God’s servant Billy Graham left a legacy of faithfulness to God driven by a deep and abiding submission to the order of God. The vibrancy of his Christian life and witness began, as with all sinners, at the heart of God’s requirement that salvation comes by “grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) in full acceptance of “confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Romans 10:9).
The issue of the lordship of Christ is never presented as an optional addendum to believing faith. It is an essential and functional necessity of it. Billy Graham believed in salvation by faith in Christ alone and walked in obedience to the lordship of Christ simply because Christ alone is Lord and King. Mr. Graham’s deep humility before man was the hallmark of his spiritual humility and obedience to God. As a result, he was endowed with an abundance of the grace of God (see James 4:6).
In the Bible, the call to obey God is first seen in the call of Abram (Genesis 12:1-4). When invited to join God in all He promised, Abram immediately followed God in total obedience. Abram, in fact, did not even know where he was going. He just obeyed and went.
Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary suggests Biblical obedience is “to hear God’s Word and act accordingly.” In human terms, this carries the idea of submitting to a higher authority. In Biblical terms, obedience simply means doing what God says!
In short, if we believe in Him, then we obey Him. He alone is God.
From the very beginning, God made the issue of obedience clear and unequivocal. Moses went up the mountain to get instructions from God and came down with a definitive “no other gods!” (Exodus 20:3). There was no gray area. God did not even suggest Moses call the elders together to discuss if this would suit them. Loving God was to be all-consuming, “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). And with it came the promise of untold blessings. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).
From the time of the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage, following the Lord and obeying Him were inextricably intertwined. Even their sacrifices were not accepted as substitutes for obedience. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul chose to keep plunder from the battlefield and keep the king alive, rather than carry out God’s express commands. When confronted by Samuel he argued that he, at the very least, had sacrificed to God with burnt offerings. But Samuel responded that “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).
What Saul had done was to rebel against God. Disobedience is sin. It disregards the standards set by God. Not even the best example of “serving God” can take the place of simple surrender to God in full obedience to His commands. The very best of all God has to offer to those who love Him is tied to the way in which His children obey Him.
Anything less than full and complete obedience is sin in the eyes of a holy and righteous God. Israel was no exception. They sinned against God and suffered the consequences time and again. Chastisements of Israel by God end only when Israel heeds God’s commandments. And when they do obey Him, punishments turn to prosperity. “This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea” (Isaiah 48:17-18). Their unwillingness to obey the Lord carried a high price.
The New Testament completes the call for all believers to be obedient. When Jesus instructed His disciples concerning their message to a lost world, He made it very clear that “anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). And just so they fully understood what He meant, He went on to say, “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). The point Jesus made was that full obedience to Him carries the mandate of full surrender to Him. There can be no half measures here.
The very call of Jesus was the call to love Him. And the proof of their love would best be evident through their obedience to His commands (John 14:15). Besides this, Jesus wanted the disciples to know that He was the perfect model. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21).
The Bible, then, affirms that our love for Jesus is the greatest motivator of our obedience to Him. And the beautiful thing about obedience is that it carries with it manifold blessings from God. Even David knew this. He was hounded by Saul and found himself threatened even to the point of death. But David understood the relationship between obedience to God and the promises of His blessings. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to Him” (Psalm 128:1, NIV). David, furthermore, linked joy and integrity together to those who follow and obey God in every way. “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed” (Psalm 119:1-4).
Just like that, David lays down the “no option” clause! Obedience to God produces steadfastness (verse 5), purity (verse 9), freedom from scorn and slander (verses 22-23), understanding (verse 27), strength (verse 28), direction (verse 35), preservation (verse 40), and the list goes on and on. David says “I delight in your law” (verse 70) and “I will obey the statutes of your mouth” (verse 88).
No wonder James emphatically states, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). The Apostle John reiterated obedience to God as evidence of our love for God (1 John 5:2-3). He also cites obedience as a confirmation of our very salvation: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (1 John 2:3). Jesus made the point of saying, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).
Heaped on top of the unshakeable promises of God to those who obeyed Him in the Old Testament, we find many New Testament affirmations of the blessings of obedience. We have seen that it provides evidence of genuine salvation. We have affirmed that obedience is proof of our love for God. We read of fulfilled promises of God to those who obey His voice.
In 1887, John H. Sammis penned the wonderful hymn Trust and Obey. The lyrics speak volumes on the subject of obedience: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! When we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
This ageless hymn says it well. Faith in Christ is the active ingredient of our trust in Him, believing He is able to do exceedingly abundantly, above all we could ask or even think. Obedience is evidence of our trust applied and carried out in our daily walk with Him. Because we trust God, we obey Him. Trust carries the weight of our belief. Obedience is the stamp that guarantees the genuineness of our trust. Isaiah put it like this: “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).
In short, obedience unlocks the keys to Kingdom living. It is the essential means by which we worship our Savior. Paul wrote to believers in Rome, reminding them of the mandate of complete surrender to God (Romans 12:1-2). The total handing over of their “bodies” as “living sacrifices” is the high mark of worship before a holy God. And it is out of this act of obedient surrender that true spiritual transformation takes place. And this spiritual transformation is the very worship deemed acceptable in the sight of God.
Here’s the bottom line: Adam and Eve were created by God for the purpose of aligning themselves with God according to His purpose. They were designed in God’s image to look like God, to love like God and to live with God. But sin entered their lives and severed their relationship with God. Their fall produced immediate disobedience. And their disobedience meant they could no longer look like God, love like Him nor ever live with Him. They actively defied God’s commands and were banished from His presence (Genesis 2-3).
This is what makes the message of the Gospel so precious. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God’s provision for our redemption demands total compliance with His terms of reconciliation. In full obedience to His commands, we repent of our sin and by faith accept His love toward us. It is through obedience that we experience all the blessings of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Anything less is sin in the eyes of God and cannot please God. Disobedience quenches the Holy Spirit, and we forfeit the fullness of all God has for all believers through the richness of His grace.
“Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). ©2018 Don Wilton
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™
The quotation marked NIV is taken by permission from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Don Wilton is senior pastor of First Baptist Spartanburg, in Spartanburg, S.C. For many years, he served as Billy Graham’s personal pastor.