Taking orders is difficult. Like players yelling at the officials in a sports competition, our natural reaction is to rebel against anyone who may exercise their authority over us. When a professor gives us poor marks on a paper we thought was top quality, we instantly feel the need to attack them verbally behind their backs not because we disagree so much but because we despise the idea of the professor being able to do what she likes to our paper.
As Christians, whenever we struggle to submit to authority, we feel guilty of course, and yet we also feel devalued if we do not stick up for ourselves when someone in authority exercises their rights over us. Nobody likes being summoned to the boss’s office no matter what it’s for because we simply do not like someone being able to summon us at all.
And so we cringe when we read Scriptures like “value others above yourselves,” “Submit to one another,” “Wives, submit to your husbands,” or “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” We cringe because we want to obey God’s Scripture commands to “submit” and yet feel we will be hurt and devalued if we do.
Why Do We Feel Devalued When We Are Called to Submit to Authorities in Scripture?
The reason we cringe when we must take the role of a servant or submit to the authorities in our lives is because we have confused our identities with our roles. Your identity is who you are. Your role is the position or office that you fill.
People say they are “called” to be a teacher, a fireman, a nurse, a mom, a husband, a political figure, or some well paid business person. They attach their identity as a person to their role.
Therefore when their role requires them to submit to authority, they can’t do this without feeling degraded as a person since their identity is so tightly wound to their role. When their role is not turning out the way they hoped, they feel their “calling” as a person is crumbling before their eyes.
Scripture Says Our Identity Is In Christ, Which Frees Us to Submit to Authority
When our identity is firmly found in Christ, only then will we have the ability to function in different roles without letting the ups and downs control our lives. Jesus could take the very nature of a servant and not feel threatened by those he was serving because he knew his identity. His role was to be a servant for a period of time but he was still God in his identity.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)
Because Jesus knew who he was and where he came from, he was able to serve humbly without feeling degraded. If we hope to follow Scripture and submit to authority without feeling devalued, we must separate our identity from our roles.
Your identity is always found in your relationship to God; your role is found in your relationship to people. Your identity in Christ can never be taken away; your role in this world will always be taken away. Your identity is solely in Christ; you can have many different roles. Your identity will never change once you become a Christian; your roles are constantly in flux. You can never leave your identity behind; you can check your role at the door once you are no longer on the clock for that position. You’re identity should never be fueled by your role; your role should always be fueled by your identity.
The Need to Submit to Earthly Authority Comes and Goes. Your Identity Remains Forever
So how can we submit to authority as Scripture instructs without feeling devalued? We must separate our role from our identity.
If you are still confused on what your identity is and what your roles are, ask yourself this question: When I die and go to heaven, will I still have this label?
When we go to heaven, we will not be married to our spouses (Matthew 22:30), we will not still be parents to our children (John 1:12-13), we will not be citizens of an earthly country (Philippians 3:20), and we will not still have our corporate titles (Luke 16:25). What will remain is the life of Christ uniquely expressed through our truest selves (which is why, along with Biblical evidence, many theologians believe our gender will remain in heaven as it is essential to our identity and image bearing of God).
We will fulfill many functions, offices, positions, relationships, and roles in this world, but we are called to have only one identity found in our belonging to God. If we are not secure in who we are to Christ, we will always feel threatened, devalued, and like a failure in our earthly roles
May we seek to fulfill our roles through fully embracing our identity in Christ as Scripture instructs. The more secure we are in God, the freer we will be to love recklessly on earth, even when we are called to submit to authority.
(For a few references regarding a believer’s identity in Christ, see: Galatians 2:20, 1 John 3:1, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 2:9-10.)