Four Myths About Submission In The Christian Life
- Michael Milton
- 2006 7 Jul
Paul Miller, the author of Love Walked Among Us, begins teaching seminars by writing these words on a flip chart: I do nothing on my own. I can only do what I see my dad doing.
He asks for analysis. In the age of Oprah and Dr. Phil, the armchair psychologists’ answers come.
He sounds weak. Almost helpless.
Does he have a mind of his own?
If he’s an adult, he needs a little separation from his dad.
Has this person been to counseling?
Miller writes, “After I’ve let the hook go deep, I tell them that Jesus said those words.” – “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does . . . .By myself I can do nothing . . . ” (John 5:19, John 5:30).
Jesus is the model of submission. Let us read John 17 and consider the submission of Jesus in His High Priestly Prayer and what it says to us today. May the hook of God’s grace go deep and reel us in to see just how dependent we are . . . and how wonderful that is.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. i glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” (John 17:1-8).
“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).
We Will Have No King to Rule over Us
“Where am I missing it?” As a pastor now ministering in the United States, that was the question John Guest was asking himself. He felt that he was not connecting with his parishioners in Pennsylvania. He was a fine preacher, an excellent scholar, and a very friendly and engaging personality. He was also very devoted to Jesus Christ and to preaching His Word.
One weekend as he was antiquing with his wife, he found his answer, the missing link of understanding in his ministry. The answer was printed on a Revolutionary-era sign that he spotted in an antique shop. The sign, which would have hung in a Colonial general store, read, “We will have no king to rule over us!” John Guest came to understand that he had come from England where having a king, calling someone Your Lordship, was a part of the culture. But the idea of lordship and total monarchy was something completely outside of the American psyche.
That independent spirit created a great nation. But it can get in the way when it comes to submitting your life to another in relationships like marriage, friendship, work, but especially and primarily in a relationship with God. Nothing could be more central to the Christian life than the creature submitting himself to His Creator.
We are considering submission in John 17 because it is at the very heart of this prayer. In this prayer Jesus is perfectly submitted to His Father. He calls God His Father, and this speaks of submission. Jesus says that He is doing what the Father wants Him to do, and this speaks of submission. In seeing this submission, there are messages for our lives as His people. Submission is not popular for a people bent on self-identity, self-realization, and self-reliance, but God calls us to a life of submission, and we can learn something about it from this passage.
I want to address four myths about submission in the Christian life.
Myth 1 — Submission to God Is a Loss of Freedom.
Many people believe that if they submit their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, they will lose their freedom; they cannot do anything that they want to do in life. A tragic flaw in this reasoning is that a person who is not under the lordship of Jesus is not free. The Bible says that you are in bondage to sin, to the lusts of your own flesh, to the whims of an evil spiritual opponent who wishes you destroyed, and to a world that is alienated from the one who brings true freedom. Or as that great theologian Bob Dylan put it,
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may the Lord
but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.1
This myth then precipitates another lie: You can be a disciple of Jesus without a radical submission to Jesus in every area of your life. This desire to have it both ways took on a very seductive heresy a few years ago when we heard about Jesus being our Savior but not our Lord. This is a lie. If He is not Lord, He is not Savior.
I want to show you that Jesus, while being God, was in total submission to God the Father.
He claimed to be God, and there can be no mistake about it. In John 10:30 He claimed that He and the Father were one. The religious leaders plotted against him because He claimed to be God. He said that if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father. Yet this one who is God, who claims divinity,2 who says in John 17 that He was with the Father before the world ever began,3 also says that He does only what the Father wants Him to do.4 He is submissive to God His Father. His being is perfectly equal, but His role is submissive.
This prayer of Jesus in John 17 shows total submission. Even the opening of His prayer shows this:
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed, “‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you’” (John 17:1).
The phrase “the time has come” is meant to say that His appointed time to die for the sins of His people has come. Jesus is living a life that His Father ordained for Him. He is headed for the cross to die for sinners. Yet, there has never been anyone more free because our Lord is controlled by a love that He said existed before the world began. He is free from every other passion and interest because of His one holy passion. And one holy passion makes you free.
Shall you think that you, a mortal, a creature created by this God, can maintain independence by being alienated from this God? Can you, believer, actually think for one moment that you, who are said to be a gift of love from Father to Son, can actually be independent from God? Going your own way? But many imagine such a thing.
