We are rather selective when it comes to claiming God’s promises:
Many Christians are very keen on claiming God’s promises. And so they should be. But have you ever noticed how very selective they can be when it comes to doing this? That is, they readily and eagerly latch on to all the “good” promises. But they tend to avoid or want nothing to do with the not so good promises.
A very obvious promise of God that most Christians are not so eager to claim is 2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” That is a clear and definite promise of God. Yet how many believers go around excitedly saying they fully claim this promise?
Victory over enemies
My point is obvious: we tend to be far too selective when it comes to claiming the promises of God. Consider just one such category of promises: how God deals with our enemies. Scripture often speaks about how God will deliver us from our enemies, or even how he will defeat our enemies. Numerous psalms speak to this. Here are some of them:
Psalm 18:46-48 The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation—
the God who gave me vengeance
and subdued peoples under me,
who rescued me from my enemies;
yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me;
you delivered me from the man of violence.
Psalm 37:1-2 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
Psalm 54:4-5 Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
in your faithfulness put an end to them.
Psalm 60:12 With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.
Psalm 89:22-23 22 The enemy shall not outwit him;
the wicked shall not humble him.
I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
Psalm 138:7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.
Although some of these promises are quite specific (the one in Ps. 89 is made to David for example), believers are still happy to claim them. Don’t get me wrong: these are all terrific promises to latch on to. I have done this myself. I have enemies and I often pray for God’s help in dealing with them. But we must bear in mind that the promises of God are often conditional in nature. That is, they do not come automatically, but are dependent on our obedience.
What about obedience and disobedience?
Too often we Christians do not consider the conditional nature of these promises, and how they are bound up with obedience. Many texts speak to this, and the following article lists just some of the many CONDITIONAL promises found in Scripture: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/07/31/on-the-promises-of-god/
But some key texts on this are the lists of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience as found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28. I have written about them before. See here for an earlier piece on this: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/03/misappropriating-old-testament-blessings-and-curses/
But let me revisit these portions of Scripture and discuss them a bit further. The first thing to note is there are far more curses for disobedience found in these chapters than there are blessings for obedience. That in itself should help believers to be a bit more cautious about how we deal with these promises!
And let me discuss this in terms of what I spoke about above: our enemies. The selective Christian will note, claim and run with the promises of defeating one’s enemies as found in these chapters. Consider Lev. 26:7-8 for example: “You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.”
Great stuff! But all this is fully conditional – simply read verse 3: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them…” And there are far more verses about the obverse, such as:
Lev. 26:17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.
Lev. 26:25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.
Lev. 26:31-33 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.
Lev. 26:36-39 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.
Hmm, I am not aware of too many Christians latching on to THOSE promises! And those just have to do with enemies. There are plenty of other curses attached to disobedience. The simple truth is this: God will fight FOR his people when they are obedient. But God will fight AGAINST his people when they are disobedient.
It is the same in Deuteronomy. For example, Deut. 28:7 says this: “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.” That is great news, but once again, we must read what precedes this. Verse one says, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today…”
And again, we find plenty of curses for disobedience involving enemies. Just one of them is found in verse 25: “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.”
But, some critics will say that all this is about ancient Israel, and not for us today. Let me offer two responses. First, if this is just for Israel of old, then why do you still keep claiming their blessings? Second, if you look at the first article I linked to above, you will see plenty of promises in the New Testament that are equally conditional, fully dependent on what we do.
So there is no getting around this. God’s promises are wonderful. But there are promises for good and for bad, depending on how we are responding. God indeed wants to bless us. But he also wants us to be holy. And sometimes he will chastise us, discipline us, and reprove us to get us to that place.
Therefore we need to be a bit more careful when we ‘claim all the promises of God’.