By Dawn Wilson, Crosswalk.com
In the crowdfunded series, The Chosen, Jesus asks Nicodemus to follow Him, but Nicodemus — who was trying to understand what Jesus came to do — suddenly realized how much he would have to give up to follow Jesus. The searching Pharisee asks, “To give up who I am?” Jesus replied, “It’s true. There is a lot you will give up. But what you will gain is far greater and more lasting.” That is a picture of submission to God, both in salvation and discipleship.
In James 4:7, James said, “Submit yourselves then, to God.” Submission to God is a theme throughout the Bible. Some synonyms for submit are “yield,” “surrender,” and “give in.” When God’s children are told to submit, the idea is to give themselves over completely and choose to place themselves under God’s authority and control with the desire to obey His will.
Submission — waving the white flag of surrender to God — is not only the required choice for the true believer, but also the means to great blessing.
What Is the Context and Meaning of James 4:7?
Some versions of James 4:7 use the word “therefore.” “Submit yourselves therefore to God” (ESV). This refers to verses 1-6 that describe the confusion and contention in the early church in Jerusalem.
James asked, “What’s causing all these fights and quarrels?” The apostle addressed their fighting, covetousness, and carnality. The church family was allowing sin to govern their choices. Their ungodly behavior showed they were operating under the “desires” that battled within them and Satan’s influence.
In verse six, James reminded believers that God opposes the proud but shows favor or grace to those who are humble. In their pride, Christians were resisting the truth of Scripture and providence of God — and the remedy was to submit to His truth and providence. James was, in effect, calling for repentance and a fresh surrender to God’s authority.
The result of humble submission is the ability to resist the devil and his schemes, and to live more Christlike in the assembly of believers. James says again in verse 10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” In verses 13-17, James addressed the presumptuous, arrogant attitude of believers about the future — making plans without consulting God and surrendering to His will. The believers needed to acknowledge that God could change their plans at any time. So “you ought to say,” James said, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
What Are Some Biblical Examples of Submission to God?
We see examples of submission to God throughout the Bible. Abraham was called to submit to God’s plan and surrender what he held dear — his homeland, possessions, family, and position. God told him to travel at His command into the wilderness toward the Promised Land (Genesis 12:1-3). He had numerous occasions to surrender over his lifetime, fashioning a track record of faith that prepared him for subsequent surrenders. Each time, he built an altar of surrender.
Esther, a young Jewish maiden, became the queen of Persia. God placed her in King Xerxes harem at just the right time, and she rose to a position of power, enabling her to rescue her people from annihilation. In a great display of faith and surrender to the sovereign will of God, she staked her life in approaching her pagan husband to beg for the lives of the Jews. Her surrender to God had no guarantees — “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
Mary’s response to the angel’s message from God was complete surrender. In Luke 1:38, Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. . . . May your word to me be fulfilled.” Some versions say “handmaiden;” others say “bondservant,” meaning “bondslave.” The Jews were familiar with the concept. A bondslave had a hole bored through his or her ear to signify ownership to their earthly master. The psalmist wrote about this in Psalm 40:6-8 where the word “opened” means “pierced.”
The imagery for the believer is to have a servant’s heart and be willing to do God’s will. Peter, James, Paul, and Jude are also example of submission. Each said they were a servant — a doulos or slave — of Christ.
Of course, the greatest example of a servant-like submission was Jesus. The words in Psalm 40:6-8 prophesied the Messiah who would come to be the humble Servant, submitting to the Father’s will in bringing salvation (Philippians 2:5-7; 1 John 4:14). We observe our Lord’s deeply human struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane — facing the horrors of Calvary — but He triumphed in perfect submission.
Why Should We Submit to God?
Why would anyone give up personal control to someone? There are three reasons Christ-followers should surrender their personal authority and submit to God’s authority.
First, in submission Christians acknowledge that God is God. He is the Creator and Controller of the vast universe — and that includes all mankind. He does not need to give further reasons or arguments for us to submit to Him. Christians belong to Him: “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
Second, in submission Christians remember what God has done in saving, providing, protecting, and much more. Submission should well up from a heart of gratitude. Formerly enemies, God’s children were rescued in love, and He only desires good for those who love Him (Romans 5:8; Romans 8:28).
Third, in submission Christians can anticipate what God plans to do in their lives through His love and grace. Those in the family of God will be “conformed to the image” of Christ, who is Himself “the image of the invisible God.” Such submission to God brings freedom and blessing because it means we are willing to cooperate with and be obedient to God’s sovereign plans for our lives.
