Submission is a dirty word today. Many associate it with being subservient and “less than.” In a culture which values self-assertion, submission can feel like you are short-changing yourself by failing to fulfill your dreams and your potential.
The dictionary defines submission as a submitting or surrendering, obedience, or resignation. And for the word submit, it offers this: “… to yield to the control or power of another” (Webster’s New World Dictionary Fifth Edition, 2016).
Practically, submission looks like obedience or regard for someone other than ourselves and our way of doing things. It may be allegiance or even loyalty. We submit to those things we are loyal to with our time and decisions.
Submission is not an optional add-on to our lives, as some may suggest. We all submit, to one thing or another. So the question becomes: what are we submitting to? Is it grounded in God’s truth or the world’s influence? What does the Bible have to say about submission? We’ll explore these questions together.
What Do You Submit To?
We may not realize it, but because we all hold to a belief system, we all submit to something.
If we believe only a certain resource will supply what we need, we will serve at the altar which is holding hostage our true fulfillment. We may believe we need a specific job to validate and use our skills, or we can only live a specific neighborhood to raise our children, or the only way to be a godly woman is to marry and conceive. We will submit to this belief and become subservient to it with our time, mind, life choices, and resources.
Do we believe that beauty is defined by the age on your ID or the number that shows on the scale? We will make very specific choices to reach the beauty we’re not seeing in those numbers. We will serve these choices with our calendar, energy, and finances.
Perhaps we believe that success can only be equated with a specific paycheck, job title, or lifestyle. If we’re not able to secure those things, our life is a failure. Or our narrative says that only a spouse and children can bring true fulfillment.
Maybe we only feel valuable when certain goals are completed with the accompanying praises from others. If things are not aligned and achieved in a certain way, or no one takes notice, we and our labor feel worthless.
Truly, what we believe, we end up serving.
What Narrative are We Serving?
It’s not wrong to want to feel good about yourself, to want positive feedback for your efforts, or to desire a good job, a husband, or a child. But thinking that fulfillment can only come from these is a deception as old as the Garden of Eden. Many women – even those who are at a healthy weight, or who are married with children – still struggle with feelings of dissatisfaction.
From the beginning, the enemy has not used bad things to allure and deceive, but rather, he’s distorted God’s good creation and twisted our thinking. With “Did God really say…?” the serpent took God’s words and put them into question, making Eve wonder if indeed God had been holding out on them.
Eve then decided to decipher what’s best for her. Her choice proved detrimental to her and to all creation. She believed something – that God did not know best – and acted according to it, submitting her actions to that belief.
What do you believe about your life, your identity, your loved ones, that is not in sync with God’s Truth? Do your choices reveal submission to narratives that view God as a stingy figure, a Father who will not provide what’s most needed? Those are lies about God.
Take heart sister! What is most needed, you already have. Scripture says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 ESV). The troubles in our lives do not negate this truth, but instead validate it.
Are you submitting to a narrative that says, “I know best and need to make this happen,” or one that says, “Dear soul, be still and remember who God is”?
Believing Leads to Submitting
I love language and like to pay close attention to word choices. In his letter to the church in Colossae, the apostle Paul asks: “…why as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…?” (Colossians 2:20 ESV)
Paul’s word choice illustrates that we put ourselves under the authority of what we believe. The believers in Colossae were adhering to rules. They had reduced faith to a checklist of to-dos based on human wisdom, but devoid of divine authority. They served these worldly standards with their time, actions, and efforts.
As the letter unfolds, Paul brings to light this important principle: our personal beliefs and thoughts are crucial to our understanding of God (or lack thereof). And this, of course, includes the idea of submission. If we believe – as the Colossians did – that worldly wisdom should be our guide in life, then the wisdom of God will seem like foolishness to us and we will not submit to His will.
Paul offers an alternative approach. In Colossians 3:2, he says: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (ESV). Then, a few lines later, he adds “seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10 ESV).
Paul is saying behavioral change begins with what we know. Our knowledge must be renewed. And, not just any which way, but renewed after the image of the One who makes us and our thinking new. That’s Jesus.
The Submission of Jesus
Biblical submission isn’t empty obedience for the sake of religiosity or to comply with a spiritual checklist. And it isn’t submission to a worldly narrative. No, we submit because we follow the One who is supreme over all things, Who existed before all things (Colossians 1:15-20; John 1:1-5, 9-14), and Who submitted to the very laws of space and time He created. Jesus Christ embodied the vulnerability of flesh.
He felt. He cried. His body broke and died. He submitted so the human race who denied Him time and again would have hope. He obeyed so that His people could be rescued from themselves and their propensity to sin. Jesus did this in full submission to the will of God the Father.
Whatever we believe we end up serving. Jesus believed His Father’s will was best and lived a life entirely devoted to obeying and serving the purposes for which God the Father brought Him to the world. His was a life of submission all the way to Gethsemane where we see Him struggle and still yield to the Father’s will, not His own.
Submit to the Truth
If you wonder what you are truly submitting to, ask the Lord to reveal your heart to you. If there are faulty narratives woven into your thoughts and emotions, He can bring those to the light. Ask Him to reveal His character to you. Ask for eyes that can see Truth.
We naturally want our way and usually on our time table. When things don’t map out the way we hoped and our expectations are not met, we tend to take matters into our hands. And, believing we know better, we end up submitting to certain narratives and serving their purposes.
When you hear your own mind pounding “I know best and need to make this happen,” and “this” hasn’t been filtered through prayer and placed under godly counsel, stop and breathe. Ponder if the choices made according to this narrative will alienate you from God or bring you closer to Him.
Remember Scripture. Read it. Memorize it. Ask others to study it with you. It is our lifeline. Philippians 4:5-7 tells us, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious…” We find life at the other end of the choices made in light of these words.
Let your mind simmer in the things that are recorded in Scripture. They teach us about God and reveal His character. These actions renew our thinking, and in turn, our lives. Serving Truth frees us for real!
God Has Our Good in Mind
Submission rightly understood from a biblical perspective is healthy and good for us, because it makes it about more than just us. We submit to many things in this life. Children submit to parents. Employees submit to supervisors. As a body of believers, we submit to the church where we form a community with others.
To be clear, this is submission properly understood in harmony with the whole message of Scripture. This does not encompass situations where a person in a position of authority asks or imposes something blatantly out of line with the Bible. But it can (often) include situations where we may not agree with the mandate and are nonetheless called to yield our own preferences.
I’ve had to submit to bosses whose suggestions for projects I did not agree with. I’ve had to submit to churches whose practices, while godly, didn’t seem necessary, convenient, or comfortable. I haven’t always enjoyed it or found it natural to yield. But these struggles strengthen my character.
God has my good in mind when He tells me to submit in different contexts, whether to government leaders, church leaders, or my husband. These experiences teach my soul to let go of my desire to control the outcome and trust in the God who holds all things together. They provide practice for an “I am not my own” mindset to be lived out.
May we be a people who are submissive to the right thing – His Truth. Because make no mistake, we are all submitting to something right now.
A prayer for you and me:
Lord Jesus, help us to grab hold of faulty narratives and take them captive before You. Help us, Lord, to see the lies we are believing. Forgive us for thinking we know better and questioning Your faithfulness and Your grace.
Makes us women who serve at Your altar. Help us replace the lies with Truth and serve You with our lives, our calendar, and our resources. Give us a thirst for Your Word and a mind that desires to be informed and renewed by its hope, because You are a God who delivers! Amen.