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Submission or Resistance

Category Articles
Date October 9, 2009

God is infinite; he therefore has supreme authority over all his creatures, and it is their duty to submit absolutely to him in everything he requires. Adam and Eve showed this degree of respect for God immediately after the creation; they submitted completely to him in all their thinking, in their entire motivation, and in everything they said and did.

But that all changed completely. When Satan came into the Garden of Eden, the issue Adam and Eve had to face was: would they continue to submit to their Creator’s perfect wisdom or would they submit instead to what the tempter deviously presented to them as his superior wisdom? The outcome was the greatest catastrophe the world has ever experienced: Eve, and then Adam, accepted Satan’s lie; they submitted to the fallen being who had come, with murderous intent, into this world in the form of a serpent. That first foray into the world was, in his terms, entirely successful: Adam and Eve were now spiritually dead; they would yet experience separation of body and soul; and they were – apart from a divine work which must then have seemed impossible – doomed to eternal death with the devil and his angels. And all because they had refused to continue in submission to their Creator and had instead yielded submission to another creature.

The right of God to mankind’s absolute submission remained, however, entirely unchanged. But man, now in a fallen condition, was no longer able to yield him the least degree of submission. It needs supernatural power to make any human being willing to submit to the authority of God. Left to himself, man will always go on in rebellion against him – which implies submission to the will of Satan. Yet that submission may be unconscious, for Satan has a way of keeping himself well hidden – as he cloaked his real self by coming into the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent.

We read of men like Enoch and Noah who ‘walked with God’, which implies that they had submitted to God by yielding obedience to his commandments and, more fundamentally, entering the way of salvation which he had revealed. By nature they were no more willing than others to submit to God’s revelation of salvation through ‘the seed of the woman’ or to offer up sacrifice as a God-given ordinance which showed that forgiveness comes by the suffering, unto death, of a substitute. These men were liable to the same temptations as others – to resist God and his grace, to neglect religious duties, or to carry them through in a merely-formal way. Instead, by God’s grace, they believed and they resisted Satan and his temptations.

Submitting to God is always directly related to resisting Satan. In one verse the two ideas are placed side by side: ‘Submit yourselves . . . to God. Resist the devil’ (James 4:7). We know nothing about the experience of either Enoch or Noah when they were called by grace, but we do read about ‘the Lord of glory’ calling Abraham to leave Ur and set out for some unknown destination – which doubtless was bound up with his experience of leaving Satan’s kingdom and entering into the service of the true God.

It is easy to imagine the devil attempting to discourage Abraham with the apparent absurdity of leaving his own environment for one about which he knew nothing, one which might be full of danger and discomfort – and how could he be sure that the call to some distant inheritance was anything more than the product of an overwrought imagination? But by faith Abraham resisted the devil and went out. The Holy Spirit had come to subdue his mind and heart and he submitted to a wisdom and a knowledge which were far more extensive than his own – infinitely so.

So when a sinner is called by the Word of God to leave the ways of sin and follow Christ, the devil may come with many temptations. He may represent the sinner’s present position as attractive and his prospects as even more so. He may use the darkest possible colours to depict a religious future – especially a future characterised by true Christianity. However, the sinner should recognise that the devil was a liar from the beginning and that the God of absolute truth has painted a very different picture in the Bible. While that accurate picture makes clear there will be more or less of tribulation in this life, it shows also that ‘our light affliction . . . is but for a moment, [and] worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’ (2 Cor. 4:17) in a better world, a world of eternal and unchanging blessedness.

The question is: Will the sinner resist the devil and his lies and submit to God and the perfectly-dependable message of hope which he makes known through the Scriptures and the preaching of the truth? In particular, when the Saviour’s gracious call, ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28), comes to him, will the sinner submit and come to Christ trusting in him and his work of redemption? Or will he resist the call and continue in his sins, submitting instead to the devil and his temptations? To resist the devil and submit to the Saviour and his call is to set out on the narrow way that leads to eternal blessedness. On the other hand, to resist the Saviour is to continue on the broad way that leads to everlasting destruction.

Ours must not merely be an outward submission – resisting when the devil tempts us to outward transgressions of God’s commands – it must involve the heart. Abraham must not only leave the city of Ur and give up its religion; he must not only make the long trek to Canaan and pitch his tent there, build an altar and sacrifice to Jehovah; he must trust in him who is the Creator of all things, who could take him safely, not only to the promised land on earth, but every step of the way to heaven. And Abraham did trust, though – imperfectly sanctified as he was – there were lapses.

But how altogether remarkable was his submission to the will of God when he was willing to offer up his son Isaac, who was born after so long and difficult a period of waiting for the fulfilment of the promise. It was a submission born of faith – faith in the God who was sure to fulfill his promises, whose power and faithfulness were so great that he would certainly restore to Abraham his beloved Isaac. Whatever temptations the devil might use against him, Abraham was enabled to resist and to trust in God.

His was an exceptional act of submission to God’s will. But all believers – all the spiritual children of Abraham – are learning to submit to God’s will for them in providence. They may hesitate to speak as strongly as Paul: ‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content’ (Phil. 4:11), but they are learning contentment. They are being taught that their God is dealing with them graciously, for their good – even when their circumstances are difficult and when he is chastising them. Plainly ‘no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby’ (Heb. 12:11). God’s children may be tempted to fret and they may for a time submit to that temptation; after all, such is the tendency of their still-imperfectly-sanctified nature. But, as the Holy Spirit applies the Word to them, they may be brought to say, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted’ (Psa. 119:71).

Commenting on this verse, Charles Bridges quotes Luther: ‘I never knew the meaning of God’s Word until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of my best schoolmasters.’1 Bridges goes on: ‘This teaching distinguishes the sanctified from the unsanctified cross, explaining many a hard text and sealing many a precious promise – the rod expounding the Word and the divine teacher effectually applying both’. But Christ is the supreme example: he consistently resisted the devil’s temptations and he submitted completely to his Father, saying, ‘I delight to do thy will’ (Psa. 40:8).


  1. Bridges, An Exposition of Psalm 119, Banner of Truth reprint, 1977.

Rev Kenneth D. Macleod is editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the September 2009 edition of which this editorial is reproduced with kind permission.

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