Nothing Less



Thando Malambo

“You’re graduating from Harvard only to work full-time in campus ministry?”


“For the rest of your life?”

“Maybe. All I know is that this is where God wants me now.”

“So, what about your chemistry degree? Your research? Your dreams? Your career?”

Those are the kinds of questions I got every time people asked me what I wanted to do with my life. The closer I got to graduation, the more pressing the questions became. I always answered with a deep sense of conviction; there was never any doubt in my mind that God had called me to this. Nor had I ever looked back with regret at what I was “giving up” for ministry.

That is, until commencement week in May 2010, when the reality of the “sacrifice” I was making hit me with full force. As I mingled with Harvard alumnae from different parts of the world, I was bombarded with the apparently prestigious opportunities that a Harvard degree could offer. I suddenly found myself wondering why God had led me otherwise.

When the pomp and circumstance of commencement was over, I walked to my room in a daze, fighting back tears. I couldn’t believe the thoughts that were running through my head. What was wrong with me? Why was I so filled with regret? Had I really been called into ministry? What was I so afraid to give up?

That experience is an all-too-common one in the Christian life. When the will of God leads us to those altars of sacrifice, we question His wisdom and self struggles to surrender. Yet Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Those words imply that if we’ve surrendered ourselves to God, we must always ask, “What will You have me do, Lord?” Once His will is revealed, unquestioning obedience is imperative. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it thus:

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die … death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man [or nature] at his call. Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. [1]

Indeed, only the man who is dead to his own will can followChrist. The kind of death described here is nothing less than a yielding of our own will and total surrender to Christ’s will. It means allowingChrist’s will to dictate what we do in every sphere of our lives. Christianity is thus about total abandon to Jesus Christ; there are no two ways about it.

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. Jesus makes this summons on the premise of His own example; He is the model of complete surrender. This cannot be understood apart from a clear conception of who Jesus is. John begins his gospel by introducing three vital facts about the Word. First, this Word was in the  beginning, meaning that He is eternal and pre-existent. Second, He was with God, meaning that He is a distinct person of the Godhead. Third, He was God, meaning that He is divine. Thus John here introduces the preexistent,
eternal and divine Word. Furthermore, this Word is Creator and life-giver, for “without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:4).

Having painted a picture of this Word, John identifies Him: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). The eternal, pre-existent and divine Word is none other than Jesus Christ. He is God, He is Creator and He is life. His divinity is definitively affirmed in other parts of Scripture. He is the “brightness” of the Father’s glory and the “express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3).

In Christ “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 1:9). He is the “Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Yet He came down from heaven to be our Immanuel, God with us. The Gospels tell the story of the man, Christ Jesus, who was the son of God. He walked the earth and was as fully God as He was fully
human. It is this that the apostle Paul calls the mystery of godliness: that God was “manifest in the flesh, justified in the Sprit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Thus the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. While on earth, His life was an outworking of His Father’s will, not His own. He came “in the volume of the book” not to do His own will but the will of the Father (Hebrews 10:7). Jesus’ meat was to “do the will of Him that sent” Him and to “finish His work” (John 4:34). He came down from heaven not to do His own will (John 5:30; 6:38). He spoke the things which the Father taught Him (John 8:28). He always did those things that pleased His Father (John 8:29). He worked the works of the Father (John 9:4). He kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10).

Indeed, His was a life of complete and radical surrender. He always did “as the Father gave Him commandment” (John 15:31). Nor did He submit to His Father’s will only in the good things. The Bible records that being “found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians
2:8). He sweated great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane on His way to the cross; He was troubled and exceedingly sorrowful. The weight of suffering was enough to make anyone turn back, but Christ’s surrender weathered the excruciating pain. Nothing could deter Him from the path of obedience to His Father’s will. The anguished cry was wrung from His lips: “If this cup cannot pass from me except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

Even more amazing is the reality that He didn’t have to endure any of this at all. When He was being beaten, bruised and spat upon on His way to the cross, He had the power to put an end to His own suffering. He could have done that because He was as fully God as He was fully human. Yet He chose to choose His Father’s will; He chose to surrender His rights; He chose to die to self. Thus He drank the cup of death on the cross that His Father had given Him (John 18:11). “Not My will but Thine, Father” was the constant prayer of His heart. In this way Jesus set the ultimate example of unreserved surrender to God.

In a beautiful exposition of this completely surrendered life, Paul writes that “He made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). The word translated “servant” in this verse is the Greek word doulos, which literally means “slave” or bondman. This is the word Paul uses in Romans 1:1 when he calls himself a “servant” of Jesus Christ. The word doulos describes one who voluntarily gives himself up to another’s will. So when Paul calls himself a slave of Jesus, he means that He has completely given himself up to the will of Christ. Following in the footsteps of his Redeemer, he has prayed the
prayer, “Not my will but Thine.”

