The Christian S-Word

I sat squished around a dining room table with a dozen other college students. We were engaged in the usual innocent banter and theological debate because that's what happens over meals when you go to bible college. I was having a lighthearted dispute with a friend when he touted loudly, "Submit!"

My face flushed red and my muscles tensed. I knew he was joking, but my reaction was immediate and visceral. The carefree conversation skidded to a stop with one word. 

Submission has devolved into somewhat of a Christian curse word, particularly among women. The misuse and manipulation of a word that was originally meant to unify now leaves a bitter taste in the air. But this was never God's intention. Submission is not obedience; it's not compliance or a weak-willed conformity. Submission is an act of the will; a decisive deference to another. When submission is mentioned in the bible, it characterizes healthy relationships, not broken ones. It may have become a curse word over time, but submission is the secret ingredient to maturity.


Submission is evidence of a Spirit-filled life. Romans 8:6-7 says, "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." Submission takes a level of strength that we simply can't muster on our own. It requires communion with the Holy Spirit to access such power. 

Submission is a mark of discipleship. Discipleship is the process by which we grow more reflective of Jesus Christ, and we know that the God-man himself chose to submit, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). If we commit to taking the Christian life seriously, then we must come to terms with submission.

Submission makes space for joy. Hebrews 13:17 reads, "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you." Joy begets joy. Our submission to leaders brings them joy, which in turn deposits joy into the community. 

Submission is for the whole body of Christ. Ephesians 5:21 calls Christians to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." This means women and men, young and old, introverts and extroverts and ambiverts. The word picture that the Apostle Paul is painting here in Ephesians 5:21 is that of a Greek phalanx. A phalanx is a mass military formation where shields were interlocked so that no enemy spear could penetrate the defense. Each warrior would put a part of their shield underneath the person's cover next to theirs, all soldiers submitting their shields to one another. 

God's dream is better than what we've said, more colorful than the pictures we've painted, and richer than we've believed. But we can't parcel out the parts that sound good to us. It's all or nothing. 

What have you believed to be true about submission? How can you begin to redeem this word in your own life?