Not the Same! For many years Christians have confused two words. We think these two words are the same – synonymous: submission and obedience. They are not synonymous at all. Let me explain.
Let’s take a look at them from a Biblical point of view. Submission is an attitude, or position, of the heart. It is a decision that involves every part of a person. Nothing is left out. When one chooses (and it is always a matter of freedom) to live in the heart attitude of submission, nothing is outside of that decision. That decision remains regardless of circumstances, pressure, or people. It is a heart attitude that chooses to prefer another’s will over one’s own. It is a part of the understanding of living in the covenant of love in Jesus, living in the covenant of marriage with one’s mate (regardless of gender), and a by-product of understanding authority in the Kingdom of God. Submission cannot be forced but must be gifted through one’s own will.
Obedience, on the other hand, is merely that. It is sometimes a choice, but sometimes it is not. Obedience can be forced and manipulated. Those who choose not to obey the laws of the land will discover circumstances not favorable to their freedom. Within the covenant in Jesus, obedience is requested and in it flow the power and blessings of our inheritance as sons of God. Without it, love and blessings remain but may not be seen in the circumstances. Obedience is an act of the will, but there are many who obey but hate its very action. That’s rebellion.
As a young married woman, I remember making the comment that I would obey (the men in our church, who were in leadership), but I did not like it, nor agree with whatever it happened to be. My phrase went something like this, “I will submit to this, but I do not think it is good nor right.” Age might say it differently, but the effect would be the same. Boy did I have things mixed up! That was pure rebellion. I apparently had a lot to learn about His love.
Like everything in this relationship in Jesus, it is Him wooing us into His love expression. He does, indeed require obedience, but He wants it through submission. That is a much harder thing to bring about in all of us. When we begin to relax in His embrace and love, then submission to Him and to others becomes an expression of our love for Him. It is a small thing to do, but it requires a substantial heart experience to enable. Submission is not obedience with grumbling, anger, or resentment but instead, that is rebellion, even though we do what has been requested.
Now that we see the difference, it is up to us to choose the time in His love and experience His gentleness and mercy to allow Him to woo us into His heart of submission. This is real freedom, for love responds to love and does what love does. Obedience then flows from the heart – not just from “have-to.”
I am still learning this over and over and over again as I age. The battle in most of us is strong regarding our will and His love. However, He wins – have you noticed? He wins! I am so thankful He does.