There is seldom today a more hotly debated topic than biblical submission. The secular women's movement has mischaracterized it as an archaic and barbaric means of keeping women under male domination. Even in "fundamental" church circles it is often equally misunderstood as either a worthwhile but lofty goal which is virtually impossible to attain ("I try to submit but I don't seem to be able to do it wholeheartedly or consistently"), or, on the other extreme, a fawning servitude in which the woman is relegated almost solely to the role of mother/housekeeper and, with her brood, is expected to walk "ten steps behind" the man, under his religiously imperious domination.

Obviously, none of these views comes anywhere close to the biblical portrait of submission, nor is submission an unattainable goal.


It is not the purpose of this article to deal at length with the substantial and often misunderstood question of "What is biblical submission?" There is excellent material elsewhere on this site to help the reader toward a more full definition of submission itself.

But, very briefly, simply by way of introduction, let me explain that our God has a prescribed order (and orderliness) in everything. We see that order, for example, in the Trinity, in which each member is submitted to the Father, and each member has a specific role or roles in the Father's ministry. Scripture is replete with examples of the principle of such Godly hierarchy.

The same is true of that God-established sanctuary known as the Christian home. There is a prescribed "order", a hierarchy, and prescribed roles to be fulfilled if the home and marriage are to function on the level of God's best. That order is: Christ-Man-Woman-Child.

We are told explicitly in scripture that the husband is to be the "head" of the wife (Eph. 5:23), and that she is to be in submission to her husband in everything (Eph. 5:24). There is no skirting the issue here. To maintain otherwise (as some liberal Christian elements do) is to falsify the clear and legitimate instruction of the Bible. But what exactly is submission, and how do we do it?

The Greek word for "submit" ("hupotasso") means to "bear up under", or "be placed in an orderly position under" -- that is, to support. A humble illustration of this might be the leg of a table. The leg supports the table so that the table can more effectively do it's own work of supporting something else.

It is the wife's role to support the man in the home, to be a suitable "helper" for his leadership in Christ. As a child of God herself, the wife is fully "equal" to the man (arguments about "equality" miss the point), yet her God given role in relation to her husband is one of support, not leadership. Such a role requires a yielding of her own will to his.

But truly biblical submission is not accomplished in a vacuum. It happens only as a part of a greater whole.


Often, we hear concerned Christian women ask if there is some sort of "special strength" that God gives to women to enable such submission. This is a legitimate question. If they are honest, many women will admit that this is an issue with which they have struggled their entire Christian life. If trying and trying in one's own willpower doesn't work, what does? Is there a "special strength" or enablement from God?

That, indeed, is the $64,000 question on this topic, for it cuts through to the very heart of the matter, revealing the underlying heart cry that almost every Bible-studying Christian woman (and man, too, if he wants to please God) asks at some point: "How do I submit?"


Yes, there is indeed a "special strength" that the Lord gives women to enable them to be submissive. But it is not something mystical that God "zaps" us with upon request. It is the same power that He gives to all of His children who are walking in the Spirit. It is the same power that He gives to husbands so that they can truly fulfill the awesome command to love their wives "as Christ loved the church" (a command which no husband can ever fulfill in his own power alone, just as no woman can truly and consistently submit to a man in her own power).

But the key is this: in order to access this type of Godly strength we must be "walking in" and "filled with" (controlled by) the Holy Spirit which lives within us (Gal 5:16,26; Eph. 5:18-21).

The prerequisite for that "filling" is a word that we sometimes don't like, and don't hear much about anymore, but which is the key to the victorious Christian life: surrender. As sinful, human creatures we are "pre-programmed" to seek our own way. The Bible calls this sin. We often think of sin as murder, adultery, pre-marital sex, and other such obvious wrongdoing -- and yes, these are sin. However, the Bible is clear that, fundamentally, sin is going our own way. Sin is whatever we do to try to make our lives work apart from God. Sin is centering our lives around something other than Him (and often these can be "good" things--- like spouses, family, children, church work, etc.). In short, sin is "our own way".

Salvation requires that we lay down "our own way" and approach God solely on His terms. Salvation is on His terms alone; it is His doing, and not our own. The same principle is true of the Christian life (Col. 2:6).

Our natural tendency is to "lean to our own understanding" (Prov. 3:5). Somehow we get the mistaken idea that although we are saved solely by God, we must live our Christian life in "our own way" (our own power, our own decisions, "our own understanding"). Sure, we may give it a religious or Biblical veneer, but often, deep down, we are more committed to making life work on our own terms than fully surrendering to all that God wants of us. We are more committed to doing things for God, in our own power (yes, even good things!), than we are surrendered to Him (laying down our own agenda for personal happiness or success, and just being available to Him on His terms alone).


