Submission is not a word we like to use. It generally brings negative thoughts to mind. To be described as submissive is not viewed as a compliment. We often think about someone who is submissive or who demonstrates submission as being weak or powerless. We think about it being a kind of mindless obedience.
The rub is that as Christians, we are called to be submissive. Submit to government authorities. Submit to one another. Slaves submit to masters. Wives submit to husbands. (I am NOT equating the last two!) Basically, we all have someone – or many someones – to submit to.
Add to the confusion the fact we are all, to one degree or another, selfish, narcissistic, highly independent individuals who generally think of ourselves as being too important – or self-important – to submit to anyone! How are we supposed to make this concept of submission work?
I think it is time to reframe the conversation. This starts with redefining what it means to submit. Rather than define it as mindless obedience or any of the other weak ideas I started with, I believe when the Bible speaks of submission it means, at its core, that we adopt a right view of ourselves in relation to the party we are called to submit to. This means that when I understand my place in the employer-employee relationship, it is easier for me, as an employee, to submit to my employer. But even when I understand my place in the relationship, I don’t want to submit. In fact, on my own it is impossible to truly submit. I can obey and do my job, but I have not truly submitted. But why not?
We have too long described submission in terms of actions taken (or maybe not taken). If a person follows the rules, we say he has demonstrated submission to them. But if he only obeyed the rules to keep from getting into trouble or to attain some kind of reward, did he truly submit? I don’t think so.
I think it is time to stop defining submission based on actions and start defining it based on attitudes. Genuine submission requires an attitude of submission. Otherwise you have simply gone through empty motions. And the starting point for an attitude of submission is to be submitted to God. I have become convinced that we cannot be truly submitted to any of the people or institutions we are called to be submitted to until we are submitted to God. We can wear a submission-like mask for a time. But sooner or later our true attitude will become obvious. Our words and behaviors are rooted in our heart. If we don’t have a heart that is submitted to God, our words and behaviors will eventually betray us. The only way to be truly submissive is to have a heart that is submitted first and foremost to God.
Once you have committed to being genuinely submitted to God there is a freedom that comes no other way. One of the problems is that we often don’t recognize the freedom or we still see submission, even to God, as a constriction that we chafe under. That is why submission is not a one-time act; it is an ongoing attitude. It is only when we adopt an attitude of submission to God that we can demonstrate the right kind of submission to others.