When I was a kid, I used to get into all kinds of fights with my two brothers—over all kinds of silly stuff. Anybody who has brothers or sisters knows what I’m talking about. Anyhow, the fights didn’t last long, and the bigger sibling usually won (not me). Usually the loser wouldn’t be released until they admitted defeat. More times than not, I was told by a brother who had landed on top of me, holding my hands and arms down, to “say ‘Uncle!’ ” So I did, because if I didn’t they would probably still be on top of me to this day!
God wants us to say the same thing to Him. Not that He’s beating us down and yelling at us to submit, as my brothers did with me. Rather, He’s asking for us to give up trying to do things on our own. He wants to help us.
We always talk about the importance of having a relationship with Jesus Christ in order for us to receive the peace, love, and acceptance that we’re made for. When we accept Christ, we also automatically get plugged into God’s Holy Spirit, who gives us not only the motivation to make good decisions, but the ability and power to overcome sin and bad habits as well.
Submission vs Obedience
There is a definite connection between obedience, humility, and submission. Now, submission is different than obedience. Obedience is the act of obeying, and submission is the attitude of obedience. If someone threatened me with death if I didn’t obey them, I would obey. This is not so with submission. Someone who has submitted wants to obey; they don’t have to be forced or threatened. When we talk about submitting to God, we’re talking about willing obedience that springs out of our love for God and our thankfulness for the salvation that He’s freely given us.
Obedience is difficult for a sinner born into sin. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says “Let go and let God!” This is easier said than done. Remember, all of us, Christian or not, are dealing and struggling with our flesh—our natural sinful selves.
Meek Isn’t Weak
James, the writer of the biblical book by the same name, stresses that you must submit to God in order to resist the devil: "'God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:6-10).
There is power in humility and submission. Humility is the internal attitude that allows an individual to be externally submitted. Don’t you find it interesting that a Christian can receive power from giving it up? How is that possible? The key to the whole shebang is finding the right person to submit to. God, of course, is the right person, and when you submit to Him, all kinds of wonderful things can and will happen. The first of those being that you will begin to see that you can get free from habits, addictions, and sins that you could never stop by yourself. Let’s take a closer look at the passage in James. There is an important progression that you need to be aware of:
- God can and will give you the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome all evil—whether the evil comes from you, the devil, or the world—but you’ve first got to . . .
- Submit to God. You can say “no” or “stop” to the devil all you want to, but the reality is you’re about as significant to him as a fly. The devil wants to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), so he’s not your friend. You can’t resist him by yourself. He’ll squash you in a heartbeat! But once you submit to God and He moves you under His protection and authority, you will be able to say “no” to the devil. When this happens . . .
- The devil will flee from you. Did you catch that? Without God you’re about as powerful as a gnat, but when God’s got your back, Satan runs away! But he’ll be back—and soon—with a slicker, sneakier temptation. So what do you do?
- Come close to God, every moment of every day, and God will come close to you. Have you ever been scared of something and then had your parent, sibling, or a friend “back you up”? How did you feel? Invincible and untouchable, right? That’s exactly what drawing close to God can and will do for you, but you’ve got to start that process. Because of your free will--your ability and freedom to make your own decisions--God will never force you. Forcing is the way the devil works. So how do you remain in that attitude of coming close to God? Well, you . . .
- Recognize that you’re a sinner in need of a Savior; have a serious and realistic recognition as to how your attitude, behaviors, and sin affect God deeply and break your relationship with Him. Admit to what you’ve done wrong (with no excuses or justifications) and say you’re sorry (confession) and stop doing it (repentance). When you do that . . .
- You will have a humble attitude that will put you in a position of submission, which allows God to lift you up to a closer and closer relationship with Him . . . and the process continues every moment of every day, and you will continually draw closer and closer to Him so He can continue making you more and more perfect and sinless (sanctification).
Nebbi the Knucklehead!
I want to tell you a sad but important story in the Bible that has to do with one knucklehead who decided to learn about submission to God the hard way.
