Read James 2:1-18
Submission is at the heart of obedience. And contrary to popular belief, obedience does not limit or confine, as much as it potentially liberates. The difference between an obedience that oppresses and an obedience that liberates is in the will of the one who obeys. If the obedience is ultimately for the sole benefit of the leader at the expense of the one obeying, this obedience will only benefit one party. If the obedience is for the greater good of the whole and both parties benefit from the obedience, then the obedience can be a means to liberate rather than imprison. Everything about the life of a Christian revolves around this state of complete submission. There is no life or union with Christ if there is no submission. Along the road of discipleship exists only one shepherd with one voice, and the sheep that follow after and listen for that voice have only one choice once they hear it: submit to his authority, and follow.
This, however, is not a submission or obedience that empowers the one giving directions, while burdening the one following. The purpose of submission to the authority of God’s voice, spirit and will is his pure desire to free us from ourselves. Left to our own devices we will recklessly and carelessly destroy everything that surrounds us. Our human nature is not bent to serve others with the fervor with which we daily desire to serve ourselves. The human heart has a tendency to overlook more far-reaching implications and consequences of our own actions in trade for more immediate gratification. We are a horribly near-sighted and forgetful creation. We learn and then we forget the lesson. We hear and then forget what we heard. We follow and then forget why we were following and whom we were following in the first place.
Along with all of this, we are predictably unstable. We stand firm and then we collapse. We know for certain and then question everything at hand. In the presence of God’s word and the life given us in Jesus Christ, being in a state of near-sightedness, forgetfulness or instability is impossible. The life renewed in Jesus Christ is the opposite of all of those things. When we allow the words of Christ to enter into our lives, and when we completely submit to him, we are made aware of certain truths that are immovable and unshakable. When wandering makes our direction unclear, our God leads us through the desert as a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke that is unmistakable and undeniable.
In these moments the reality of his presence in the desert of our confusion must not be taken lightly or overlooked. The only way to miss the pillar or the cloud is if we choose to look another way or close our eyes. Otherwise, it is there, it is real and it directs us where to go. In times where we are tempted and our flesh prompts us to act as our old life would desire us to, the transforming power of the Spirit must receive our complete submission to turn from our old self and press forward, both with the spirit of Christ and the faith that the impossible transformation is complete in Jesus Christ. In times of blessing, where we are overwhelmed with peace and joy in our lives, we must never forget that before we were, God already was. We must never forget that it was his authority over creation that willed us into existence, and all of the blessings that we enjoy had their beginnings far before we ever knew we desired them. We have been given simply because the authority of the Lord has willed us into a position to receive. The submission and obedience required by God’s authority is not to establish a hierarchy for the sake of hierarchy. He desires that we submit to him because if we submit to anything else, we will lose, and lose everything. He is our protector and provider. Submitting to his will results in our protection and provision forever, by the only one who has the means to provide what we need.