“Submit yourselves therefore to God.”
-James 4:7 (ESV)
Even after my conversion, I found that in various areas of my life, submitting to God seemed preposterous and impossible. I mastered the art of manipulating God’s Word to fit my agenda. I had the terrible disease of conforming my view of Scripture to my pre-existing beliefs and my lifestyle instead of conforming my beliefs and my lifestyle to Scripture. I cared more about pleasing man than I did about pleasing God. I feared offending man more than I feared offending God. I confess that I still often compromise on being faithful to Jesus in order to insure my own comfort, safety, reputation, and image. Looking back, my refusal to submit to God and His infallible Word as totally authoritative over my lifestyle and my beliefs deluded me into living out many lies. The more I think about it the more I realize how insane it is to assume I know better than God.
Instead of delighting in God’s perfect Law and viewing his graciously revealed truths as precious diamonds, I often found myself apologizing for things that Scripture said, and I would answer the tough questions of my atheist friends in cowardice with: “well there are many interpretations,” or “it’s not my place to judge,” instead of sharing the honest truth in grace, gentleness, and respect. But as God continued to patiently teach me that his commands are for his glory and for my good, I began to slowly surrender and trust in his goodness, and as of today I am resolved to surrender to God’s Word on everything to the best of my ability. This surrender, and continued longing to surrender more and more to the Lordship of Jesus, has given me a profound and enduring sense of peace and confidence. In Psalms 119, the psalmist writes:
“Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.”
-Psalm 119:161-165 (ESV)
I struggle daily to believe and trust that what my Master and my King demands of me is for my good and for his glory. Yet the more I trust his Word, the more I am filled with “great peace” and the less things “can make [me] stumble.” My former low view of God’s Truth and rebelliousness towards his authority stemmed from a low view of God and a high view of myself. I suppressed the truth about God’s Sovereignty, Authority, Goodness, Holiness, Majesty, Mercy, and Love because I subconsciously knew that the implications of believing those glorious truths would tear apart my life. I knew that surrendering to his Word would mean giving up sins that I loved and lies that I believed. I did not want to do that. I did not fear God, and that is a scary thought considering that the book of Proverbs makes it clear that the fear of the Lord is actually “the beginning of wisdom” and “the beginning of knowledge” itself, (Pr. 1:7, 9:10). I needed to fear him and submit to him. The more you do that the more you will be able to reflect on how blindly and skeptically you have been reading God’s Word your entire life, and it will humble you. In addition to being humbled by being able to look back at all the nonsense I believed, the more I surrendered the more peace I enjoyed and the more and more his word became a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, (Ps. 119:105), showing me the places I should and shouldn’t god, what I should and shouldn’t do, and how exactly I can better love my Father. It gave me confidence.
The end goal of learning theology and studying God’s Word is not just to gain knowledge for its own sake or for to win arguments and impress people, but to know more about God so that we can know how best to please Him. In addition to this, learning about God through studying His character, His attributes, and His actions as revealed to us in His Word actually makes us more motivated to please him from the realization of who He is and what He has done. It wakes us up to the fact that He actually deserves our love, praise, and obedience. Imagine if I asked you what I should get for my mom for her birthday. You might have some good suggestions off of the top of your head, but if you really want to help me pick out a good gift, you would start asking me questions about her. What’s her favorite color? What does she like to do for fun? Would she prefer more thoughtful homemade gifts or more expensive store-bought gifts? I love my mom, and because I want to make her happy, I want to know as much as I can about her to know how I can please her most. The more I get to know her, the more I understand who she is, the things that she likes, what makes her upset, etc… and I will be able to find out what gift would make her the happiest. In a sense, this is one of many reasons why we study theology; it helps us to understand how we can best please our God. Pastor Voddie Baucham puts it this way: “the modern church is producing passionate people with empty heads who love the Jesus they don’t know very well.” Let’s be a generation that’s different than this. Let’s be a generation that is hungry for God’s truth, and courageous enough to confidently live in it, stand on it, and fight with it, (in the Ephesians 6, “sword of the Spirit” sense of the word “fight”). Let’s be a generation of believers that can be even more loving, welcoming, and grace filled than the previous one, without compromising an inch of Truth. Pastor John Piper cries, “Oh how rare are the Christians who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel.”
