus who cares more about helping people than about the exact words of the bible.
I found that, across cultures and across time, Christians have had different interpretations of who Jesus is and what Jesus wants us to do- in other words, different definitions of "surrender to Jesus." And I had to investigate their ideas and decide which one I agreed with. Did you catch that? I had to investigate. I had to decide.
I needed to choose which Jesus I believed in before I could "surrender to Jesus." And that's a choice that, by definition, Jesus cannot help me with. It's a choice that I have to make for myself. Or, actually, I could let another person make it for me; I could choose a pastor and do whatever they say. I'm sure I could find a pastor who would tell me that by obeying them (and sending them money), I'm actually obeying God. Still, I would be the one choosing to use their definition of Jesus. It's still not Jesus making that choice for me.
Back when I was a good evangelical, it was so obvious what "surrender to Jesus" meant. It was so obvious what I was supposed to do if I loved God and wanted to follow God. But now I see that it's not obvious at all. So many Christians have so many different interpretations, and I have to choose which one I believe. It's not possible to submit 100% to Jesus, because Jesus can't help me make the decision of which Jesus I follow.
And even after I choose which Jesus I believe in, I know there will be some parts I'm wrong about. We're not perfect- all Christians have some misconceptions in their understanding of who God is. So even when I choose which version of Jesus I follow, I still shouldn't submit 100% to them. I still need to leave myself a little room to disagree with that Jesus, because they're not the real Jesus, and if they want me to do something that seems really wrong, I have to be able to say no. I hope the version of Jesus I believe in is a close enough approximation of the real Jesus, but who can say? If I find this Jesus is horribly wrong about something, I need the freedom to switch allegiance to a better approximation of the real Jesus. I can't submit 100%.
So if you want to surrender your life to Jesus, first ask yourself, who is Jesus? There are many different possible answers to that question, and surrender looks very different depending on which one you believe in. And that will always be a decision you have to make for yourself. Jesus can't make it for you.