Let’s get right to it: the word “submit” makes me cringe! I’m pretty sure I’m not alone! It leaves me feeling weak and vulnerable as I imagine letting someone else have control over me. When so much of what we see around us depicts submission as a control issue fraught with relational conflict, it makes sense that we would find the idea of it distasteful. Thankfully, God’s view of submission is entirely different than that of our own.
A few years ago, I learned the hard way that submission doesn’t have to be cloaked in a power struggle between people. The idea of submitting to Christ certainly wasn’t new to me but as I struggled to submit to the authority of someone who God had placed in my life, I realized that my problem was a lack of submission to Christ. Hebrews 12:7-11 says:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
These verses have become a focus point in my journey toward submitting to God and to others. While there are many passages from God’s word that directly address submission, these verses have provided a context for understanding why the lesson of submission is a critical one for me to learn. Here are some lessons I am learning about submission.
First, I don’t like submission because it involves being disciplined. Verse 11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” When done properly, discipline occurs not as a display of power but as an act of love. The preceding verse notes, “God disciplines us for our good.” It is an act of love meant to foster a harvest of righteousness and peace–a righteousness and peace that is mine through Christ Jesus.
Second, choosing not to submit to God leads me to forfeit peace in my relationships with others. If I don’t allow myself to be disciplined, I forgo the practice of the fruits of the spirit–namely love, joy, peace, patience…well, all of them! My relationships cannot be governed by peace if I’m unwilling to allow God to work the messiness out of my being.
Third, submission requires me to abandon my will power. While I must decide to submit, resting on my own power to do so will only last for so long. In others words, submission is an act of resting in God’s grace and not in my own strength. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” I can’t close my eyes tightly and squeeze my fists in the hopes that resistance will come my way.
Finally, submitting to others is ultimately an act of worship. Ephesians 6:21 says to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” I don’t believe God is asking me to be a door mat or to follow the direction of another without exercising wise judgment. I do, however, believe He is asking me to uphold the character of others by not seeing myself as higher than them (especially those He has placed as authority figures in my life).
As I journey through learning lessons about submission, God is continually calling me to be hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). I think the reason for this is because I struggle with wanting to be noticed. My stubbornness activated a lifestyle of disappointment each time I felt that I wasn’t being properly acknowledged for any number of things I had done. I’m sure you’re familiar with the cycle of responding to a situation with the same ineffective behavior that contributed to the situation happening in the first place. It creates a powerful cycle of pain and hurt. God is always patiently awaiting my decision to interrupt the cycle by accepting His love and grace–to know that He is El Roi, the God who sees me.
At the end of the day, like everything else about my life in Christ, submission is a choice. I wish it were a “once and done” sort of a deal but for me, the first draft is never the final draft when it comes to submission. It is an ongoing process as I face many relationships, thoughts, actions, etc. that need to be bathed in a harvest of God’s righteousness and peace. That harvest comes by way of discipline which asks for submission.
While I may still cringe at times when I think of submission, I’m grateful to be several steps farther down the path than I was many months ago.
And how about you? What has God taught you (or been teaching you) about submission?