My daughter is at an age where her curiosity and understanding of life is resulting in some fascinating questions! Recently, she came up to me and said: “Daddy, I want to follow another god!” I didn’t see that coming, but I managed to compose myself and ask: ”Why is that honey?” Her answer was intriguing. “Jesus is always telling me what to do, but I want to do what I want! I want to have fun. Jesus is not fun and doesn’t let me do fun things!” I had no inspired response, so I just retorted: “He must have a sense of humour to make you!” Previously, I would have scolded her for such a question, but I’m learning to allow my kids to express their innermost thoughts so that I can counsel them better. Besides, rebuking her doesn’t eliminate her question. Furthermore, she’s asking a question many of us have asked or will ask at some point when we encounter choosing between self-determination and submission to God. It’s an unavoidable conundrum.
As soon as children become aware of themselves as individuals, they usually begin to demonstrate an aversion to being told what to do. While self-determination seems to come naturally to human beings, many of us find submission repulsive because of the negative connotation it carries. But from a biblical perspective, submission is subordinating your will to the will of another without fear or coercion. That requires a degree of trust because you have to believe that it’s for your good. How can you trust God if you doubt that He desires your best? Thankfully, my children provide an object lesson in the child-like faith we require to trust God. Although I’m flawed, they believe I want their best, so they trust me implicitly. Children may do this naively, but Jesus wants us to emulate them in our relationship with Him [Matthew 18:3].
It’s comforting that God doesn’t require blind trust from me. He reveals His character and abilities first, as evidence of His trustworthiness. As a result, I have tangible reasons to trust Him. That is important because we rarely trust strangers implicitly. It’s usually someone who has proven themselves trustworthy over time that earns our trust. In other words, you can’t trust or place your faith in a God you don’t know. So, the extent to which we believe God and His word is the extent to which we know Him through our walk with Him. That makes my daughter’s comments perfectly normal. Hopefully, if I disciple her as God commands [Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:7-9, Proverbs 22:6], she’ll one day know Jesus for herself, and then, we’ll laugh at those comments together. But, if she never develops that personal relationship with Jesus, whatever prompted her comments will stalk her choices throughout her life.
There’s another question worth considering: “what does God get out of my submission to Him?” Examining this question has given me additional motivation in my Christian walk. There’s nothing I can do to make God more than He is. He doesn’t need anything from me because He is all-sufficient – El-Shaddai [Genesis 17:1]. But, I am not self-sufficient. So, I submit to God on the premise that I need Him, not because He needs me. But what He gets out of it is the person I become. That person is of greater use to Him and His purposes.
One of the basic tenets of Christianity is that God loves us [John 3:16]. When someone loves you, they passionately want you to become the best possible version of yourself. They’ll stop at nothing to help. That’s also true for God. For Christians, the best possible version of ourselves is Christlike. As such, God’s goal is to make us more like Jesus as we submit to Him [Ephesians 4:13]. So, if having examined the character of God, I come to the understanding that He loves me [Psalm 34:8], then I can reasonably conclude that His intentions towards me are good [Psalm 139:17]. Therefore, whatever He asks of me is for my good. Without this revelation, it’s challenging to submit to God consistently.
In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul spells out what happens when we yield our lives to God. First, He leads us to triumph in Christ, and second, He uses us to spread the sweet aroma of the knowledge of who He is in every place [2 Corinthians 2:14]. Such a transformed life oozes undeniable godliness, peace and joy [Romans 14:17]. It has taken me a while to believe that there is an unassailable advantage to pursuing God above all else [Matthew 6:33]. I thought I could dictate the trajectory of my life, make my own choices, achieve my goals, and then find fulfilment and happiness on my terms. Like my daughter, I found subordinating my will restrictive. But as I grew older, I also found that self-determination had its overwhelming consequences. God never intended for us to live without Him [Luke 4:4], and whenever we try to do so, even partially, we’ll eventually struggle.
Ignoring God and doing what you want is always a bad idea. The irony is that God wants to empower us to do what we want. But the version of us He desires to empower is the version transformed through willing submission to His lordship. Such a person will discern what is good, perfect and acceptable to God [Romans 12:2] and delightfully do it [Psalm 40:8]. It’s all he or she will want. Why wouldn’t God empower such a person? This outcome is my aim. I’m also teaching my daughter to pursue it. Whichever way you spin it, submitting to God is always a better choice than self-determination. It’s a no-brainer once you understand who God is and how He feels about you.