On the Difference Between Submission and Obedience

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March 8, 2022

1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

CONSIDER THIS

And the emails just keep coming. I appreciate it, friends. We are learning to read together with Jesus, aren’t we? What I have really appreciated about a number of responses is the way they have disagreed with my conclusion and yet been very gracious and kind. Yes, some have reacted angrily, and that is OK too, as it gives me the chance to respond to them with grace and kindness. If there is one thing life has taught me about angry reactions it is this—they aren’t usually mad at you. They were already angry, and the thing they were angry about is not usually the thing they are expressing anger about. What they need is not rebuke but compassion. 

One more preliminary thing I’ll add today and test by you. Something I am continuing to learn is the difference between human conscience, biblical conviction, and working conclusions. I see conscience as my internal guidance system; a melding of my values and my instincts. Biblical convictions are ancient and immovable. My conclusions are a work in progress. Conscience is fallible. Convictions are immovable. Conclusions are malleable.  Conclusions come from the application of convictions. The real question is what shapes our conscience. Is it the Word and Spirit or the spirit of the age. Now, back to the text at hand. 

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority

It’s interesting how Peter does not say obey human authorities. He says submit to them. Back in chapter 1, Peter said this: Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth . . .” (1:22a). He chose the Greek term, “hupakoe” (pronounced hoop-ak-o-ay), which you will remember means “to hear while sitting under.” This is Peter’s word of choice when it comes to our response to the Word of God, aka “the truth.” Just a few chapters later, in the same letter, when it comes to our relationship to governing authorities he chooses the word, “hupotasso” (pronounced hoop-ot-ass-o), which means something more like to rank yourself under or be arranged or ordered under. The English word is submission. It doesn’t mean obedience. It means something more like compliance really. Where does compliance end and resistance begin? Here’s a great example  of such a scenario from the Exodus. 

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” (Exodus 1:15-18)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority

There comes a point at which submitting oneself to human authority comes to the Lord’s detriment. And this is where the rub comes. What is a Christian conviction and what is an American (or insert your own country) value? Where is the overlap and where is the divergence? Whereas in the past we (in America) may have enjoyed more overlap, it appears in the future we will face more divergence. How shall we face it? It’s why this conversation and how we engage it is so important—from conscience to convictions to conclusions—all of it. 

But the first question we must grapple with is, Will we become the Church Jesus is building or will we become unwitting pawns of the political machinations of our time which move according to the ever shifting spirit of the age? And to answer that one we must each grapple with this question: Will I be a Christian American (or insert your country) or will I be an American Christian? Asking it another way and bringing it full circle: Is my conscience being shaped more by biblical conviction or national values? It can be extraordinarily difficult to sort this owing to our exceedingly high capacity for self deception. This is why our utter and uncompromising allegiance to Jesus is the key to the Kingdom of heaven and path toward true flourishing for any nation on earth. 

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority

THE PRAYER

Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Because you are our King and your Kingdom is our home, we are exiles and foreigners here. I get this at one level and yet I need to grasp it at all levels. Awaken me to this as a reality and not an ideal. I want your Word and Spirit to form my convictions and shape my conscience. Holy Spirit would you give me the mind of Christ. Praying in Jesus’ name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

How does this framework of conscience, convictions, and conclusions help you think more clearly as a follower of Jesus? Do your loyalties and your allegiance feel more conflicted or clarified? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

4 COMMENTS

  1. J D, for starters, let me say this: It’s been a slow process, but over the last couple of years (Covid era) I’ve come to realize that we are losing whatever privileges we may have enjoyed by being a citizen of a Christendom nation. While I know that that arrangement made identifying as a Christian easier, it also lead to the deception that somehow America was God’s chosen nation. The events over this recent history have revealed how contradictory that idea is with Biblical truth. Neither America nor any other nation of this world is God’s chosen nation. We have indeed been blessed far beyond any other country but God has only one chosen nation and that’s his bride, the sanctified body of Christ. I believe that our nation is being exposed as all of the others: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw of their shackles.” (Psalm 2:1-3) I know this is going to anger some Uber patriot folks, but this seems to be the Biblical truth from my perspective.

  2. I believe that conscience is more than “my internal guidance system.” I believe conscience is the inner light that Jesus gives to all human beings–the voice of God in our heart. As children conscience is strong, but as we get older and lose more and more innocence, it’s light grows dimmer and it’s sound duller. We learn to ignore it and eventually to harden it. It never completely goes away but can become extremely faint. Modern churches seldom teach their members about their conscience or train them to listen to it and follow it. Thus, churches are full of Christians who are thinking, doing, watching, reading, and saying all sorts of wrongful things, and they do so without conviction because they’ve been trained that grace excuses them from the need to hear and obey their conscience (and the Bible) and gives them permission to follow their own desires and opinions instead. This leads to crippling self-deception and lukewarmness.

    Because of this, I believe that throughout our history, American Christians have overlooked, ignored, enabled, and/or cooperated with much divergence between American values and Christian convictions. That divergence has included: Excessive national pride, glorifying militarism, taking land from native Americans by force, breaking treaties with them, racial prejudice, widespread and legalized human trafficking, forcing segregation and second-class citizenship on millions of people because of their skin color, the government’s refusal to criminalize more than 4,000 race-based, public lynchings, denying people the right to fair and equal legal protection and/or trial because of their color, etc.

  3. It lifts my heart to find brothers and sisters who see our place in GODs Kingdom as their one eternal “nation”. CS Lewis called nationalism a grave sin. It has saddened and angered me for many years, to see a strong and powerful faith in Christ manipulated by humans who put nation and personality above Jesus. Todays text… encouraging. Keep speaking from scripture’s truth and thank you.

  4. Of course, when it comes to conscience, my thoughts went to John Wesley and I did a quick search to refresh my memory as to what his thoughts were on conscience: it is God’s prevenient/preventing grace. If I remember correctly, he said no person should ever be forced to act contrary to their conscience. I agree that conscience can be a tricky thing, and sometimes it is the product of what is instilled in us at a young age by our family. However, I have also discovered that as I go deeper into the Christian faith, I tend to wrestle with matters of conscience and test them–the most recent being the mask and vaccine mandates. Eventually I submitted to both but only because I concluded they were what I needed to do. However, whenever I heard Biden demanding I do so or I am some how deficient, I wanted to drop my mask in the closest trash can. I can respect those who choose not to because they are following the dictates of their conscience–including my daughter who refuses to get the vaccine.

    And in response to Steve Simms thoughts, yes, sometimes conscience leads people to do horrendous things, and even Christianity can become distorted. But it still takes time to reorient a person’s view and it cannot be done “on demand” or by legislation. In his book, “What Is So Amazing About Grace”, Philip Yancy talks about a friend of his that was distressed with people who are members of the Ku Klux Klan; rather than condemn them, he went to live among them and introduce them to a different perspective of God. And regarding the Ku Klux Klan: my own Methodist pastor grandfather was a member because at the time, it was the thing to do. I do not know the extent of his participation, but eventually he became convinced there was a better way.

    The problem with America is that Mainline Protestant Christianity lost touch with the historic Christian faith which is not about what we do, but rather who we become in relation to each other. As Philip Yance so clearly pointed out, legislation can only change outward actions, only the grace of God can change how we view and relate to each other. And that is one of the lessons I have been learning as I run an antique mall and interact with a wide range of people: Everybody, and I mean literally everybody, is in need of a moment of grace.

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