Introduction: Often sermons on obedience focus on backsliding or significant falls from grace. However, in this sermon by Charles Stanley, obedience is defined in the every day nature of choices to trust God or not. Dr. Stanley’s preaching notes state that in decisions we make every day in every circumstance, we can either obey God and trust Him in the good and bad circumstances, or we can rely on ourselves. The act of trusting Him is a simple and recurring act of obedience, even in the most minor decisions of life. Be inspired by this sermon on obedience that will challenge believers in any stage of life.
Have you ever made a decision to obey God as a way of life? I’m not talking about obeying once in a while but in every area to the best of your knowledge and ability. Or do you find that there are times when you struggle to do what you know is right and in keeping with His principles? There may be times when it is easy to discern between what is right and in keeping with God’s will and what is wrong and not a part of His plan. In fact, you may actually obey Him at crucial junctures because you want His best. Other times, you may feel as if you are being pulled aside by disobedience simply because you did not do your homework in prayer and the study of God’s Word.
Solomon admonished us to “catch the foxes.” He went on to explain that it is the “little foxes that are ruining the vineyards” (Song of Solomon 2:15). Often the smaller decisions bring about the biggest consequences. A decision to tell a little white lie is very costly because it leads to sin and usually the next step, which is deception. The enemy is very keen. He knows better than to tempt a seasoned believer to flat out disobey God. Obvious sin always draws a response. Friends and family members usually speak up when you are involved in something that leads to shame, failure and a damaged testimony. You may falsely believe that something perceived as being insignificant is much easier to disguise. It may be for a season, but at some point God pulls the covers back, and the truth is revealed about what you have done.
Too many people reach the point of being shattered, broken, hurting, lonely and discouraged before they seek God’s help. A Christian counselor who works with corporate executives once told me that if he can be brought into a conflict before it escalates to a serious level, he usually can show people how to solve the problem. But this rarely happens because most of us are very reserved and will not freely expose what we are feeling and thinking until much later. By then the conflict is threatening to spiral out of control. Jesus knows our hearts, and He makes it clear from page one of His Word that obedience to Him should be our central focus. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and suffered the loss of everything they knew as right and good.
However, just as you can track disobedience down through the generations, you also can trace the benefits of obedience. God provides a perfect contrast between the two in His Word:
“If you diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. … But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country” (Deuteronomy 28:1-3, Deuteronomy 28:15-16).
The only similarity between obedience and disobedience is that they reflect the type of lifestyle we have. If we have sincerely committed our lives to God, then we are going to obey Him; we are going to trust Him and leave all the consequences to Him. In times of disobedience, we lean on our own desires for direction. We vacillate back and forth between what we want to do and what we know is right.
What We Can Expect from Obeying God
God never intended for us to be harassed about the decisions we make each day. Sometimes when we pray, we immediately discern the will of God. Other times, we must wait, trusting Him to show us when and how to move forward. At still other times, He spends a great deal of time preparing us to step forward through an open door. But when the opportunity comes, we hesitate with feelings of worry and doubt. Then there are situations that result from a relaxed attitude about purity and holiness.
I cannot begin to count the number of times I asked a person why he or she allowed sin to gain such a stronghold. One man confessed that he had been around a certain type of sin most of his life. He did not have a clue about its influence on him until he realized that he did not have the joy and peace that he believed a Christian should experience. He had moments of happiness but nothing that lasted. He noticed that every time he tried to pray, his mind filled with images that were sinful and wrong. The enemy knows when we have withheld our obedience to God. Like a well-trained warrior, he moves in for the attack, but often his approach is not a full frontal assault. It is subtle and hidden, like a landmine just below the surface. The mistake we make is in assuming that we can ignore God’s commandment to obey Him and not suffer harm.
The bottom line is that there is never a time when it is OK to disobey God. We should obey Him regardless of what we think or how we feel. It is a matter of choice, but one that many Christians do not yet understand or submit to. Far too often, people evaluate their circumstances according to what they perceive will profit them: How will this help me get ahead? or Will this move be beneficial to my future? We say we believe God is all-wise and knows what is best for us, but often we end up looking for advice from people around us and not from the only One who knows everything we need to know. We need to consider only one issue: Is this God’s will for my life?
