The Imperial Gift of Submission

Submission. The word conjures up negative feelings in most cultures.

No one consciously wants to be coupled with the implications surrounding its mention.  It is a term often synonymous with defeat and second place positioning.

After all, one submits to a stronger opponent and comes in second; to an enemy and loses rights and privileges  and is subjugated; to another team and receives no glory, no press, and few accolades. Submission is for losers and the defeated; for wives, and in some cultures husbands: second-class citizens; the less valuable.

And yet, though the above is definitely true in the 21st century world of today, it is not the definition you would find in the “Webster’s Dictionary” of Heaven.  It is undoubtedly true that one would be hard-pressed to find the two words expressed in this article title (imperial and submission) more diametrically opposed to one another than they are right now. Yet the Bible paints an incredible picture of divine submission to our need of salvation, a need that from a human perspective of justice & fairness God should not even be subjected to.

Why would God submit to serve His fallen creatures in the plan of salvation when it could be forcefully argued that they deserved their self-inflicted fate and could not possibly pay any recompense for such a potentially unrewarding & deadly undertaking? An undertaking that would pit “God vs. God” (more on this later) and place the entire world in a dangerously precarious position? ((5BC- p.1083)

We are talking here  of the glorious gospel plan of salvation (Jn.3:16). This incredible gift for humans lifts us up out of our wretchedness and fills our hearts with joy, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and unfathomable love. It is an exhibition of God’s unconditional love and tenacious heart for our salvation—it literally cleanses us from our past sinfulness and promises a glorious future of redemption & bliss. All at the expense of God.

As wonderful and meaningful as these results of our salvation are, we would do well to unpack the gift more fully and discover how we got here. We got here at God’s expense.

In analyzing the gospel, there is no question how important and marvelously significant  the shedding of blood is. There is no controversy concerning the  legal necessity of satisfying the violated Law of God, however we will not be dealing with this here, but rather with the more obscure concept of submission. Let’s take a look at it.


While the concept of submission may appear obscure in the normal teaching about the gospel, it is actually foundational to our understanding of who God is. A simple perusal of a Bible concordance will show the pivotal role that submission plays in salvation history.

Starting in heaven, a lack of submission led to the downfall of the highest angel, Lucifer. Its forfeiture at the tree of knowledge of good & evil by Eve and then Adam plunged the race into an expanding death, darkness & despair. And how many times was submission MIA (missing in action) as the history of Israel progressed toward the coming of the Messiah? Lots.

Phil. 2:5-9 displays God’s perspective on this concept, and in five sublime verses pregnant with meaning, lays out Heaven’s response to the terrestrial corruption.  Not fully until Jesus became a babe in Bethlehem’s manger was the fresh, vivifying influence of Godly submission on cosmic display. Yes, there were glimpses of it through the history of the patriarchs, both men and women, yet the full light of its magnificence was not seen until Jesus lived it out for 33 yrs; 390 months; 11,880 days; or 285,120 hrs. of perfect submission to His Father.

Most of us have not seen what God has done in this submission for our salvation as a dilemma at all. But when I Cor. 15:28 says that “..the Son Himself will also be subject to Him (the Father)...”, we enter into a sublime conundrum: how is it possible for God to submit to Himself? Because God is One, submission, by definition, is to another. The Greek word used here is “hupotasso”, and it’s meaning is, “ arrange under, to subordinate, to subject, put in subjection". In today’s common dictionary, it was "the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person” (Web dictionary).

It is here that a little history of sin’s  rise (and submission’s integral role in it) will help us in answering our questions. In Early Writings, the author states this:

Satan was once an honored angel in heaven, next to Christ... But when God said to His Son, "Let us make man in our image," Satan was jealous of Jesus. He wished to be consulted  concerning the formation of man, and because he was not, he was filled with envy, jealousy, and hatred. He desired to receive the highest honors in heaven next to God.

Until this time all heaven had been in order, harmony, and perfect subjection to the government of God. It was the highest sin to rebel against His order and will {EW 145.1}.

Notice that up until this time everything in the universe was in harmony & “perfect subjection” to God. And, the highest sin was lack of submission or subjection to God’s will. Subjection and submission are sister terms. Hence, we find that the crucial element that God would have to deal with from the very beginning of the Great Controversy was submission (or its inverse, rebellion). He must somehow get His creation back into that “perfect subjection” that would restore harmony to the universe. Satan understood the issue:

 “It was on account of Satan’s deceiving power that many angels became disloyal to God. God was true and right. Satan was wrong and he was convinced that he was wrong. He must now choose, either by submission to place himself on the Lord’s side, or by lying to sustain himself. . . .” {CTr 11.6}

 If the Great Controversy began by a decided  unwillingness to submit to God’s rule, then it follows that intrinsic to its resolution would be a voluntary willingness to submit. Only this submission allows us to enter back into the harmony of heaven. When Satan passed this infectious, soul destroying disease on to the human race, God stepped in to do for man what he could not do for himself.  

In order to pay the price for salvation for the human race, the perfect sacrifice must be a perfect submission. Because humanity was now crippled by its sin nature & incapable of returning to its original status, God magnanimously chose to substitute Himself to pay the debt and answer the charges leveled against Him: 

Satan's lying charges against the divine character and government appeared in their true light. He had accused God of seeking merely the exaltation of Himself in requiring submission and obedience from His creatures, and had declared that, while the Creator exacted self-denial from all others, He Himself practiced no self-denial and made no sacrifice {DD 4.1}.  

