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Christianity 101

Authority, Submission and Obedience

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,…” This the opening line of the Declaration of Independence. These are words which bring tears to the patriot’s eyes, for in these words our forefathers cast off the idea that your class at birth determined your worth. There is a parallel to this some 1700 years earlier. “In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, …” going on to the point of proclaiming that there is neither male nor female. In our society we have taken this to heart—to the point of absurdity.

To understand this, we will need to look at this on two lines: legal and Christian.


It is the pride of our legal system that all who come before it are presumed equal. It is, of course, false. It is, however, the most convenient of legal fictions. It’s false—but a lot closer to the truth than any other system we can devise. By proclaiming our equality in court, we help prevent the miscarriage of justice.


The church, however, has no room for fiction. You will note that we are equal “in Christ.” What does that mean? It means when God sees us “in Christ” he sees us as sinless—and therefore pure, like Jesus. But in our discussion today, we shall have to deal with the sinners. And those come in all shapes and sizes, and are not equal at all.

If you want to understand the nature of equality, and how it works in the kingdom of God, you will need to study the basic relationship between God and his follower: submission. It may seem a strange spot to start, so let me give you a worldly example. Are you in submission to the traffic cop? If he turns on his flashing lights, are you going to pull over—or assert your fundamental equality with him by driving right on? No, you pull over. But you don’t pull over because he is somehow “better” than you. You pull over because you are obedient to the police. We’re going to take a long look at that traffic cop today—he has much to teach us about submission. To understand it clearly, we will begin with the concept of authority.


Let’s begin by establishing one thing: we are talking about legitimate authority here—not authority which is abused. That’s tyranny. How do I tell the difference? All legitimate authority is descended from the authority of Christ—for He has all authority. Is the policeman’s authority from Christ? Yes it is; God ordains governments.

But what kind of authority does the traffic cop have? He has authority over (it’s blindingly obvious) “traffic.” But to use this as an example to get to the principle, his authority is determined by his task.

Why does he have such authority? Because without such, people will not obey the traffic laws. This is a general reflection of the fact that authority is parceled out in this world because of sin and disobedience. But here’s another obvious point: who gets the benefit? It’s not the sinner (we hope); it’s those of us who are law-abiding.

One more thing: his authority is not nearly as wide as our submission. We have to obey him any time he directs it; but he has authority only when circumstances require it. So submission is much wider than authority.

Let’s summarize:

·         Authority is determined by the task assigned.

·         Legitimate authority comes from God

·         The reason authority is give is that this is a fallen world.

·         Submission is much broader than the authority commanding it.

Easy so far? Let’s take a look at submission itself.


It may come as a surprise to you, but all Christians are in at least one submission relationship—their relationship to Christ. We call him Lord. But most of us are in submission relationships in many ways. We’ve talked about the traffic cop, but how about these:

·         You are in submission to your doctor—he tells you that you need this surgery—and you let him carve on you! How submissive!

·         You are in submission to your teachers in the classroom

·         You are in submission to employers, and many others.

In short, being in submission is a common relationship. Indeed, it is not uncommon to be in authority over and in submission to the same person at the same time. The key to making the relationship work is two-fold:

·         The authority must be righteous—given by God, and exercised in his will.

·         The submission must be the right response to that authority.

What’s the right response? Believe it or not: whatever it takes to make that authority’s task a joy.

Submission is a voluntary relationship. Why would anyone volunteer to be in submission? Because the chief beneficiary of the relationship is the person in submission.

·         The traffic cop is the terror of the reckless; but have you ever been cut off by some idiot and wished you had a motorcycle officer in view?

·         Doctors are well paid—but they exist so that patients might get well.

·         Teachers are poorly paid—and their task is for the benefit of their students.

Aha! Now we understand! The reason we volunteer for submission relationships is that they benefit the person in submission.

So, summarizing:

·         Legitimate authority descends from Christ.

·         The nature of submission depends upon the authority given.

·         Submission is voluntary.

·         Submission relationships exist to deal with sin.

·         The primary beneficiary of the relationship is the person in submission.

Now let’s apply that to women in the church—particularly in marriage. First, let it be clear that women are commanded to be in submission to their husbands. This is not just a passing thought, but is specifically tied to a very graphic idea:

The marriage relationship is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.

God gives the man in the relationship the authority of Christ. Which is to say, the same kind of responsibility as Christ (remember that responsibility or task determines authority in the kingdom?) What authority is that? Christ’s authority is absolute and complete dominion over the church—for the purpose of presenting that church to himself as a spotless, radiant bride. Look behind the picture image: Christ’s primary concern for us is not whether or not our socks match; it’s our spiritual welfare. That’s the primary concern of the Christian husband as well—he is required to be the spiritual leader in his house.

Let’s take a reality check here. Walk into a Sunday morning Bible class containing women over 40. Even in a mixed group, there will be several women there who are SOS—single on Sunday. But there will be very few, if any, men in that condition. Why? God had it right; the man is the spiritual leader.

Take another reality check: look at your friends with teenage children. Some of them have real problems keeping them under control; others seem to go through those years with little trouble. In which households is the man the spiritual leader? Ah ha!

Why does this work? Children need a sense of place. If they can play Mom off against Dad, they quickly conclude that no one is really in charge.

Ladies, let’s take stock of what we’ve learned and apply it to you and to your marriage.

·         The Bible tells you that you are to be in submission to your husband. So his authority descends from Christ; it is therefore legitimate authority.

·         Your submission to him is a complete submission, for he has the same authority over you that Christ has over the church.

·         That submission is voluntary. (He can’t draft you into marriage.)

·         That relationship exists to deal with sin. Interestingly, in this instance it’s his sin we’re talking about.

·         The primary beneficiary of this submission relationship is you.

