Charles Stanley - The Strength to Obey God
God has planned the very best possible life you could ever imagine for you. God doesn't make any bad plans. He doesn't come up short. He doesn't show any prejudice. He's a loving Father. We don't always understand the ways that He oftentimes operates, but one thing is for certain, He always plans the best. And He plans the best for all of us and then some people are able to experience the best and some people are not. One of the primary reasons people don't experience the best is because they just refuse to acknowledge God's plan.
Somebody says, "Well, if I just knew what the plan was, then I might obey it". That's not the way God operates. God doesn't operate on giving us something to consider, He operates on the basis of giving us something to obey, something to fulfill. And yet you may be saying, "Well, now I'd like to be obedient to God and I want to be obedient to God but just when I think I'm being obedient to God, somehow I find myself heading out in some other direction. Then my obedience to God is up and down, off and on, in and out". And I don't know why, I just seemingly can't be obedient to God. Well, it's not that you can't.
Now, sometimes people just don't want to be obedient to God. Sometimes it's because that they don't really understand the principles that make it possible for them to obey when they're being tempted and tried and going through some difficulty, and especially when that temptation has a strong appeal to them. And so, what we have to ask is this. Why is it that I can't really obey Him the way I want to? Why is it my life is not a life of obedience? In fact, it's almost like doing the right thing is an exception rather than being sinful being an exception.
Now I think some people don't want to be obedient, some people are so weak in their thinking. They've never made a commitment to say, "I'm gonna be obedient to God". And then sometimes it's because we don't know what the key is. That's what I want to talk about. I want to talk about, "The Strength to Obey God", because I do believe that many people really and truly want to be obedient. And you try and try and try and somehow it doesn't work. You just want to give up and quit. You don't have to give up and quit. And what I want to show you in this passage of scripture, in all of these passages, you can obey God if you choose. There are some very, very key elements. And more than likely, you've never thought about it.
Maybe you've just said, "Well, you know what, I do the best I can and somehow my best isn't good enough and I don't end up obeying God and I don't know why I don't". Well, I'm gonna help you understand why you don't. I'm also gonna help you understand why you can. So, I want us to turn if you will to John and the twelfth chapter. This is not the passage that I really want to preach on, but I just want to give you this passage because it's sort of a key verse of scripture about this whole idea of obedience in the life of Jesus.
And I want you to look if you will in the twelfth chapter of John. And I want you to listen to what Jesus said in this particular passage. He said, "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment, as to what to say, and what to speak. I know that this commandment or His commandment is eternal life, therefore, the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me". Now what I want you to see is this. That Jesus is saying, "What I say is what I hear the Father saying. What I do is what I see the Father doing". So, in order to understand what the key is, I want us to look at the life of Jesus.
Somebody says, "Well, now wait a minute. But isn't Jesus perfect? Wasn't He God and isn't He God"? Yes, He is. But what I want you to do is I want you to see the pattern in His life. Because there's a pattern in His life that's the key to our being obedient. Now let's talk about obedience for a moment. Obedience means I'm willing to do what God says do, when He says do it, the way He says do it, when He says do it, as long as He says do it. Anything less than that is partial obedience. And the truth is, deep down inside we all know when we obey Him, things are better. In fact, that's as good as it can get. When we obey Him, there's a sense of contentment and joy and peace and happiness and assurance and a sense of closeness with Him. So, it's foolish not to obey Him.
So, what I want us to help us to see here is, what's the pattern in the life of Jesus and how does that affect my strength and my ability to be obedient to Him. So, what I'd like for us to do is this. I want you to look, if you will, in Philippians. The Apostle Paul who understood the life of Jesus better than anybody else. Philippians chapter two, listen to what he says about Jesus because the truth is, this spirit of obedience, listen, this spirit of obedience sprang from a heart and life of humility. Listen to what he did. Chapter two, beginning in verse five, Paul says, "Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who," listen, "who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped".
