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What Many Women Misunderstand About Biblical Submission in Marriage

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As long as I have been a Christian, I have been very adamant about the importance of a wife submitting to her husband.

Why? Because I’ve read the New Testament and it says so, quite plainly, in Colossians 3, Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3.

I include these whole chapters because even more convincing is the overall context of why a wife is called to submit to her husband. It is a beautiful reflection of Israel’s restoration to her heavenly bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I had the head knowledge down; however, for many years, and to this day, I have struggled to actually do the whole submitting part.

This is the truth about biblical submission I believe many influencers in my space won’t share.

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I don’t have the usual story that you often see of a woman who was mean and naggy and bossy to her husband and then saw the light when someone showed her what the Bible said and applied it and now she happily “submits” to him and everything is fine.

I knew I should submit. I regarded my husband as the head of our household. I asked his permission for many things. I tried to do things around the house or in our life according to his wishes out of respect for him.

So, what was wrong?

I never could stick with what I thought was the accurate application of what Scripture calls wives to do.

As soon as my selfishness flared up, my “submission” would go out the window.

As soon as there was conflict, I’d cling to my pride and insist I was right, belligerently telling myself in the heat of the moment that this was one of those cases where I was entitled to “confront” my brother in Christ about his “sin” — the sin of disagreeing with his wife or being a man who simply doesn’t communicate the same way his wife does.

I was self-conscious about this for years, since the scriptural picture of marriage was one that resonated so deeply with me, and I felt I ought to be able to practice what I preached.

I would subconsciously convince myself that if I could just “do it right,” finally I’d be “submitting,” with the same determined attitude I’d tell myself I could lose 10 pounds by summer or quit coffee — those urgent promises to fix myself that always seemed to go out the window when push came to shove.

I had it ALL WRONG.

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This wasn’t submission: the acts I was trying to perform, the change I was trying to implement.

The cold, hard truth is I was performing a work of self-justification, trying to cover my own sin and change my own husband with my own outward actions while my wounded heart, marred by a difficult childhood and past experiences, continued to fester in its own brokenness.

Truth be told, friends, I am so glad I failed at “submission” for so long.

I see now this was a mercy from God.

If I had “done it right,” — if I had more self-control before fully surrendering my heart before the throne and “submitted” to my husband by dutifully obeying him and performing works I thought could justify me — I would have walked around the rest of my life thinking that I had fixed myself, that I had the power to “fix” my husband.

I am, I realize now so profoundly, entirely incapable of doing any such thing, praise God in His mercy!

You see, although I struggled with this — obeying our husbands, being a “good wife,” being respectful and watching our tongue — that’s the easy part.

I’m so grateful I failed at these things because it showed me that if I succeeded, I never would have learned to rely on God.

Full surrender to him, resting in his promises, looking to eternity and letting him create in me a new heart that could stand confidently in him regardless of the state of my marriage — that is the critical nexus of our relationship with Christ.

What else is the point of obeying what the Bible says about how to behave as a wife?

Your heavenly father designed you to complete your husband; submitting to this earthly lord of yours is a natural, easy, surrendered act when founded in the confidence given to us by Christ, who demonstrated perfect submission on the cross.

Now, however, I worry that there are women out there who have started “submitting,” following the admittedly very helpful advice of popular submission “teachers,” and believe they have fixed their own marriages, as the language of wifely submission often misleadingly hints at this outcome.

It is so important to understand that you can have a great marriage and be very far from God. I’ve known many very happily married atheists.

If you are a Christian, what matters is that you are submitting to God.

It is an empty work to put on the costume of a perfectly submissive trad-wife when you are relying on your own power to do so.

For years, I knew deep down inside there was a part of me that was positively clinging to my own self-justification.

I believe it is one of the most beautiful paradoxes of the Christian faith that when we surrender to God, when we jump off the cliff of our own self-love and dive into true, full reliance on him, knowing he will carry us into something much, much greater, we freely and joyfully and without fear submit to others.

You can let go of your pride — it can be a daily struggle, yes — and trust in his righteousness.

Giving up your desire to “do it right” is so incredibly liberating.

Too many women approach this practice with the outcome in mind: I’ll submit to my man, and he’ll start doing all the things I wish he’d do. It happens, it’s possible, it makes sense for human nature that a man would treat his woman more kindly when she is doing the same — but if his wife’s heart relies on herself instead of her Lord, what do either of them really gain?

Trying to control others comes from a place of insecurity and fear, and by trying to submit to my husband to fix me and him, I was trying to control him and ultimately thumbing my nose at God.

You have to know that you’d survive without your husband in order to be the kind of wife who can truly love and submit to him.

You have to know that the glory God has in store for you is not only in the next life, but it is eternal.

Forever.

You will, on that glorious day, be fully unified and in perfect love with your heavenly husband — to whom all Christians are betrothed, including our believing husbands, beyond the bounds of space and time.

That means that perfect peace is available now.

Your husband can never satisfy you the way Christ can.

But Christ will always satisfy you the way the world never will, when you give up your dead works and surrender fully to his plan for your life, his eternal love for you, his perfect unity with his future bride.

So submit to him, and the rest will follow.

A version of this article first appeared in the Substack “A Homemaker’s Manifesto.”

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Isa is a homemaker, homeschooler, and writer who lives in the Ozarks with her husband and two children. After being raised with a progressive atheist worldview, she came to the Lord as a young woman and now has a heart to restore the classical Christian view of femininity.
Isa is a homemaker, homeschooler, and writer who lives in the Ozarks with her husband and two children. After being raised with a progressive atheist worldview, she came to the Lord as a young woman and now has a heart to restore the classical Christian view of femininity.




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