Which brings us, neatly, to the husband.

You, sir, have the tougher part of the job. It is no surprise that men in general have acquiesced to woman’s liberation—it spares them much work. Work? Yes—for the Christian model of authority is servant leadership—as modeled for us by Christ. This is the Jesus who washed his disciples’ feet. You have the authority; you also have the responsibility.

Do remember that those in authority will be judged more severely. You are responsible for the spiritual welfare of your house—first your own, then your wife’s and then your children. In all this, you must be motivated by love.

Does this sound difficult? I hope so. But let me put it to the ladies: if your husband was a servant-leader, whose every action was motivated by love for you and your children, just how difficult would submission be?

Let an old saint give us a hand here:

Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then be responsible for the same providential care for her, as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse. Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honored her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated, rejected and disdained Him, as he accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through his untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife. Even if you see her belittling you, or despising and mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness and your great regard for her. There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife. A servant can be taught submission through fear; but even he, if provoked too much, will soon seek his escape. But one's partner for life, the mother of one's children, the source of one's every joy, should never be fettered with fear and threats, but with love and patience. What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband? What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she were a slave, and not a woman by her own free will? Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the Church.

So this lesson is about wives—but mostly about husbands. Submission sounds strange to our ears. But if you will remember what Christian submission is—the righteous response to righteous authority—you will have little trouble enjoying the practice. Husbands, pick up your authority and exercise it—as a servant-leader. If you will follow Christ in this, your wife will make this task a joy.

Submission in church discipline

You will find it a fairly common practice that women are denied certain positions in the church. This again is based upon the practice of the Apostles. Usually, the restriction is on becoming an elder, as the guidelines in Scripture are rather specific here.

But here is where servant leadership shows its true beauty. If you see a task in the church that needs doing, you will usually find that no one will check you for submission if you volunteer to do it. The way you rise in the church is by service, not by pomp or title.

Indeed, all church discipline is based upon the nature of submission and obedience. The steps in church discipline are very simple:

1.      If you see your brother or sister in Christ sinning, you are to go to that person, privately, and attempt to gently bring them back to the truth.

2.      If that doesn’t work, you are to take two or three others with you and try it again.

3.      Only if that doesn’t work are you to take it to the church as a whole.

The purpose? The benefit of the sinner in submission. If you are administering the discipline, you get the pains of servant leadership. The sinner is the one who is rescued. Each step is designed to return a sinner quietly and without disgrace to them, or to the church.

But did you catch one thing? All Christians are in submission to one another! For example, the wife (so submissive in the paragraphs above) is to assume the authority of Christ—to keep her husband from sinning. Do you now see that the husband is in submission to the wife in this instance? She now has the authority of Christ. But just as she would not want to be ridiculed in public, so she should now speak to her husband privately.

Christians and the state

In many countries of the world the relationship between the church and the state is very antagonistic. In most Muslim countries, it is a capital offense to be a Christian or to attempt to speak to anyone about Christianity. In communist countries the technique is to have a state sponsored church—which does nothing effective.

Why? Any time the state proclaims itself supreme, the Christian must decide: state, or God? Our forefathers knew this well; in their time, the attempt was to prescribe a state religion. Hence the now twisted amendment to the constitution. The original purpose was to keep the state’s nose out of the church. The purpose now is to eliminate any public presence of the church.

How do we know when the state has overstepped its bounds? The test is very simple. If the state claims the submission of the Christian, then the Christian must be the beneficiary of the relationship. (Go back and read the preamble to the constitution). If the primary beneficiary is the state, that is not authority; that is tyranny. Our forefathers knew it and rebelled against it.

Do you need examples?

·         The schools can teach Islam, transcendental meditation and other “scientific” religions—but the mere possession of a Bible is grounds for expelling a student or firing a teacher.

·         Since 1991, with the demise (after 800 years of use in law) of the legal doctrine of “urgent necessity”, the government now has an almost unlimited right to bar the church from anything. There’s a case in California right now in which a church wants to construct a building on land they own. The city is telling them they must sell the land to a developer who can put in a strip mall.

Ask yourself this: why do they fear Christ so much? Surely if he is as irrelevant as our government proclaims, they would not bother. The problem is, He isn’t. And they know it.

What’s a Christian to do? We must remember the basics:

·         All legitimate authority comes from Jesus Christ. If the government turns itself to tyranny, the authority is no longer legitimate.

·         The Christian’s basic method of dealing with this is longsuffering. Are your children having their heads stuffed with lies at the public school? Then make the sacrifices necessary to send them to Christian schools. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, you will suffer for it. But did not your Lord warn you of this?

The problem is not an easy one, nor will it go away soon. But remember this: if God is for us, who can be against us? There is a reason the ACLU and the teachers’ unions have set out to destroy the church. They know their real enemy.

I leave you with one thought: the Christian response to authority—be it submission or outright rebellion—depends upon how that authority is related to Jesus Christ. It is the easiest thing in government to obtain the obedience of the Christian. You simply need exercise all the authority God gave you (and no more).

Winston Churchill, in his History of the English Speaking Peoples, speaks of Magna Carta, the great charter of English liberties. Surprisingly, this document does not contain sweeping, grand statements of liberty. The respect it so rightly deserves comes from its establishment of one doctrine: the king is not superior to the law. Churchill tells us this:

“The underlying idea of the sovereignty of the law, long existent in feudal custom, was raised by it into a doctrine for the national State. And when in subsequent ages the State, swollen with its own authority, has attempted to ride roughshod over the rights or liberties of the subject it is to this doctrine that appeal has again and again been made, and never, as yet, without success.”


“As yet.” The challenge is still before us. May we prove to be worthy heirs of the 800 years of English and American freedom.

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