Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Jesus’ life on earth is that as the Son of God, and our Lord and Savior, he lived his life on earth by the discipline of submission. The King came to serve! How could we do anything less?
But “submission” feels like a degrading word to many people. It’s much abused in the history of the Church, especially as it relates to wives submitting to husbands and anyone submitting to authority figures. Biblically, what does it really mean to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21)?
Submission is the way of Jesus’ Cross and it’s the way he lived every day of his life.
Submission is how Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Submission is the way of life for citizens of the kingdom of God, for those who live their daily lives under the rule of Christ.
Submission is quietly choosing to let another be in control. We’re to submit to the Lord in all things and we’re also to submit to authorities, elders, and others as unto Christ.
Submission is “abandoning outcomes to God” (Dallas Willard’s term); it’s letting go of trying to…
- Make things happen (even for God!)
- Get people to like you or think well of you
- Get people on board with your agenda
- Ensure that you succeed
Submission is self-denial out of love for God and others.
Jesus Submits to the Father
Jesus is co-equal with the Father and the Spirit in the Trinity and yet he chose to live his life on earth in submission to God in all things, at all times. And this brought him great joy and peace and power!
Frank Laubach noted that the Apostle John indicates in his gospel that Jesus was acting “under God’s orders” 47 times! John records Jesus saying things like: “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me… Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say (John 6:38, 12:50). “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).
Jesus Submits to the Scriptures
Jesus is the Word who spoke the Scriptures into existence and yet he lived in submission to those very Scriptures!
Again and again we read in the gospels that Jesus said and did certain things “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” He discovered his identity, lived out his life story, and made his every decision according to the Scriptures.
Jesus Submits to People (When the Father Directs)
At times in his life on earth the King of kings and Lord of lords even submitted himself to the people he created!
Jesus confined himself to human flesh, was born in a stable and laid in an animal feeding trough, obeyed his parents, completed carpentry jobs for customers, submitted to John’s baptism, paid taxes, performed menial servant duties, relied on his disciples for support, surrendered to soldiers, subjected himself to illegal trials, yielded to Pilate’s verdict, capitulated to the cross, and handed over his mission to his disciples.
Submission to God is Freedom!
By living in submission to God, the Scriptures, and other people Jesus shows us that humility leads to true power, love for others is the path to true freedom.
Richard Foster says that submission is “the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way… If we could only see that most things in life are not major issues, then we could hold them lightly… In submission we are at last free to value other people” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 97-98).
God’s Message to Us
Thomas A. Kempis (1400-1471) was a German Augustinian monk who was exemplary in living out a vow of obedience (to Abbot, community rule, and one another) as unto Christ. In his classic devotional, The Imitation of Christ, he shares Christ’s words to him and to us on practicing the discipline of submission:
And yet, what great matter is it, if you, who are but dust and nothing, subject yourself to man for God’s sake, when I, the Almighty and the Most High, who created all things of nothing, humbly subjected Myself to man for your sake? I became of all men the most humble and most abject (Luke 2:7, John 13:14), that you might overcome your pride with My humility. O dust, learn to be obedient! Learn to humble yourself, you of earth and clay, and to bow yourself down under the feet of all men. Learn to break your own wishes, and to yield yourself to all subjection (p. 122).
May God help us to live in moment-by-moment obedience to Christ and his kingdom, through his Spirit and his Word. And may we learn to bring this into our relationships: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
How to Practice Submission
We can grow in our submission to God by practicing these ways…
- In the morning submit each aspect of your day to God. Try a prayer of submission like, “Father, into your hands I commit ______” or “Lord, your will, your way, your time.”
- Wait on God in prayer before making a decision
- When you want to pursue an opportunity present in prayerfully to a friend or mentor and don’t act on it unless you receive encouragement to do so
- In a meeting let others speak first and promote their ideas
- Let people cut in front of you on the road or in line (with a smile!)
- Keep a Sabbath or just go to bed earlier