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What does it mean to obey God?

To listen to Nancy's answer recorded live on Moody Radio, click here

The word obey has a much deeper meaning than our use of the word in English. We tend to think of it as to do something someone tells you to do. You can be mad about it or happy, but the idea is just do it. In Hebrew, the word shema (pronounced "shmah") is often translated as "hear." But the word shema has a much wider, more profound meaning than "to perceive sound." It encompasses a whole spectrum of ideas that includes listening, taking heed, and responding with action to what one has heard.

A great example of this is found in scripture when Jesus was praying to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane about his imminent death. Sinless Jesus always did His Father's will, even at times like this that involved experiencing pain that is beyond human understanding. He desired to have this cup pass from Him, but Jesus said, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). Jesus knew that "he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him" (John 8:29). Jesus said, "Jesus said even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:5-7), and so Jesus "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8).

Abraham was probably the most obedient human, besides Jesus, to have ever lived. "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:1-2). God told him to leave his family, his friends, his occupation, his home, and his worshiping of false gods to go to a land that he'd never seen before and called by a God who he had never known. There was no hesitation in Abraham at all. He didn't stop to think about it, stop to count the cost, or ask God, "Why." " Abram went, as the Lord had told him" (Genesis 12:4). How many of us would have dropped everything and left it all behind to go to a strange land while being called by a God that was unknown?

Abraham waited what seemed like forever to have a son and also went to the most extreme ends possible in proving that he would obey when God asked him to sacrifice his only Son of promise, Isaac. This is the best example of obedience there is in the Bible, next to the example that Christ set.

Mary, Jesus' mother, is another example of obedience that most of us could only dream. Imagine being a 13 or 14-year-old virgin, and an angel appears and tells you that you were going to be the mother of God's Son. "And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:29-30). "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David" (Luke 1:31-32).

What was Mary's reaction? Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1:38). Mary never wavered in unbelief, but simply told Gabriel, "let it be to me according to your word." She understood that she was a "servant of the Lord", and that made her joyful enough to give her "Magnificat" in Luke 1:46-55.

There are many other examples in the Bible of regular men and women being used by God in ways they had never thought possible. They start with a call to obedience, followed by a willing choice to follow.

How do you respond to such calls on your life?

Jesus asks all of us to: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31).

"Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37).

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).

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