Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Promises: God's and ours

Why do we break promises? We break them because we change, or circumstances do. That is, we make a promise in one mood; the mood shifts, and we break it. Or we make a promise, but it isn't of much weight to us, so we let it slip. Or we make a promise, then sin grips us and the promise becomes inconvenient and burdensome, so we drop it to cling to our sin.

Or circumstances change. We promise to give something, do something, be somewhere, but our resources or our life or our schedule changes.

Why does God never break promises? He never changes, and He controls circumstances.

Put it another way: at any point, God knows Himself exhaustively, and knows all circumstances in all time-frames exhaustively. The latter actually springs from the former.

Thus it literally is not possible that God should ever be caught short by either a change in Himself, or in circumstances. He is the Lord, and He does not change (Malachi 3:6; cf. Hebrews 13:8). He works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). The categories that produce faithlessness in us simply are not meaningful to God.

I see three immediate implications:

First, the believer can rest unreservedly on God's word of promise. Christ says He'll never cast us out, and He won't (John 6:37). God promises that all things will work together for our good, and they will (Romans 8:28). Jesus promises that not one of His sheep will perish, and they won't (John 10:28).

Second, the unbeliever needs to deal with the complete hopelessness of his situation, as matters stand. God promises to judge all secrets in the day of judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:23). He promises that all artifices of human pride and rebellion — all rationalizations, excuses, and dodges — will be swept away like so many cobwebs (Isaiah 2:11; 1 Corinthians 2:19). He promises that every knee will bow, and every tongue admit that Jesus is Lord, and they will (Philippians 2:10-11). Confess the truth now, to your salvation, or you will surely confess it in that day, to your damnation.

Third, the believer needs to take God as his model. I imagine many in unrepented sin read the start of the post and thought "Yes! That's why I had to change my mind! Situations changed!"

Not so fast, Turbo.

The Israelites made a promise without a full knowledge of the facts (Joshua 9) — and God held them to it, regardless (2 Samuel 21). It is characteristic of the righteous man that he "swears to his own hurt and does not change" (Psalm 15:4).

7 comments:

Pooka said...

Thank you, Thank you for a timely post. It's too easy to forget (since the mood or situation changes) God's immutability and how His promises reflect it. SO important in good and bad weather.

NoLongerBlind said...

Thanks for this reminder, Dan.

This goes well with your post:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJ9ZJPIDkis

(sorry, I'm at work and don't have my link-posting "crib notes".)

Becky, slave of Christ said...

That is why we need to be slow to speak. I have always struggled with thinking about what I am going to say ahead of time.

I am working very hard to remember to say "if I can" or something similar in certain circumstances. A friend of mine does that, but then she tries hard to do the thing as if it was promised.

This is not to say that I don't think we should ever make promises, just be particular about which things receive that level of commitment.

Lynda O said...

Thanks, Dan, for this post. That is what is so great about our great covenant-keeping God, that He never changes, He always remains faithful. The people of Israel often set up stones as witnesses to remember something, even promises made between themselves that were not always kept -- and then the psalms give us great words about God as THE rock, the One who is greater than even their own stone witnesses.

johno said...

Scripture reports several occasions where God changes his mind...these occasions are where he decides to reduce punishment or be merciful to his people. 2 Sam 24:16; 1 Ch 21:15; Jer 26:19; Amos 7:6
As God's character is both righteous and merciful maybe the change of mind inherent in mercy is a good thing.
We can trust God and Rely on him in his mercy.

DJP said...

I'm not sure what your point is, John. Scripture necessarily speaks of God anthropomorphically in these narratives — otherwise, how do you describe the interaction of an eternal, immutable being in time and space? His character and promises and counsels don't change, but he must deal with situations that do.

johno said...

I believe we can totally trust god in his relationship to us and his promises to us as you wrote. My point is that outside of that context he does indeed change from his preferred plan to allow for our choices. He can be accommodating or flexible in his will towards us humans. Two examples are (a) God allowing Israel to have a king even though his preference was for Israel not to have a king ; (b) agreeing to speak through Moses rather than directly to Israel , after Israel found God difficult to listen to at Horeb. In the past I have over-generalised God's trust-worthyness to misunderstand him as being less responsive than he is.