If there were a contest for the most offensive word ever uttered, which one would you offer as a good candidate? Though most assuredly not original, I would offer as my answer the word submission. Humanity has a problem with this word. In the garden Adam and Eve would not submit to God’s law. Ever since the Fall, mankind has rejected God’s rule as well as that of other men. We hate to be told what to do whether it is by our government, our parents, our spouse, or our children. Quite simply we hate to submit, but I know what you are thinking – he is not considering those of us who are redeemed. Even for those of us who are Christians we do not like the idea of submitting. When it comes to our spiritual leaders either pastors or deacons we would rather leave that church than submit, unless of course we agree with them. We do not like the idea of submitting to the opinion of committees, even though in Baptist life we selected them to do a job for us. The thing they did not know is that we really selected them to gather the information, let us decide what we want to do without their recommendation, and then take the blame when things to go wrong. Even when it comes to worship or programs the most common complaint is not that the effort was not God-centered but that the effort just didn’t meet my needs. Since we are talking about submitting to people here, maybe we should examine if we submit any better when it comes to God? As a people who write off Biblical passages that we don’t like with the phrase “that’s just your interpretation” and refuse to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit with the phrases like “don’t worry God will understand” or “Jesus himself will just have to come down and tell me that” I am afraid we don’t fare much better. If we as believers know that we should submit to God, but don’t is there any hope for this world?
Aversion to submission has its greatest impact in how we decide what is right and wrong. Even if we want to submit to God, our rebel hearts will not let us think that way. Our first inclination is not to ask if an action is ethical with regard to its conformity to the universal character and nature of God. Our discussions turn instead to whether an action is moral, which degenerates into asking whether an action is good for me and my friends. Morality decided in this way does not reflection the divine; rather it reveals the tarnished images of the men who create them. Perhaps then, in order to submit to God we should all fall back then to a legalistic code of right and wrong with more of a Christian flavor – We must evangelize, we must love God, we must treat others as we wish to be treated, we must speak the truth in love. This rather wooden, artificial type of obedience does not seem to be correct either. I am afraid this too falls prey to our aversion to submission. When we act as legalists – deciding what to do, even if the commands are based on biblical principles, simply because we ought to in order to escape punishment – we base our obedience on our desire for self preservation.
So is there any escape to our prideful independence? Look with me at Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus offers rest to those who would come to him. Then he orders those who come to take his yoke. A yoke implies hard labor driven by a master; a concept that does not imply rest. Most quotably in verse 11:30 Jesus says “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” If this is true, then somehow Jesus changes the way we view submission when we trust him. Read 1 John 5:1-5. John seems to say the same thing when he compares loving God to keeping his commandments. To John such love was without burden. Paul seems to echo the same sentiment in 2 Cor. 5:14-15 when he says that “the love of Christ controls us,” using that base to explain that we do not live for self but for the one who rose from the dead. What then changes so that we can submit ourselves to God? Read further down in the 2 Corinthians passage to 5:17. We change, our desires change, our passions change, and our wills change. Biblical submission is not going along with something we do not believe, despising every minute. Biblical submission is willingly giving up our old self to be crucified with Christ trusting that we will be raised with him in the newness of life. The central Christian ethic is willingly allows inward conformity to the outward revelation of Christ in order to glorify him and enjoy Him forever. Morally it is being motivated by redeemed desires which testify to the transformation of our heart by Christ alone.
So what do your desires reveal: a selfish independence from God or a submissive conformity to Christ?