A victorious walk requires surrender. It is not an option. And it is never replaced by biblical knowledge alone. When two cars approach an intersection from different directions one car has to YIELD. Otherwise, there will be an ugly collision. It's like that in the Christian life. You approach an intersection ("Will I submit?"). There is a decision to be made. Will I yield or will I "go my own way"? You see, God has always respected the free will of man. He gives US the choice. From Genesis through Revelation that is an ongoing principle. It is no less true today than it ever has been.

You see, when you approach that intersection, GOD is in the other car! The choice is, will you YIELD to Him? And not just once, but moment by moment, decision after decision, as a life pattern (Rom 12:1 & 2). This life pattern was demonstrated by Christ (Phil. 2:5-8) when He came to this earth and did the Father's will instead of doing what he himself wished. (Matt 26:42, et. al.)

To walk in the Spirit is to allow the Spirit to control our lives -- to YIELD to the God that is within us now that we are saved people. Some folks misunderstand this principle. Consequently, they try to live the Christian life "in the flesh" -- that is, performing it themselves. They will find, if they are completely truthful (and if they are not in denial, another trap of the flesh), that trying to live the Christian life in their own power just doesn't work. We can't live the Christian life on our own, nor are we meant to. The Christian life is a life which is intended to be lived in and out of the resources which God provides to His children (the primary resources of His word and His Spirit, and other secondary resources which God brings into our lives such as other members of His body and their ministry to us, etc.) Without living under the control of the Holy Spirit, we are not equipped to properly and consistently obey.

The Spirit and the Word go hand in hand. The one will not work effectively in our lives without the other. If we have the Word, but quench the Spirit, we will have a dull, lifeless, fundamentally unsatisfying Christian life, lived out in our own power, in our own knowledge (our own way!)-- with little or no real personal victory. It's Bible "head knowledge"--- trying to live the Word in our own fleshly power, with no personal joy or real personal triumph (which are fruits of the Spirit). On the other hand, if we have the Spirit but are not immersed in the Word, we will have hearts bent toward God, but we will be "tossed to and fro" with no scriptural moorings, and the Spirit will have no "scalpel" with which to shape our lives into His image).


You see, (and here's a very important biblical principle) victory is not ME overcoming sin, victory is CHRIST overcoming ME. And He does that (as we surrender our SELF life) through the power of His Spirit, who resides within every saved person.

The Holy Spirit is the "energizer" or "activator" of the Word in our lives (Eph 1:19, 3:20, and see discussion below). Unless we are filled with (controlled by) the Spirit, the knowledge of the word is a "head knowledge" and we will try and try to outwardly perform it, and it will be just that --a performance. Performance just doesn't cut it. Sooner or later, human performance fails and the mask falls off. But when we are fully surrendered to God, walking in His Spirit, studying His Word, and personally worshiping Him (which, by the way, isn't a "group" activity -- true worship takes place as we each bow our SELF before Him, and surrender --there's that word again!-- our own agendas, prides and prejudices to Him, fully YIELDING to whatever He wants in our lives), we then have His power to enable us to do that which we can never successfully and consistently do in our own "human" effort.

We must be both (a) surrendered, and (b) regularly immersing ourselves in His Word. Then, His Spirit, which is resident within us to enable us to do that which we cannot do in "our own way" (flesh or self-effort), takes the Word and begins to shape us using the tool of the Word of God. In Ephesians 3:16-17, we read "strengthened with might in the inner man". The words "strengthened with might" there do not mean to be given more of what you already have. That's usually what we mean when we think of the modern word "strengthen", but that isn't the meaning in this passage. The words "strengthened with might" mean to be given an ability which you do not already possess. It is Christ within us, not we ourselves (Gal. 2:20). You see, we "must decrease" and He "must increase".


Is this a "supernatural" power? Well, yes and no. It is not supernatural in the way most people nowadays think of the word "supernatural". They usually think of something mystical or magical like sitting in a trance, something out of an old horror movie, or perhaps a superhero movie in which the "average joe" suddenly is zapped with dazzling cosmic powers. But that isn't the real meaning of the word. Used as a prefix, "super" means "above" or "beyond". So, "supernatural" simply means "above the natural" or "beyond the natural". And in that sense, yes, this is something that God does that is beyond our own natural, human, and "fleshly" capabilities! It is beyond the natural. It is beyond anything that we ourselves can accomplish by mere obedience.