In that totality of surrender, Paul does not stand alone. Many others referred to themselves as slaves of Jesus Christ. Among them are Timothy (Philippians 1:1), Epaphras (Colossians 2:12), James (James 1:1), Peter (2 Peter 1:1), Jude (Jude 1:1) and John (Revelation 1:1). Even at the end of time, those who are redeemed are referred to as slaves of God: “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (Revelation 22:3). The word translated servant here is the word doulos in the Greek. Thus the concept of a mind completely surrendered to the will of God, a doulos mind, emerges as central to Christianity. As a matter of fact, in the context of Christ’s example, this doulos mindset is the only one that makes sense.

Not only is total surrender the call of Christianity, it also holds the key to victorious Christian living. The word doulos appears in Romans 6:16, 17, 19 and 20. The use of the word doulos in these verses implies that in our natural state we are enslaved to sin. The solution to that terrible condition is to switch masters, to become slaves of righteousness and slaves of God rather than slaves of sin. Indeed, one who is made free from sin becomes a servant (doulos) of God (Romans 6:22). Notice that in the context of Romans 6 we are enslaved regardless; either we are slaves to God or we are slaves to sin. Either we yield our members as instruments to God or we yield them to sin (Romans 6:13). The choice is ours, and there is neither gray zone nor middle ground. Given that Romans 6:23 declares that the “wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life,” the most sensible choice would be to yield oneself in unqualified surrender to God.

Complete submission after the pattern of Christ is thus not an option, it is imperative. If we are to be true Christians, if we are to be true disciples of Christ, if we are to gain any kind of victory over the sins that enslave us, we must begin by making an unmitigated surrender of the heart, mind and life to the will of God. Succinctly stated, “The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought. The yielding of self, surrendering all to the will of God, requires a struggle; but the soul must submit to God before it can be renewed in holiness.” 2

Sin must be completely abandoned and a new master, Jesus, chosen. The entire being must be yielded to His control so that He can work in it to “will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). That is the simple heart of Christianity.

Total Abandon
This kind of utter resignation to the will of God is only hard because most of us have things that we think we cannot give up for God. For me, that idol was Harvard. It was the one thing about which I had said, “Lord, I’ll give you anything but this.” When I was struggling to surrender during that depressing commencement week in May, I was impressed to study the cross again. As my understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and submission deepened, the question was pressed home to my heart: “Thando, if God wills that you give up Harvard for the sake of the gospel, what is that to you? You’ve either surrendered or you haven’t.”

Reflecting on it now, I know that my struggle to surrender was nonsensical. God is no respecter of Harvard degrees. When I get to heaven, it will not matter that I went to Harvard. The only reason why Harvard will matter is if, when I get to heaven, I can say to God, “Father, because I went to Harvard, here are the souls that came into
the kingdom!” That is the only way in which my Harvard education will make a difference for eternity. If God was calling me to give it up, He certainly knew how He was going to use it for His glory. Why, then, was surrender so hard?

Perhaps I was afraid to trust the heart of God. I think sometimes we have a hard time surrendering all to the will of God because we think He doesn’t have our best interest at heart. Yet contrary to our selfish misconceptions, the will of God is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God is neither trying to hurt us nor ruin our happiness. Total surrender to His will is the best possible choice we could ever make.

God does not require us to give up anything that it is for our best interest to retain. In all that He does, He has the wellbeing of His children in view … Man is doing the greatest injury and injustice to his own soul when he thinks and acts contrary to the will of God. No real joy can be found in the path forbidden by Him who knows what is best and who plans for the good of His creatures. The path of transgression is the path of misery and destruction. [3]

Man is doing the greatest injury and injustice to his own soul when he thinks and acts contrary to the will of God.” That alone ought to be enough to compel us to submit. Yet the beauty of the word doulos is that it implies a voluntary surrender: Jesus chose to submit to the Father’s will, as did Paul and many other giants of faith.

Consequently, if we’re going to come to God, we must come prepared to give Him our all. It’s that simple because He will accept “nothing less than absolute surrender of the mind, the heart, the will, the strength, the entire being, to His control.”4 He couldn’t accept anything less than unqualified surrender, because to do that would be to leave us in slavery to sin. This is because in the context of Romans 6 there is no middle ground: he that is not a slave to God is a slave to sin.

It would thus be logical to conclude that a Christian who is not completely surrendered to the will of Christ is no Christian at all; for to be Christian is to be Christ-like and to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). Christ’s footsteps go down the path of radical abandon to the will of God. Those who expect to endure to the end must and will
follow His example, no matter the consequences. They will “come and die,” for God expects and deserves nothing less. A No Turning Back experience requires this doulos mindset. Reckless abandon is just that; an inch from the altar is an inch too far.

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York: Macmillan, 1963, p. 99
2 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 43
3 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 46
4 Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, Volume 7, p. 164