• “If our children were to grow up truthful they much be taught by those who had a regard for truth; and not just a casual regard, a delicate regard. On this point we were adamant.” – Amy Carmichael (Gold Cord)

What Submission Does and Does Not Mean by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Today, we want to talk about one of the most radically counter-cultural truths that we are called to affirm as true women. This is a concept that is, well, incomprehensible to those who don’t know Christ and you’re not committed to the authority of Scripture. It’s a concept that creates fear in the hearts of many women. But it’s a truth that properly understood and lived out is an incredible gift from God. It’s one of our most powerful means of being conformed to the image of Christ. I also believe that it is one of the most effective and powerful weapons and means of influence in impacting our culture with the gospel.

What is that counter-cultural, radical truth? Let me read it to you. It’s the next affirmation in the True Woman Manifesto. It says, “When we respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God His Father.

I would add to that, it’s a noble submission to authority that also reflects the submission of the Church to Christ.

There . . . now, I’ve said the word. The “S” word.

Anytime we address the issue of submission on Revive Our Hearts or True Woman blog. (And let me encourage you to go to the True Woman blog. It’s a great way to interact with other women who are seeking to be God’s true women. You can share your heart. You can read from those who are posting blogs on biblical teaching on a lot of different subjects.) But any time we address this issue on the blog, it illicits strong, negative reaction from some of our readers. . .

. . .Today I’m going to do what is really a risky thing and that is to touch on the high points of the subject, within the broader context of the True Woman Manifesto.

The word submit comes from a Greek word, hupotasso. A compound word. Hupo means “under;” tasso “to line up or to get in order or to arrange.” To arrange under. It’s a military term that means to rank beneath or under.

The first thing we need to realize about submission is that God has established order, headship, authority, and submission in every sphere of life. In the home, in the church, in the workplace, in the government. Submission is not just for women. Submission is for men. Submission is for young, for old, for married, for single. Everybody has to be under submission to one or more human authorities in their lives and all of us under submission to God’s ultimate sovereign authority.

So submission is something that we all need to understand and embrace. Now in the marriage and the church, which is what we’re focusing on a lot in this True Woman Manifesto, the responsibility for leadership or headship is given by God to men. I know that is politically incorrect. I know it’s counter-cultural. But my authority is the Word of God and that’s just where we have to stand. That’s where we have the privilege of standing. So that’s my starting point and hopefully my ending point as well.

That position is given to men in marriage and in the church. And that’s no small responsibility or challenge for men. Men are responsible to lead, to protect, to provide for the women under their care and to exercise that leadership in a way that is loving and humble and servant-hearted; to seek the best interests of the ones they are leading; to lead and love as Christ leads and loves His Church—not to lord it over them, not to be domineering, not to be lazy or passive.

The responsibility of men is to provide loving, humble, servant-hearted leadership in the home and in the church. Whether they assume and fulfill that responsibility or not, it is still their responsibility.

Our responsibility as women—true women of God—is to respond to that leadership in humility, graciously following and submitting to God-ordained authority. That does not mean we are to be brainless or weak or spineless. In fact, it takes incredible wisdom and strength of character to submit well in a way that is in accordance with the biblical pattern for submission.

Now everything we do as Christians, man or woman, is to be rooted in and motivated by who God is and what He has done for us. Everything we do is to be a picture, an illustration, a demonstration to the world of the character and the ways of God. That’s what we’re doing. We’re glorifying God here on this earth. We’re showing the world what He is like and what spiritual realities are like.

So our submission to God-ordained male authority in the home and in the church illustrates two important spiritual realities and relationships.

  • The first is the Church’s submission to Christ. We want the world to see, we want to demonstrate, we want to model in marriage what it is like for the Church to submit to Christ as her Savior and Lord and Lover.
  • We also, in the context of the home or the church, as we submit to God-ordained male authority, we reflect Christ’s submission to His heavenly Father.

The submission of Christ to His Father, that is a fascinating thing to study in the Scripture. It’s a humbling thing to study. Because Christ is co-equal, co-eternal with God, in no sense inferior to God the Father. They are one.

But Jesus says, and it’s written in Psalm 40, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (vv. 7–8). Jesus said He came to earth to do the will of His heavenly Father, to submit Himself to His heavenly Father voluntarily, not under coercion.

John 6:38, Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me.” The submission of Christ. We read about it in Philippians 2. Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient” (v. 8). Humility and submission go hand in hand. He became obedient even to the point of death when His Father said this is what I want you to do for the sake of My glory and My redemptive plan on earth. Jesus said, “Yes, Lord. Yes, My God. I will do that. I will submit eagerly, willingly, gladly to Your will. I delight to do Your will.”

Not only in coming to this earth in the incarnation and not only in going to the cross, but for all of eternity Jesus will be in submissive relationship to the God with whom He is equal. We cannot do the math on that, but it’s what the Scripture teaches.