That is, even though He and the Father were one, He says, "If you've seen Me, you've seen the Father". He didn't grasp and hold onto that, but what happened? He was willing to lay down His glory, lay it aside, come to earth, listen, in the form of a man, and be less than. Listen, now watch this. He never ceased to be God. He never ceased to be divine, to be deity, but He took upon Himself human flesh and became a man. Listen to this. "Who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, to be held onto, but He emptied Himself laid aside some privileges and some of His knowledge, and certainly His glory or no one would have been able to see Him and face Him in those days if He had been in His glory. But He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant".
Now a bondservant was the lowest form of a servant in a household. The bondservant is the one who met you at the door with a basin of water and a towel and washed your dirty feet, took your sandals off, washed your feet, dried them and put them back on. Or, you walked around without those dusty sandals. Bondservant, "and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, what did He do? He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross". Paul said, "Who is this Jesus"? He is God in human flesh, walking among men, stepping down out of Heaven, taking upon Himself the flesh of man. Not sinning, but everything else was there, except a sinful nature. He did not have a sinful nature. And so, He became, He humbled Himself.
He says He humbled Himself and became obedient. How obedient? To the point of death. How obedient does God want us to be? To the point of death, death to self-seeking, self-service, self-exaltation, self, self, self. He doesn't want that in our life. It wasn't in Jesus's life. And if you and I live a life of obedience to Him, those kinds of things, they go. They don't belong in who we are. And so, what you have in this Philippian chapter is simply an explanation of what Jesus did when He came to earth. Took upon Himself the form of a human being. Walked among us to do what? To demonstrate by His life and by His ministry the kind of life that you and I could live. He says, listen, he says God predestined you and me to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. What is that? The spirit of humility and above all, the spirit of obedience.
Now here is the spirit of obedience. You can know in your heart that you have the spirit of obedience when you can tackle anything with this attitude. Not My will, but Your will be done. When you can come to any situation and circumstance in your life. Listen, you may not want what God wants for your life. You may want something that He's withholding from you. You may see something happening that's just, you know it's gonna bring you a lot of pain. Can you say, "Nevertheless, Lord, not My will but Your will be done"? He demonstrated the most beautiful example of the spirit of obedience.
Now watch this. You've not heard me say that when you begin to obey God, you're gonna obey Him about every single thing, no more disobedience. God knows. He knows that, and I know, and you know. We're not gonna live a perfect life. We live in this old flesh and our sinful flesh. We have desires and all the normal, natural things that God gave us desires for. But the issue is this. Not whether we will obey every single thing God says do, but do we have the spirit of obedience? That is, is it my desire to walk obediently before Him? Not just some weak desire. Is it, listen, do I live by the principle of obedience, or do I live by the principle of preference? That is, most people go through life, and they do what they prefer to do. They don't live by principle. And this is why they come to this situation, that circumstance and this problem in their life and they have to decide every time.
Now, shall I obey God or shall I not? When you, listen, when you operate on the basis of the principle of obedience, what happens is this. Every issue gets sifted through that principle. It is the will of God that I obey Him. It is the plan of God that I obey Him. "Now this is one of those tough things, God. And Lord, You know this isn't, this isn't really what I want. And God, I don't want to lay this down. I don't want to give this up. God, I'm telling You I don't. I may weep in it. I may fight against it. Lord, I may argue with You about it. But Lord, I'm gonna be obedient to You no matter what". That is the spirit of obedience and that's the spirit He wants in us. Listen, He doesn't expect us to jump up and down and just have great jubilation and smile and cheer when we hit something that He knows is gonna be extremely painful in us. That's not His expectation. His expectation is obedience. It may be obedience in tears. It may be obedience in sorrow. It may, listen, it may cost you nights on your face before God, crying out to Him to strengthen you and enable you and to help you.
