Sermon illustrations


The Bible Calls Us

God speaks the decisive word that puts us on the way, the road. The path of life. The Hebrew word for Bible is Miqra, a noun formed from the verb “to call” qara. The Bible is not a book to carry around and read for information on God, but a voice to listen to. I like that. This word of God that we name Bible, book, is not at root a word to be read and looked at and discussed. It is a word to be listened to and obeyed, a word that gets us going. Fundamentally, it is a call: God calls us.

Taken from Eugene H. Peterson , Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ, Eerdmans.

Commanding the Waves

In the years 1014-1035 there ruled over England a Danish king named Canute. King Canute tired of hearing his retainers flatter him with extravagant praises of his greatness, power and invincibility. He ordered his chair to be set down on the seashore, where he commanded the waves not to come in and wet him.

No matter how forcefully he ordered the tide not to come in, however, his order was not obeyed. Soon the waves lapped around his chair. One historian tells us that, therefore, he never wore his crown again, but hung it on a statue of the crucified Christ.

Source Unknown

The Construction of Utopias

One of the seductions that continues to bedevil Christian obedience is the construction of utopias, whether in fact or fantasy, ideal places where we can live the good and blessed and righteous life without inhibition or interference. The imagining and attempted construction of utopias is an old habit of our kind. Sometimes we attempt it politically in communities, sometimes socially in communes, sometimes religiously in churches. It never comes to anything but grief. Meanwhile that place we actually are is dismissed or demeaned as inadequate for serious living to the glory of God. But utopia is literally “no-place.” We can only live our lives in actual place, not imagined or fantasized or artificially fashioned places.

A favorite story of mine, one that has held me fast to my place several times, is of Gregory of Nyssa who lived in Cappadocia (a region in modern Turkey) in the fourth century. His older brother, a bishop, arranged for him to be appointed bishop of the small and obscure and unimportant town of Nyssa (a.d. 371) Gregory objected; he didn’t want to be stuck in such an out-of-the-way place. But his brother told him that he didn’t want Gregory to obtain distinction from his church but rather to confer distinction upon it. Gregory went to where he was placed and stayed there. His lifetime of work in that place, a backwater community, continues to be a major invigorating influence in the Christian church worldwide.

Eugene Peterson, Introduction to Eric O Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.

A Demand as well as an Offer

Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. His offer of salvation always brings with it the requirement that we obey him. He gave no encouragement at all to those who applied to become his disciples without thinking it through. He brought no pressure to bear on any enquirer.

He sent irresponsible enthusiasts away with nothing. Luke tells us of three people who either volunteered, or were invited, to follow Jesus; but not one of them passed the Lord’s tests. There was also the rich young ruler – an individual who was good, earnest and attractive in many ways, but who wanted eternal life on his own terms. He went away sad, with his wealth intact, but possessing neither eternal life nor Christ.

Taken from Basic Christianity The IVP Signature Collection by John Stott. Copyright (c) 2019 by John Stott, p.144. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com 

Disregarding God’s Prohibitions

Some years ago I had a pastoral relationship with a couple of people who were deeply in love with each other. They believed that God wanted them to get married so they could consummate their love. There was a problem with this plan, however, since they were each married to someone else. Their relationship was an adulterous one, something clearly forbidden in Scripture.

Yet, they were truly convinced that God was bringing them together, so they acted on this conviction. Later, after they were married, they confided in me that the pain they had brought upon themselves and their loved ones was so great that, knowing what they knew then, they would not have pursued the course they chose.

Had they taken seriously God’s prohibition of adultery in the first place, they might have spared themselves and their loved ones much hurt. Of course, God’s grace is wide and God’s redemptive ability is immense. Yet, it is wrong to disregard God’s prohibitions of sin because God’s grace is abundant (Romans 6:1-2). If we wish to live our lives as worship to God, and if we desire to live abundantly, then we will receive God’s prohibitions as gracious guidance that point us toward the positives of kingdom living.

Taken from Mark D. Roberts, Life for Leaders, a Devotional Resource of the DePree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary

The Former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate Has a Question

I wonder what would happen if we all agreed to read one of the Gospels until we came to a place that told us to do something, then went out to do it, and only after we had done it, began reading again? There are aspects of the Gospel that are puzzling and difficult to understand. But our problems are not centered around the things we don’t understand, but rather in the things we do understand, the things we could not possibly misunderstand. Our problem is not so much that we don’t know what we should do. We know perfectly well, but we don’t want to do it.