What Holds Us Back from Submitting to God?
Submission to God requires a humble attitude. God resists the arrogant who resist or fight God in every decision, asserting personal authority over His control. Pride keeps us independent of God, thinking perhaps that He is a tyrant or unfair. As a loving Father, God only wants what is best for His children; but pride is an enemy to submission because it refuses to yield to the Father’s love, wisdom, and control.
Fear and worry can also hinder submission because it paralyzes thinking and makes Christians believe everything depends on them. Bible teacher and revivalist Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wrote about “The Four Fears” that cause people to be afraid to relinquish total control to God. These four fears are:
1) The fear that we might not have all we need
2) The fear that we might not be happy
3) The fear that we might not be safe
4) The fear that our relational needs might not be met
In other words, Wolgemuth said, we have fears about “provision, pleasure, protection, and personal relationships.”
Fears are natural and, humanly speaking, worry is understandable, but the heart of the matter is that once we know God’s character, we understand we can trust Him not to bring anything into our lives except what is for our ultimate good and the interests of His eternal kingdom. “God’s will is what we would choose if we knew what God knows,” Wolgemuth said.
Clinging to the darkness of sin is another reason we refuse to submit. First, we “love darkness” rather than light, and refuse to come to God to receive the light of life in salvation. Then, as Christ-followers, we often make choices to act just like we lived before salvation (1 Corinthians 6:11). We foolishly choose to submit to the world’s culture, fleshly passions, and Satan rather than to the Lord (Ephesians 2:2-3a; 1 John 2:15-17; Romans 7:15-25; James 4:7b).
How Can We Submit Our Lives to God?
We can submit to God in many beautiful ways. Here are three.
First, we submit to God in prayer. We say, “Yes, Lord” to whatever He asks. Surrender may involve struggle on our part. We may cry many tears before we wave the white flag. But ultimately, as we draw near to God, placing our lives on the altar, we confess, “I am completely Yours, Father, and everything I have is yours. I desire to do Your will. Please help me stay on the altar of surrender.” The good news is that God’s grace does work in us to help us surrender to His “good purpose.”
We can also submit to God by studying and obeying His Word. As we are transformed by the renewing of our mind, we will be able to better discern God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Surrendering to walk in His commandments illustrates our love for Him. Jesus said we will be blessed when we obey or “keep” His Word.
Another way we submit to God is by responding rightly to the indwelling Holy Spirit. We submit to being filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18b) and guided by Him (John 16:13). Yielding to the Spirit will help believers to not “grieve” Him. We grieve the Spirit when we act sinfully, causing Him sorrow. We also must not “quench” the Spirit — stifling His power or energy working in us. Also, Stephen, in Acts 7:51, said professing believers can stubbornly “resist” the Holy Spirit.
Submitting to God, then, is a matter of the heart, and cultivating a right relationship with the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and the Word of God.
Can Our Submission to God Lead to Revival?
For the Christian, surrender should be a lifestyle, not dependent on circumstances but motivated by reverence and love for God. It’s the kind of response found in Luke 10:27 — loving God with our whole being.
In a lifestyle of surrender, we submit our “heart,” the seat of our morals and ethics, and refuse to compromise our standards. We submit our sinful, ungodly desires. We submit our fears. We submit wrong motives and the imaginations and reasoning of our mind. We submit every expectation for our own plans and agenda — we submit everything!
Nancy Wolgemuth described this kind of submission as God handing us a blank piece of paper and saying, “Now, I want you to sign on the bottom here, then give it back to Me and let me fill in the details.” We might recoil at the possible cost of such surrender, but, Wolgemuth said, if we don’t step out in faith and surrender, “ultimately we will find ourselves in bondage to the very things we’ve refused to surrender.”
There is indeed a cost to pay in submitting to God, but for the Christ-follower desiring personal revival, it is a price worth paying. Leanna Shepherd, who worked on the staff of a revival ministry, wrote, “While revival can gain momentum and affect hundreds or thousands, it cannot begin until at least one individual completely surrenders his or her life and will, saying, ‘Yes, Lord.’ . . . You must come to a place of full surrender and brokenness for God to continue His work in your heart.” In short, if we want to experience the beauty of revival, we must choose the road of daily submission to our God.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Boonyachoat
Dawn Wilson has served in revival ministry and missions for more than 50 years. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com.