Is it extraordinary for a sinful human being to have this kind of power? You bet. It's the miracle of Christ's victory over sin on the cross (Col. 2:15)! Is it mysterious and "weird"? Or cultic? No. Is it charismatic? No, not in the sense of what we see today in the so-called "charismatic movement." It is the simple and perfectly natural outworking of the God within us. Or, put in another way, it is the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5). It is the power in which God intends for every Christian to live . But only a few are willing to do so because --here's that word again!-- it requires surrender.

Does a tree have to work and strain and grunt and grind in order to bear fruit? No, it just sits there -- it "abides"-- it rests in being a natural part of something greater, and the fruit is the natural outworking of what is inside! The tree draws it's nourishment from a source outside itself (God's creation: the rain, the sun, the nutrients in the soil), and out of that source, naturally, fruit results from the growth process.

When we set about to "work for" the Lord, or to live the Christian life by mere obedience, it is usually an external process as we "try" or "strive" to perform in our own power what we see in the Scriptures. Trying to "perform" spiritual truth takes great effort and struggle, and a large dose of that very human comodity called "willpower". And, in the end, it doesn't work anyway. That's not the way the process was intended by God to work. When we try "on our own" ("our own way"!) we are like Cain, bringing the willful and rebellious sacrifice of human effort, which Cain mistakenly thought God was obligated to accept. But when we walk in intimacy with Christ, drawing our life from a source outside ourselves (Him), we can then, quite naturally, bear fruit.


We don't approach God by "doing things" for Him. We approach him by surrendering our will to His. We don't concentrate on what we should DO for Him, we concentrate on what we should BE for him. We concentrate on what changes He wishes to make within us. Christian service isn't what WE can do for Him, but what HE wants to do THROUGH US. We are to "abide" in Christ, filled (controlled by) the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), studied in the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15). Then, the Holy Spirit inside of us takes the Word and "energizes" it into our lives (see below). We can then truly grow in Christ, "rooted and built up in Him" (Col. 2:7), and fruit results naturally from that growth process.

In Ephesians 3:20 we read about "the power that worketh in us". The word "worketh" ("energeo") means to "energize" or "release power". It is something that happens from the inside out.

The power that is already there (the Holy Spirit which we received at salvation) is "activated"-- He is allowed to go to work in our lives (because we are no longer relying on self, but on God; because we have gotten SELF out of "the driver's seat"). But it only happens as we are surrendered, and as we walk in the Spirit, because our life can't have two masters. Either HE is in control or WE are (i.e., our "self" or flesh). "Energeo" is also passive, meaning that it is something that is done to us, by someone else, not something done by us. That's a very important distinction.

You see, victory isn't something we achieve, victory is God's resource for us-- God's provision, already there-- from which we draw our strength!


So, you may ask, does obedience play any role in all of this? Yes, indeed! We obey when we choose God's way at those "intersections" (decisions) of everyday life. We choose to walk according to His Word. God's Spirit can then take the lead in our lives, because when we surrender we take a back seat. Our SELF is then out of His way. He can then "do the driving" as we continue to yield to Him. You see, He will never take the driver's seat by force. As long as we insist on driving, he will never force Himself on us, for God always respects the free will of man. If we insist upon driving our lives into the ditch --if we say, "I can do this! I can live this scripture!"-- He will let us try. And right into the ditch we go! (Sometimes it's the ditch of total failure, sometimes it's the ditch of sin, other times it's into the ditch of smugness or self-satisfaction with our own "performance for God". Some ditches are better looking than others, but they are all ditches nonetheless).

When we take control we are living in the flesh. (You see, living "in the flesh" isn't just fornication, adultery, and the things we often think it is. It is "going our own way" in any fashion--even one that looks biblical or "churchy" or right). But when we finally realize that "our own way" will never please God, nor will it secure for us God's best in our lives, then, and only then, are we in a position to see what God can do through the "power that worketh in us". Then, at last, we are in a position to surrender.


It's very important to note what "surrender" isn't. Surrender isn't something that's usually done at a church's "invitation" time. It isn't fleshly emotion or showy "weeping and wailing" at a revival meeting. It isn't "rededicating our lives". It isn't "coming forward at church" and, notably, it isn't even "commitment to the Lord" (yes, there is a place for commitment in the Christian life, but that's a different matter). A lot of us have misconceptions about our terms because of our own religious backgrounds or upbringing. Sometimes we have unwarranted prejudices against perfectly good terms. We often need to examine our own incorrect prejudices about our terminology. True surrender has nothing to do with "church" or "religion". True surrender is simply when we personally bow before God, give up our own agendas (what we think will make life work for us --- [see footnote* ] ), and give Him His rightful place in our lives.


