The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate. (Prov. 8:13)
The fear of the Lord begins with the humility of otherness. It continues with the honesty of openness. The third component of the reverent, fearful love of God is submissiveness.
“In brief: whether a man be good, better, or best of all; bad, worse, or worst of all; sinful or saved before God; it all lieth in this matter of obedience”, said the author of the Theologia Germanica.
Reverent love for God submits to God’s will. It acknowledges God as the supreme authority. Not only is He ultimate, not only is He omniscient and omnipresent, but he is sovereign. He is Lord.
In an age of personal autonomy and glorified rebellion, we might struggle to understand biblical submission. What exactly is it? Submission is coming under another’s will. Another word for will is desire, for what a man wills is what he desires. Whoever submits to God desires to match his own desires to God’s, to bring them under God’s, to give God’s desires final veto over his own. The life of faith is a life of re-moulding our desires to be Christ’s. While communing with God, we are conforming to his loves, and making them our own.
An Old Testament law provides a helpful illustration. The Hebrew indentured servant had the option to depart after his sixth year. But if he had come to admire, love and respect his master’s authority, he could publicly pledge his voluntary submission:
“But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ “then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. (Exodus 21:5-6)
Here is the picture of our submission. We willingly and cheerfully give up self-direction, to dwell under the leadership of the Good Shepherd. Love is at the root of it, and it expresses itself in love.
The Hebrew servant came to trust in his master’s rule more than self-rule. He had come to place his hopes in another. The believer does the same thing with God. God has both the might and right to rule us, direct our lives, and lead us. God’s right to do this comes from his nature and role. In three ways, God can claim absolute lordship over us:
i) He is the absolute sovereign of the universe, who owns us as Creator (Isaiah 64:8).
ii) He is the Lord of believers, who owns us as Redeemer (Romans 14:9, 1 Cor 6:19-20).
iii) He is our Father, who owns us as the One who begat us (Hebrews 12:9).
As Creator, Redeemer and Father, the Triune God has the right to lead us, direct us and command our obedience. However, biblical submission is not the begrudging laying down of arms of an overwhelmed, but still resistant, rebel. Submission cheerfully yields to God’s wisdom and goodness.
Thomas à Kempis prayed, “Grant that I may always desire and will that which is to Thee most acceptable, and most dear. Let Thy will be mine, and my will ever follow Thine, and agree perfectly with it.”
Submission trusts that God’s commands are given ‘that it might be well with us’, and that in choosing to obey, we are choosing life, and life in abundance. Submission trusts that no good thing is withheld from those who walk uprightly, and that if God has not withheld his only Son, he shall with him give us every good thing. Submission is embracing the unseen consequences of obeying God’s will, for obedience carries a risk: by forfeiting self-direction, we bank on the wisdom of another. This is what the Hebrew servant had to do. He trusted that the consequences of granting his master’s direction over his life would be better than had he leaned to his own understanding. This is where biblical hope comes in. Hope is a deep confidence that God’s unseen provisions and future promises are backed by his inexhaustible power and limitless goodness. Hope allows the unseen and the future to affect the visible and the present.
Submission lives in hope: hope that by submitting, we will find more goodness and reward and joy than had we pursued our own ends selfishly. As we yield to his authority, giving our loving attention, hoping in his promises and power, it must culminate in the act of seeking to please God in obedient choices. By making God’s will our own, we are demonstrating love.
Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth Thee;
Thou art my God, in Thee I live and move;
Oh, let Thy loving Spirit lead me forth
Into the land of righteousness and love.
Thy love the law and impulse of my soul,
Thy righteousness its fitness and its plea,
Thy loving Spirit mercy’s sweet control
To make me liker, draw me nearer Thee.
My highest hope to be where, Lord, Thou art,
To lose myself in Thee my richest gain,
To do Thy will the habit of my heart,
To grieve the Spirit my severest pain.
Thy smile my sunshine, all my peace from thence,
From self alone what could that peace destroy?
Thy joy my sorrow at the least offence,
My sorrow that I am not more Thy joy.
– John S. B. Monsell
If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)
A reverent love is a submissive love. It is concerned that his will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
The first three components of a reverent, God-fearing love are otherness before his unique claim on us, openness or nakedness before his omniscience and omnipresence, and submissiveness before his sovereignty and lordship. In some ways, these first three respond to attributes of greatness in God: self-existence, justice, omniscience, omnipotence, sovereignty. The next three are also responding to God’s greatness, but now the emphasis shifts to His goodness.