Peter Marshall, Mr. Jones, Meet the Master!, Revell.

God is a Consuming Fire

Curiously enough, it is a fear of how grace will change and improve them that keeps many souls away from God. They want God to take them as they are and let them stay that way. They want Him to take away their love of riches, but not their riches—to purge them of the disgust of sin, but not of the pleasure of sin. Some of them equate goodness with indifference to evil and think that God is good if He is broad-minded or tolerant about evil.

Like the onlookers at the Cross, they want God on their terms, not His, and they shout, “Come down, and we will believe.” But the things they ask are the marks of a false religion: it promises salvation without a cross, abandonment without sacrifice, Christ without his nails. God is a consuming fire; our desire for God must include a willingness to have the chaff burned from our intellect and the weeds of our sinful will purged.

The very fear souls have of surrendering themselves to the Lord with a cross is an evidence of their instinctive belief in His Holiness. Because God is fire, we cannot escape Him, whether we draw near for conversion or flee from aversion: in either case, He affects us. If we accept His love, its fires will illumine and warm us; if we reject Him, they will still burn on in us in frustration and remorse.

Fulton J. Sheen, Peace of Soul: Timeless Wisdom on Finding Serenity and Joy by the Century’s Most Acclaimed Catholic Bishop.

The Grievous Sin

In 1988, I (Randy) moved with my wife and two sons (ages two and eight weeks) from Texas to Sulawesi, an island north of Australia and south of the Philippines. We served as missionaries to a cluster of islands in eastern Indonesia until returning in 1996…While in Indonesia, I taught in a small, indigenous Bible college and worked with churches scattered from Borneo to Papua.

One day, I was sitting in a hut with a group of church elders from a remote island village off the coast of Borneo. They asked my opinion about a thorny church issue. A young couple had relocated to their village many years before because they had committed a grievous sin in their home village. For as long as they had resided here, they had lived exemplary lives of godliness and had attended church faith fully. Now, a decade later, they wanted to join the church.

“Should we let them?” asked the obviously troubled elders. Attempting to avoid the question, I replied, “Well, what grievous sin did they commit?”

The elders were reluctant to air the village’s dirty laundry before a guest, but finally one of them replied, “They married on the run.”

In America, we call that eloping.

“That’s it?” I blurted out. “What was the sin?”

Quite shocked, they stared at this young (and foolish) missionary and asked, “Have you never read Paul?”

I certainly thought I had. My Ph.D. was in Paul. They reminded me that Paul told believers to obey their parents (Eph 6:1). They were willing to admit that everyone makes mistakes. We don’t always obey.

But surely one should obey in what is likely the most important decision of his or her life: choosing a spouse. I suddenly found myself wondering if I had, in fact, ever really read Paul. My “American Paul” clearly did not expect his command to include adult children deciding whom to marry. Moreover, it was clear that my reading (or misreading?) had implications for how I counseled church leaders committed to faithful and obedient discipleship.

Taken from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Copyright (c) 2012 by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Listening to the Teacher

A youth group leader took his kids to a ski resort, where he saw two people skiing down the slopes one behind the other. They were so close it was almost as if they were tied together. When he got closer, he heard the one in front saying in staccato fashion, “Left.” “Right.” “Straight.” “Right.” “Left.” He thought it was a little funny, and his kids were laughing at the sound of what looked like a ski instructor giving lessons to a student. So he thought he’d have a little fun with the student skier.

He started yelling out different commands that contradicted the ski instructor. When the person in front said, “Left,” he’d yell, “Right!” When the person in front said, “Straight,” he’d yell, “Curve!” But no matter what the youth leader said, the student in back seemed to be able to ignore his voice and fix on what the ski instructor was saying. Suddenly the skier stopped and turned around.

Much to the embarrassment of the youth leader, on the chest of the second skier was a sign: Blind Skier. Even though he could see nothing, since he knew his instructor’s voice, the blind skier could ignore all other voices—even those tempting and tormenting him—and go safely down the slopes.

Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord’s Voice , Thomas Nelson.

Living for Christ is Hard

My wife, Lauretta, once remarked to me, “I know I’d die for Christ.  If I were put in front of a firing squad and commanded to renounce Christ or die, I know I’d say ‘Shoot me!’  That would be easy.  The hard part is living for Christ, not dying for him.”  She is right.  One huge, heroic act would be easier than a lifetime of little daily decisions, especially when it may take a lifetime to discover that the promises of God were worth the no we said to ourselves and to the world each day.

