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Submit to God: The James 4:7 path to a better life

“Submission” is sort of the “s-word” of Christianity. Usually uttered in teachings on Christian marriage, there is something about it that makes us uncomfortable. It is a particularly difficult word for the modern western believer because it carries the negative connotation of subjugation. Moreover, the idea is in tension with values like boldness, self-reliance, “leadership,” and independence that we are culturally-conditioned to admire. We respect the bold captains who commandeer their lives to great “success” and subtly look down (though we won’t admit it) on the humble whom we tend to perceive as weak. Yet there is no getting around the fact that submission—to God—is the Christian way.

In his letter, the Apostle James presents submission to God as a basic solution to many of the relational problems his Christian recipients were confronting. After identifying worldliness and pride as the source of their problems—which included issues like gossip, unkindness, discrimination based on social class, jealousy, dissension, and so on—he tells them to submit to God and resist the devil (Jas. 4:7).

To James, if the believers submitted themselves to God’s ways, the pride that made them insist on their own way, fed their selfish ambitions, and made them jealous of each other would be kept in check.

The submission James spoke of was not superficial. It was not merely obeying God’s commands occasionally but a way of life and an attitude of the heart that accepts his Godship and Lordship in all things and at all times—choosing his ways and methods over our own. Submission is embracing the title “servant of God” in its profoundest sense, recognizing that we are His and we have no rights to ourselves; it is being what the apostle Paul described as “a living sacrifice.”

In practical terms, submitting to God means accepting his will over our own and taking some of his most painful “nos” with the attitude, “I accept it, Lord. Your way is always right,” rather than, in pride and self-reliance, insisting on our own way.

Biblical submission, however, is not a spineless humility that promotes passive living or being a doormat. Like true humility, submission is about choosing to value something over our own ego, recognizing that sometimes maintaining harmony is more important than winning the argument, that we don’t have to respond to every perceived slight, that sometimes we may be persuaded that we are right yet be completely wrong, that ultimately what matters in this life for Christians is not our own exaltation but God’s.

For Christians, submitting to God is the path to a godly, peaceful and well-balanced life.

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