The Power In Submission
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3:1–2 ESV)
I am a very pragmatic person. I am easily persuaded to do things when I think they make sense—when they seem rational and practical. Early on in my marriage, simple pragmatism was enough to compel me to submit to my husband. I understood God’s design from the standpoint that while he and I are equal in value and dignity, at the end of the day, someone has to have the final say. The alternative is indecision, unending conflict, or stalemate. So, I submitted joyfully, or so I thought.
The problem with that kind of submission, however, is that pragmatism as a motivator is no match for my selfishness. I am married to a good man, a very good man in fact, who loves Jesus, loves me, leads well, and is as easy to follow as I can imagine. But even that isn’t enough to compel me to consistently want to obey the call to submit. At some point, either he’s wrong or sinfully motivated, or more times than not, I just want what I want. At some point, submission no longer makes sense.
Maybe you can relate to my bent toward pragmatism and how it will eventually fall short in its ability to motivate me toward submission. Or maybe you find yourself tossed back and forth by the emotion of the day. There are sweet moments of love and respect that sweep you up into a desire to serve and willingly submit to your husband’s leadership, only to wake up the next day to a feeling of distance and a desire to isolate from his leadership. I think we can all relate to the shaky ground we feel when we look to emotions as our primary motivator.
Or maybe if you are honest, you don’t want to have anything to do with submission because your own independence seems safest. In theory, when a decision is made, someone might have to submit to the other person, but why can’t my husband and I just take turns? What’s the point in talking about a posture of submission just because of my role as a wife?
Whether you find yourself at the dead end of your pragmatism, a slave to your emotions, or just numb toward the topic as a whole—you aren’t alone in this fight in navigating the heart’s resistance to submission. Our flesh and spirit are at war within us and my pragmatism can only take me so far in the battle for obedience today. But what I want you to hear, what I need to hear, is that these responses of selfishness that surface in various forms in each of us point to a deeper truth—the truth that our pragmatism, our emotions, and our independence were never meant to sustain us in obedience. They are faulty and cheap motivators toward holiness. We need a better motivator as we seek to apply the Word of God to our everyday lives—including the call for wives to submit to their husbands.
This is why the “Likewise,” in 1 Peter 3:1 is so important. God has this beautiful habit of not giving us just enough but something better. He meets the call for wives to submit to their husbands not with the appeal to pragmatism—or any other motivator—but with the power of the gospel.
Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father’s great redemptive plan for us (1 Peter 2:22) which meant submitting Himself to death on the cross. Likewise, I can entrust myself to the Father’s plan to display that same gospel through how I respond to my husband’s leadership in our marriage. Jesus perfectly modeled what it is to be equal and yet to submit—He looked to something better, and now, so can I. Jesus’s submission accomplished the gospel, and my submission points to it, which means I wield incredible power!
The power of the gospel becomes my power through submission—not power for me, not for my flesh—power like Jesus’s. Power as a lamb, as a servant, in humility, in dying to self, power to display the gospel to my husband, to my children, to my community, to unbelievers in my life, and most frequently, to myself. In gospel submission, there’s now power to build up God’s Kingdom—not mine—power to dethrone the enemy, to display the church in the great mystery of marriage, power to live the life He has called me to—a life of abundance, a life of flourishing, and a life of rest in His promises.
In this process, I experience more of Jesus—I begin to need Him, know Him, and love Him more. God uses my submission to my husband as a way for me to surrender all to Christ. My pragmatic submission was ultimately powerless and produced complacency at best, but my submission, rooted in the power of the gospel, produces flourishing because obedience to God’s design always does.
The Beauty in Submission
The story gets even better. Submitting to my husband also produces in me an imperishable beauty that God considers very precious.
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:3–6 ESV)
You don’t have to say much more than imperishable beauty to get my attention. I don’t know a wife, I don’t know a woman, who on some level doesn’t desire to be called beautiful. And a beauty that never fades? That sounds too good to be true. But the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit? Beauty through submission? That just sounds like weakness. I’m not sure I’m interested anymore—the focus on external adornment seems like a better bet to me.
But the “Likewise,” in verse 1 reminds me to look to Jesus to understand this calling and its promises. Jesus was reviled but did not revile in return; He suffered and did not threaten; there was no deceit in His mouth (1 Peter 2:22). He responded to His captors, accusers, and murderers with a gentleness and quietness. This is the beauty of submission, and it is found perfectly and completely in Jesus—but it is anything but weak. When Peter describes this disposition as precious, he isn’t talking about the kind of preciousness that is “cute,” but rather a preciousness that is valuable, costly. It is valuable because this kind of beauty reflects our greatest treasure, the gospel. And it is costly because the gospel cost the Father His Son.
