Free Will, Voluntary Submission, and Love

Genuine selfless love presupposes free will. Free will and the freedom to choose is an inherent characteristic of the Godhead and all created intelligent beings. The inter-relationship of love, free will and authority-submission has been described in Jerry Moon’s Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) paper[1] where he states:

The purpose of authority is to enable unity and cooperation between free beings. Just as true love presupposes free will, so order and unity among free beings presupposes authority. In an orchestra, authority is vested in a conductor, but this does not make of the other musicians less essential. Only through the exercise of leadership and authority can beings with free will act in coordination.

The expression of authority occurs through ordered relationships of leadership and willing cooperation (authority and submission). As the centurion said to Jesus, “I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me.” Matt 8:9; cf. MB 109. Heaven is structured on the basis of relationships of selfless loving authority and voluntary submission.

“There is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Rom 13:1. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God” (Rom 13:1-2). Authority originates in God and comes to others only by delegation.  Governmental rulers receive delegated authority from God, to whom citizens are to fear, respect, and voluntarily submit within the bounds of God’s authority and law. The principle of authority and voluntary submission is expanded in Ephesians 5 and 6, where three examples of “submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord” in non- reciprocal relationships are set forth. Wives are to submit to their husbands because the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church (Eph. 5:23).

Children are to submit, in the Lord, to the loving authority of their parents, which is demonstrated by obedience (Eph. 6:1). And servants are to submit to their master as to Christ. Similar admonitions are given in Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 2:2-3. The principle of authority and voluntary submission is also illustrated in 1 Corinthians 11:3 with both Heaven-earth and also inter-heaven non-reciprocal relationships. “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

Even before the Fall, the principle of authority and submission was established between Adam and the woman in Eden.  Male and female role differentiation is both obvious and implied in Genesis 1-3 in several ways: by their differentiation in terms of gender, by the order and mode of their creation, and by describing the primacy of man’s responsibility. There is a repeated amplification of the principle of creation headship in Genesis 1-3 in terms of the man’s responsibility and accountability.  I have previously identified twenty-six identifying points of creation headship in Genesis 2-3 which are documented in my TOSC paper.[2]                                    

The apostle Paul bases the leadership authority of qualified men in the church on the creation order of Genesis 2-3, when he state that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim 2:13). Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, the creation order of Genesis 2 is the basis for male leadership in the church. Man “is the image of glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man is not from the woman, but the woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, woman for the man.”

The Trinity: Free Will and Voluntary Submission

Free will and the freedom to choose is an inherent characteristic of the Godhead and all created intelligent beings. For example, Eve, who was created in the image of God, was not created inherently, by nature, submissive to Adam. She was created with a free will to accept or reject her role of voluntary submission to Adam. She chose to reject her submissive role to Adam. In the same manner, Lucifer and one-third of the angels chose to reject their submissive role to the Commander of the heavenly host                                                                                        

Likewise, the Son of God is not inherently in subjection to the Father, as is evident in Jesus’ prayer to His Father in Gethsemane, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). The Son consistently chooses to be submissive to the authority of the Father. Jerry Moon ably summarizes the relationship between the Father and the Son:[3]

Even within the Godhead, where there is perfect equality among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there is both authority/leadership and loving submission/cooperation. We reject the heresy of subordinationism—that Jesus was inferior to the Father in nature or that His preexistence was derived from the Father. God the Son has preexisted from eternity. Micah 5:2; John 1:1-3; DA 530. Before taking on humanity, Christ “was God” (John 1:1) and was “equal with God,” yet He humbled himself to take “the form of a servant” and became “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:5-11.                                                                                                                              

This passage shows that Christ gave voluntary submission to the Father’s authority, and was exalted by the Father’s authority. Thus “the head of Christ is God.” 1 Cor 11:3. When the plan of redemption is complete, Christ will again “deliver the kingdom to God the Father” and “then the Son also will be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” 1 Cor 15:24-28.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equal in being (ontology), having co-existed as one God from eternity. Yet even though equal in every way, they function in different roles in the plan of salvation. God the Father exercises a leadership role, the Son voluntarily accepted the humiliation of becoming human to be the Savior and Sacrifice for sinful humanity, and the Holy Spirit cooperates with the Father and the Son in the work of salvation, acting in many roles largely invisible and unrecognized. Thus with God, equality of being and nature does not mean sameness of roles.

Voluntary Submission of Christ—Incarnation

“But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3).  The book of Hebrews alludes to the submission of the Son in the incarnation, coming to do the will of God, as he quotes the prophecy in Psalm 40.

Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—In the volume of the book it is written of Me—To do Your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:5-7).

Following the incarnation, it is self-evident to even the casual reader of the Gospels that Christ was subject to the Father’s authority.  “I can of Myself do nothing. . . .  I do not seek My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30, 19); “I always do those things that please Him” (8:29); God sends His Son into world (3:17). Christ was subject to the authority of the Father and kept His commandments (15:10).  The submission necessary to secure our salvation is further illustrated by His struggle in the Garden leading to Calvary: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Mt 26:39); “[He] became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8).                        

The equality of being of the Son with the Father is apparent in John 1:1-3 as well as Philippians 2:5-8, where we see the equality as well as the willing submission of the Son to the Father. The role of directing, sending, and commanding the Son belongs to the Father only.[4]  Evangelical feminists limit the submission of the Son to the Father strictly to the incarnation in relation to solving the sin problem—sometimes referred to as economic subordination.[5]  However, the biblical evidence is clear that a relationship of authority and submission between the Father and Son has existed in parallel with their equality of being from before the beginning of creation, and that this relationship will persist into eternity future, beyond the completion of the plan of salvation.



1. Jerry Moon, “Ellen White, Ordination, and Authority,” Theology of Ordination Study Committee, July, 2013, 3.

2 See my Theology of Ordination Study Committee paper for supporting evidence in Genesis 1-3.  The apostle Paul uses the creation order of Adam and Eve to establish the headship of Adam (1 Timothy 2:13; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9).

3 Moon, p. 3-4

4 Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 46.

5 Rebecca Groothuis writes concerning economic subordination: “If Christ’s subordination is not limited to a specific project or function but characterizes His eternal relationship with God, then Christ is not merely functionally subordinate; he is by nature subordinate. . . . It is by no means clear from Scripture that the members of the Godhead are related to one another in terms of an eternal structure of rule and submission. This is a debatable point of theology on which conservative scholars disagree.” Quoted by Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 406.

6 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, Vol. 1, 226.


Elder John W. Peters served the Pennsylvania Conference of Seventh-day Adventists as a local pastor before his recent retirement.  He and his wife Elizabeth now live in Port Charlotte, Florida.