Disobedience is not always wrapped in a sinful-looking package. Yes, it is sinful to disobey God because it hurts the heart of Someone who has a plan for our lives. It damages our fellowship with Him and leads to feelings of guilt and shame. But far too often when we hear the word disobedience, we think of a sexual sin or some habit that is just dead wrong. However, we disobey God when we refuse to do what He has gifted, trained and called us to do. Our refusal to be open to His plan can bring misery and regret. On our own, we do not have significant insight into the future. All we can do is make choices based on what may or may not take place. When all is said and done, only one Person has absolute knowledge, and that is the Lord. And He has promised to provide the guidance we need:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones.
We can worry, fret and fume about an issue that God has already dealt with and has moved on to another point. But if we trust Him, we will obey Him each and every time. Being obedient does not mean that we will never face difficult decisions. It means that when we do, we will resolve that He has gone before us; and because we have committed our lives to Him, the way we travel will be straight, sure and manageable. The prophet Isaiah reassured us:
The Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:11)
Notice that both passages of Scripture speak of physical health and well-being. That is what obedience does for us. It disposes of the raw emotions that tie us up in knots inside.
You may be living in complete obedience, and yet you are battling a serious illness. Your situation does not mean you have done something wrong. On the other hand, if you believe in God but refuse to trust Him completely or to obey Him, then you are going to feel stressed, pressured, out of control and fearful. Disobedience can be as simple as not trusting Him to take care of your immediate need at home, in your community or on your job.
On many occasions I have talked with educators who confess to feeling utterly burned out. They have short emotional fuses and are tired. When I ask them if they have shared all of this with the Lord in prayer, many look surprised and comment that they felt He was already aware of their needs. Part of the obedience process is learning to open your hands to Him and give Him your deepest cries of frustration. Healing cannot take place when you are holding on to hurt or frustration. Lay it on His altar and allow Him to restore you. There are many facets surrounding obedience but only one way to accomplish it, and that is through surrender to the One who loves you and has a plan for your life and circumstances.
Friends are God-given resources, but they may provide unwise counsel and wrong information. The very thing they feel is the best for your life may not be what God wants you to do. Therefore, it is always best to listen to their counsel, especially when they are committed believers, but also to pray and ask the Lord to make His will absolutely clear so you will not take a wrong turn-mentally, emotionally, spiritually or physically. You can avoid a lot of heartache by obeying God.
Obedience Is a Choice
I doubt that many of us would consider some of the minor decisions we make each day and wonder whether they contain some hint or clue to the future. Often we make choices based on what we think or we feel is right. The interest rates are low; therefore, it must be the right time to purchase a house. We have driven our car for almost 10 years; it is time to get another one. We have just had our second child; therefore, we need another bedroom plus a home office. We have worked at the same business for years, and the new CEO is not very understanding; it must be time to move on to the next place. Some of these statements are reasonable, but only if the outcome or the choice is one that God initiates.
Peter was faced with a life-changing decision (see Luke 5). The outcome of his choice would determine his future. Jesus had been preaching along the shore of the lake of Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee). I imagine the crowd was quite large. His ministry was growing; word had spread about how He had healed those who were sick with various diseases (Luke 4:40). By the time Luke reached chapter 5 in his account of Christ’s earthly ministry, it was obvious that the people were hungry to hear Jesus preach and to be near Him. On more than several occasions, I have spoken to large groups of people and watched as they began to move forward. The people in the back leaned in to hear, and in doing so, they pushed against the ones in the front. With His back to the water and the people “pressing” on Him, Jesus had no place to go (Luke 5:1). Peter the fisherman was also there, listening to some degree as he mended his nets in preparation for going back out on the lake later that evening. It was an odd request, but when Jesus asked the fisherman to allow Him to enter the boat and then to move it off shore a short distance, he agreed. That was Peter’s first step toward obedience.
The point that I want to make here is that obedience is a process. It is not a gift. Salvation is a gift. God’s grace demonstrated toward us is a gift He gives each one of us when we accept Him as our Savior. This amazing gift of unconditional love is not something we can work to achieve. Obedience is different, however. God doesn’t necessarily want us to work to achieve it; He wants it to be our first nature. We obey Him because of who He is. In the last chapter I mentioned that partial obedience is not obedience. After all, how can we halfway obey God?
Either Peter did what Jesus requested, or he said no. Here Peter said, “Yes,” but notice what else he said: “[Jesus] got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets’” (Luke 5:3-5). In these verses, we are given an outline of obedience. Many times, the ways of God include specific steps, and we find some in Luke 5.
Step One: Peter was nearby listening to Jesus. The Lord knew that he was there and that he had an empty boat.