But you know what? The spirit of obedience says, "God, no matter how much the cost, no matter how many tears or sleepless nights, whatever God, I'm gonna obey You no matter what". That's what He's looking for. Perfection? No. The spirit of obedience? Yes. Was Jesus perfect? Yes, because He was God and man. Are we perfect? No. Listen, is arguing with God about something we don't want to do a big sin? No, He understands. What did He say in Hebrews four? He says, "We have a great High Priest who understands us, who's been tempted in all points just like", listen, He wasn't excited and happy about the cross. He was grieved, listen, He was grieved about the fact that He was gonna be separated from the Father. He says, "I'm so distressed". He says, "I think I could die". That's what He was saying. But you know what He said? "Nevertheless, not My will but Your will be done". That's what He's looking for in us. Can you say that? Can you say, would you wake up tomorrow morning and say:
Lord, today I want to thank You for giving me the privilege of walking in obedience to Your will today. That's why You created me, to love me, and to express Your love for me. I want to thank You, Father, that today I choose that no matter what's going on, I'm not gonna live by my preferences. I'm gonna live by the guiding principle of obedience, that no matter what, I choose to obey You. Lord if I stumble and falter, I thank You for Your forgiveness. I still, I'm coming back, God. I do want to obey You no matter what.
Haven't you faced situations and times in your life when you didn't like what God was telling you to do? But you knew all along you were gonna do it. And I remember when I first came to Atlanta and there are lots of other illustrations, but I remember this one especially. I didn't want to come. And I argued with God. In fact, I argued with Him all the way up here. On my way up here, I was still arguing about the fact that I didn't want to come. And I'd pray and fast and tell the Lord why I shouldn't come. He wasn't impressed with any of that. I knew all along I was coming. I knew it. I knew that I was not about to be disobedient to God and spend the rest of my life wondering what He would have done with me had I obeyed Him.
Listen, there's nothing in the world worth that. Living with the doubt and the fear that you missed Him. Living with the question in your life. If I'd a just obeyed Him, if I'd a just done what He said do, then what would, then what would God have done in my life? You don't want to live that kind of life. That's not a happy life, peaceful life, joyful life, life of contentment, a life of success. No matter, listen, no matter what you may possess, if your heart and spirit is absent of the spirit of obedience, you know what? You can't make enough money, you can't have enough fame, you can't go enough places and experience enough pleasure to take the place of the spirit of obedience.
Listen, that means you're walking in His approval, you're walking in His pleasure, you're walking in His, you're walking, listen, under the canopy of all the goodness of God. And there isn't anything in the world to match it, nothing. And He had to wrestle with that. Not My will but Your will be done. Then He paid the price. He went to the cross. They nailed Him on the cross. They didn't kill Him. Remember what He said in that tenth chapter of John, verse ten? He said, "No one takes My life from Me, I lay it down". And you see what He was saying is this. "I'm going to lay it down. It's gonna be an act of obedience to My Father because He sent Me into the world for the primary purpose of dying on the cross in a substitutionary, sacrificial, vicarious way. Taking the sin-debt of the whole world upon Myself. That's why I came. I'm going to be obedient to the Father".
Here's the way Jesus lived. Here's what Jesus said. Here's how He operated all the way to death. Now, the question is this. How can I be strong enough to be obedient and to have the spirit of obedience and to walk in obedience? Whereas disobedience is an exception, not my rule of life. That disobedience is an exception. But that my life is a life of obedience before the Father. Now, with that in mind, what was the key to obedience in the life of Jesus? Let's think about it in terms of humanity now. Listen. While He was God, He was still human. And he says, listen, he was tempted in all points such as we. Hebrews chapter four, that fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth verses. He was tempted just like we are. Every man, every woman in here. Temptations, trials, He had it all. But He didn't sin.
You say, "Well now, how can I be strong enough? How can I be strong? How can I have obedience as a way of life? It's the only way that matters. It's what God is looking for. How can I"? Okay, I want you to turn to two or three verses in a moment. And I want you to notice something else about Jesus. And the reason I'm going through all these verses, so very important you get the pattern. So, let's begin in Mark chapter one. Why and how did He learn this? He learned obedience. That is, in His humanity He was learning to obey the Father.
All right, look at this. And you will wonder, "Well, what's this got to do with obeying God"? Well, you watch now. Chapter one of Mark, verse thirty-four. Now let's go to verse thirty-two. "When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. The whole city had gathered at the at the door. He healed many who were ill with various diseases and cast out many demons, and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, went away to a secluded place, and was praying there".
