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Biblical Submission: What it Is and What it Isn’t (Part 2)

By: Kristen Clark

In part 1 of this post, I shared my initial negative reaction to the word submission when I got married. It wasn’t until I understood God’s bigger purpose for marriage and His intent for husbands and wives that things made sense to me. I shared how I didn’t have to change my personality or leave my brain at the door to be a biblical wife.

If you missed part 1, take a minute to quickly read it HERE (you’ll want to!), then come back and dive into part 2 with me.

Let’s unpack the true meaning of Biblical submission. This is not an exhaustive definition because I can’t cover everything in one post, but it’s enough to lay a good foundation. Let’s dive in.

Biblical Submission Is…

1. Submission is primarily a statement of function and role.

Biblical submission does not imply the stereotypical “master and slave” picture that comes to mind for many, but rather, functional roles more reflective of a president and vice president. Just like our secular society is built on the structure of leadership roles, marriage was created in the same way. Organizations, businesses, and sports teams all function best when one person is assigned the head roll (i.e. the CEO, the chairman of the board, the head coach, the lead teacher, etc).

There is nothing demeaning or distasteful about leadership roles. God wisely designed marriage to function in the same way.

When viewed through this lens, we actually begin to see the wisdom and healthy structure of God’s design.

Whether in marriage or in a company, someone has to carry the weight and responsibility of being the head leader and final decision maker. In God’s sovereign plan, He has assigned that role to the husbands (Eph. 5:23). Biblical submission is lived out by deferring to the leadership of another.

As John Piper puts it, “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It’s the disposition to follow a husband’s authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership. It is an attitude that says, ‘I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I am glad when you take responsibility for things and lead with love.’”

2. Submission is about being a team in marriage.

Ultimately, the biblical marriage roles (when lived out according to God’s Word) will help a husband and wife function as a unified team.

In my marriage with Zack, I practically live out Biblical submission by viewing Zack as our family’s team leader. We are both active team players, but he has been appointed as the “captain” by God’s design. As the captain, Zack is ultimately responsible to God for leading our family with vision, passion, and purpose. He is responsible for the direction and goals of our family, as well as the spiritual discipleship of those under him (Eph. 5:25-27, Joshua 24:15).

As team players, we both offer ideas, input, concerns, goals, counsel, prayers, etc. — but in the end, I willingly allow Zack to make the final decision for our family. I choose to defer to his leadership. I choose to respect the position that God has appointed him to have. Rather than competing for the “captain” position, I encourage Zack as our leader and cheer him.

3. Submission is ultimately about trusting God.

Ultimately, submission isn’t about wives trusting and deferring to their husbands, but about wives trusting and deferring to God. Regardless of whether we, as women, like God’s design or not, our job is to trust and obey Him first. Submission within marriage ultimately tests our trust in God. Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

As wonderful as my husband is, he’s not perfect. In fact, he’s a sinner just like me. That means he has flaws as a husband and a leader. It’s a guarantee that he is going to fail me every now and then. That is why my ultimate hope, trust, and confidence cannot rest secure in Zack. I must put my hope in God. He must be my strength and my anchor. Out of a reverence for God’s Word and trust in Him, I then willingly submit to His design for marriage.

“A Christian woman does not put her hope in her husband, or in getting a husband. She puts her hope in the promises of God.” — John Piper

Only when our trust is firmly rooted in our Savior will we be able to embrace His calling for wives.

Biblical submission is challenging because of sin.

I’ll be the first to admit that deferring to someone else’s leadership is extremely hard for me. My sinful heart is full of stubborn pride and self-will. I prefer to have the last word…thank you very much. The struggle is real. Submission within marriage is hard and unappealing due to sin (Genesis 3:16).

Prior to sin entering the world, Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect marriage in every way. It wasn’t until sin entered the scene that marriage and gender roles became a battleground. As a punishment for her sin, God literally told Eve, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband…” (Genesis 3:16) Oops.

Sin messed everything up. Sin distorted our desires. Sin brought pain to marriage. As Shannon Popkin puts it, “When Adam and Eve refused to submit to God, they shattered God’s beautiful design. Since we have inherited Adam and Eve’s rebellion, none of us want to submit.”

Sin made submission distasteful. 

The only way to experience the beauty of God’s good and original design for marriage is to submit our sinful hearts to Christ. We need Jesus to transform our ugly, rebellious hearts into hearts of humility and righteousness (Romans 8). Earthly submission is only possible by genuinely and humbly submitting to God. Then, and only then, will we have the ability and desire to embrace His good design for marriage.

To learn more about God’s beautiful design for marriage and true love, grab a copy of our new book, Love Defined: Embracing God’s Vision for Lasting Love and Satisfying Relationships.

Let’s now take a quick look at what biblical submission is not.

We live in a day and age where the word “biblical submission” has been given a thousand wrong definitions. Let’s debunk some of these lies.

1. Biblical submission is NOT a statement of value.

The Bible clearly states that both the man and the woman were created in God’s image. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26a, 27). Submission does not mean the woman is less valuable than the man, but that she simply carries a different role than him. God values men and women 100% equally.

2. Submission is NOT a brainless act.

God created both men and women to have brains. God gave both men and women varying strengths, talents, and gifts, and He desires for us to use them for His glory (1 Peter 4:10, James 1:17). When a wife enters into marriage, God is not calling her to leave behind her brains and gifts, but rather USE them for the good of her family (Proverbs 31:10-31). God never calls a husband to force submission upon his wife, but rather, its something the wife chooses to do out of honor for God.

3. Submission does NOT enable sinful activity and abuse.

Sin has caused a lot of pain in many marriages. Husband’s who abuse their wives under the banner of “biblical submission” are acting completely contrary to God’s design. This is horrific.  Biblical roles in marriage do not leave any room for abuse, violence, or selfishness. God created men to be stronger so they could protect, provide for and love and their wives.

Here’s what God expects from Christian husbands, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:25a, 28).

If a husband is abusing his wife or partaking in sinful activity, the wife is not called to passively go along with it. Her allegiance is to Christ first. A biblical woman should stand up against sinful behavior with wisdom and truth (see this post: Biblical Womanhood Promotes Passion Not Passivity)

For more on what submission is not, check out John Piper’s article called, Six Things Submission Is Not

I pray that after reading this two-part series your heart has been softened, your eyes opened, and your trust in God strengthened.

Biblical roles in marriage are truly beautiful when the husband and wife each embrace them with humility and grace. May we be a generation of Christian women who take God at His word. Women who accept His design for marriage, even when we don’t fully understand it. May we be women who exude strength through our humility and grace, rather than selfish pride.  

In the end, we must make a choice. Will we obey God, or obey our flesh? Will we trust that God is good, or live in fear? Will we submit our lives fully to Him, or only in the easy parts?

The choice is ours. The way we choose to live will tell a story. May our lives be a beautiful and accurate picture of the gospel. When we stand before our Creator on that glorious day in Heaven, may He look into our eyes and see faithful daughters who put our hope, trust, and confidence in Him alone.

Let’s chat.

  • What do you struggle the most with God’s design for submission?
  • What Biblical truths have helped you overcome fears and/or a distaste surrounding biblical submission?

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Husband and wife

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