Another serious reason why we should care about doctrine and submitting to the Lordship of Christ in this area is that we want and need to be freed from destructive heresies, theological errors, and lies. John 4:24 tells us that “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.” If we want to please our God, then out of love for Him, we should do everything we can to not commit idolatry by worshipping or believing in a false god we have conceived of in our imaginations, or even to insult Him by believing or professing the tiniest lie about our beautiful God or His beautiful commands. We should worship Him the way He likes to be worshipped, even if that isn’t necessarily our favorite way or even if that means abandoning certain worship songs that we like if their theology is off. In an age where liberalism, postmodernism, marxism, and all sorts of isms are creeping their way into the Church and its theology, we must surrender to and fear the Lord, trusting Him as He guides us. God spoke through Isaiah, stating:
“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
-Isaiah 66:2 (ESV)
He looks to those who are humble, contrite in spirit, and tremble at His Word. That doesn’t look like somebody that would pick and choose what sounds right or what they feel like obeying. Pastor Matt Chandler warns that “If you’re not confident in the authority of the Scriptures, you will be a slave to what sounds right,” and we should take that warning seriously and accept what God says. But still, just reluctantly accepting the hard truths doesn’t cut it. What should gladly and joyfully cast out all of the lies He exposes and cling to His truth on any issue, regardless of how badly it may hurt. From our worldview, to our clothing, to our social media accounts, to our work ethic, to our love lives, to our diets, to our social lives, to our language, to our tone, to our emotions, to our choices in our free time, to our time on the internet, to our Netflix movie selections, to our Common Application essays, to our debates, to our manners, to our interactions with the homeless, to our thoughts, to literally every inch of our lives, let’s submit to Him in joy, aiming to glorify Him and please Him in everything we do. We should literally fall on our faces and on our knees in tears as we beg Him for His mercy and for our eyes to be opened that we may “behold wondrous things in [His] Law.” (Psalm 119:18). So let us surrender to His Word, for He bought us with at an expensive price, and we do not belong to ourselves, but to God. Augustine once wrote that “if you believe what you like in the gospels and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospels you believe in but yourself.” It was true about 1,500 years ago, it’s true today.
While there are tons of scientific, philosophical, logical, practical, and obviously beneficial reasons to obey God on every one of His commands, our primary and only necessary reason to submit to any given command of our Lord is this: “it is written.” The simple fact that we know God said so is all the evidence we should need to obey His commands. We could easily give people a hundred well articulated pieces of evidence justifying obedience to God on a certain issues, such as the hundreds of benefits to individuals and to society that come from not having sex before marriage. Those are valid pieces of evidence, and that is not in question. But do we need all of that evidence to obey? Would we really want to answer people with, “because the Bible says so?”
Let’s be honest, we do not want to be laughed at for our childlike faith and trust in our Daddy in Heaven. We want to fit in, we want the world to call us rational, (which we ought to be, but we shouldn’t crave that validation from them), and we desperately want to be respected and accepted by society. We do not want to show people that we are actually little sheep who belong to the Shepherd, and that we are God’s children. I am not saying to abandon all of the evidences that support biblical truth; those are beautiful things that can be helpful, especially to Christians. But what I am saying is that when you find that next passage that leaves you enraged, that next Bible verse that you don’t have any extra-biblical evidence to defend, will you still trust and obey simply because God told you to? Are you willing to be made fun of for your refusal to partake in certain activities or for believing that Jesus Christ did die and then rose from the grave? Will you turn the other cheek or will you strike back? When it comes down to it are you confident that the Bible is true? Will you be humble and contrite in spirit, and will you tremble at God’s Word submissively? Or do you think you know better? Let’s think about what failing to trust God looked like in Scripture:
All Eve had when she was in the Garden of Eden while being tempted by Satan was the Word of God, that the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the one she couldn’t eat from, or else she would die. Then Satan came along and persuaded her to eat from the tree:
“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
-Genesis 3:1-5 (ESV)
And we know what happens after that. The entire human race becomes condemned, sin and death enter the world, our very nature is corrupted, the ground is cursed by God, and so forth. Eve didn’t have an iPhone to Google whether eating the fruit would actually be safe. She didn’t have any statistics to pull up from the National Institute of Health on the risks of eating from the tree. All she had was the Word of God: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) Shouldn’t faith in that have been enough for her to withstand Satan’s lies? What more did she need? So, should we trust God even when it seems like all of our reasoning, culture, and desire yearns for us to rebel?
When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, all three of His responses to the devil’s twisted lies began with, “It is written,” and Jesus easily refuted the liar, (Matthew 4). Jesus had absolute, unshakable trust and faith in the Scripture, and we should also. Eve did not trust God’s Word, but for Jesus, trust in God’s Word was more than enough to not give in to temptation. Her disobedience on the Tree of Knowledge led to our condemnation and corruption, as well as many more horrible consequences. Jesus’ obedience on the accursed tree, the cross, led to our justification and redemption, as well as many more glorious consequences. (While some may respond to our “it is written” or “the Bible says” statements with, “well there are many interpretations,” we must have a standard of interpretation so that we can correctly judge what Scripture actually demands. Anchored officially supports and adheres to the Chicago Standards of Biblical Inerrancy. Read through those if you are curious on how the Bible actually ought to be interpreted: http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html )
I want you to know that you can have full confidence in upholding and defending biblical truth on every issue. But in addition to confidence, we can also uphold and defend biblical truth in joy, delighting in his law, knowing that the Creator of the Universe knows the purpose of everything under the Sun, and that we literally have no valid reason not to trust him. It is delusional, suicidal, and insane to not trust our entirely trustworthy God, and we fail to trust Him every single day when we sin. When we are reading Scripture it cannot be more emphasized that we must read it humbly, and submissively, and view it in our minds and in our hearts as the very authoritative and trustworthy words of the Almighty King of Creation, rather than some old book of wisdom we can draw from if we feel like it. Ask the Spirit to open your eyes and give you understanding to the text before you read it. A street preacher named Ray Comfort was once challenged by an unbelieving man who had studied religion, and the man boasted that he had read the Bible multiple times and still did not accept it. Comfort told him that the best way to not get anything out of reading the Bible was to read it with a prideful heart as he had done.
My prayer is that all of us would be in God’s Words humbly, and that God would make us like this:
“…he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
-Isaiah 66:2 (ESV)