The story is told of a father who brings his oldest son to settle on a homestead. The father lays out the plans for his son: where to build the house and barn, where to lay out the fields for planting, and where to dig the well. The father then leaves this work to his son while he goes to collect his wife and younger children.
After many months the father returns and the son happily shows off his hard work. The house, barn, and fields are all in line with the father’s desires, but the well is in a different location. When asked why, the son replied, “Father, the house, the barn, and the fields were all in the right place. I agreed with your direction. But I did not agree with where we should dig the well. So I placed it here.”
This simple story illustrates a common problem with man. The son complied with the father’s direction 75% of the time, but he did not submit to any of his father’s direction. Only when the son agreed with his father’s precept did he comply. Where his mind differed from his father’s, the son followed his own desires. This is not obedience. It is not submission.
Throughout scripture God’s people have had issues with submission. To the people of Isaiah’s day, God said,
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Isaiah 1:11).
He described their actions as the “trampling of [his] courts” (Isaiah 1:12), “vain offerings,” and abominations (Isaiah 1:13). God was weary of them, and he warned that he would hide his eyes from them and would not listen to their prayers (Isaiah 1:14, 15).
The solution to their problem was not more compliance, but rather submission. “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:19). It is apparent that many of that day desired to follow God’s direction only a portion of the time. Their worship could not make right the rebellion in their hearts.
A century prior, God told his people, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:12, 13a). The tearing of the garment was intended to be an outward demonstration of grief or remorse. Complying with the outward show is easy. It is much more demanding to submit inwardly. This rending of the heart is a humble submission to God. It is true repentance, and true deference to dvine will.
All the words of the prophets had little effect on a national level. When Jesus came to earth, the same heart problems existed. The religious leaders of the day were fastidious in their compliance with even the most minuscule of commands, but they neglected the “weightier matters” such as “justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). They concerned themselves with the outward appearance, but neglected the health of the inside (Matthew 23:25-28).
Times have not changed much in the 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth.
Jesus calls people to go beyond compliance with God’s commands. He calls people to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). When your entire being has submitted to the will of God, it is then that service to him becomes more than an obligation, it becomes a joy.
Christians who submit to God will also submit to others (Ephesians 5:21), to their shepherds (Hebrews 13:17), and to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7).
Submission is far more rewarding than compliance. One produces a life of joy and fulfillment. The other results in a life filled with emotional and spiritual burdens we were not meant to bear. One results in eternal life, the other in eternal misery.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).