“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6).
Christianity is not a religion of submission. Though Christianity includes submission (as the verse above indicates), submission is not its main virtue nor its main objective. The apostles are clear: faith is the foundational virtue, and love is the main objective (e.g. Ephesians 1:15; 2 Peter 1:5-7; 1 John 3:23). Even in the verse above, which is a great promise for all those harassed by the devil (he can actually leave!), submission to God is only the first step, and resisting the devil involves being “steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9). Mere submission is not enough.
Grasping this fact about Christianity is vitally important for differentiating it from other religions of total commitment. Take the Muslims, for example. By its very name, Islam means “submission,” and a Muslim is one who has submitted. The very posture of Islamic prayer, kneeling prostrate with one’s face to the ground, is so diametrically opposed to the standard posture of biblical prayer–arms outstretched and eyes raised to heaven, even while on one’s knees. Why is there such a difference? In Islam, heaven is attained by sheer obedience to the will of Allah; in Christianity, heaven is attained by the sheer grace of our loving God through faith in His Son, who carried our guilt on the cross. The first is a religion of works; the latter is a religion of grace; and both works and grace cannot simultaneously be the basis for approaching God. As Paul, an ex-Pharisee, testified, “If by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:6).
Similarly, the beauty of Christian faith and love stands in contrast to the dark realities of modern totalitarianism, whether fascism or communism, both of which demand total commitment, if not to a god, then at least to a cause. Under the Nazis, for example, some Germans had come to believe that submission to the State was so virtuous, they often lived lives of civility at home, while their desk job served Nazi butchery. Similarly, in Romania after the war, one pastor was stunned to hear a Russian soldier say that he would believe in God if that is what his commanding officer told him to do. In both situations, something basic to humanness was drastically missing.
Listen, we were made in the image of God, different than animals. Among our pets, mere submission is enough; but submission is not enough among human beings. God made us like Himself, to think through situations and to feel their moral weight, not merely to take orders and thereby never grow in our humanness. In Christ, a man is renewed in the spirit of his mind, and thereby attains to true humanness (Ephesians 4:23-24; cf. Colossians 3:10). Even the leading of the Holy Spirit is not contrary to our personality, but is its very enhancement in holiness. When the devil possesses a soul, the soul is displaced; but when the Holy Spirit fills a soul, the soul is set free.
Christian, this helps to explain a good deal of our frustration when we face a difficult decision. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” we think to ourselves, “if Jesus just told me what to do!” Though at times being told what to do can also be frustrating as well, as in the military or at school or on the job, it is at least simple–we just do what we are told. Why does our Lord often remain silent? Is it not true, we need trials of faith in order to grow (James 1:2-4)? If He just told us what to do, how would we grow in wisdom (James 1:5)? Therefore, He lets us wrestle in prayer with His word until by His Spirit we truly get the answer, as a human being should.
The same is true for faith and love. When faced with a dilemma, how much do we believe that God will work for our good and for His glory? Having taken His cross to heart, are we ready to believe that God will, with Christ, “freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32)? Do we ask? Ready or not, Jesus is the same today as when He used to say, “According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29). Therefore, we should not be surprised, if He should ask us, “What will ye that I shall do unto you?” (Matthew 20:32)–or, with regard to love, if He should leave decisions about time and money in our hands, saying that each should give “as he purposeth in his heart” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
“That’s so unnerving! Jesus, just tell me what to do. Do you want me to visit my neighbor today? Do you want me to believe you for a new job? Do you want me to give $30 or $50 to this cause? Please, just tell me.”
Sometimes He refuses to answer.
Christianity is a religion of maturity, of true humanity–not a religion of mere submission.