Here is part of the dilemma God faced:

Because of Satan’s sin, God now had a creature (mankind) in His universe who did not know how to be what he was created to be. Infected  by the sin virus, loving submission to God was not in their DNA and consequently would always keep them out of harmony with the rest of the universe.  Along with the need to pay what could only be a perfect price for the reconciliation of sinful beings, and of a transgressed Law, God must demonstrate to His creature what a human being acted like. And why they did.

So, effectively silencing all arguments and all accusations, God is born in human flesh to unequivocally reveal to the entire universe what righteous submission looks & feels like in a created being. This is the astonishing revelation of His “..becoming flesh and dwelling among us...”, God vs. God as it were. 

Through a life of purity—through perfect trust and submission to the will of God—God Himself must be revealed to humanity (RH June 25, 1895).  {7BC 924.6}.  

God vs. God

Why is there a God versus God confrontation here? Because God must somehow submit to Himself, in what appears to be a contradiction of terms. How can one submit to oneself, if by definition submission is “..yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person...”? You always submit to someone or something else, never to yourself. So God solved the problem stated above- “..while the Creator exacted self-denial from all others, He Himself practiced  no self-denial and made no sacrifice...” -by becoming one of His creatures!

Proper submission, then, becomes a theme throughout the Old Testament and is preeminently displayed in the New Testament in Christ’s life here on earth. It is vital that we understand something about this submission that often escapes us:

This is a submission that is not because of a superior force; it is not because one is wrong and the other right; nor it is a submission that is based on always being able to see the end from the beginning & so you know you’ll win in the end (EG, Jesus “..could not see beyond the portals of the tomb...”, DA, p.754).

It is a submission based on a love and trust that produced a faith that never questioned His Father’s will; that went through with the plan of salvation even when He felt forsaken (Matt.27:46).

A simple list of submissions in Christ’s life might help us to appreciate what He has done more fully:

  • Jesus was Creator, yet He submitted to being born a creature.

  • He was the originator of wisdom, yet He submitted to being taught by His parents, a created being.

  • He is called the Everlasting Father, yet He was subject to an earthly father.

  • He is the Author of the Word of God, yet He submitted to obeying it.

  • He was King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet submitted to being a servant.

  • He is the Judge of all mankind, yet He submitted Himself to man’s judgment.

  • He was Omnipotent, yet allowed Himself to be arrested & crucified.

  • He is the Life-giver, yet He submitted to death & the tomb.

Preeminently when Paul says in Phil.2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...”, he is pointing us to the imperial submissive example of King Jesus as a man among men. This “mind” is defined for us initially in the preceding verses. Paul says this mind was also in Jesus.

It is a mind of encouragement, fellowship, affection, and mercy (vs.1). It is a mind of love, being of one accord (vs.2). It is also a mind that does not have selfish ambition, or conceit. It is humble, and esteems others better than self (vs.3). It looks out for the interests of others (vs.4). 

All through His life here on earth,—from a purely human point of view—it could be easily said that things didn’t always go Jesus’ way. And yet, He never forced His will or way when things didn’t go the way He might have thought they should. He implicitly trusted His Father & let Him work out the details. This is the antithesis of what we are taught today in our society. We push and  prod and manipulate to make things happen the way we think they should.

 What amazes me in Scripture is where Paul says, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God...”, is that in order to save us and fix Satan’s original submission problem inherited by man, God willingly submitted Himself to Himself as the God-man Jesus Christ, and showed  us how to submit even to injustice and come out as conquerors! (Phil.2:5-8; 1 Cor. 15:28; 1 Cor. 11:3).

We must have the right mind.  And that mind is all about trust—trusting God even when things don’t seem fair.


To counter the charge that God requires what He Himself does not do, God reveals in Christ that submission is the bedrock of loving worship and foundational to the created universe. And even further, submission—far from being a position of weakness, second-class value, and a character trait of losers—is in fact a fundamental nature of the Almighty God!

 The willing submission of Christ then, is the astonishing essence of what heaven has done for fallen, unworthy humanity. God lifted submission to its high and lofty and imperial position by surrendering His Son to a fate that was not fair, was not His fault, but was necessary for the unity, well-being, and even survival of the universe, let alone the human race.

 In our dealings with each other, it is imperative that we reflect this pattern to the world around  us. God is looking for this divine motif to be exhibited to the universe before we can be taken to heaven.

In every circumstance of life, we are given opportunity to display Christ-like submission: As children to parents; as employees to employers; as wives to husbands; as citizens to governments; as church members to church governance; and yes, even should it happen, as slaves to our masters (Col.3:22). 

We, like Jesus, are to surrender our wills unequivocally to God. Whether things go our way or not, Jesus forever settles the question of how we should respond. Loving submission to His Father’s will—one He asked to be set aside in Gethsemane—gained Him the most exalted place in the universe (Ephesians 1:22).

May we read these holy words now and forever with new meaning:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,  but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore,  God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,  and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2:5-9).

And He gained all this, because of the imperial gift of submission!


 Bob Stewart is pastor at Grand Rapids Central SDA Church, and Lowell/Riverside Fellowship in Michigan.