Some days, even when I rightly desire to look like Jesus in His meekness, I feel ill-equipped to do so. I am not naturally quiet or gentle, in fact I can be loud and harsh. But the good news for me is that this gentleness isn’t dependent on my personality or something I should have learned in charm school, rather it is a call to wholly rely on God just as Jesus did. It is a powerful working out of the Spirit in me, as each opportunity to submit to my husband requires I be in a posture that depends on Him for faith that God’s design really is better for me than my own. Only then can I reflect the beauty that Peter is talking about here. Outward adornments will fail me, but learning to surrender all to Jesus, in part through submitting to my husband, never will.
The Joy in Submission
I am a wife, and therefore there is a unique calling on my life to display the gospel in my marriage through submission. But if you’ll remember with me, where we began studying this letter, I am also an elect exile (1 Peter 1:1), and this identity gives me all the more encouragement to not just obey, but joyfully love what I am called to in 1 Peter 3:1-2.
I am an exile. Because of Christ, I am no longer at home here, no longer enslaved to my flesh, no longer bound to a dark and fading kingdom. I am an exile here because my citizenship is in Heaven. What better way to show a broken world and remind myself that I serve a glorious King than to joyfully surrender all to Him—starting with submission to my husband? What better way to make known the power of the gospel in my life than to reflect it by laying my life down—starting with dying to my selfishness that wants to usurp God’s design and claim headship for myself?
Because I am in exile, I can obey 1 Peter 3:1
But I am not just an exile, I am an elect exile. I am chosen by God—beloved, forever wanted by the Father. This will never change. There is no greater expression of love than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and God’s unmerited gift of faith to me to believe and trust in it. I need look no further for confirmation that God was, is, and will always be for my good. So, I can trust that obedience to 1 Peter 3:1 is not contrary to His love for me, but an expression of it. God’s radical love propels me toward joyful obedience.
Because I am an elect exile, I can joyfully obey 1 Peter 3:1. Because of my identity as an elect exile, I can believe that submission as a wife is just as much for my good, for my flourishing, as servant headship is for the good of my husband. It is not a consolation prize, a spin on 2nd place. It is the way God, in His kindness, has designed marriage for me, to give me great power in displaying the gospel and to produce beauty in me as I learn to trust in it completely.
The Gospel in Submission
So what does this look like when I just flat out don’t want to submit to my husband?
What does joyful obedience mean when my flesh screams that my way is better or that independence must be the answer?
Early on in marriage, I may not have fought tooth and nail against the idea of submission, but I certainly wasn’t motivated toward it in light of how Scripture talks about it. At the end of the day, left to myself, I want to be comfortable and in control. I want to determine my future and how I get there. I want what I want. That’s not just a problem for my marriage, it’s THE problem in my soul. It’s a clamoring for my design over the Creator’s, a trust in my understanding instead of His infinite wisdom, a reliance on myself instead of my Redeemer. It reveals my constant need for Jesus and how He met that need through His death and resurrection.
So when my flesh resists submission, God’s Spirit in me responds. The Spirit reminds me that I have been set free from the dominion of my flesh, that I have been chosen, that I have access to a power and beauty that are not of this world. The Spirit gets louder, insisting that there is a better story to be told here. A story that reminds me that to become like my Jesus, I too must submit like my Jesus.
I think about Jesus, God Himself, humbly wrapping on human flesh in order to draw near to me and sympathize completely with what I feel every day. I think about Him willingly enduring mocking and beating when He held the very power of life and death. I think about Him hanging on the cross, breathing His last breath, and in His final act of submission, proclaiming to His Father, “It is finished”. This submission is compelling. The gospel wouldn’t be the Good News that it is without Jesus’s submission. So why would it be any different for me as I seek to look more like Jesus?
To be honest, the everyday application of this is messy. More times than not, I think, Yes, I want to joyfully obey because the gospel compels me to do so. Quickly followed by a prayer of, “Make my heart believe”. But as God continues to shape me by His Word and in turn change my heart, I can say confidently that when I walk in obedience, submitting to my husband out of honor and respect, I get more of Jesus. I get more of Jesus because I am following Jesus in His submission to the Father. Ultimately, I am submitting to the Father above my own selfishness. Nothing produces more intimacy with Christ than willing submission to His will over mine.
So, to be given opportunity after opportunity, day after day, to submit to my husband, as a means by which I can submit more of myself to Christ, is a gift. Yes, submission from the world’s perspective is foolishness, but so is the cross. But it was with that act of submission that Jesus put the enemy to shame and ended his reign of sin and death, and it is with every act of submitting myself to Him that I get to point myself and others to this Him—that others might see Him, and that I might see Him more fully.
Obedience to Christ requires sacrifice and dying to self, but obedience always yields the power of the gospel, produces imperishable beauty, and leads to unshakable joy. I pray this promise would lead each of us—married or single—to joyfully submit all of our lives to Christ’s good and righteous headship.