Does our flesh hate anything more than submitting? “Be assertive!” is the rally cry today. “Don’t stifle your child’s will. Don’t damage his self-esteem,” a host of self-proclaimed child-rearing experts advise. “I’m Number One” is the belief (though often somewhat suppressed) held by many. “Take care of yourself first” is the operating principle in the lives of untold millions. Perhaps in few places is the life of a believer seen to be more at odds with the spirit of the day than in this one: submission. But as much as we might wish to avoid it, a believer is called to a life of submission. And we should keep in mind that the extent to which the flesh rebels against something and the spiritual value of that something are almost inversely proportional: the more contrary something is to the natural part of us, the more blessed it is to the spiritual part. The truly godly person embraces submission: it is the heartbeat of his new life.
He submits to the Word of God. Perhaps one might think that submission to God should appear first. James does say, “Submit therefore to God” (4:7). But the truth is that all we know about God and what He requires is found in His Word. We can neither know what His will is nor obey it apart from what He has recorded in the Bible. In essence, to obey God’s Word is to obey Him; to disobey His Word is to disobey Him. Yet how many who profess to know the Lord take a careless or casual attitude toward submission to His Holy Word? John affirms that “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I John 2:3, 4). As stark as those words may appear, they establish the undeniable fact that saving faith is founded on submission to God’s Word. No submission, no faith. No faith, no salvation. I am not arguing that submission precedes faith, only that it is an essential component of saving faith. Paul elaborates this way: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject [i.e., “submit”] itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Rom. 8:6, 7).
He submits to God-ordained human institutions. When we have said that a believer submits to the Word of God, we have said it all. There is little more that need be said except to acknowledge that submitting to the Word of God, that is, obeying God, has some very practical applications. Church members are to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17); wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22); children are to submit to their parents (Eph. 6:1); employees are to submit to their employers (Eph. 6:5); citizens are to submit to their governments (I Pet. 2:13, 14); the young are to submit to their elders (I Pet. 5:5). In short, every God-ordained institution—whether family, church, or state—functions on the basis of proper submission. God is a God of right and order; His universe runs in an orderly fashion. And those who are redeemed reflect that order by submitting as He directs. Indeed, in the final analysis all believers are to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21) because a spirit of submission governs the redeemed life of a believer.
A sinful, unregenerate heart revels in rebellion. Much of what purports to be profound in modern art and literature and what goes for sophistication in modern behavior is nothing more than infantile rebellion on parade. Submission, then, is a sign of neither weakness nor immaturity but of profound faith in and mature love for Him. No lesser Being than Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient” (Phil. 2:8). May we reflect His submissive attitude.
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