Submission to others as a child of God


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Who do you submit to?

I know, it’s a weird thought isn’t it? Uncomfortable. I feel defensive as soon as I ask it. “I don’t submit to anyone!” Is my instinctual reaction. But it’s really not true. We all submit to other people in our lives. If we didn’t, anarchy would reign.

We all do it, but we don’t like it

The truth is we all submit ourselves to someone else throughout our lives. When we’re children we submit to our parents’ rules. In our relationships with spouse or friends one or the other yields to the other person at different times in the relationship. When we drive, live in our HOA-governed neighborhoods, engage in learning in school or college we submit to the lawmakers, teachers, police officers, etc.

Even though it’s irrefutable- we all submit to other people in our lives- we don’t like it! We’re always resisting authority, from the time we’re two, learning what mom means when she says, “No!”, to the way we speed down the highway disregarding the posted limit, looking out for those blue and red lights so we can slow down before they catch us. Submission to others is an unwelcome, necessary part of life for there to be order and peace.

Authority abuse

But what about when the authorities are using their power to impose a law or rule or requirement on us that we know is wrong? Where do we get the sense that what they’re asking is wrong? Where do we get our sense of what’s just and right?  As a Christian, I believe that we all have this sense of right and wrong within us because we are the Imago Dei ones. We were made in the image of God, and the moral goodness of God is imprinted on our souls. But it’s also marred. We know that even those in positions of authority do what’s wrong and impose oppressive wrongs on those under their authority. And we ourselves display the same brokenness we see in the authorities we call out and rale against.

As a Christian, submission is a word tainted in my mind by the evil we all at times display. As my old pastor used to say, I wish I could reach in my brain through my ear and erase all the old input about what submission means. I can’t do that, but I wonder if you’d look at John 13 with me to see what submission really means, and what, as a Christian it should look like.

Christ the submitting King

In John 13, Jesus is hours from facing the authorities who will mock, beat and finally kill him. In a room where his disciples have gathered to remember the old, old story about how God had delivered their people from slavery with the blood of the lamb on their homes and angry Pharaoh and his army chasing them to the sea, it says Jesus did something that blew his disciples’ minds. He washed their feet.

They thought they knew who he was. He was the long-awaited Messiah, the King of Israel, the Anointed Son of God come to save his people just like Moses had all those years before out of Egypt, only now, from the Romans. They believed he was THE king. And there was their king, getting on the floor with water, basin and towel, washing their grimy feet. And while he was down there on the floor, the King of Heaven, who made their feet, and knew the evil in their hearts, exposed Peter, and called out his betrayer. There, each disciple wondered if it was them their King was calling out. The knew they were a broken bunch. There, Judas, who Jesus made, Jesus washed, and sent to do the deed that would lead to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

Jesus knew who he was when he performed this jaw-dropping act of submission- washing feet and exposing his disciples’ sinful hearts. In the first verses of John 13 it says:

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father… Jesus knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…” John 13:1-5

Jesus knew his hour had come to submit himself to rulers who were going to kill him. He knew impulsive Peter was going to deny him. He knew Judas would betray him and kill himself. He knew all of his disciples would run away from the scandal he was about to become. He also knew he had all authority. He knew no one could really take his life from him or take away his position as Son of God through denial or betrayal or abandonment. He knew God was doing something greater than letting his son be killed. He knew he was the resurrection and the life.

This is submission. And this is what Christian submission should look like.

It really has nothing to do with women, as many in church history and abusive male authorities have taught. It has nothing to do with sex, rank, class, pedigree or geography. It has everything to do with Christ. The broken way we all begrudgingly submit to others and look for ways to avoid submitting, vying for the right to put ourselves in the position with someone under us, is not what God does. It’s what we do in our sinful selves. But Jesus came to show us what it really looks like to submit to others. And the Holy Spirit came to empower us to submit to others like Jesus did.

We who believe Jesus is the Christ, placing our hope in his atoning death and resurrection for being made right with God- we are children of God! We are not slaves. We are not victims of our circumstances.

Just as Jesus stood in that room of disciples, knowing who he was, where he came from, where he was going and out of that confidence in the Father, lowered himself under those he could have destroyed at his command, we, children of God must know who we are. We must know where we came from and where we’re going and lower ourselves. And in the lowering, we must expose wickedness and evil with the humility and power Jesus did.

Submission is not turning a blind eye to oppressive authority. It’s not passive piety. It’s not Pilate-like refusal to do what’s right. It’s not a wife thinking she has no voice in her marriage or church because she’s a woman. It’s not enabling a man to think he has the right to rule because he’s male. Submission is Christlikeness. Submission to others like Christ trusts God, obeys God, gets low to lift others up, expose dirt and sends out the evil from its midst because it knows God is in control and will not abandon us.

So child of God, who are you submitting yourself to?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil… giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. –  Ephesians 5:15,20