11 February 2011

Question of the Week:
Obedience or Submission?

by Anne Lang Bundy

A biblical look at "Submission to Authority" was planned as one post but is being stretched into three:

February 4: Submit to Bad Government?
February 11: Obedience or Submission?
February 18: Balance in Marital Submission?

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"Duty does not have to be dull.
Love can make it beautiful and fill it with life."
~ Thomas Merton

Photo from "The Notebook"
© 2004 New Line Cinema
image source:

The question planned for this week was How is submission in marriage different than submission to government? Before answering that, it might be helpful to correct an oversight in last week's answer, and distinguish subtle differences between obedience and submission.

The dictionary says that to obey is "to carry out or comply with command, authority, or instruction." To submit is "to surrender or yield oneself to the will or authority of another."

Obedience is more about action. Submission is more about attitude. It is possible to obey the letter of the law without submitting to the spirit of the law.

While God's grace is abundant in the Old Testament, emphasis is that obedience results in blessing, while disobedience leads to consequences. The New Testament in Jesus teaches that more important than strict compliance with the letter of God's law is the higher standard of submission to the spirit of His law, which is love.

The key New Testament passage about submission to governing authorities is Romans 13. The spirit of submission is described in the same chapter as follows:

Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
~ Romans 13:7-10 (NIV)

Last week's post made this statement:
There are three areas of authority mentioned in Scripture—government, church, and family. The same principle generally applies to all three—obey authorities unless they command what God forbids or they forbid what God commands.

The principle of love acts not according to mere duty, but according to what is in the best interest of both authority (neighbor) and myself, in light of eternity and God's truth. It is possible to be both disobedient in action and submissive in spirit.

Where marriage is concerned, the Bible teaches that balance comes not only in understanding the distinction between obedience and submission, but in understanding how both husband and wife submit to each other.

More on that next week.

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What questions do you have about Christianity or the Bible? You're invited to leave them in the comments below (anonymous questions welcome), or email buildingHisbody [plus] @ gmail.com.

© 2011 Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.


  1. Good stuff here, thanks for sharing sis. I love you.

  2. Obedience is more about action. Submission is more about attitude.

    Going to be thinking about that line all day.
    ~ Wendy

  3. \o/!!! yes!!! one couldn't ask for better timing on this question which has turned into a wonderful series! i was in a "Truth or consequences" discussion only yesterday with another blogger. never would have thought of submission being as more of an attitude. it's always about love too, isn't it?

    and the second line: it is possible to be both disobedient in action and submissive in spirit.

    is this close to or the same as the verse that says," the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak?

    a lot to think about today!!!

  4. Do we go too far when we ask others to be obedient to settle our hearts? I would like to think out of love they would submit as we would for the Lord.

  5. Denise ~
    Wendy ~

    Thanks for the smiles. : )

  6. Bud ~

    You gave ME plenty to think about! When I said that it is possible to be both disobedient in action and submissive in spirit, I had in mind the person who has an attitude of submission to an earthly authority, and goes as far as possible to be obedient, but is willing to disobey when compliance would violate conscience.

    Wow! What a thought to apply the same quote to both the passage you mention, as well as Romans 7. What a great way to sum up our condition of continuing to sin in the flesh, when we don't want to, even though our spirit is submissive to the Spirit.

    Thanks for the great application, Bud.

  7. Tana (*smile*) ~

    I'm not sure I understand your question. I'll address it in the context of children.

    We parents often need peace, and tell our kids we simply need them to obey whether or not they have a submissive spirit. Yes, if they love us, they will do so. But if love is foremost, they probably already have the submissive spirit. If we compel obedience—and that is definitely necessary at times—but fail to do so in the context of good relationship, the time will come when we can no longer compel obedience, and they will likely rebel against whatever they did in opposition to their will. I'm no ace at this parenting business. But I'm willing to take the time to ask for their obedience for the right reasons (they are submissive to God, they respect me, logic of the situation) rather than force it because I "hold the power" (whether corporal punishment, time outs, or loss of privileges). Sometimes I fail to take that time. Sometimes they will not listen right away, so I'll come back later when they're in a different mood and work for peace. And sometimes, by the grace of God, I'm able to quickly elicit the submissive spirit given in love which settles my heart.

    When we do [home]school work at our house, I emphasize that I'm less concerned about them managing to come up with right answers than to make sure they're actually learning. (As a youth, I was good at getting straight A's without learning as much as I should have.) Same is true with obedience. As much as I like peace in the house, I see it as more important to teach them the good character and conduct that will serve them for a lifetime, rather than just be a good house cop.

    (If you had something else in mind, by all means clarify the question.)

  8. Thank you Anne, that was perfect!