This story illustrates what happens when somebody consistently doesn’t submit to God. It’s found in Daniel 4, and it’s an amazing story of King Nebuchadnezzar—King Nebbi, for short. It’s incredible to think about the ways God chooses to get people’s attention. I hope you’ll read this, learn, change, and choose never to get this far away from God that you need this kind of wake-up call.
Before you read this story, there’s something that you have to understand about King Nebbi and his culture: they ascribed the status of a god to their king. And as with anything, if you hear something enough times, you begin to believe it. So King Nebbi began to believe that he was a god.
God said in the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (New King James Version, Exodus 20:3). And we read in Scripture that God isn’t in the business of sharing His glory with other gods. These are important facts to remember as we consider the lessons and principles of the story in Daniel 4. Read it for yourself, and then we’ll discuss what we can learn from Nebbi’s mistakes.
So what’s the point of this story? That we are to give honor and glory to no one other than God. We are to recognize that by His hand He created all things, controls all things, and moment by moment, gives us our very breath and heartbeat! God does not mind if we admire or even aspire to beauty and power, but He wants us to give Him all the credit. After all, He rightfully deserves it. By doing this, we are submitting to His authority and not our own.
I believe that King Nebbi learned his lesson and learned true humility. Just the fact that he was able to write this information down gives evidence of this. I find it interesting that even after having been clearly warned by God through the prophet Daniel of what would happen if he didn’t change his ways, King Nebbi still went down the path of pride. Now, it took 12 months until he did it, which shows us our first principle: You and I must choose every day to submit to God, and we must remain vigilant that we don’t stray off of the path into our taking credit for the good things in our lives. It all comes from God and belongs to God, and He can choose to give it and take it away at any time.
The apostle Paul, in Acts 26:14, when telling the story of his conversion, relates that Jesus said to him: "'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'" What are goads? Well, for the most part, they’re like the spurs that cowboys wear. Goads are sharp pieces of metal, stone, or wood that are used to get stubborn animals to do what the owner wants them to do. Are you catching the relevance of this issue to your life? Have you ever done something in your life that caused God to need to use a “goad” to get your attention? Instead of God having to do that to us, wouldn’t it just be easier for us to submit willingly? It would be easier, we’d live longer, and we’d be happier.
It took seven years for King Nebbi to finally humble himself and submit to God! The Bible says that after seven years, Nebbi prayed, and when he did, his “mind was healed” (Contemporary English Version, Daniel 4:34). In other words, he had lost his mind before he finally humbled himself! Now, what happens when your mind is sick? All kinds of stuff: anxiety, depression, hallucinations, delusions, and other mental health problems. Remember, we’re not talking the brain. For the most part, your brain is about a three-and-a-half-pound organ the consistency of soft cheese; your brain controls your body. Your mind, on the other hand, determines and controls your character and personality, your emotions and your will and choices. Your mind generally controls and affects those things about you that are untouchable.
You might be thinking, seven years? Come on, that seems a little extreme for someone to keep living like a wild animal and not to recognize that God is in charge?! Oh really? I wish I would have gotten it after only seven years—it took me longer than that.
And I’m sure some of you know people who have been living crazy, out-of-control lives longer than that. Maybe that person is you!
Psalm 36:1-4 says: “Sinners don’t respect God; sin is all they think about. They like themselves too much to hate their own sins or even to see them. They tell deceitful lies, and they don’t have the sense to live right. Those people stay awake, thinking up mischief, and they follow the wrong road, refusing to turn from sin.” This passage paints a picture of somebody just lying in their bed, nervously wringing their hands, and thinking about what kind of progressively evil and perverse things they will do tomorrow. YIKES! Take a cue from King Nebbi and don’t go there.
You or God?
So what’s it going to be? What will you choose? Will you choose to honor yourself above God and live a miserable, out-of-control life full of selfishness, pain, and passing pleasure—and then die? Or will you choose to humble yourself before God and recognize that He’s in charge, order your life accordingly, then live a life of joy, peace, and contentment both here and in the world to come—and never die! The choice is yours. Take it from me and Nebbi—you’re much better off living life with God than without Him.