I am sure we’ve all read and wondered about God’s command to Christian wives: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). It seems that in the God-ordained ordering of a Christian household, God intends husbands and wives to accept differing but complementary roles and for the wife to do this, she needs to focus on the way she and her husband and all the church of Christ submit to their Savior. There must be some study and some imitation. I found myself considering this one day so, as much as possible, put wives and husbands out of my mind and simply asked this: How does the church submit to Jesus Christ? Here’s what I came up with.
The Church Submits Obediently
First, the church submits obediently, or out of obedience. Jesus Christ is king over the world and everyone in it. Jesus declared this to his disciples when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Those are words of kingship. Jesus reigns and rules over all that is, a theme we see in cascading clarity as Scripture moves toward its close. In Revelation 1:5 we hear of: “Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Jesus is king over every other king. Then in Revelation 19:16 we read this fascinating description of him: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” Jesus Christ is the king of the universe and obedience demands that we submit to his rule. To be obedient to God we must submit to Jesus Christ.
The Church Submits Willingly
Second, the church submits willingly. There is a facet to submission that is too often overlooked: Submission cannot be forced, but must be voluntary. That’s because submission is not the same as subjection. Subjection is an action taken by the one with authority where submission is an action taken by the one under authority.
Subjection is the act of a ruler to force obedience. He uses fear or force to break the wills of people so they eventually surrender to him. They give up and wave the white flag. They’ve been conquered. Submission is the act of someone who acknowledges legitimate authority and arranges himself accordingly. Submission is voluntary. It is responding to the divine order of things first in the heart and then in the life. The church is not in subjection to Jesus Christ; we haven’t been ruthlessly conquered by him. No, the church has been won by Jesus Christ, so we willingly submit to him. We acknowledge his right to rule, we acknowledge his overwhelming love, we respond to his Spirit, and we arrange ourselves accordingly.
The Church Submits Confidently
Third, the church submits confidently. When we become Christians, we enter into a relationship with Jesus. Other people may know about Jesus, they may know some facts about him, but as Christians we know Jesus. We aren’t submitting to some abstract entity or far-off deity, but to someone who is here with us, dwelling within us by his Spirit. And to know Jesus is to have confidence in Jesus. We soon learn that God’s blessings flow to us through Jesus. We learn that our lives are at peace as we live according to his ways. We learn that there is great benefit in responding to his leadership with joy and love. We learn he will never lead us astray, that he is only ever acting in love, that he is gentle and kind and patient toward us. So our submission to him is confident, not apprehensive. It is certain, not suspicious. We know him and trust him and joyfully, confidently submit to his leadership.
The Church Submits Actively
Fourth, church submits actively. God has made each of us a unique, hand-crafted individual. We are unique in our personalities, our talents, our gifting, our passions, our experiences. And when we submit to Jesus Christ, we submit all of that to him. We trust that he will work not despite these but through these. He’s not going to take them all away and make us completely the same as every other Christian. Sanctification is not becoming some generic being and it is not becoming someone else—it’s becoming the truest and best and holiest version of ourselves. Our submission is all about asking how God has made us and then actively using all of those things in his service. Our submission is handing to him all we have and all we are and saying “I submit this to your purposes. Please use it.”
The Church Submits Completely
Finally, the church submits completely. We submit to him all the way. Our submission to Christ is wholehearted. As Christians, we don’t get the option of submitting only part of the way. You might think about the parable of the talents. The servants who were rewarded were the ones who invested every talent that had been given them, and who invested them all the way. What do we call half-hearted or half-way submission to Jesus Christ? We call it sin! What do we call grudging submission to Jesus Christ? We call it sin! When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we choose to submit to him entirely We choose to dedicate our whole lives to knowing what he calls us to and then doing it. We have a deep longing to submit to him in everything—to know all his will so we can do all his will.
Imitate this Submission!
The church of Christ submits to Christ, and in this way provides an important model for every lesser form of submission. The church submits obediently, willingly, confidently, actively, and completely. So must we all in any relationship in which God calls us to acknowledge authority and to arrange ourselves accordingly.