The Spiritual Discipline of Renunciation and Resignation
Renunciation refers to the rejection of a person, place, thing, or idea. An alcoholic, seeking a remedy for his vice, may renounce liquor. A nicotine smoker may renounce cigarettes in order to live a healthier life. A soldier, after hearing of the wickedness of his rulers, may renounce his army. A man, after discovering indecency in his betrothed, may renounce their upcoming marriage. Renunciation is the response of persons to that which they perceive to be harmful, undesirable, and contrary to their nature. Renunciation is an essential aspect of the Christian life. The Christian is, according to Jesus, to renounce all things for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matt 16:24-26). The Christian is to renounce the form of this present world, the god of this world, and even his own sinful flesh (1 Jn 2:15-17, 2 Cor 4:4, Rom 8:13). Renunciation, therefore, is the work of the Christian. He is to renounce the world for the sake of Christ. He is called to renounce family members, children, his wife, and even his own life for the sake of Christ (Luk 14:26).
Resignation is, in one sense, the acknowledgment of the inevitable. It is not only the acknowledgment of the inevitable, but a life lived consistently with the reality of necessity. Resignation is an act on the part of persons wherein they yield themselves up to the power and strength of another. Resignation is an essential part of the Christian ethic. God is the Lord of all. Possessing all power, dominion, and authority, all of creation is called to live in humble reliance on Him. The only righteous response of persons dependent on the constant grace of God is the deference of their wills to the great will of the eternal Lord. Theologically, resignation is the dutiful response of persons to the God who is Sovereign. God’s sovereignty refers to His exaltedness, both as to His being and as to His office. As to His being, God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere present. As to His office, He is the Lord of all, the king of the universe. God’s Sovereignty also refers to His absolute control – nothing happens outside the control of God. Every molecule, every atom, every tree, and every person acts the way they do because of the constant and complete control of the Sovereign Lord.
Renunciation in Plato
There is a peculiar ethical doctrine in Plato wherein this present world is to be renounced for the sake of the individual’s salvation. For Plato, this world is the sphere of slavery for the soul. Bound by the worlds pleasures, temptations, and the bodies’ necessities, the mind is kept from that which is truly freeing, the engagement of its rational faculties in Philosophy. Philosophy, for Plato, being inherently abstract, is righteously participated in only when one has forsaken this present life, concerning with the mental realm. The body, due to its temptations and the necessities, keeps one from Philosophy. Through Philosophy, one realizes happiness. And one only realizes Philosophies’ goodness, in himself, through renunciation of the external world.
Christian renunciation differs from that of Plato in that it (1) rejects the present form of this world in a different sense than he did and (2) that it accepts the goodness of created reality in a manner Plato was unwilling to do. As to the first, Plato rejected the present world as the land of temptation, keeping us from the true human good consisting in Philosophy alone. Plato is right as to his insight that the external world is a sphere of temptation. Yet he wrong as to his assertion that the human good is ultimately found in Philosophy apart from God. For the Christian, the world is indeed a realm of temptation for sinners under the effects of Adam’s nature (1 Jn 2:15-16). Physical reality is the world that Satan attempts to twist so that humans might live in a way contrary to nature (Gen 3:1-7, Luk 4:1-13, Rom 1:18-32). In twisting creation against its natural intent, man acts as the devil himself, having been bound to his Lordship. It is part of the Christian doctrine of renunciation, therefore, to forsake the present form of this world. The god of the form of the present world is Satan, and the nature of those under Satan is that of fallen Adam; in Adam and through the instigation of the devil, that cursed world becomes the occasion for wickedness on the part of persons at enmity with God. The Christian is called, therefore, to reject the twisting of God’s creation unto wickedness. He is to renounce the form of Satan’s distortion in the world, the treating of God’s blessed creation as something to be utilized for wickedness. Positively stated, the Christian is to abide by natural law, working with God’s rational order in the universe, not against it.
