What Made Billy Graham’s Faith So Extraordinary? These Three Things
As the nation pays its last respects to the world-renowned evangelist, the rest of us have a shot at following in his footsteps
The nation is still in the throes of bidding a bittersweet farewell to ‘America’s pastor,” Billy Graham, after his passing a week ago at age 99. Within hours of the announcement of his death, heartfelt tributes began pouring in from people around the world who found their lives transformed by this man’s ministry and message. Billy Graham had a profound impact on people from every walk of life — from presidents to plumbers.
And speaking of U.S. presidents, all six living American presidents — five from the past, plus current sitting President Donald J. Trump — are expected to pay their last respects to Graham this week.
What was it about this simple man from Charlotte, North Carolina, that so captured our attention? Why did we listen to him for 60-plus years? Many evangelical leaders agree that what made Billy Graham so special was a God-given combination of a humble spirit and a reassuring demeanor — joined with an unflinching preaching power that proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ.
He was a lion in the pulpit and a lamb outside it.
As of last Wednesday, Billy Graham changed his address to heaven. But even though he is gone from us, the encouraging truth is that we can follow in his footsteps of faith. We can have the same faith that Billy Graham had — a true faith that leads to forgiveness of sins and a glorious welcome into heaven — if we embrace these three essential elements:
1.) We need knowledge. Every four years in this country, presidential candidates go to great lengths to tell us about their faith. With tender voices, they tell how “my faith got me through,” or “My faith means so much to me.” But the logical question we ought to ask after such statements is, “Faith in what?”
The Bible teaches us that true faith is not just a fuzzy or vague “faith in faith” concept, but a faith that is centered on real content, real people, real events. True faith isn’t just an attitude of mind but a knowledge of genuine facts.
One of the great theologians of the 20th century, Dr. John Gerstner, explained it this way: “Nothing can enter the sanctuary of the heart unless it first passes through the lobby of the mind.” This means that before we can have true faith, there must first be an understanding in our minds of that which we place our faith in. There must be an understanding of basic content — which in the Gospel’s case centers on the facts of what God did for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
So true faith isn’t blind — it sees and understands the reality “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
2.) We need belief. At the public high school I attended, it was possible to take the Bible as an elective. In this literature class, students examined all the important Bible narratives: Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, Jonah and the whale, even the life and death of Jesus. But sadly, one thing was missing: belief.
Belief is the next step that moves beyond the understanding of content — to accepting the content as true and trustworthy.
Simply having an intellectual understanding of Jesus or the Gospel is not sufficient for genuine saving faith. The Bible teaches us that genuine faith must also include this second element, which is heartfelt belief and acceptance. Jesus Himself said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life” (John 3:36).
3.) We need trust. Not long ago I was flying on a commercial jet when I noticed a sticker on the seat back in front of me. It said, “Your seat cushion is a flotation device.” Imagine if an hour later that plane had crash-landed into the Atlantic Ocean. In that life-or-death moment, it wouldn’t be enough to intellectually understand the basic functions of a seat cushion — or even believe that foam cushions can float in water.
If I wanted to live, I would have had to grab that seat cushion with both hands and trust it to keep me from drowning. In the same way, Scripture teaches that genuine faith always includes trust — which is a wholehearted commitment to Jesus. This trust isn’t dreamy or soft — it is a solid, two-handed grasp with which we stake our eternal destiny on what Jesus did for us. True faith declares that Jesus is not just “a Savior” but “my Savior.”
On Wednesday, February 28, the body of Reverend Billy Graham will lie in state inside the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. This is one of the greatest honors that can ever be bestowed on an American citizen, and it is well-deserved. But while the nation pauses to celebrate the life and ministry of this extraordinary Christian leader, let’s never forget what made him great.
Billy Graham spent his entire adult life preaching the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ. As a result, millions of people saw their personal lives and eternal destinies changed forever. Faith in Christ was Graham’s solitary theme and he preached it faithfully — from the White House to many people’s houses.
But while there will never be another Billy Graham, Scripture promises we can share in his faith — a genuine faith that leads to heaven. “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).
Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 18 years.