What does being submissive mean? Is it the same thing as being in submission? What is a biblical definition of submissive or submission?
To be submissive means someone who gives up their rights and their free will to be controlled by another. When we obey traffic laws, we are being submissive to the law enforcement agencies and yielding our own preferences to those in authority. We are all being submissive in one way or another, even if it’s yielding to traffic which has the right away, paying our taxes, or agreeing to work certain hours, performing certain tasks for an employer. We are being submissive when our employer asks us to do something and we do it. The biblical definition is what we’ll look at next.
Submission to Authority
Christians are commanded to live a life of submission to those who are in governing authority. Paul writes in Romans 13:1-2 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” because “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” since “the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing” (Rom 13:6). The author of Hebrews writes very much the same thing, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). Peter includes this command to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1st Pet 2:13-14).
Submitting to Husbands
This is about as popular in our culture today as poison ivy is but the Bible teaches wives to “submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Col 3:18) because just “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph 5:24) and “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). A key word here is “as to the Lord” so a husband cannot make his wife submit to ungodly or sinful practices. In the Old Testament period, “this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands” (1st Pet 3:5).
Submitting to God
When we submit to authorities, we are actually submitting to God (Rom 13:6) but our first obligation is to be in submission to God as even “the church submits to Christ” (Eph 5:24a) and within the church, we should “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21) and “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (1st Pet 5:5). Before we were saved, we did not submit to the laws of God “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law” (Rom 8:7) just as those today without the Spirit of God, “being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom 10:3) just as in the day of ancient Israel’s disobedience it was written “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me” (Psalm 81:11).
To avoid sinful practices, believers are told, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) for at one time, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) so the person who repents and trusts in Christ must submit their lives to God and agree to be placed under His authority. Today, we are looking for a better country and are living in pursuit of righteousness for this is the will of God.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.