The Meaning of Grace
Submission is not a socially or culturally popular idea in the time we live in. For example, the USA was established through revolution and its citizens pride themselves on having the freedom to say or do anything, anytime and anywhere. Much of our entertainment, especially comedy, is based on the ridicule of our leaders. Most of our heroes are men and women who defy authority and get away with it.
It is difficult to cultivate a true Christian culture of submission in this type of environment. In his first epistle, Peter the Apostle says that the experience of God's grace will eventually create a person who:
- Feels secure in salvation
- Changes his lifestyle to include:
- Holy living habits
- Greater respect for God
- New way of loving
- Different self-image
The Christian is no longer a sinner, a worldly person, a rebel, but now has become a royal priest, a chosen person belonging to a holy nation. In addition to these Peter shows that God's grace enables a person to understand and accept that an important part of a Christian's character is the ability to submit.
Peter shows that grace in one's life means that a person is able to submit to all the forms of authority that God has established so that order can be maintained in the world, in the family and in the kingdom.
Rebellion vs. Submission
The root of many problems is rebellion. Before Adam sinned, there was rebellion in the heavens. The Bible doesn't give many details, but Jude tells us in verse 6 that the angels rebelled in refusing to keep the positions that God assigned to them and were cast down by God. It was one of those rebellious angels, Lucifer, who in the guise of a serpent, tempted Eve who caused the fall of mankind. The dictionary defines rebellion as:
- The refusal to accept authority
- To defy control by another
- To oppose authority, government, law
Aside from the commands in the Bible that we obey God's laws, we are also bound to obey the law and the government of the land. Peter refers to the spirit of rebellion that exists in sinful people who resist every kind of authority and secretly desire to do only what they want to do. He explains that God's grace, acting in peoples' lives, changes their basic aversion to any kind of authority into one of submission to all forms of legitimate authority.
Rebellion means to refuse, defy and oppose all forms of authority. Submission means a new attitude towards authority.
Submit - to submit is a military term which means to "place oneself under." For example, a military person sees a group of military people with varying ranks and places himself under the ones that outrank him.
Submission includes two actions:
- Recognition - the recognition of one's position, whether it is an assigned one or a position based on age, skill, etc. Submission requires that we see the "big picture" and recognize where we stand in relation to everyone else.
- Willingness - Biblical submission is not defeat, it is an act of the will in accepting a role, position or task. Submission is not slavery because slaves have no choice; submission is a positive response to accept our rightful place whether that place is first or last.
We live in an ordered universe, an order created by God to provide for the greatest human fulfillment and joy. The problems began when the angels refused to keep their positions in this order (they either wanted to be on God's throne or they refused to serve man) and instead, tried to destroy man.
Once created, humans wanted to leave their positions (they wanted to be in God's position to know good and evil). The result was spiritual rebellion, sin and destruction. After this initial rebellion God established a temporary order that had three layers: government, society and family. These were established to guarantee some form of harmony in this sinful world until Jesus would return and a new order would be established never to be challenged again.
People continue to rebel against this temporary order in many ways, causing all kinds of problems. Peter says that when a person experiences God's saving grace, that grace neutralizes that rebellious spirit and that person is able to:
- Recognize the big picture and see his/her place in God's plan.
- Willingly take their place, whatever that is, in order to serve and glorify God. Rebellion does not glorify God, but accepting one's place willingly and profitably, this glorifies God and contributes to peace on earth and the growth of the kingdom.
In chapters 2 and 3, Peter reviews how grace means submission in these three areas.
1. Grace Enables Submission to Government
11Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
- I Peter 2:11-12
As Christians, they lived in the same environment as the pagans did and therefore were subject to the same temptations and pressures. Peter tells them that as Christians they are to act in a manner befitting their calling, and in so doing win the respect of the non-believers. These Christians had left paganism and were being criticized by their pagan friends and relatives for leaving their old religions. Peter says that their good conduct may work in such a way as to win these people over to the very religion they criticized and end up glorifying God themselves.
It was especially important to have good conduct because in those days the criticism and some persecution were also coming from the government. God authorizes the idea of human government but does not specify or bless a particular form (kings, governors, presidents, chiefs). Peter shows them that part of this acceptable behavior includes respect and obedience for the "form" of government that existed at that time.
13Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
- I Peter 2:13-17
How and why are Christians to submit to civil authority?
- They submit to civil authority because it has been established by God in order to preserve order in society. This is so, regardless of the form or style it takes.