The classic tale of resisting God for his own supposed independence is that of the great church father Augustine. In his Confessions Augustine recounts how he did not want to yield his life to God, thinking that do so would be to give up his own rights. But the prayers of his mother, Monica, and the words of a child drove him to the Scriptures where he saw the insanity of unbelief. Augustine wrote these words:
You called, you cried, you shattered my deafness.
You sparkled, you blazed, you drove away my blindness.
You shed your fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I pant for you.4
That is the language of a lover and a heart set free.
I resisted God in my own life. Perhaps like someone listening, I thought that to live apart from God meant freedom. But it was insanity. I was deaf to the sound of His sweet words of life. I was blind to the sight of His hand moving in my life and in the world. I had no sense of the presence of God. But to give your life away to the Lord is to be acquitted of the judgment against your sins and to be set at liberty. And more. it is not only to know Him but to experience His power in your life. It is, in a word, to live.
Now let me address this matter to the believer. This myth, shed at the point of receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, re-appears, like a virus, in the Christian life. The myth reappears whenever Christ calls you to follow Him into a new calling, to a new role in His kingdom. It is then that we say, “I don’t want that kind of restriction in my life.” I, too, remember being called to follow God into the very narrow calling of the ministry. I told God that I could serve Him just as well in other ways. I even felt that to follow God into this calling would be to restrict my life. Then a friend told me about the life of Martin Luther. Luther was gifted to be a great lawyer or a great musician, but Luther said that because he was called to preach, he was in chains. But in his chains he found his freedom.
To follow Jesus, to teach that class, to go to the mission field, to surrender to God to be a pastor, or to follow Him to forgive that one who hurt you, will put you in chains. But in those velvet chains of Jesus Christ, you will find your freedom. Submission to the Lord is not a loss of freedom but a life of liberty like you have never known before.
Myth 2 — Submission Is a Loss of Identity
Again, we must point to the fact that in submitting to His Father, Jesus does not lose His identity as God, but his role relationship with the Father is clarified:
“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
Yet there are some who think that if they follow Jesus, they will lose their identity as freethinking, do-as-they-please people. Or they think they will check their minds at the door of the church and be mindless robots. How far from the truth this is. Yet how many secretly hold on to this lie of hell.
What is the answer? The answer is love. Jesus submitted to His Father in a covenant of redemption made in eternity past to leave His royal robes of divinity to live as man and to die for man that man may live. He submitted Himself to earthly authorities, even though all of them — kings and parents and governments — will one day have to bow their knee to declare that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Jesus submitted Himself to the elements of the world — the dreary dampness of the rainstorm and the scorching heat of the sun — even though He created the elements out of His own word. He submitted Himself to the cross even though He made the trees from which that cross was formed. He submitted Himself to evil men and then cried, “Father forgive them . . . ”
Why? Because He was intent on saving the gift given to Him by His Father before the foundation of the world. You are a gift of love from God the Father to God the Son. Jesus’ identity is the Son and your identity is a child of God, if you submit to Jesus.
I tell the men who come to me to be married that in taking this woman to be your wife, you are giving up your identity as your own man. You are now entering a life where you live for this woman. You will become, in the eyes of God, one flesh with her. You are to give your life away to her. I tell the woman that in taking his name, in becoming his wife, you are submitting to Him as a believer does to Christ. I remind them that Sarah called her husband Lord. Sometimes that one throws them a bit. No, it never does when they are in love and committed to each other. Submission is no problem where there is love.
I remember years ago hearing the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. I like him. He is from Mississippi and used to be a salesman. He gives sage advice, especially to salesmen. When I was a manager for Ashland Chemical, I took my salesmen to hear him. He said a lot of good things that really helped us, but the thing I remember most was his introduction of himself. He said, “Hi, I am Mrs. Ziglar’s happy husband!” I have since used that line many times. “I am just Mae Milton’s happy husband.” “I am John Michael Milton’s happy daddy.” Why say that? You know why: Love. Love delights in assuming the identity of the one loved, in marriage, in friendship, even in work.
My friend, giving your life to the Lord Jesus Christ will not be a loss of identity. Submission is a sweet surrender that brings sonship.
Hi, I am the forgiven sinner, the slave set free, the happy child of the One I love.
Myth 3 — Submission Is a Loss of Purpose
“For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him” (John 17:2).
