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The Submission of Christ | Theology Matters

  • November 2012 Issue
Practical Theology

One theme in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is submission. All believers are called to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). Wives are told to “submit” to their husbands (Eph. 5:22). Children are commanded to “obey” their parents (Eph. 6:1). Perhaps most shocking of all, at least to modern readers, the Apostle commands that slaves should “obey” their masters “with respect” (Eph. 6:5).

Many contemporary readers regard these commands, specifically those addressed to wives and slaves, as a capitulation to the culture of Paul’s day. Modern readers find the Bible’s emphasis on submission disturbing because they consider submission to be inherently demeaning. Submission does not seem to be compatible with the Bible’s theology of equality (Gal. 3:28). How do we affirm that the Scriptures uphold both the equality of all believers and the necessity of submission in certain contexts?

The submission of Christ can help us to keep this difficult topic in perspective. According to 1 Corinthians 15:28, after all Christ’s enemies have been subdued, “the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” Jesus is equal with the Father in essence. He and the Father are “one” (John 10:30). Yet during His incarnation Jesus voluntarily submitted to the Father in His role as our representative. He obeyed God’s law on our behalf and died as our substitute. During this period He “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

Voluntary submission did not diminish the Savior’s status as God’s Son. He was equal with the Father during His incarnation. In the consummation of all things, when Jesus will hand the kingdom to God the Father in His role as God’s anointed, this equality will not be diminished (1 Cor. 15:24).

The submission of Christ reflects a difference in function, not in essence. This helps us to see the dignity of submission in our own context. The Bible’s requirement to submit does not imply superiority or inferiority. It merely reflects a difference in function. Admittedly, those to whom submission must be rendered do not always act in a way that is worthy of respect or obedience. Husbands can be selfish (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). Any slave master has the capacity to be cruel and even abusive (1 Peter 2:18–20). However, when we obey in circumstances where submission is appropriately required, we render service to God. We can take comfort in the knowledge that God will one day call all those who exercise authority to account. They must answer to Him.

To learn more about the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Father, read Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate by Millard J. Erickson (Kregel).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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