So, what does all this have to do with submission? Everything! Submission will be the natural outworking of the Holy Spirit within the Christian wife who is filled with (controlled by) the Spirit, and walking in intimacy with (thoroughly yielded to) Christ. Yes, she must choose to obey God's Word, but she will not have to "work it up" or "perform" submission in her own strength. Godly submission isn't something you try to perform, it is the natural fruit of a close walk with Christ.

(And, by the way, this is equally true for men in regard to submission to their head, Christ. Like many ladies, most men do not want to hear this truth because it requires --yes, you guessed it!-- surrender, a laying down of SELF. It requires a humbling of the flesh. The flesh will go to great lengths to reject the truth that we are insufficient of ourselves and must have the Holy Spirit's power to do that which God requires of us. It is always appealing to our flesh to think that WE can do it ourselves, that WE can live it out under our own power, that we can "go our own way" as WE do the Lord's work. Men have as great a problem with submission as do the ladies, often an even greater one).

It is commendable for a Christian wife to be concerned about submission, (and "submission", by the way, isn't what a lot of people think it is -- but I won't get into that here). But what she first needs to do is to develop a fully surrendered and intimate walk with her Savior. Then, as she yields her own desires, agenda, and self (her "own way") to God (surrender is the first step, without which the others will not be effective), as she studies and gives herself to His Word, and as she is empowered by the Holy Spirit, she will find that submission is as natural to her new nature and to her new walk as rebellion was to her old ones. It will be the fruit of His Spirit within her (Eph. 5:9). It will be His doing, His work within her, and not her own self effort or striving to perform (Phil. 1:11; Rom. 6:22). Will her submission be perfect? No, because she will still have a fleshly nature [Romans 6 and 7]. She will still face those "intersections", and being human, she will sometimes fail to make the proper choices. The presence of the Holy Spirit does not take away our old nature, but it makes true victory over sin possible in our lives by giving us a godly choice, and empowering us as we walk in that choice. It is the Spirit that wins the battles against the stubbornness of our flesh (Gal. 5:16), never us.


The wife who undertakes to completely surrender to her Savior has an exciting adventure ahead of her! There is no more exciting experience on this earth than knowing God personally and walking with Him in an intimate way. It is a sometimes scary but always fulfilling journey when we lay down more and more of ourselves, and "increase" --truly increase-- in Him. It's the exciting journey of growing past the elementary realm of mere Bible "head knowledge" and "willpower performance". It's the wondrous thrill of coming unto an intimate and experiential relationship with the Almighty One who loves us without condition, and whose only desire is to instill within us more and more, and more and more, of the only thing which will give us joy, fulfillment, and victory---- namely, Himself.

  --John Cunningham
  Colossians 1:10-11

* Special Note: The world is full of substitutes for God, and so are churches. We often latch on to these in a human attempt make our lives work outside of God. Of course, they don't work, and we eventually end up frustrated and depressed. Often, instead of coming to the Lord in the midst of that frustration and depression (responding properly, with a change of attitude toward God), we simply try another substitute. And another, and another, and another --- all in a vain attempt to make our lives work apart from the surrender which God requires.

Some of the "worldly" substitutes include: our job, our looks or appearance, acceptance by friends, social recognition, personal accomplishment or talent, material things (house, car, clothes, jewelry), etc.

Some of the "churchy" substitutes include (These are substitutes which on the surface may appear godly, and which, in the proper place, do have a legitimate role in our Christian lives. But in reality, these are often substituted in place of God in the lives of many Bible-believing Christians) : spouse, children, grandchildren, the marriage itself or the romance element within the marriage, church attendance, "work" for the Lord, and even Bible study and Bible teaching (Yes, our human depravity is such that it is possible to make even these into a "work" by doing them from a wrong motive).

We must make sure that God alone is on the throne of our hearts. Ask yourself such questions as:

  -How do I spend most of my spare time?
  -What or who is most important in my life?
  -I just couldn't do without ________ (person, thing or activity) (fill in the blank).
  -Why do I (really) serve the Lord?
  -I make most of my decisions to please _______ (fill in the blank)
  -I could be truly happy if I had ____________; or
  -I could be truly happy if I only had more of ___________.

The honest and deep answers to such questions will help reveal who or what is on the throne of your life.