Authority and Submission

Man should not do anything out of a knowledge of right and wrong.  Rather, he should do all things out of obedience.  The principle of discerning good and evil is the principle of living by right and wrong.  Before Adam and Eve took the fruit, their right and wrong were in God.  If they did not live before God, they knew nothing; both their right wrong were just God Himself.  But after man received of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he found a source of discerning between right and wrong apart from God.  As a consequence, after man’s fall, there was no need for him to seek after God.  He could get along by himself.  He could isolate himself from God and judge between right and wrong.  This is the fall.  The word of redemption enables us to turn back to God for our right and wrong.

This is from Watchman Nee’s book, Authority and Submission.   I’m not very far along in it but this paragraph really hit home.   Nee states that every Christian must live under authority and that every work done outside of submission is a work in the flesh, not of the Spirit, and therefore no good.   Nee cites 1 Samuel 15 as one example among many to illustrate the prominence God places in submission to His authority over anything else, even sacrifice (or worship) of Him.    King Saul thought he was doing well to worship God, but he had a rebellious heart in offering up a sacrifice that was not his to offer, and in so doing disobeyed God and was punished for it.    “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Nee says that God’s greatest demand upon us is submission.   Only those who have been broken can truly submit to God’s authority, and once we get a glimpse of God’s authority, at least once, we will be forever changed and our heart will have a new Master.   We will see lawlessness (living for self, outside of authority) more clearly, not only in ourselves but in others.


I remember a day when God’s authority pressed Itself upon me to such a degree I went speechless.    I was at Pure Life and as was my custom I was down by the cross, alone, praying.   My wife and kids were due to visit in just a few days and I was praying for their safety.    I was really crying out to God to protect them on the road and that our visit would be a great one.   And then, in the midst of this prayer I went numb, and my tongue felt like a 1000 pounds.   I began to mutter, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, forgive me.”     Why?  Because the Spirit of God said to me,

Chad, you are seeking My blessing for a trip you did not consult Me about.   Is that not arrogant of you?

I was shut-up.  He was right.   I was living my life outside the authority of God.  I was offering sacrifices (prayers) to God, but my heart was doing my own thing, discerning for itself what was right or wrong.    Of course, I told myself, a family visit is “good”!  Why ask God about it?    The Lord reminded me that day of James 4:13-15,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord will, we will live and do this or that.”

How much of my life has been lived under my authority rather than God’s!   For so very long my I lived a lawless existence, disobedient in both big and small things, because regardless of the lip-service I might pay to God, the only real authority I acknowledged was my own.   But when the awesome Majesty of God gets hold of our hearts, though, we will be stopped short of transgressing His commands because we will know what it is to live under Authority, and how worthy He is to demand it of us.

As for the family visit?   I wrestled for a few days with whether it was right or wrong for them to come (I was still trying to discern myself!) until one night, gently, the Spirit of God whispered, “Child, just ask me.”    There was, I believe, a part of me that felt my Father in heaven was stern, and wanted to deny me good gifts.   As if my past sins precluded me from having any benefits today.    Trembling, I asked, “Father, is it OK for my wife and kids to visit this weekend?”    Tears streamed down my face when I felt the waves of His “Yes” to me wash over me, again and again.    I also had the assurance they would be well taken care of.

God wants our submission to His authority, and His alone.   It is not so that He can deny us that which we may want, but so that He can give us everything we need.


6 thoughts on “Authority and Submission”

  1. I’ve often said to people who are allergic to words like “obedience” that to be obedient to the Spirit is literally what it means to be “inspired.” Any inspiration that comes from a source other than the breath of God is not really inspiration. Jesus says that if we want to be His friends, we need to obey His commands. The way I understand this is that by doing what He says, we are reshaped to sympathize with His perspective, so that we do His will not as begrudging fearful slaves but out of genuine friendship.

    The tricky question with authority and submission is how it translates into interpersonal relationships between humans. The Sovereign Grace church, for example, had a lot of problems with sexual abuse that were exacerbated by an authoritarian culture in which submission to the pastor meant not questioning what was going on or “subverting” the pastor’s authority by reporting things to the police. I don’t trust myself enough to tell my parishioners to submit to my authority, and my lack of self-trust seems appropriate and Biblical. I want my parishioners to submit to God’s authority and speak very openly to me if I am contradicting what God has been revealing to them. What is your understanding of how our submission to God’s authority shapes our relationship to our fellow servants of God as shepherds who are nothing like our Shepherd?

  2. Morgan, thanks for your comment. You raise a good question and I’m looking forward to seeing how Nee flushes some of that out (if he does) in his book.
    I cringe at the idea of anyone *telling* parishioners (or anyone for that matter) to “submit to my authority.” It seems to me that if a person has to tell people that, they are not operating as God’s authority to begin with, but out of their own. I believe the principle of submission, which Nee speaks to, is one every Christian must learn. He says we must always be looking for whom God has placed in authority over us (he also says we must live into the authority God has bestowed upon each of us as heirs of Christ).
    No doubt, like any good gift, it can be abused, and often is. I suppose it might come to this: How do we maintain the principle of submission within our hearts while we expose the sinfulness of others in their abuse of power?

  3. Hi Chad,

    Thank you for your honest and insightful post. I also read Nee’s book, Authority & Submission, and I never forgot the idea that if Jesus demonstrated complete obedience to the will of God and submitted everything to Him, who are we to do any less? It is the humble-servant attitude I believe God is looking for in every believer (but not always easy to achieve!). As for submitting to people in authority, I struggled (still do) with a critical spirit (the “I would do better or do things different” attitude). God had to (has to) deal with me and what followed was a deep lesson about being critical to “any” power in authority, based on Romans 13:1-7. I quote verses 1,2 and 7 here.

    Rom 13:1    Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.Rom 13:2    Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Rom 13:7    Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

    I think it means that to resist authority (a word shunned by many today), is really to resist God. However, in the case of abuse of power and when people’s physical lives are in danger, than I think that is another issue altogether. Aren’t we to run from danger or from those who would seek to destroy us and lead us astray? Also, we are to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29), even in the face of severe threats and persecution, like Peter and the Apostles. Not easy to tackle with these difficult issues, but I believe everything is to be by prayer and to be led of the Holy Spirit, and like you asked, (and I really like the way you phrased it), “How do we maintain the principle of submission within our hearts while we expose the sinfulness of others in their abuse of power?” A great question, and one to dig a little deeper to find the answer.

    1. Thanks, Linda, for this. I wonder if part of maintaining that “principle of submission” even in the face of abuse must be, at it’s root, a desire to do God’s will in this situation. Which makes it all the more difficult, doesn’t it? I would love a cookie-cutter answer here which would allow me to say EVERYTIME X does this to you, you should do Y. But experience has shown me that sometimes obedience to God entails suffering for the sake of another and other times it means “giving them over to Satan” and running like mad. Wisdom will show us which and when.

      just thinking aloud.

  4. True enough. “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” comes to mind. Also, this is a great reminder for me to continue to pray for those in authority (esp. our governments) that they DO make the right decisions, and for me, that will mean less personal opinion and more direct upward prayer. Thanks again for sharing your insights. It means a lot and generates some meaningful soul searching and Bible reading. 🙂

  5. A precious story of submission. I am going to ask God about my day tomorrow instead of making my own plans.

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