Jesus has a very narrow purpose. He is the Mediator of the Covenant. He is the High Priest, holy and unblemished, to go before the Father to present us righteous. He is the Lamb of God to be slain for the sins of His people. “You shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins.”6 This is a very limiting role. Paul’s letter to the Philippians speaks about how He submitted to His Father’s will:
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-11).
Submission to God the Father caused Jesus to realize His purpose.
Jesus tells us that when we are crucified to self, we live. He tells us that whoever saves his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake finds it. Thus, A.W. Tozer wrote,
People who are crucified with Christ have three distinct marks:
1. they are facing only one direction,
2. they can never turn back, and
3. they no longer have plans of their own.7
And Bonhoeffer rightly said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids Him come and die.”8
But to die to sin, to the old self, is not to lose your purpose for life. It is to find it.
If you ever get tired of my six sermons on John 17, please remember that Martyn Lloyd-Jones has four volumes on John 17! This man, Lloyd-Jones, is one of the most fascinating figures in twentieth century church history. This man from humble beginnings in South Wales was trained as a physician at St. Bartholomew’s in London, a noted medical school and training ground for world-class doctors. He became a surgeon and was, in fact, an official surgeon to the British monarchy. His wife was also a physician. But God called Him to the ministry. He left St. Bartholomew’s and the staff of the Queen to preach the gospel to coal miners in South Wales.
The London Times ran a feature story on this. The whole angle was: How could a prominent young London physician possibly leave all the money and trappings and respect and honor of his position to give his years to poor coal miners in Wales? His answer? “I gave up nothing. I gain all. It is an honor to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I used to think that if I followed the Lord, I would lose my purpose. The thing is, I didn’t know what my purpose was. It kept changing. But since Jesus took control of my life, He gave me a purpose. As a husband, a father, a friend, a worker, a human being with emotions and desires and interests, I now have a purpose: to offer my life to Jesus as an act of love. When I do, I receive great delight and joy. If I died today, I would be a most complete man. My completeness no longer depends on what great things I have done. I am free from that. My completeness is in Him. I am like a wife in love with her husband. I am like a child who looks up to a father and finds identity in Him.
I have lost nothing in following Him. I have realized peace and fulfillment. And you will, too. For submission to the Lord is not a loss of purpose. Submission to His will is the great destiny of the happiest people on earth.
Myth 4 — Submission Is Loss of Joy
This myth says that if I become a Christian or if, as a Christian, I follow the Lord to where I believe He is calling me, I will no longer be happy. This is one of the greatest lies.
Jesus prayed that his disciples might know joy:
“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).
Jesus also says,
“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 16:26).
To welcome Jesus into your life, to follow Him, to give all away for Him, is to know the joy and love of the Triune God in your own life. You were, in fact, created that you may glorify Him and enjoy Him.
John Piper says of the love of the Triune God, “In creation God “went public” with the joy that reverberates between Father and Son.”9
In the fall of man, our ears became deaf and our hearts became cold to that reverberating joy. But in new birth, in redemption, we can hear again. We can feel again. We are like smokers who quit and can suddenly taste again. And the longer we linger before Him in prayer and in His Word, the tastier His joy becomes.
The question is this: Are you really satisfied not having the ultimate joy that your heart craves? Are you content with living below the line of joy?
I think of the words of C.S. Lewis at this point: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”10
For too long, as a young man, I was too easily pleased. But I was most miserable. I sought and sought to find joy. Yet, to think that I would find it by giving away my life seemed, at minimum, a contradiction to me. It may to you. My friend, I have never known such joy as following Jesus Christ.
And would you leave today clinging to half-hearted dreams? Would you walk away content with the little trinkets of this world when eternal life is offered? Would you be pleased with anything less than knowing and following this Jesus who prays for His own?
Submission to the Lord Jesus is not a loss of joy, but a mending of the woundedness of our souls that brings endless delight to our lives.
Jesus submitted his life to His Father to die so that we who were given to Him by His Father can live, even though we die.
To surrender your life to Jesus Christ will not be a hard choice if you know His love and receive it. You may face trials and even persecution for surrendering your life to Jesus Christ. But on the day when the prayers of Jesus for you are finally answered and you are safe in the arms of Christ, you will look at it all and say, “I don’t regret a second, it was all worth it . . . to see Him now.”
2. “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
3. “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).
4. So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).
6. Matthew 1:21
9. John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1996) 44.
10. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 1-2 as cited by John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1996) 17.