Submit or Resist
As I was lying in bed praying this morning before I got up, the verse about submitting to God came to my mind and I began to realize that I have always had a subtle resistance or feeling of resentment connected with that word. I mulled that feeling over in my mind to unmask what might be embedded in the word that makes me feel so uneasy and it didn't take long to identify the cause.
From my experience with authorities in particular, the word 'submit' has usually, if not always, been associated with a forced submission to abusive misuse of power by others to control or suppress me. Whether it was spiritual abuse or abusive exercise of power by governmental authorities, I have had many experiences that have caused my heart to recoil from this word 'submit'.
But as I pondered this problem of my heart, I noticed that the way God uses the word 'submit' in James 4 is in direct contrast with the word 'resist'. It then became clear to me that once again I was observing a case of distortion, deception, a counterfeit definition that is so common in religion. We have been brought up in a world full of deceptions intended to pervert the words of Scripture and to make us afraid of God and view Him as the ultimate abuser. But it is the work of the gospel to both expose and expel these lies in our minds about God and replace them with the real truth that will only bring peace and rest to our hearts instead of fear and shame.
Given the way that James presents this word, I can now see that these two words, submit and resist, are extreme opposites. And in presenting them this way it becomes obvious that they can even help to define each other more clearly. The Spirit indicated to me that to submit the way God intends it is to simply quit resisting. I came to realize some years ago that resistance itself is one of the most dangerous elements in the human heart whenever it comes to our relationship to God. It is the actual ingredient that will in the end fuel the very fires of hell to consume all those who have insisted on resisting the truth about God's passionate love for them.
As I considered that the true meaning of the word submit is simply the opposite of resisting, and coupled with that the knowledge that God is never to be perceived as an abuser of His power but is actually fiercely protective of our freedom to love or reject love, then it becomes much easier for my heart to reconsider all the admonitions in the Bible about submission. The character of the one asking us to submit makes all the difference as to the response that the heart has toward the instructions. But given that better context and definition, there is still much that I need to learn from the various places this instruction shows up.
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority...
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. (1 Peter 2:13, 18)
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:18-19 NIV)
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:18-22, 24-25 NIV)
These seem to be some of the most obvious places, at least in the New Testament, where we are instructed to submit. I find it rather interesting that one of these instructions is very often brushed over and given little press because it tends to level out all the other more specific circumstances. That is the one where we are all admonished to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. If this were always established as the background for all the (intense) discussions regarding wives submitting to their husbands etc., a lot of emotions might be easily diffused and a lot more love and humility might be encouraged.
When God tells us to do something, He is only telling us to do so because it will draw us closer to reflecting the real truth about Him and come to be more like Him. It will also be seen in the example that Jesus gave for us to observe what kind of life ours will look like as we allow Him more access to our hearts. Jesus, above any other example, demonstrates just what true submission will look like in the life of anyone who is willing to be drawn back into harmony with God. And He demonstrated this as our example under the most intense and abusive situations ever configured designed to elicit reactions most opposite that of submission.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24 NIV)
And what is the goal for all of these instructions about submission? Is it simply to gain control over us or to enforce rules and strip us of our freedoms?
Absolutely not! Rule-keeping is not the ultimate goal of the Godhead for the process of salvation. God is not bent on filling the new earth with pardoned criminals forced to keep His rules, but with transformed children who have finally come to totally trust their heavenly Father and who likewise can be trusted to freely choose the ways of love while being totally free to choose otherwise. Only in an atmosphere of absolute freedom and trust can the universe ever be restored to the previous harmony and joy that once existed before sin marred God's beautiful creation. And the part of us God longs most to reconnect with Himself is the spirit within us that is designed to experience unlimited joy in intimate connection with our God and with each other in mutual love and respect.
Do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:5-8 NRSV)
It is now more clear to me than ever that submission according to the Bible's definition is the releasing of our resistance to God's will, God's love and God's arrangements in our life. The only time that I find we are instructed to resist is when it comes to the devil, and that is a resistance that must take place within our own hearts more than out in the externals around us. And even that resistance must occur after coming into the context of first letting go of our resistance to God, which is the same thing as submission.
In this passage it is also clear that pride must have something to do with resistance and will cause us to find ourselves in a relationship where God will be resisting us. Likewise, humility in this passage is linked to the absence of resistance while pride is evidently a description of a heart full of resistance. Therefore, to live in harmony with God's plan for life will require that we let go of all resistance and rest in His care for us in all circumstances, all that is except in our resistance of the devil and his schemes to entice us back into a life of resisting the love and truth about God and His plan for our lives.
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17 NRSV)