THE CHILDREN OF PROMISE
Answer to a Modern Heresy (Third Rebellion)
There is in the Hebrew Old Testament no special term for the concept or act of promising. Where our English translations say that someone promised something, the Hebrew simply states that someone said or spoke ('ámar, dábar) some word with reference to the future. In the New Testament, the technical term, epangelia, appears -- chiefly in Acts, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews.
A promise is a word that goes forth into unfilled time. It reaches ahead of its speaker and its recipient, to mark an appointment between them in the future. A promise may be the assurance of continuing or future action on behalf of someone: "I will be with you", "They that mourn shall be comforted", "If we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins." It may be a solemn agreement of lasting, mutual (if unequal) relationship: as in the covenants. It may be the announcement of a future event: "When you have brought the people from Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain."
Every single thing we say we will do -- everything that is not fulfilled the moment we say it -- everything that implies a future fulfillment -- is a promise, whether we use the word "promise" or "covenant" or not. There is not difference in saying: "I covenant to look after you in your old age" to "I will look after you in your old age" to "I promise I will look after you in your old age." In the Biblical sense, something we intend to do is a promise, or a covenant, because we are supposed to be a truthful people.
Recently a small group of Christians have come out with the fantastic doctrine that as Christians we are not to promise anything. Giving promises, they maintain, is solely the province of God, because only He is perfect. Unfortunately, Christ has said the very opposite.
What God speaks by His mouth never returns void. He always keeps His promises. Unlike men and heathen gods, He knows and commands the future (1 Ki.8:15,24; Is.41:4,26; 43:12,19; Rom.4:21). Through the historical books of the Bible, a pattern of divine promise and historical fulfillment is traced.
The Lord Jesus Christ is, of course, the convergence point of all the Old Testament promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the Patriarchs through the prophets). All the promises of God are confirmed in Him, and through Him affirmed by the Church in the "Amen" of its worship (2 Cor.1:20). The Old Testament quotations and allusions in the Gospel narratives indicate this fulfillment. The Magnificat and the Benedictus rejoice that God has kept His word. The promised Word has become flesh. The New Covenant has been inaugurated -- upon the "better promises" prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer.31; Heb.8:6-13). Jesus is the guarantee (Heb.7:22), and the Holy Spirit of Promise is its first installment (Eph.1:13-14).
Awaiting the promise of Christ's coming again and of the new heavens and a new earth (2 Pet.3:4,9,13), the Church sets forth on her missionary task with the assurance of His presence (Matt.18:20) and with the news that the "promise of the Father" -- the Holy Spirit (after Joel 2:28) -- is given to Jew and pagan in Jesus Christ, fulfilling the promise to Abraham of universal blessing through his posterity. The promise is correlated to faith and open to all who, by imitating Abraham's faith, become "children of the promise" (Gal.3; Rom.4;9).
As the children of Abraham, through faith in, and obedience to, Christ, we are also inheritors of the Abrahamic Covenant. The late J.Murray, formerly professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, USA, writes: "In the Abrahamic Covenant we have grace on the highest level because it contemplates the apex of spiritual relationship. The greater the grace, the more accentuated becomes the sovereignty of the bestowal. But, likewise, the greater the grace and the more intimate the relation constituted, the more intensified become the demands on the relationship. The necessity of keeping the covenant is the expression of the spirituality involved" (The New Bible Dictionary, p.265, Inter-Varsity Press, 1976).
Everybody knows that covenants or promises enrich relationships when they are kept in the true Spirit of Christ. Why else do we take marriage vows for granted? In taking marriage vows we agree to live the law of fidelity, of being true to our husbands and wives. In making vows we make ourselves accountable before God and before men. The ordinance of baptism, like the Lord's Supper, are ordinances of promise on the part of man to God. Were there to be no ordinances, were we to make no promises of any sort, then as the children of God we would be utterly unaccountable. As unaccountable beings we would not be subject to eternal judgment, which is a fundamental Gospel tenet (Heb.6:2).
Were we forbidden by the Gospel to make promises or covenants then the future tense would be forbidden in our language. We would never be entitled to say: "I will..." That God knows and accepts that we will fail to keep our promises is everywhere taken for granted the New Testament but He expects us to repent to try again. It is by this method that we grow in grace. Indeed, we are commanded to repent and achieve perfection in Christ through His grace. He is the One who enables us to keep our promises, qualify to become Abraham's sons and daughters, and that become inheritors of the Kingdom of God.
A friend recently illustrated the absurdity of claiming that we are not to make promises as Christians said this to me. "If my sons rings me from the bus stop, and says: 'Father, will you come and pick me up, please?' what is the father supposed to say?: 'I'm sorry, son, I'm not allowed to make promises -- you'll just have to wait and see if I come or not,' what sort of a relationship do you think that son will have with his father? Will that stimulate confidence and love in his son?"
This is perhaps the silliest doctrine that I have ever heard but because the people advocating it are loved by us it is my duty as a Christian to expose it for the folly that it is.
The apostle Paul, the great evangelist on grace, never taught such a doctrine. Of him Luke wrote: "Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea BECAUSE OF A VOW (PROMISE/COVENANT) HE HAD TAKEN" (Ac.18:18).
What more need be said?
This page was created on 22 May 1998
Last updated on 22 May 1998
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