As a Christian woman and a wife, I’ve heard a lot of teaching on the topic of submission over the years. I assume that most women who attend good churches have, too. I’ve also had disturbing conversations with egalitarian women who think that submission is mutual in marriage: husbands and wives equally submitting to one another. Gallons (drums?) of ink have been spilled over the roles of men and women in the home and the true definition of what it means for a wife to submit to her husband. Yes, submission has been a hot topic in Christian circles for years.
But there’s one form of submission that Paul speaks of that I’ve never heard anyone discuss—at least not in those terms. Here’s Romans 10:1-4:
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
In this passage, Paul is expressing his deep longing for the salvation of his Jewish brothers. He recognizes that they have a zeal for God, a desire to stand righteous before him. But in their zeal to serve and please God they are gravely mistaken. They are ignorant of the way of salvation—of the righteousness that comes from God. Is this ignorance just a lack of education or is there a moral component to it? It’s not simply that they are innocent, misguided seekers. No, in fact, their ignorance is willful. They are culpable because they have a desire for something other than the righteousness that comes from the God whom they say they’re seeking to please. They desire to glory in their own righteousness, so they aren’t willing to submit to his.
Isn’t that the difficulty with true Christianity? It forces us all, women and men, to subordinate ourselves—to bow low beneath the truth that if we want to be righteous we must give up all our efforts at righteousness and submit to his.
I ought to rejoice that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness,” but I’m not sure that I always do. Yes, of course, when I’m in my right mind, I exult in the truth embodied in those words. But there are other times, and far too frequently, when I find myself relying on my obedience to the law so that I can assure my own heart and beg to squirm out from under the total submission he’s demanded of me. You mean I can’t rely on myself at all? Really? Can’t I just craft a little something to hang on to when I start to doubt whether grace is enough? This feeling of freefalling into someone else’s mercy and righteousness is really quite unnerving. Sometimes grace gives me the shivers.
I’ll admit that wifely submission is difficult. But this kind of submission, submission to an alien righteousness, a righteousness that I do not deserve and don’t really even always want, is utterly impossible. I will never, and I mean never, give up the moral high ground on my own. God must humble me and change my heart by his Spirit, compelling me to bow the knee at Calvary, or I will always remain a proud Pharisee. Here’s the truth: Sometimes I make efforts at submitting to my husband so that I don’t have to submit in this other way. Sometimes I make nice dinners and say, “Yes, dear, of course,” just so that I can assure my own heart that I’ve got a little righteousness of my own.
It’s actually a nice distraction from the humiliating reality of an alien righteousness to spend time talking about being a godly wife. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just that in my self-sufficient heart I’d really rather talk about anything other than that submission. That humiliation? That righteousness? That weakness? Really?
Let’s pray today that the Lord may grant us all, women and men, the grace to submit ourselves to his righteousness and stop seeking to establish our own . . . no matter what form that might take.