Okay, let's go to the fifth chapter of Luke. Fifth chapter of Luke and I want you to notice something here. Fifth chapter and the fifteenth verse. "But the news about Him was spreading even further, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sickness. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray". He had to slip away. People were everywhere, they're all over the place. He had to slip away. Sixth chapter of Luke, one more over, and look what's happening. In verse eleven of the sixth chapter, "But they themselves were filled," that is, His enemies, "filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God".
Now you say, "Well, what does that have to do with my being strong and being able to be strong enough to resist temptation, and obey God"? Here's the whole key. It is absolutely essential, my life, your life, every single life, it was essential in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, for Him to spend time fellowshipping with the Father, listening to Him. Now I want you to listen carefully. You can try it differently if you want, but I'm telling you, here's the truth. You will not, you cannot. You will not, you cannot live a life of obedience unless there is times in your life daily when you are listening to the Lord, talking to Him, meditating upon Him in His Word, listening to Him.
That's the way God can, listen, God created us to love us to have fellowship with us. He created us to obey Him as a result. And listen, with the refreshing and the renewing and the strength and the energy and the power and the might that comes through spending time fellowshipping with Him. That's the way He created us. And yet I think about how many people get up every morning, rush off to work, never give God any time at all. Spend the day working, come home, watch TV. Go to bed at night with a little simple little quick prayer for God to bless 'em and help 'em. Bless their family, protect their family, bless all their needs, supply all their needs and all the other things they go through. That's not the way it is. He created us to fellowship with us.
I want to say it again. You will not and you cannot, you will not, and you cannot live a life of obedience without fellowshipping with the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. You cannot. And you can look at His life. Why was He always slipping away to pray? Why were they finding Him out in the wilderness? Why were they finding Him out somewhere alone? They came after Him several times. They said, Master, they're looking for you. You know what? He was doing the most important thing. And sometimes He'd just walk away from sick people and didn't heal 'em. He didn't heal everybody. You know why? Because He knew at that time He needed to be with the Father. New instructions, new direction, fellowship. He just needed to have His soul soak up.
What happens to us when we spend time with God alone. He needed that, He wanted that, He desired that. Only do the things I see the Father doing. In prayer, He was watching the Father. In prayer, He was listening to the Father. You say, "Now wait a minute. I can get this idea about listening, but what's this, what's this seeing God at work"? You say, "Well, I don't see God at work". Oh, you could if you wanted to. Well, how would I do that? This book is God's revelation of His work among men. If I want to know how He works at anything, all I have to do is go back in the Old Testament or the New Testament and find out how did He work in Joseph's life when he was going through a very difficult situation? How did He work in David's life? How did He work in Paul's life? How did He work in the lives of these men? That's how I can see what God does and how He operates.
You know what? You and I have a living Jesus, a living Lord, listen, who delights in meeting us every morning to give us instruction and guidance and direction and warnings about what may be coming. He doesn't always tell it is, but tell us what it is, but sometimes He'll give us a passage of scripture and you think, "What's all that about"? For the days over, you know what it was about. And what you see in the life of Jesus is, listen, day-by-day, moment-by-moment what is He doing? He's walking in obedience. And what's the spirit of all that? Spending time with the Father.
Now let me ask you this. So, you feel weak when you're tempted and oftentimes, more times than you like, you disobey Him. Sometimes you just get in the spirit of disobedience. It doesn't make any difference what's going. You're gonna have your way. You didn't get that from Him. And you know what? If I ask you, "How much time did you spend being quiet with Him"? You say, "I don't have time". Yes, you do have time. I challenge you if that's your problem, you say, "I would if I had time". Then I challenge you to say, "Lord, send into my life whatever's necessary so I can't do anything but talk to You". You wouldn't do that would you? Scare you to death. Scare you to death. You do have time. The truth is He says, "If you love Me, you will obey Me".
There is no way. You will not, you cannot, you cannot, you will not live obediently before God not without, listen. You miss the fellowship with Him, the time alone with Him, you're not gonna be obedient. Think about how many voices you hear in a given day. How many things you see that appeal and are attractive to you? That God doesn't want in your life. You know when you start the day with Him, He sets your focus. You start the day with Him, listen, He guides your mind. You start the day with Him, He energizes you. He'll strengthen you. I don't care how tired, how weary you are, there's something about spending time with Him that makes a difference.
