Monday, September 18, 2017
What New Testament Submission Is All About
When reciting her wedding vows to me, Sarah looked me in the eyes and said, “I promise to submit to you.” There were a few people in the audience who later told us that they were bothered by her promise to submit to me, until I made the same promise to her. “Well, as long as it’s mutual, I guess it’s okay,” they said grudgingly. It was almost as if we’d exchanged curse words.
“Submission.” How does that word grab you?
Here are a couple of not-so-popular Bible verses I’d like for you to consider today:
1 Peter 1:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
If you’re an American, then it’s very likely that you’ve got thoughts and feelings about our current “king.” And if we consider the “king” previous to him, well, just about everyone has experienced a high “cringe factor” when commanded to “submit” to the king and to his governors, let alone to a spouse. Right?
But here’s the thing: Paul’s command for submission is not a stand-alone-demand of surrender, as if God loves a grand capitulation. “I just love it when my people bow down and give up.” That’s not godly submission—not ever.
New Covenant “submission” always comes loaded with reasons *why*, and great benefits for the one who submits. Whether submitting to a worldly authority, to a spouse or to one another in relationships, offering myself in deference to another is so that I can be aware of God in me, for me, and for the situation I’m in. In other words, submission is yet another way to know and to enjoy God in me, and for His kingdom in me to collide with and to affect the kingdom of this world.
Jesus never did or said anything except what He “saw” and “heard” the Father do and say (He was tuned in to the Father), and He left us the perfect, most stunning example of submission in dire circumstances because of His awareness of God and the affect to come:
1 Peter 2:22-23 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
The “entrusted himself” part made all the difference! And why did Jesus submit Himself to the cross? Was it sheer obedience? No, it was not. Hebrews 12:2-3 tells us that He did it “. . .for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
In my view, the only way we will not grow weary and lose heart in submission is if we do it for the same reason Jesus did. Human Jesus submitted to unjust torture and torment because He was knowing the Father, who revealed to Jesus “the joy set before Him. . .” That resulted in faith that led to obedience. Do you see it? Knowing God keeps us from becoming weary in well-doing. Anybody can do “well-doing,” but it’s the knowing God part that produces grace that’s perfect for the moment.
We’re not to go blind and un-feeling into submission! Jesus certainly didn’t. He walked knowingly into it, and He reaped the grace-sufficient benefit of living by faith that something good and greater was happening right then—God was happening, and Jesus was aware of Him. He knew it, and that propelled Him into the most lovingly submissive act in history. That’s our example. Submission alone is not our example: awareness of God plus submission is Jesus’ incredible example for life.
This is why Peter first wrote extensively about our life and identity in Christ, and then followed that with our natural way of knowing God by living in submission. The order is important. We are entirely and forever secure, as is our inheritance, having been born of imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:3-4; 23); we are God’s house and stage of evidence that He cares about everyone (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9;) and, in view of God’s grace to us, we are to live toward righteous deeds, which is our god-given nature and motivation (1 Peter 2:12; see also Romans 8).
After building up the church concerning who and how secure they were with God in chapter one and much of chapter two, Peter then moves into How The Plan Works from there: God-aware and submissive aliens in whom dwells the Kingdom of God, walk into the day. What a plan. The great collision was coming: the kingdom of God in sons and daughters would meet the kingdom of this world, and the evidence of God reaching for people would be clear.
Before the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, our conscience, our “inner knower,” was fouled and not free from guilt (see Hebrews 9:9). But after His act of eternal cleansing and forgiveness, the Christian’s “inner knower” is new and clean, and by our awareness of Him in us does He lead us into acts in keeping with His will and purpose and glory. That’s how it works, and it’s a big deal. (See Hebrews 9:11-14.)
You can take a deep breath and shut your eyes as you go into submission if you want to—it’s okay. But it’s far better (it’s alive!) when you stay open and alert and aware of God as you go in. This is how we keep knowing God as we enter into challenging obedience, embarrassing confession of sin and error, and difficult honesty in relationships and see what He does in the sometimes chaos of our submitted lives. Trusting and knowing God, we take our hands off of the presumed handlebars or steering wheel of control and instead know the rest and grace produced by the Holy Spirit in us. That’s the best!
This is often our way forward—submission so that we can know God, and so that people can know Him, too. And there’s nothing more important or better. Right?
(This is a transcript of the video, “Why ‘Submit’ Is Not A Curse Word,” and is for those who might rather read than watch. To see the video, click http://youtu.be/4voPIzn9wqU.)