Taken from Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent by Ben Patterson Copyright (c) 1989 by Ben Patterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Mark of Obedience

When I worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I used to ask college students if they had learned much at a weekend conference. They would often answer, “Oh, yeah. You should see how many notebooks I filled.” And my response would be, “You don’t have to show me your notebooks. If you learned anything, I’ll see it in your life.”

Taken from Out of the Saltshaker & Into the World by Rebecca Manley Pippert. ©1999 by Rebecca Manley Pippert.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com


Neil Marten was a member of the British Parliament from 1959-1984. One day he was giving a group of constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the tour, the group happened upon the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, who happened to be dressed in the full ornamentation that went with his office. At one point in their interaction, Hailsham recognized the MP Marten and cried “Neill!” Not wanting to disobey the command of one so important, the band of visitors immediately fell to their knees.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

I’m Standing on the Inside

There is an old story about a little boy who insisted on standing up on a pew during the church service. After several admonishments his mother severely threatened him if he stood up one more time. As he sat squirming on the pew he whispered to his mother, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

Jerry Bridges. The Gospel for Real Life: Return to the Liberating Power of the Cross, NavPress.

Obedience is Not “Cool”

“Obedience” is not in favor today. American culture prizes everything that is rebellious, “edgy,” and—a favorite word of the cultural elite — “transgressive.” Staying within boundaries is nerdy; pushing the edge of the envelope is hip. Baaaaad is good. It is disobedience that’s in fashion, not obedience.

Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.

Obeying Even When It is Difficult

Fishermen with any experience on the Sea of Galilee knew that the optimal time to catch fish was during the night in shallow water. During the day, the fish dove deep, where it was far more difficult to successfully sink nets to catch them. However, when Jesus instructed Peter to fish during the day, he obeyed—even though he was tired and not completely certain Jesus knew what He was asking.

Perhaps you remember a time when God asked you to do something beyond what you thought reasonable. You did not know if what you were hearing was the right thing to do because it appeared so counterintuitive. Maybe you are in such a season right now. Understand without a shadow of doubt that you will never go wrong obeying God. Peter did as Jesus asked and pulled in so many fish that his nets began to break. The same will be true in your situation. You may not know exactly why God is calling you to do as He instructs, but you can be sure that when you do as He says, you will experience a blessing beyond your imagination.

Charles F. Stanley, God’s Purpose for Your Life: 365 Devotions, Thomas Nelson, 2020.

Obeying the President’s Wishes

Imagine, if you will, that you work for a company whose president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. So he says to you and the other trusted employees, “Look, I’m going to leave. And while I’m gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I’m away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip.”

Everyone agrees. He leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess–weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the gal at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room. Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss.

Without hesitation he calls everyone together and with a frown asks, “What happened? Didn’t you get my letters?” You say, “Oh, yeah, sure. We got all your letters. We’ve even bound them in a book. And some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have ‘letter study’ every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters.”

Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Thomas Nelson, p. 242.

Obey Me Instantly

Bible teacher Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960) told the following story: A young son of a missionary couple in Zaire was playing in the yard. Suddenly the voice of the boy’s father rang out from the porch, “Philip, obey me instantly! Drop to your stomach!” Immediately the youngster did as his father commanded. “Now crawl toward me as fast as you can!” The boy obeyed. “Stand up and run to me!” Philip responded unquestioningly and ran to his father’s arms.

As the young boy turned to look at the tree by which he had been playing, he saw a large deadly snake hanging from one of the branches! At the first command of his father, Philip could have hesitated and asked, “Why do you want me to do that?” Or he could have casually replied, “In a minute.” But his instant obedience without questioning saved his life!

Taken from Jack Crabtree, The Complete New Testament Resource for Youth Workers, Volume 1.

The Prize Winner

One day the fair was in town and a father of five children decided it was a good opportunity to give his wife a break. When they arrived, the father, who was quite the shot, knew instantly what game he wanted to play. Arriving at the shooting gallery he quickly won a prize-a stuffed animal.

But which of the five kids should he give it to? After a few moments, he came up with a solution. Who does everything mommy asks? Who is the most obedient to mommy? Who never talks back to mommy?” Each of the five children answered at the same time, not without a sense of resignation, “you deserve the prize daddy.”