Step Two: Jesus entered Peter’s boat so He would be able to address the crowd better.
Step Three: Peter listened to Jesus’ request. He responded by explaining that he was completely unsuccessful the night before in his attempt to catch fish. Nevertheless, he obeyed the Lord, raised the sails on his ship, and headed out into deep water.
Step Four: Peter received the reward of his obedience.
What would have happened if Peter had said, “No, I spent the entire night out on the water, and if there had been any fish available, I would have caught them”? We can’t dismiss the fact that he was a seasoned fisherman. He knew the waters like we know the backs of our hands. He grew up by the lake, and he understood the components of a productive fishing business-or at least he thought he did.
Here is what God did so that we know He meant business and was involved. The night before, Peter caught nothing-not one single fish. He came in the next morning, he had been up all night pulling and dragging nets around a small, uncomfortable boat. All he wanted to do was clean his nets and go home to take a short nap so he would have the energy to get up and go back out that evening. But Jesus showed up with a crowd of people, and the next thing Peter knew, his boat had become the Savior’s stage. That was OK. He could say, “Yes, You can use my boat while I finish doing what I’m doing.” It was not a difficult decision, but he had to agree to it. Step One was accomplished.
The next step was more difficult: not only was he tired, but his friends were close by, watching to see what he would do. When Jesus told Peter to head out into deep water where he would catch a large draw of fish, they probably rolled their eyes. A young Rabbi, whom they were sure knew nothing about fishing, was telling Peter-the master, the ace, the CEO of the shoreline-what to do.
Can’t you imagine John and James looking at each other and thinking, Oh, no, what is Peter going to say? What would you have said? You probably know the ending to the story, so you might be inclined to say, “I would have raised the sails and headed out into the deep.” But would you? Have you, when He has called to you asking that you would obey Him? Obedience looks different when He is asking us to do something that personally costs us more than we think we can afford. Scripture doesn’t tell us whether Peter scanned the scene or looked to his buddies for help. It just tells us one thing: he obeyed the Lord and stated, “Master, … I will do as You say and let down the nets.”
I can imagine that silence fell on those who were on the shore as they watched Peter release the anchor, raise his sails, and turn his rudder toward deep water. You may ask, “What motivated him to do this? Is it something that I can experience in my life?” I believe it is, but you must trust God-not pull out your calculator and add up all that you could gain and all that you could lose. This faith comes by hearing God’s voice and responding in pure obedience.
People have told me, “I just don’t know whether God wants me to do this. It doesn’t make sense.” Going back out to fish during the heat of the morning did not make sense to Peter. No one went fishing then. It was hot, and the fish went to the bottom of the lake-a place where nets could not reach. At night, they were closer to the surface of the water. My obedience today prepares me for my obedience tomorrow, and tomorrow’s prepares me for the next day and for the years to come. The fish were not available the night before, but the next day, in the heat of the morning, they were right where God wanted them to be. There are no coincidences with God. Nothing “just” happens. He always has a plan, and that plan reflects His ways. If you want to walk in step with Him, then you will learn how to be obedient. Luke told us that once the nets were down, they began to fill with fish to a point of breaking. Do you realize the miracle that took place? There were no fish the night before, but at a time when none should be present, the waters were teeming. There were so many that Peter had to signal for John and the others to join him. His boat was about to sink, and he did not know what he would do. All he could utter were these words to the Savior: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (v. 8).
“Amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken” (v. 9). Not only was Peter at the hub of this miracle, but others drew near also. Many times when we are obedient, those around us join in the blessing. I’m convinced that none of these men had ever seen so many fish in their nets at one time. The nets were bursting, the boats were about to sink, and Peter fell down on his knees and worshiped the Lord. Here is one truth on which you can stake your life: if Jesus asks you to do something, you know without a doubt that a blessing will follow. Questioning, doubting, calculating-none of these build the faith that He wants you to have and exhibit. This does not mean that you will never make a mistake. It means that the motivation of your heart, to the best of your ability, is set on obeying God. Remember Abraham left his home at God’s instruction, not knowing where the Lord would lead. Moses went back to Egypt without knowing all that his new role as deliverer would involve. Esther approached the king, not knowing if she would lose her life. Rahab hid the spies who came to view the promised land. Mary heard the angel’s voice and said, “Behold, the [handmaid] of the Lord.” And Peter said, “I will do as You say and let down the nets.” The Christian life requires obedience.
