Habits of the Heart: A Study of the Spiritual Disciplines
Dr. Jack R. Hodges, Jr.
In this monthly series of articles, I have chosen to survey twelve (one each month) spiritual habits of the heart or spiritual disciplines that we must pursue in our faith journey to maturity in Christ. Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (Harper & Row, 1978), divides these twelve into three categories: Inward disciplines; Outward disciplines; and Corporate disciplines. Today, look with me at the spiritual discipline of “submission,” which is considered to be one of the outward disciplines. An “outward” discipline seeks to take us from the immediate presence of the Lord and present us as living witnesses of Jesus to the world around us. Each of these is not outward-focused, however—meaning, the focus is not on what we do—but rather, on the attitudes of our heart that find expression beyond ourselves.
James commanded (James 4:7-8), “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” He continued in verse 10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
The word “submit” is a difficult word for our modern society, much less the modern-day church. Perhaps it is because individuals have seen and experienced leadership that has misused power and authority and has manipulated and controlled others to get what they want. Or perhaps it is because we are overcome with pride, selfishness, and worldly living.
However, the Word of God is absolutely clear children of God are to submit to God. The Greek word for “submit,” found here and elsewhere in the New Testament, is (Hupatágēte—Ὺποτάγητε); which literally means “to place oneself under the authority of another.” Simply stated, it means that we are to obey. That is, we are to give up our own wishes, wants, desires, and plans and yield them and ourselves to the wants, wishes, desires, and plans of the Lord. We don’t lose ourselves nor our freedom to make our own choices—rather, we, by faith and trust, offer ourselves to Sovereign God to do with us as He needs and wishes.
Many, if not most, New Testament Scriptural verses use this word in the Greek middle or passive tense—always indicating that we are deliberately acting or choosing to place ourselves under the authority of the Lord and under His Word. In the deepest sense, we are subjecting ourselves to and we are actively obeying the wishes and commands of God. He is not forcing us to comply. He has not taken away our freedom. Rather, our Savior and Redeemer is asking us to give our hearts, minds, and choices over to His plans and purposes.
Truly, godly submission is a personal and intentional choice. It does not involve coercion, intimidation, force, threat, pressure, or obligation. To submit to God requires faith and trust in the one to whom we are offering our obedience and submission. And we can offer our submission to Him because our God is faithful and true. He only requires of us what will give Him glory, accomplish His plans and purposes, and allows Him to offer us the benefit of blessings from Him. To submit to another believer, in the context of the Body of Christ, the church, requires that I place my faith in God and the working of the Holy Spirit in my fellow brother or sister. To submit to my spouse requires that I offer my very best out of love and sacrifice to my beloved.
Oh, that the spiritual discipline of submission would become a deep and true habit of our hearts! Why is this so important? Look at the life and ministry of Christ Jesus. Jesus lived His whole life in submission to the Father. Paul gives us one of the most powerful glimpses to be found in all of the Scriptures (Philippians 2:5-8), “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
In this powerful description of Jesus, we find the Son of God giving up all that was rightly His—so that He could willingly be offered as the sacrificial lamb who would take away the sins of the world. Jesus’ example and call to follow the way of the cross is the cornerstone of the Christian journey of faith. Our lives, our choices, our directions, our futures, our relationships are built on this spiritual principle and truth—the way of the cross. And so, Jesus’ call to follow the way of the cross is the foundation for all godly relationships. And it is, needless to say, the foundation for all of Paul’s teachings on submission.
In learning to practice the spiritual discipline of submission, we free ours to follow our Savior. In living out God’s call to live the Christ-life of submission:
- We are free to give up our rights—which is exactly what Jesus did!
- We are free to value the persons and opinions of others. We are free to allow God-appointed and God-anointed leaders to lead—even though they will sometimes fail or sometimes lead out of unhealthy motives.
- We free ourselves from being responsible for another’s choice—which allows them to be responsible for their own choices before the Lord.
- We practice self-denial—which sets us free from bondage to the flesh.
- We are free to follow and obey Jesus’ commands—we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44); we love our neighbor (Matt. 19:19), and we love and serve our spouse just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 6:26).
Whenever you hear Jesus voicing a command, then that command will likely require you to practice submission. Whether it concerns our vertical relationship with Him or our horizontal relationships with others—each requires submission and sacrifice—just like Jesus!
Not only are we commanded to be obedient to the Lord’s commands, but we are also commanded to submit to authorities. Paul dealt with that issue in Romans, encouraging the Roman believers to submit to governing authorities. He wrote in Romans 13:1-4, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God…” And Paul commanded the believers living in Rome (Hebrews 13:17) “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
No study of the spiritual discipline of submission is complete without mentioning that there are limits to submission. Any such limits would have to do with either: (1) a denial of the law of love as taught by Jesus; or (2) an affront to Biblical teachings. Some limits to submission may be readily seen. For example, a spouse demands that their mate beat their child for no reason at all. Or perhaps, an American citizen is asked to violate the laws of the Lord which we find in the Scriptures. One doesn’t submit to calls for abuse or to be abused. One doesn’t submit to evil. One doesn’t submit to destructive pressure, demands, or expectations. In each of these and many other cases, a believer who refuses to submit on the basis of those two limits mentioned above does so in a spirit of meekness and submission—not out of arrogance or pride.
What is submission? Slavery, bondage, or servitude? Absolutely not! The Spiritual Disciple that God desires to become a “habit” of your heart is that which seeks to constantly and continuously offer our obedience, support, and wholehearted investment in the work of ministry and service—which honors and glorifies God. As you seek to serve the Lord, don’t neglect the way of submission.
You can read more from Dr. Jack Hodges HERE.
Dr. Jack Hodges is the Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton, NC. He has served as a pastor, a biblical counselor, and an International Mission Board missionary where he and his wife, Shawn, lived in Gaza for 15 years.