Secondly, God’s command in Scripture is for his people to cultivate, not to forsake, God’s created world. This is because the “world,” when used negatively in Scripture, is the sphere of creation under the penultimate control of Satan. In conjunction with persons fallen in Adam who are liable to the temptation of the devil, the world is the occasion for wickedness because it is constantly being twisted by the evil one. And though Satan twists the goodness of creation, it does not follow that creation is inherently wicked. Though cursed by God at the fall, the creation is still to be cultivated according to His commandment. In spite of the cursedness of the present age, human beings are still called to cultivate the Earth. God in His grace, though making their labor hard, preserved for His image bearers the gift of work (Gen 3:17-19).
Further, the people of God are, in Jesus Christ, heirs to a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). This new creation does not refer to a completely different world than our present world, but to the present world which is glorified in a sense. Freed from the effects of the curse due to the work of Christ, the whole world is a work of his redemption (Rom 8:19). This is why the Scriptures refer to the blessed estate as the “new heavens and new earth.” New Heavens and Earth don’t refer to a completely new creation, but a completely renewed creation. The new heavens and Earth will be analogous to our present estate, without the presence of sin and in the presence of Christ. The Lord Jesus’s redemption is far more glorious than simply saving His people from hell, it is reversing the totality of Adam’s curse through the redemption of persons, a church, and an entire cosmos. This being the case, the Christians relation to the present world is not separatism, but cultivation under the Lordship of Christ. Having been set apart by the Lord Jesus, the Christian is called to have dominion creation in a way pleasing to God. Unlike Plato, whose renunciation resulted in the rejection of this fallen world, Christian renunciation results in the rejection of the god of this world. Christian renunciation is renunciation from sin unto Christ. Christian renunciation results in practical engagement with the cosmos in a redemptive manner, seeking to bring it under the Lordship of Christ as He commands in Scripture. In a word, Christian renunciation results in the cultivation of the present world, under the law of God, for the glory of Christ.
Resignation in Russell
A similar doctrine is found in the late Philosopher Bertrand Russel. In his, “A free man’s worship” Russell is intent on describing the practical life of one who has achieved the enlightenment ethic, having freed himself from all mental authorities. For Russell, man is the chance result of a universe without rhyme or reason. Everywhere man is presented with the meaninglessness of the universe. And not only its meaninglessness but also its threat to his survival. Against this, Russell posits an ethic wherein one comes to grips with his inevitable doom through the bravery of triumphant indifference. Only through this will man be free from his inward fears to worship the works of his hands. This freedom, Russell calls a “renunciation” or a “resignation.” We are, in his mind, if we are to live ethically, to resign ourselves to fate; the abstracted power of necessity:
“Yet, by death, by illness, by poverty, or by the voice of duty, we must learn, each one of us, that the world was not made for us, and that, however beautiful may be the things we crave, Fate may nevertheless forbid them. It is the part of courage, when misfortune comes, to bear without repining the ruin of our hopes, to turn away our thoughts from vain regrets. This degree of submission to Power is not only just and right: it is the very gate of wisdom” (Russell, Free Man’s Worship).
The Distinctness of Christian Resignation
Though the doctrines of resignation in Russell and Christian Theism differ in significant ways, they concur on a vital level. They agree as to the inevitability of reality. They agree as to the finitude of man’s resources. They agree as to humanities’ utter inability to realize all his desires in the present world. Most interestingly, the form of their ethical duty to such a reality is analogous. Both assert a form of ethical resignation. Resignation is the subjective response of the powerless in light of an overwhelming external power. These resigned persons realized and affirmed their utter inability to control the outcome of their lives Russell and the Christian realize their inability to annihilate the threat of death and their inability to secure their deepest longings in this present world. They prefer the peace of resignation to the temporal satisfaction of self-deception. Having resigned themselves to fate, power, or God, these men rest on the fact that the flow of the universe is, ultimately, out of their hands. Their willingness to look at the bleak reality of existence without fettered glasses realized their inner resolve in a form of strength. Having forsaken unbridled joy in this present life, these men gave up finding eudemonia, ultimate happiness, in this world.
