50 Shades of Grey Part 3: What Submission Really Means

In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2, here’s the nutshell: 50 Shades of Grey is going bonkers and I don’t understand why. I proposed that this trilogy’s popularity stems from a desire to wholly give ourselves to someone else—a desire God created within us from the very beginning.

If Christian Grey offers us one path to fulfill that desire through forcing someone to give themselves entirely to you, Jesus offers us another path, one fulfilled through service, love, and laying our lives down for our dearest love.

Now that we understand what Jesus’ love is like, it’s time to bring the topic back around to romantic relationships. And, of course, God didn’t leave us in the dark on this, as Ephesians 5:22-27 says:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor.”

Let’s dive right in, because I’ve been asked this question many times: Isn’t the Bible really backwards to tell wives to submit to their husbands? Isn’t that going right back to following Christian Grey’s example?

Well, sure, if you don’t understand biblical leadership. Because if you do, like we talked about in Part 2, you realize that authority means a responsibility to empower and that position means you become a platform for exalting others. That’s how Jesus used (and uses) His authority—sacrificing Himself so we could become as glorious, beautiful, and empowered as He is—which means that biblical relationship roles are actually very progressive (you know, only about two thousand years ahead of their time).

Seriously, you ladies reading this, imagine this man. First and foremost, heart and soul, he is his Heavenly Father’s boy. Rooted in that relationship, he really and truly has given himself completely to you. His eyes don’t wander to other women. He speaks graciously of you from a heart that is truly captivated by you. He listens and speaks to you in a way that shows genuine care for your heart. He encourages your dreams, works together with you to set vision for your family, and endeavors to do his best at his part in it.

Now, in a relationship with that man, submission isn’t subjection; it’s trust, a release of control. And this trust has proven safe because a godly husband understands his authority isn’t about being the boss, it’s about him carrying responsibility for making sure God’s call on his wife and children’s lives have every opportunity to flourish.

But in case my female readers still have concerns, or my male readers still think they have permission to be authoritative, just back up one verse before our passage above and see that the whole church, men and women, are instructed to submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ.” So while wives are singled out specifically in regard to their husbands, husbands are included, too, which means they never force submission, but instead lead with gentleness and understanding.

To put it simply, the environment created by this kind of man, a man who emulates the character of Jesus, is one that fosters trust and safety in which a wife begins to feel free to give herself completely to her husband.

I want to emphasize what I just said—give herself completely. That’s in absolute contrast to how submission works in a worldly sense, in a Christian-Grey sort of sense. Ana isn’t free to give herself; she’s forced by Christian. But a godly husband creates a home that invites his wife to freely and fully give herself of her own will, just as he has given himself to her.

This is the process that gradually builds and deepens intimacy. And, yes, it is a process. But at the same time, the intimacy that comes even from those first small, wholehearted steps are intoxicatingly potent. When both husband and wife make that daily choice to give themselves wholly to the other, it powerfully ingrains in them that it is a safe choice to make, which allows each person to open their heart to new levels of vulnerability and intimacy they never knew existed.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Because here’s a secret I wish wasn’t so secret: The intimate relationship I just described is also the foundation for incredible sex—sex that fulfills the wife as much or even more than the husband. If you want to understand the science behind this and the secret to building true oneness, follow this series to the end and read Part 4.

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Nathanael White About Nathanael White

Nathanael White is a pastor and teacher with a gift to understand the heart of God. His teachings move revelation from the head to the heart, unveiling the depths of God’s love and empowering the saints to become who they are in the freedom of a true love relationship with their Heavenly Father.

Driven by ongoing encounters with Father’s heart, Nathanael’s desire is to see the glory of God released throughout the world as God’s children discover His love for them, believe the identity He’s given them, and experience the fullness of life that comes within His heartbeat.

Nathanael is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, an ordained pastor, and author of the book Nobility. He lives in southern Minnesota with his wife and their five amazing children.