Source Unknown

The Problem of Forgetfulness

One of humanity’s problems is forgetfulness. Forgetfulness can happen at multiple levels, from a simple problem of recall to a posture of hard-heartedness and disobedience toward the command-giver. When God deals with the people of Israel throughout the Old Testament, God does not merely say, “This is God.” Rather, we often read, “This is the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.” It is a reminder, to a forgetful people (which we all are), what it is that God has done for us.

C.S. Lewis reiterates this problem in the Narnian book The Silver Chair, when Aslan teaches Jill to repeat His instructions in order that should would not forget them. “‘Child’ Aslan says… ‘perhaps you do not see quite as well as you think. But the first step is to remember. Repeat to me, in order, the four signs.’” Like most of us, Jill soon forgets, and her and her companions’ journey is forever altered.

God gives us a variety of practices to remember. Sabbath, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each exists to remind us of some significant aspect of our faith and the God who created, redeemed, and sustains us each day. So the question for us to answer is, will we remember?

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair.

The Reason He Never Shared His Vision

I am still haunted by a long conversation I had with a man who was a member of one of my early congregations. . . . He had a stunning vision of the presence of the risen Christ . . . [and] had never told anyone about it before. . . . He explained, “The reason why I told no one was I was too afraid that it was true. And if it’s true that Jesus was really real, that he had come personally to me, what then? I’d have to change my whole life.”

William H. Willimon, Undone by Easter: Keeping Preaching Fresh, Abingdon, 2009.

Rolling Stone Interview with Bono

The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away form God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt. So the blues on one hand — running away; gospel, the Mighty Clouds of Joy — running towards.

The blues are like the Psalms of David. Here was this character, living in a cave, whose outbursts were as much criticism as praise. There’s David singing. “Oh, God — where are you when I need you?/You call yourself God?” And you go, this is the blues.

Both deal with the relationship with God. That’s really it. I’ve since realized that anger with God is very valid.

Rolling Stone Magazine

Our Sweet, Precious, and Pleasing Acts of Obedience


Why do we imagine God to be so unmoved by our heart-felt attempts at obedience? He is, after all, our heavenly Father. What sort of father looks at his daughter’s homemade birthday card and complains that the color scheme is all wrong? What kind of mother says to her son, after he gladly cleaned the garage but put the paint cans on the wrong shelf, “This is worthless in my sight”?

What sort of parent rolls his eyes when his child falls off the bike on the first try? There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God by grace alone through faith alone and therefore have been adopted into God’s family, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet, precious, and pleasing to him.

Taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, © 2012, pp.70. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

An Unfortunate Comparison

Jesus doesn’t just use the shepherd metaphor when he refers to himself as the door. Over and over in the Bible we are compared to sheep. Some people think it’s heartwarming. But I hate to tell you, it’s not flattering.

You won’t find a dumber animal than sheep. Dogs and cats can be trained, but you’ll never go to a circus and buy a ticket to see a trained sheep. They have poor eyesight. They have no common sense. Left to their own, they’ll walk into a stream and drown. Sheep are prone even to walk off a cliff and plummet to their death. We are different from sheep in at least one way: we worry. Sheep are too dumb even to worry that they can’t take care of themselves.

James Merritt, 52 Weeks with Jesus, Harvest House Publishers.

What is a Prophet? 

In Eugene Peterson’s wonderful book, Run With Horses, Peterson draws from the life of the prophet Jeremiah to provide a picture of what a great life looks like. Not in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes. In this short excerpt, Peterson describes the role of a prophet within the community of faith:

A prophet lets people know who God is and what he is like, what he says and what he is doing. A prophet wakes us up from our sleepy complacency so that we see the great and stunning drama that is our existence, and then pushes us onto the stage playing our parts whether we think we are ready or not.

A prophet angers us by rejecting our euphemisms and ripping off our disguises, then dragging our heartless attitudes and selfish motives out into the open where everyone sees them for what they are. A prophet makes everything and everyone seem significant and important—important because God made it, or him, or her; significant because God is actively, right now, using it, or him, or her. A prophet makes it difficult to continue with a sloppy or selfish life.

Taken from Run with the Horses by Eugene H. Peterson. ©2009, 2019 by Eugene H. Peterson.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com


See also Illustrations on Abiding in Christ, DiscipleshipGrowth, Listening, Maturity

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Obedience. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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