I love this passage in 1 Corinthians 15 that pictures this in the end time.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he [that is Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. . . . When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him [that is to his father] who put all things in subjection under him that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24–25, 28).

Jesus says for all of eternity, “My God, I delight to do Your will.” When we submit to God-ordained authority, and as women to God-ordained male authority, we are picturing to the world the beautiful, powerful, passionate submission of Christ to His heavenly Father, that God may be all in all.

So we come to that passage in 1 Corinthians 11, verse 3, that says,

I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ [every man is under authority], the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

Listen, ladies, when we are asked to submit to God-ordained male authority, we’re asked to be like Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. In the Trinity there is equal value, but there is also order and submission. When our submission reflects the submission of Christ to His Father, it reflects the heart of the gospel, the heart of Christ, who willingly placed Himself under His Father’s authority and obeyed the will of His Father.

Now I think it’s important that we remember that submission is not first and foremost actions, though it results in actions. But first it’s a matter of the heart.

Let me quote John Piper here. He says,

Submission is the divine calling as a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It’s the disposition to follow a husband’s authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership.

It’s not just things you do. It’s not just the letter of the law. It’s not just doing what you’re told to do. Submission is a joyful, spirit-filled surrendered disposition and inclination to follow authority and to yield to the leadership of those that God has placed over us. There’s been such abuse of this concept that it just takes time and effort today to correct some of the misimpressions, some of the misinformation, some of the misunderstandings of a topic like this.

Again, one program doesn’t give me time to do that justice, which is why I encourage you to go to some of the other links we’ve provided and go to the Word of God. Study it out and go to some of these other resources and ask God to give you understanding why submission really is a precious gift.

We need to make it clear that submission of women to male headship in the home and in the church is not demeaning of women, that it does not mean that men are superior to women or that men are more capable or more intelligent or more spiritual than women. It does not mean that. It does not mean that women don’t have opinions or that they don’t express those opinions or give input to situations. Your husband needs your input and your ideas.

It does mean learning to express them respectfully. Not nagging. Not belittling. Not manipulating. As a friend of mine used to say to me, put your cards on the table and then take your hands off. That’s a good picture that’s helped me.

Submission does not mean that the men in authority, whether in the church or in the home, are always right. They aren’t. They’re sometimes and often wrong. They sin, as do we. Submission does not mean blind obedience. It does not mean that we sin in order to submit. It doesn’t mean that you overlook sin in the authority.

Submission doesn’t rule out gently, humbly, and wisely confronting sinful behavior in the authority or bringing it to the attention of civil leaders or spiritual authorities with the goal of bringing the one in authority to repentance and restoration. There are appropriate ways to confront and deal with and appeal to an authority that is in sin.

Submission does not mean that women are to be submissive to all men, only to those that God has placed in authority over them in the home and in the church, though we are to show honor and respect to all men and, for that matter, all women.

Submission is not a license for those in authority to be abusive or domineering or disrespectful of those under their authority. And submission is more than just not actively rebelling against your husband’s authority or the church leaders’ authority. It’s more than just acquiescing to him when you disagree with him. It’s more than allowing him to make decisions without resisting.

Submission is not a mindless, spineless action. Submission is what Rebecca Jones calls active, positive obedience and radical honor in an article she wrote called Submission: A Lot More Than Giving In. We’ve linked to that article on ReviveOurHearts.com. Active, positive obedience. Radical honor.

It’s manifesting the same spirit that Christ exhibits toward His Father. Knowing and honoring His heart, the heart of the authority, wholeheartedly supporting and joyfully aligning yourself with that leader. Participating with him to further and to advance his passions and desires as he follows Christ.

Listen, men are never given absolute or ultimate authority. The only one who has absolute and ultimate authority is God. All human authority is delegated authority.

So authority, whether it’s a pastor or an elder or a husband or any other kind of leader, government official or an employer, does not give absolute rights. It does not give a right to disobey God or to lead others into sin. It’s limited authority.

authority, whether it’s a pastor or an elder or a husband or any other kind of leader, government official or an employer, does not give absolute rights. It does not give a right to disobey God or to lead others into sin. It’s limited authority.

But our responsibility as those who submit to authority, insofar as they do not lead us into sin, is to wholeheartedly, actively follow the leadership; to have a disposition, inclination to support their leadership.

And submission is not to be coerced. Nowhere does God in the Scripture tell men that they are to rule over their wives. It’s to be voluntarily, freely given. That’s why Scripture says to women submit yourselves to your own husbands.

I love that verse in Hebrews 13, verse 17, which is in the context of the church. I think it has broader application here. It says,

Obey your leaders [or as some translations say “those who rule over you, those who guide you”] and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning [or grief], for that would be of no advantage to you.

