This is a declaration that something will or will not be done, given or come to pass. However, the value of a promise depends upon the ability of the one who makes it, to actually fulfill it. In our fallen, weakened state, (for a variety of reasons) we don’t always achieve our intentions or promises, yet God declares “My covenant I will not break” – every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed (Josh 23:14; Ps 89:34, 145:13). God is committed to doing what He says, for “He is not a man that He should lie”. He declares, “My words will certainly come true at the proper time” (Num 23:19; Josh 21:43-45, 23:14,15; Lk 1:20; Heb 10:23).
In the Kingdom of God, everything is based on principles and promises not feelings or variable emotions, however do not confuse a promise with a principle that states general truths. The book of Proverbs is full of principles, which are not guaranteed outcomes, but it is wise to do all in our power to live by these desirable values.
On the day of Pentecost the promised Holy Spirit came on the believers with divine power and now lives in all true believers guaranteeing our eternal destiny, with an extra awareness of His presence when two or more are gathered together in Christ’s name (Mt 18:20; Jn 14:16,17; Act 1:8, 2:4; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5).
God’s promises are the expression of His will, and available through Christ. Some we can enter into now or already enjoy, while others remain for the future, especially the eternal inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled and unfading in heaven”. The Holy Spirit’s presence is also a ‘deposit’ (or promise) of what is to come (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:3,13,14; 1 Pet 1:3,4).
God’s promises are an incentive to be submitted to His will and trust Him, yet we do not know when, how or where they will be fulfilled (Lk 1:45). In faith we may ‘remind’ God of these promises but we should not try and bend Him to doing our will. If we are faithful to the conditions attached to them, such as removing sinful habits, we will experience more of His divine nature besides “glory, honour and immortality” (Rom 2:7; 2 Cor 7:1; Jas 1:12, 2:5; 2 Pet 1:4; 1 Jn 3:2,3).
Types of promises
God has made hundreds of “exceeding great and precious” promises which are recorded in the Bible. We need, however, to correctly understand their nature so we don’t misinterpret what He says.
1/. Unconditional declarations of God that He will act in a certain way. These take effect regardless of any human response – for example, the promise never to flood the earth again (Gen 9:11-17). The Bible says categorically God doesn’t have favourites but causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike. However there are relatively few statements that God makes that are unrestricted by human response, though nothing is able to separate us from His love (Mt 5:45; Rom 8:38,39).
‘If you do your part, I will do mine’ – God
the appropriate human responses as repenting, believing, receiving, loving, persevering and righteous living, with the promises that include the right to be called His children, His blessing, the provision of our necessities and ultimately the crown of life (Ps 1:1,2; Mt 6:33; Jn 1:12; Rom 1:16, 8:28; Jas 1:12).
God’s guarantee is if we honour our side of a promise, He will keep His, completing what He has started however if we fail He is not obliged to keep His part (Ex 19:5; Isa 1:19,20; Phil 1:6). Note the stipulated requirement we are to meet will be in the same or associated verses and is not dependent on our own desires or interpretation (Mt 22:29; 2 Pet 1:20).
Some conditional promises are all embracing by expressly stating “whoever” besides having no limitations on the time or recipients (Rom 10:13). If a promise isn’t directed at a specific person or group for a specific time we are free to appropriate it for ourselves. When God makes a conditional promise it is followed by a situation where temptation will demand a decision – either to meet God’s requirement and receive what is promised or ignore it and forfeit what can be ours. Faith, determination and devotion to God enable us to meet the condition for receiving the promise but it is presumptuous to assume God will just bless regardless, without understanding or meeting the conditions He has specified. We all have the free will to meet the conditions.
3/. Personalised promises. Many promises in the Bible were given to specific people, either individuals or groups, at a specific point in time, and thus apply explicitly to them. While we can’t legitimately claim some promises, such as “I have plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” as our own, we can claim the broad promises of His blessing being on us for “all who trust in Him will not be disappointed…God is an ever-present help in time of trouble…I am with you always, even to the end of the age…He cares for you (Ps 25:3, 46:1; Jer 29:11; Mt 28:20; 1 Pet 5:7). Thus we can learn and profit from the general principle by aligning our lives with the response that God requires for rewarding those who follow Him, for He does is not show favouritism and “all Scripture is profitable” (1 Sam 2:30; Ps 119:1; Act 10:34; 2 Tim 3:16). Although, not directed specifically at him, Paul found guidance and encouragement as he patterned his life on the prophetic words of Isaiah speaking about the Messiah when he wrote “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6; Act 13:47).
Keeping promises is a matter of integrity – do I keep mine?
to make rash promises which require real determination to keep if we are to be known as an honest, trustworthy person. Hannah promised if God gave her a son she would give him back to God. She faithfully honoured this deal, giving Samuel to the Lord for all his life (1 Sam 1:11-28). Would we do the same?
Traps in interpreting Scriptural promises
1/. In our impatience we think ‘now’ is the ideal time for its fulfilment, but the divine timetable and perspective are different to ours so we need to persevere in obedience to receive (Isa 55:8,9; Heb 10:36).
Isaac is called ‘the son of promise’, having been promised to Abraham and Sarah as opposed to Ishmael who was the product of the flesh by endeavouring to bring about the promise through natural, impetuous reasoning (Gal 4:23,28). This was not God’s plan.
2/. We are not promised certainty in our circumstances, but we are promised His Spirit to be with us at all times, and Jesus promises to take us to be with Him forever (Jn 14:3; 1 Cor 6:19; 1 Thes 4:17). Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). He doesn’t promise to get us out of difficulty, but rather to be with us in it (Heb 13:5).
3/. While He promises to supply what we need to achieve His purposes in our lives, this is often vastly different to our self-centred desires (Phil 4:19). Nor does He promise to provide health, prosperity and satisfying human relationships, although He has made provision for healing through the cross and gives us minds to enable us to walk in wisdom in all areas of life. Though we are to obey Scripture and pray for the sick, not all experience the desired healing (Mk 16:17,18; Jas 5:14-16). This is where the conditionality and personalisation of promises becomes operative in people’s lives.
Because God is unchangeable, just and trustworthy with His principles remaining constant, by following the lifestyle response that God expected from others, we also can be pleasing Him.
There are many ‘why’s’ in life our limited minds can’t comprehend but do not allow them to be a wedge Satan uses to separate us from Him. The Bible tells of those who lived in faith, holding on confidently to something clearly communicated to them from God – some of them did not see the outworking in this life but all will be richly rewarded in heaven (Heb 11:7ff; 1 Pet 1:7).
The big picture – the God of promises
Following His promises to Abraham, God made an unconditional promise that David’s ancestral line would continue forever. In the spiritual sense this was fulfilled through Jesus, a descendant of David’s, who is also the eternal son of God, and through whom we inherit eternal life (Rom 1:3). King David gave this good advice to Solomon his son, “Obey the laws of God and follow all His ways, keeping His commands...so that you may prosper in everything you do, and He will fulfill His promises” (1 Kgs 2:3,4). This earthly Kingdom, however, was conditional on David’s descendants remaining faithful to Him, but they weren’t and so lost the throne.