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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series


Walking in the Spirit in Submission

Wed, 14 Apr 2010 - 10:48 AM CST

Fall 1989 Faculty Preaching Series, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary

By Stanley M. Horton

When most Christians hear the word submission, they think of the passages which speak of wives submitting to their own husbands. To some that means the husband ought to be boss.

My grandfather used to tell a story of a boy who said to his father, “Dad, who is the boss, the husband or the wife?” The father said, “Let’s try a little experiment. You hitch up a couple of horses to the farm wagon and load it with chickens. Then go through the neighborhood and to every couple where the wife is boss give them a chicken, and where the husband is boss, give them a horse.

The boy went around giving out chickens. Finally, he came to a house where the man said he was the boss, and the wife agreed he was the boss. So the boy asked if he would like the gray horse or the brown horse. The man immediately said, “I’ll take the brown one.” Then his wife came over and whispered something in his ear, and he said, “On second thought, I’ll take the gray.” The boy answered, “No you won’t. You’ll take a chicken and like it.”

Actually, submission has nothing to do with who is boss. The question is, whom do you love? whom are you willing to serve?

The Biblical Usage Of Submission

In the Old Testament the word submit is most often found in passages where God tells Israel He is going to make their enemies submit to them. It is also used in Genesis 16:9 where the angel of the Lord told Hagar to return to her mistress and bow down under her hand; that is, submit to her. It is found in 1 Chronicles 29:24 where the officers and mighty men pledged their submission to King Solomon. Then in Psalm 37:5 the same idea is brought out in a different way when the people are asked to commit their way unto the Lord; literally, “Roll off your way [your undertakings, your situation] upon the Lord.”

The Old Testament has more to say about dedication and consecration than submission. Dedication is most often used of things such as the altar, the vessels, and the temple being dedicated to God, while the priests are consecrated to the worship and service of the Lord.

The New Testament on the other hand, has more to say about submission than about consecration or dedication. In the light of this, it is strange that I can remember many consecration services, but never a submission service in any of the churches I have attended.

Our Example Of Submission

Jesus set the prime example when He submitted to the will of the Father, saying, “Not my will but thine be done.” As 1 Peter 2:23 reminds us, even “when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

We can see this spirit of submission all through the life and ministry of Jesus. Philippians 2 tells us how He humbled himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. He took the humble position with respect to Joseph and Mary and submitted himself to them as Luke 2:51 tells us. He submitted to the baptism of John, the baptism of repentance, identifying himself with us, though He had no sin of His own.

He submitted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He was driven into the desert to be tempted of the devil. He continued to submit to the Spirit as He went in the power of the Spirit into Galilee. He told His disciples He came, not to be waited on but to serve. Out of love, He took a towel and a basin and washed His disciples’ feet.

Then He humbled himself further by becoming obedient unto death, even the cross—a death more shameful than being hung as a horse thief, the most shameful kind of death ever known. No wonder Philippians 2:9–11 adds, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Truly, He deserves the name of Lord, for Lord stands for the personal name of God, the name above every name.

Submission To God, Christ, And The Holy Spirit

Hebrews 12:9 calls on us to submit to the Father of our spirits and live. The New Testament in many places calls on us to submit to God and Christ with the implication that we are to submit to the Holy Spirit who is another Paraclete, another Comforter, another Helper, of the same kind as our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is a wonderful thing to submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as Philip did when the Spirit told him to go to the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch and stay near it. It became an opportunity for the gospel.

Later, after Peter’s vision on the housetop, “the Spirit said to him, Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). Because Peter submitted, Cornelius along with a houseful of Gentiles was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit knows the right time and the right place where hearts will be open to the gospel.

Ephesians 5:18-21 says, “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.” Spirit-filled worshipers receive from the Spirit but submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, recognizing the Body. Follow along as the Spirit directs. Join in with the flow of the Spirit in the Body. When we are together, the body of believers is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Sing, praise, pray, listen, learn.

Submission To The Word

“If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

Romans 8:5–8 gives the reason why believers do not submit to the Spirit, the Word, and one another: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit’ desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

I would not be where I am today if it were not for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I was not baptized in the Holy Spirit until I was 19, in the middle of my junior year majoring in science at the University of California in Berkeley. Immediately some of my friends and relatives began to tell me that now I had the Baptism, I should quit that godless university and go to a Bible school. One person even offered to pay my way if I would. That was tempting. I was working part time at 35 cents an hour to try to keep body and soul together and pay my fees. Fortunately, they didn’t charge California residents tuition in those days.

I prayed and prayed but could not get a green light from the Lord. Finally, down at the altar at the old First Pentecostal Church, 31st and Grove in Oakland, I said, “Lord, if you want me to stick it out at the university, I will.” I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a special way and a warm feeling went through me from the top of my head to my toes. It was easy then to submit to the Spirit.

Later, after I had worked for 2 years in a civil service job in the laboratory of the State Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Chemistry, I was alone in the prayer room of the old Bethel Temple at 21st and W in Sacramento. I heard an audible voice telling me to go back to school and prepare to teach in Bible school. That was the furthest thing from my mind. But the sense of the Spirit’s presence was so strong, I knew it was the Lord. It took another year before things began to work out. But step by step, the Lord opened the way, and I have never regretted walking in the Spirit in submission.

Submission In All Other Areas

I have learned that submission to the Spirit in worship and submission to his guidance in ministry are not enough. The Bible shows that if we walk in the Spirit our submission must carry over into other areas. I have seen people raise their hands, join in worship, and then, go out and say or do something that was wrong, even mean or cruel.

I remember a Christian woman who took advantage of someone in an unscrupulous business deal. I asked her how she could do what she did. Her answer was, “Business is business. That has nothing to do with my spirituality.” But the Bible clearly shows we cannot put our lives into watertight compartments. We need to submit to the Word and the Spirit in every part of our lives.

Human Government

Romans 13:1–5: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those, who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” In other words, a guilty conscience can keep us from walking in the Spirit.

Church Government

1 Peter 5:1–5: “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed. Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” We cannot be dictators or play the tyrant if we are walking in the Spirit in submission. If we are in a place of leadership, we need to submit to the task God has given us and submit ourselves as servants of God and of the flock of God.

In The Workplace

Ephesians 6:5–9: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” That last phrase shows what the Bible is saying applies to all of us. We cannot walk in the Spirit in submission unless we submit to the task and put our whole heart into doing the best work we can for the glory of God.

In Personal Relationships

Ephesians 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” First Peter 5:5: “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

What the Bible says about wives submitting to their husbands is another whole sermon. But I think you can see what God wants from the Scripture passages we have already quoted.


Submission includes consecration, dedication, and full commitment. Or, perhaps we should put it the other way around. If we are consecrated, dedicated, and fully committed to God’s Word, will, and way, it will not be hard to walk in the Spirit in submission.

God gives grace, power, and victory to the humble who submit to Him as they walk in the Spirit. May our Spirits be submissive to His!

Stanley M. Horton, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, is Distinguished Professor of Bible and Theology at the Assemblies of God Theological Semmary, Springfield, Missouri.

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