That suggests to me that to obey and submit to our leaders is to our advantage and when we don’t submit to their leadership, we lose something. We miss out on something. Spiritual leaders in the church have the God-given responsibility to lead, to guide, to rule over their flock. These men are under God’s authority. They are responsible, and it’s a high and holy responsibility to watch over our souls.

Your husband has that responsibility for your family whether he takes it or not. God has given him the responsibility to care for the condition—the spiritual condition—of his flock, of those under his care. And those leaders will have to give account to God in the judgment for how they have led, for how they have ruled and for the spiritual condition of their flock.

We are to follow. We are to obey their teaching, to listen to and to heed their counsel, to submit ourselves to their leadership and authority. And we will have to give account for how we follow and how we submit.

Some of you are about to pass out because this is so radically different than anything you will ever hear in our culture. I am trying to say this in as compassionate and careful and wise and biblical way as I can.

I think what we need to understand is that the concept of submission is a gift. It is designed by God for our blessing and for our benefit. Now granted, it’s a fallen, sinful world and things go awry so it doesn’t always work in the way that God intended it should because we’re sinful. Men are sinful. Women are sinful.

But we need to step back and look at God’s original divine ideal picture and remind ourselves that God is wise. God is good. He loves us. He has our best interests at heart. If you ask women, do you want your husband to be a godly, responsible leader, to exercise sacrificial love and to willingly assume responsibility for the protection and provision of your family, what would most say?

Absolutely. Am I right? Yes, that would be wonderful, right? But then ask them to submit to their husband’s leadership and direction and that concept seems threatening, irrational, unfair, oppressive, restrictive, maybe even barbaric. Am I right?

Since the Fall, since the Garden, men have always struggled with the issue of submitting to God when it comes to exercising godly servant leadership in their homes. There’s been a tendency on the part of men to abdicate that responsibility and be passive, to disengage.

And since Genesis 3, the Fall, the Garden, women have struggled to submit to God’s authority by graciously submitting to the authority and leadership of their husbands. Our proclivity, our inclination, our temptation and tendency has been to be controlling.

Failure on both parts—men and women—has created this cycle that has resulted in deep heartache and conflict and dysfunction in both men and women. Submission takes us to a place of humility and faith.

Humility—it doesn’t have to be my way. It can be God’s way. I don’t have to be in charge. And faith—I trust in the goodness and the sovereignty, the wisdom, and the plan of God. It ultimately comes to a point of surrender. Not to a man, but to God.

You see, we want to reserve the right to make a final decision. Surrender means the willingness to relinquish control and to trust that, as Proverbs 21:1 tells us, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of waters: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (KJV). To trust that God is greater, God is bigger than that human authority. Even if that human authority botches it, and sometimes they will, to trust that my life is in God’s hands.

Let me just read to you an email we received not long ago from a listener who wraps it up this way. She says,

I’ve been married for almost forty-three years. For thirty-five of those years I was angry and frustrated and felt defeated. But when I finally gave my marriage to the Lord, He began teaching me the truth about submission.

He showed me that all along I was fighting against what I wanted the most—a loving husband and a joy-filled marriage. Thank God, my husband wouldn’t let me “emasculate” him by being angry and trying to take control when it was never mine to have in the first place. I now sigh in relief that I am not responsible for his role. I am only responsible for mine. I love the word submission. I am now free to be the loving and supportive “helper” God designed for me to be.

There are two words that God has used to help me more than any other. [The first word is] respect: it builds our men up for their leadership role. [Second word] submission: which gives them the opportunity to lead. When I learned how to show respect to him and for his position as my head, and I stepped under him in submission, he blossomed. These are the best years of our marriage.

And they can be the best years of your life too. The ultimate submission here is our submission to God. Do you trust Him enough to say, as Jesus did to His Father, “O God, I delight to do Your will”? Whatever that means. Whatever it looks like. As you trust Him, then you will be able to walk in biblical, godly, powerful submission to the authorities that God has placed in your life.

Oh Lord, how I pray that You would take these feeble and faltering words and cause them to bring life and hope and help to many who are listening. Help us to see this from Your point of view. Thank You for Your gift of order and design. Help us to live out as Your women what it means to be under submission to You and to the authorities that You have placed in our lives.

Lord, we want to pray for those who do provide leadership in our homes and in our churches. We pray for our pastors, our elders, husbands, that You would give them the courage, the faith, the submission to You to lead as You have directed and designed them to do.

Help us as women to help them and be a blessing, that together we may glorify You and further Your kingdom. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.


  • (This article is an excerpt taken from a transcript from Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth from Wednesday, May 2, 2018.) 
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  • “Much of my experience of life has cost me a great price and I wish to use it for strengthening and comforting other souls.” – E. Prentiss

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