And this morning I awakened about three thirty and I thought, Lord, You're gonna have to turn me over. I don't even, I think I'm so tired I can't turn over. And so, I didn't sleep too much the rest of the morning. And so, six o'clock and the alarm went off and I thought, "Okay, okay God, You know where I am and I've done my best this week. And a lot of people's lives have been changed and a lot of people been encouraged and here I am and I'm tired, Lord, and I'm weary. And you know, I don't even feel like getting out of the bed. But God, here's what You promised". And I just lay there for a little while and talked to Him and reminded Him what David said, "I will go in the strength of the Lord, my God".
By the time I got through talking to Him and listening to Him, I jumped out of the bed and here I am, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. This is the second message because, why? Because I claimed for myself what I did not have and could not do for myself. And that is His divine energy and strength and a clear mind. Energy to do whatever He calls us to do at any time. You cannot and you will not, listen, obey God without spending time in fellowship with Him. That's the first thing. Second thing is this. I want you to notice something about Jesus, something that you find in Hebrews and not what He said. Turn to Hebrews the ninth chapter. And I want you to notice we said in the beginning that the Holy Spirit led Him. The Spirit of God came upon Him at His baptism, led Him, guided Him, enabled Him. And in this ninth chapter of Hebrews and let's start, well he's talking about the death of calves and so forth and how inadequate they are.
Then he says, 9th chapter and the 14 verse, comparing the sacrifice for some animals with him. He says now, 14 verse, "How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered", listen, "who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God". That is at the cross, what is he saying? By the Holy Spirit. That is, how did He do it? Through the Holy Spirit. So, if we want to be obedient to Him, two things required. Number one, spending time fellowshipping with Him. And secondly, listen, relying upon the Holy Spirit. And what I want you to remember is this. Every single ministry of the Holy Spirit is directed toward some need you and I have in our life. You remember what He said to His disciples? Sit down in the city of Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon you. You shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.
So, what happens? If we're gonna be obedient to Him, we have to acknowledge, "Father, I don't have the strength to do it. It's not what I want to do". And so, what we say, we say, "Lord, You sent the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me". He lives on the inside of every single believer. Why is He there? He's there to enable you and me to do what we cannot do. We're not equipped to do it. He didn't build you and me in such a way that we can live obediently before Him without relying upon the Holy Spirit. That's why He sent Him. And three times in that 14, 15, 16 chapter of John He said, "I'm gonna send you a Helper. When the Helper comes, when the Helper comes, the Helper's gonna be just like me".
Who is the Helper? The Holy Spirit. Why is He coming? He comes into your life and my life in order to enable you and me to be obedient to God. It may be obedient to serve Him. It may be obedient to be this. It may be obedient to say that. It may be obedient for God to build character in life, whatever He's doing. That is the work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That's the reason He came. And sometimes we say, "Well, God I can't". And you know He must echo out of Heaven, "I know you can't. But look who's on the inside of you". And if you read the epistles of how Paul again and again and again talked about the strength and the power that is in us as a result of the Holy Spirit.
If you're gonna be obedient to God, listen, you must rely upon Him. You have to confess, "God, I can't do this. Lord, this temptation is so strong, the appeal is so strong, Lord". You have the Holy Spirit living on the inside of you to do what? To enable you to obey God any and every single time you call upon Him and rely upon Him and look to Him and trust Him, He will enable you to obey God. It would be unjust on the part of God to call us to do something we can't do without helping us do it. There's much in life you and I cannot do.
You want to walk obediently? Number one, fellowship. Cannot, will not without it. Relying upon the Holy Spirit. Trusting Him to do... you cannot, you will not without Him. And the third thing is simply this. This is real simple. You must be willing to believe that fellowship with Him and relying upon the Holy Spirit will give you that energy and strength and power and refreshment and renewing that you need to live obediently before Him. You say, "Now why did you give us all those scriptures about Jesus"? Because I wanted you to see how He operated. I wanted you to see what He said. He said, I don't do anything on my own strength. Jesus did not operate apart from the Holy Spirit. He didn't operate apart from fellowship with the Father. And He never thought about operating apart from trusting in His Father to meet His every need.