- Peter says to do so will remove any chance for non-believers to lend criticism at Christians.
- He also says that the secret of living under any kind of human authority (whether it is democratic like the USA or despotic like Iran) is to realize three things:
- We are free from God's condemnation and thus are truly free.
- Our purpose is to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth, not any human kingdom on earth. Let the unbelievers worry about this.
- We are slaves of God and so no one can truly enslave us.
Grace means that we submit to our human rulers because in doing so we can carry out our true purpose in life, and that is to serve our heavenly ruler. Grace means submission to government.
2. Grace Enables Submission to Our Masters
In that day, slavery was the common social connection between employer and employee. Today, in most of the world, slavery does not exist anymore, but Peter's teaching here applies to every relationship where one is in charge and one must report.
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
- I Peter 2:18
Peter says that what counts as a Christian is your attitude, not the attitude of your boss. To be obedient and compliant to our bosses, managers, etc., is our choice, made easier or harder by them, but always remains our choice.
19For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
- I Peter 2:19-20
The purpose for our attitude is our faith and desire to please God. If we endure injustice patiently, this pleases God. If we suffer because of our own rebellion, we get what we deserve.
The objective in employee/employer relationships is not to win points, rights, concessions, but to please God and win our boss' respect and soul.
21For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
- I Peter 2:21-25
Peter says that the purpose we have been called (to become disciples of Christ) is to continue portraying His examples of:
- Pure living (no sin)
- Patience in suffering (did not revile His attackers)
- Soul winning (by His example we were saved)
Christ could have beaten both the Jews and Romans with His army of angels, but instead, through His patience and submission to the Father, He won some of their souls. There is a big difference between winning the game or the war, and winning a soul.
An important thing to remember during the day-to-day grind of dealing with our superiors in school, work, etc., is that the objective is not to win over them, but to win them over, and the first step towards this is submission to government and those who have authority over us.
3. Grace Means Submission in the Family
The most intimate relationship, however, is the family, and Peter shows how the spirit of submission works to order this area as well.
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
- I Peter 3:1
Peter speaks to those who are married to pagans because it seems that there may have been a question as to the Christian woman's role in such a situation. The submission of a wife to her husband was a clearly established idea in Jewish culture, but Paul, and now Peter, confirm that this is God's purpose for all married relationships in order to maintain order and peace. The extra dimension here is that this type of behavior is the only way a Christian woman will achieve her ultimate goal, the salvation of her mate.
2as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3Your adornment must not be merely external-braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
- I Peter 3:2-6
Here, Peter details the character of a submissive wife:
- She is not spiritually bossy (verse 1). "Without a word" means without showing off her spiritual knowledge or pointing out her husband's spiritual failures.
- Pure and respectful (verse 2). Sexually pure as a good witness. Respectful in the sense that the submission is sincere and not merely lip service.
- Confidence - submission doesn't mean slavery. A Christian woman has character, strength and peace which are her inner beauty. These are the things she concentrates on rather than outward beauty. These are the things that her husband will notice and continue to cherish long after the outward beauty will fade.
Sarah was such a woman and it was her strength and peace that enabled her to submit to Abraham, not fear.
You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
- I Peter 3:7
Now Peter speaks to Christian husbands on the flip side of this issue. Pagan husbands will act as they will with only the Christian attitude of their wives to save them.
Christian husbands, however, have the responsibility to know (understand) their wives and the special needs that they have because they are women and mothers, and asked by God to submit to their husbands. For husbands not to carefully provide that understanding and care is to hinder their own spiritual lives. The best compliment from a wife to her husband is when se is able to say to him, "You know me so well."
Submission doesn't mean slavery and Peter reminds men of the equal value and rewards that God sees women as having. Grace enables a woman to willfully accept a role she would normally reject or overthrow with her intelligence and guile; the same grace enables a man to keep in check his natural tendency to dominate by force one who is weaker.
Submission is God's way of guaranteeing balance and peace in the family until Jesus returns when there will only be one family.
Peter tracks the various effects on a person's life as God's grace leads him to experience a spirit of submission.
A change that includes a willingness to accept and submit to authority where it has been established by God: in society, in one's career, as well as in the home.
This new attitude produces a good witness for Christ wherever we are, and guarantees peace and harmony which are pleasing to God.
Of course, our very first act of submission that God's grace calls us to perform leads to our greatest eternal blessing. God calls on everyone to accept Jesus Christ as His only divine Son and submit to Him by confessing His name, repenting of sin and being baptized (Acts 2:36-38).