There are more substantial differences than similarities. Atheist resignation is unto the forces of nature whereas Christian resignation is unto the Sovereign control of God. In other words, whereas Russell posited that man resign himself to the power of uncontrollable fate resulting in inevitable annihilation, the Christian position is that the believer resigns himself (1) to the absolute control of the all powerful, all knowing God who wills the Christian’s good and (2) the absolute resignation of the will to that of Jesus Christ in the ethical life. As to the first, Pink states,
“What ought to be our attitude toward the sovereignty of God? One of deep thankfulness and joy…Not only should the recognition of God’s supremacy beget within us godly fear, implicit obedience, and entire resignation, but it should cause us to say with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name (Ps 103:1)…” (Pink, The Sovereignty of God)
The reason for the Christian’s resolute joy amidst a world of sorrow is the promise of God (Rom 8:28). All is being worked out for good for those who love God. Therefore the Christian can bow his head in humble submission to God amidst trials, resigning his control just as Jesus did, saying with him, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” The blessed Savior resigned Himself to the will of God knowing the joy that was set before Him. He knew afar off what He would experience in glory and trusted His Father who knew it in full. Being filled with the faith of salvation, He resigned his will to the Sovereign power of the hand that established it. Having triumphed over the grave, He ascended on high and is now seated at the right hand of God as Lord of all – Christ the anointed.
Therefore resignation is not only the abstract recognition of God’s utter control over reality. Resignation is also a practical, daily, and a constant call for believers. Resignation is the righteous response of Christians to the Lordship of the resurrected, triumphant Christ. Resignation is unto God’s revealed will as given to us in the Scriptures, trusting the wisdom of the Lord. In a word, resignation is the keeping of Christ’s commandments, with the attitude of faith Christ has called His people unto, for the ends which Christ has established. With brevity, Christian resignation is two-fold – (1) it is an all-encompassing recognition of the Sovereign control of God over the Christian’s personal life. Said conviction results in humble reliance upon God, the trusting of Him with the entire person, and peace. And (2) resignation is a practical, lifelong, daily commitment to keeping the commands of the Lord Jesus for His glory, that His kingdom and dominion might be established forever. For His glory, not our own.
The Practical Interplay of Renunciation and Resignation
It is impossible to resign yourself to the Sovereignty of God and the will of the Lord Jesus without also renouncing the God of this world and his twisting of it. These two concepts are, as it were, two sides of one indivisible coin. If one does not renounce his love for the form of this present world, He cannot trust Christ who has inaugurated, is inaugurating, and will inaugurate the new creation in that same world. And if a man fails to resign himself to the Sovereignty of the Triune God as He calls him in the Gospel, how could he ever, consistently, justify the renunciation of the twisting of God’s creation? If there is no God and Christ, why would it matter how he lives in this world?
Resignation and renunciation are, therefore, particular manifestations of the broader categories of repentance and faith. In one sense, they may even be synonyms with repentance and faith. In either case, the call of the Christian is the same; renounce the sinful form of the present age. Renounce Satan, his example as the twister of God’s created order. Renounce your own claims to righteousness, having been born under the nature of Adam. Renounce your purported control over your circumstances, having been delivered into the hand of Another. Renounce, and continue to renounce, your besetting sins. Renounce, Renounce, Renounce and resign. Resign, therefore, unto the mercies of God. Resign to the ethical paradigm of the new creation – love for God and neighbor and cultivation of the new creation under the Lordship of Christ. Resign Yourself to the ever-present grace of Your Savior. Resign yourself to the righteousness which is found in Jesus Christ alone. Resign yourself to the power, control, and wisdom of the Father. Resign Yourself to the present ministry of the Comforter, the Lord, the Holy Spirit. Repent and believe. Renounce and Resign. His grace is sufficient, He will see that it is done in His people.