You and I learn obedience. We are not born with the desire to obey God or anyone in authority. It is a learning process. When you were born, you grew to a certain age, and then you began to test how far you could go before your dad or mom gave you a warning. At first, you may have listened when your parents said no, and you stopped what you were doing. But there quickly came a point-even before your first birthday-when you decided that ignoring the word no was not a big deal. But it became a big deal when you continued to ignore their warning and rebuke. If you do not like authority, then you are going to rebel against it. Often children grow up naturally rebelling because their parents do not teach them to obey. If there is a spirit of obedience ruling your life, then you are going to willingly and lovingly choose to be obedient. There are certain rules that we have to obey. Peter did not instantly know to obey Jesus. He did know there was something in Christ’s life, and that something drew him near enough for him to know that this Man was not a typical preacher. Then when his nets filled to overflowing with fish, he dropped to his knees and proclaimed, “Lord!”
Here is one of Satan’s traps: God places an opportunity before you, and suddenly you wonder whether He opened the door. You analyze the situation from a human perspective: “If this happens, then I’ll know God is involved. If I get this piece of information, it is His will and I will go forward.” That’s not obedience. If Peter had taken time to go through a mental Rolodex of information about Jesus, he might never have pushed away from shore. The Holy Spirit was the One who brought Peter to the point of obedience. Earlier we talked about how we come to know Jesus as Savior. His Spirit must draw us, and that was exactly what happened with Peter. He knew that the Man who was in his boat was much more than an everyday teacher. He was from God.
Another way Satan can trip us is by telling us that God leaves some issues up to us. He whispers, “This is not a big deal. It doesn’t matter what you decide at this juncture. If it was something really huge, then God would let you know what you should do.” As hard as it is to believe, young people-who have married and then realized they had many differences-have come to me and said that they did not realize God had a plan in this area. Some are believers, but they never really took a serious amount of time to pray and ask God to give them the right marriage partner. Others may have married unbelievers, and their lives are miserable because suddenly they are unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). We could list many, many situations where we have jumped into a situation without asking God what is best. Nothing is insignificant to God. Peter’s journey into obedience began with a simple action. Jesus got into his boat and began teaching God’s truth. Don’t be tempted to think that Peter did not have a choice. He could have asked Jesus to leave, but he didn’t; and his life was totally changed in a matter of moments.
God wants to fill your life with good things. He has so many rewards, but for the most part, they are not like the rewards of this world. You may achieve a certain level of success, but it will fade. You can earn large sums of money, but not a dime will go with you to heaven. Only God’s rewards are eternal. Only His blessings bring the peace and joy you long to have. The way He operated in Peter’s life is the same way He will operate in your life. You may not be standing on a shoreline cleaning a bunch of nets, but without a doubt there will be a time when He will come to you and say, “Move your boat out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.”
Not only did Peter have to move his boat away from shore, but he had to gather up all his nets-make sure they were folded and ready to go-and then he had to raise his sails so he could go back out on the water. He left the shoreline wondering what would happen next. And when something marvelous happened, he was ready to change occupations. The issue is: What is God’s will for your life? Peter realized what His will was for him, but you must come to a point where you know that you are living the life He has planned for you to live. Once He has made this clear and after you have made the decision to obey Him, the feelings of worry stop, the fretting ends, and the chatter of “what if” fades. You may face feelings of doubt again, however. And if you do, you may have to go back to God and ask Him to encourage your heart and help you recall the verses He gave you that brought finalization, hope and clarity.
How would you categorize your life? Would you say that you are committed to obeying the Lord, but you want to make sure that what you do will be best for you? Or would you say, “I just have this feeling inside every time someone tells me what to do. A wave comes over me, and I can sense this feeling building within that makes me want to say, ‘I know what I’m doing, and I know what is best’”? Someone reading this may think, My father was so demanding that I just want to say no to authority no matter what is involved. These are harsh statements, but I have heard ones like them and more.
The truth is: if you do not come to a conclusion of faith and obedience-it takes both-then your life is going to be outlined by defeat, failure, disappointment, suffering and one wrong decision after another. You must believe in the One whom God has sent to you. The outcome of Peter’s faith was a new line of work-one that had an eternal purpose. Jesus said to him, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). What an awesome way to live the rest of your life-in the shadow of His constant care, in the light of His truth and eternal glory!
Used by permission. Adapted from In Step with God by Charles Stanley (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Copyright 2008).