Submission Is Harder Than You Think

As a Christian woman and a wife, I’ve heard a lot of teaching on the topic of submission over the years. I assume that most women who attend good churches have, too. I’ve also had disturbing conversations with egalitarian women who think that submission is mutual in marriage: husbands and wives equally submitting to one another. Gallons (drums?) of ink have been spilled over the roles of men and women in the home and the true definition of what it means for a wife to submit to her husband. Yes, submission has been a hot topic in Christian circles for years.

But there’s one form of submission that Paul speaks of that I’ve never heard anyone discuss—at least not in those terms. Here’s Romans 10:1-4:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

In this passage, Paul is expressing his deep longing for the salvation of his Jewish brothers. He recognizes that they have a zeal for God, a desire to stand righteous before him. But in their zeal to serve and please God they are gravely mistaken. They are ignorant of the way of salvation—of the righteousness that comes from God. Is this ignorance just a lack of education or is there a moral component to it? It’s not simply that they are innocent, misguided seekers. No, in fact, their ignorance is willful. They are culpable because they have a desire for something other than the righteousness that comes from the God whom they say they’re seeking to please. They desire to glory in their own righteousness, so they aren’t willing to submit to his.

Isn’t that the difficulty with true Christianity? It forces us all, women and men, to subordinate ourselves—to bow low beneath the truth that if we want to be righteous we must give up all our efforts at righteousness and submit to his.

I ought to rejoice that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness,” but I’m not sure that I always do. Yes, of course, when I’m in my right mind, I exult in the truth embodied in those words. But there are other times, and far too frequently, when I find myself relying on my obedience to the law so that I can assure my own heart and beg to squirm out from under the total submission he’s demanded of me. You mean I can’t rely on myself at all? Really? Can’t I just craft a little something to hang on to when I start to doubt whether grace is enough? This feeling of freefalling into someone else’s mercy and righteousness is really quite unnerving. Sometimes grace gives me the shivers.

I’ll admit that wifely submission is difficult. But this kind of submission, submission to an alien righteousness, a righteousness that I do not deserve and don’t really even always want, is utterly impossible. I will never, and I mean never, give up the moral high ground on my own. God must humble me and change my heart by his Spirit, compelling me to bow the knee at Calvary, or I will always remain a proud Pharisee. Here’s the truth: Sometimes I make efforts at submitting to my husband so that I don’t have to submit in this other way. Sometimes I make nice dinners and say, “Yes, dear, of course,” just so that I can assure my own heart that I’ve got a little righteousness of my own.

It’s actually a nice distraction from the humiliating reality of an alien righteousness to spend time talking about being a godly wife. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just that in my self-sufficient heart I’d really rather talk about anything other than that submission. That humiliation? That righteousness? That weakness? Really?

Let’s pray today that the Lord may grant us all, women and men, the grace to submit ourselves to his righteousness and stop seeking to establish our own . . . no matter what form that might take.

  • Elizabeth

    Unless we submit to His righteousness, submitting ourselves to the blood of the covenant that makes men perfect, we stand before the throne of God, in essence, offering up filthy rags, as though they were pleasing to a Holy God. No moral purity or good work can absolve me of my wretchedness. I must bow to Him alone.

  • Paul

    Amen and amen!

  • Amber

    Wow, this gave me goosebumps. Excellent. Poignant. TRUTH. Thank you!! I will be sharing this on Facebook. Blessings

  • Chris Frick

    This is so good.

  • Sean Carlson

    Excellent! I’ve highlighted parts of this to be able to read it to a mixed group this coming Sun Morn. Great thoughts, thanks again

  • Steve Cornell
  • Dinah Clarke

    that is where the doctrine of wifely submission misses the mark … the point in Eph.5 (apparent when you read the original Greek) is that we all are required to submit … that is the life of the Christian…. husbands no less than wives, and yes there are differences in how we submit at different stages of our life and in the circumstances in which God places us.

    • Steve Cornell

      Actually, the original language of Ephesians 5 does not support the notion of mutual submission. Although we must honor, love and serve one another, submission is based on an authority structure. The greek does not provide the verb for submit in Eph 5:22. It is implied from v.21- “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Now for the order, v.22, wives to your husbands, Eph. 6:1, children to parents, 6:4, slaves to masters. The flow of the context is about those under authority submitting to those over them. Mutual submission is not a Biblical concept. It’s also a strange kind of theory. Yet this does not take away our need to serve one another with a footwashing kind of love that distinguishes us as His disciples!

  • Elyse Fitzpatrick

    Thanks for all the comments!

    Again, as I said above, I think that in some ways talking about biblical structure in the home is a distraction from talking about the gospel. Don’t misunderstand…I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about husbands and wives and children in biblical relationship. See my book “Helper by Design” for my perspective (if you like) or “Give them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus” when it comes out in the Spring.

    What I am saying is that the real deal is submitting to Christ’s righteousness. That’s where the true rub is; in fact, it’s so distasteful and difficult that none of us would ever do it without the intervening work of the Spirit, humbling us and making us willing to submit. Loads of Mormon women submit without any need for the transforming power of the Spirit. That kind of submission is easy in comparison.

    If we don’t keep the truth of an alien righteousness as central in all we think, do and say, then discussions about all sorts of other good, but secondary, topics will take it. Paul’s brethren didn’t miss salvation because they got their home life wrong. They got it wrong because they trusted in their own works (in their “righteous” home life). And that’s the point.

  • Steve Cornell

    Another way to look at this is through the lens of Romans 11 with Romans 12. Many are familiar with 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy…” But when we connect this with 11:32 “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” we learn that God is asking for us to do all of life and relationships (12:4ff.) based on His mercy. This is how the gospel transforms life in the home and everywhere else. I think it is what I hear you saying.

    Life and Relationships based on the mercy of God

    • Elyse Fitzpatrick

      Absolutely! Thanks!


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  • angela

    wow!strong IMPACT!but THRUE!Thank’s!