STANDING ON THE PROMISES OF GOD

A Study by

Gary Ray Branscome



For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us (2 Corinthians 1:20).

 

    Since those who fail to understand the relationship of Godís promises to salvation have a hard time understanding the gospel, the Apostle Paul devoted almost an entire chapter of Galatians to an explanation of that relationship. In that explanation, he draws a clear distinction between the law and the promises, which deserves our careful consideration.

    Beginning with the words, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness," Paul makes it clear that God will count us as righteous when we believe His promises, just as He counted Abraham as righteous when Abraham believed His promise (Galatians 3:6-8). Then, in order to emphasize the fact that the law plays no part in that justification, he tells us that it is evident that "no man is justified by the law in the sight of GodÖ for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith" (Galatians 3:11-12).

    Paul then explains that Christ took our place under the law because the law cannot make us righteous. In short, He was "made a curse for us" so that we might be justified through faith in Him (Gal. 3:11, 13). Moreover, the words, "The law is not of faith" make it perfectly clear that the works of the law play no part in that faith (Galatians 3:12, Romans 11:6). Furthermore, because it is only through Godís promises that we know that ďChrist died for our sins,Ē or that His blood ďcleanses us from all sin,Ē Godís promises are the anchor and foundation of our faith in Christ!

    Left to ourselves none of us could or would believe, but God, working through His Word, creates faith in our heart. As it is written, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves, even our faith is a gift of God (Romans 10:17, Ephesians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 12:3).

GODíS PROMISE TO ABRAHAM


    Since Paulís emphasis (in Galatians chapter 3) has to do with the fact that we have access to Godís grace through faith in His promise, I want to make it perfectly clear that the faith the Bible is speaking of is faith in Christ, not faith in and of itself. This has to be emphasized because our society tends to read esoteric meanings into the word "faith," and those meanings are generally at odds with what the Bible is talking about. Biblical faith consists of believing that Christ took our sin upon Himself and died in our place, and relying on what He did to get us into heaven. Furthermore, since that is the only faith that brings Godís grace, each promise of Scripture must be understood in a way that constitutes faith in Christ. In fact, Abrahamís faith (in Godís promise) was only counted as righteousness because it was faith in Christ. No other faith will justify us in the sight of God (Galatians 3:6&16, Romans 4:5, Acts 4:12). Moreover, that is exactly what Paul was trying to get across when he pointed out that the "seed" in Godís promise to Abraham was Christ, and that the promise, "In thee shall all nations be blessed," is "gospel" (Galatians 3:8&16).

    I might also point out that Abrahamís willingness to offer up Isaac stemmed from the fact that he believed that his "seed" would die as our sacrifice and rise again from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). Therefore, it was Abrahamís faith that his seed would die for our sins and rise again, that was accounted to him for righteousness. Furthermore, all who are saved through that faith are his spiritual children (Galatians 3:7). Once that is understood, it becomes clear that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in order to reveal his faith, while at the same time letting him know that Isaac was not the seed that was to die and rise again.

    Furthermore, since Godís promise to Abraham was a promise of Godís grace (gospel, Gal. 3:8), the Bible tells us what that ďgraceĒ consisted of when it tells us that Christ died so that we might have ďthe forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7). The Bible also tells us what Christ did for us, and, therefore, what we trust in Him for when it says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree," (Galatians 3:13).
    Moreover, the Bible makes it perfectly clear that the faith by which we receive Godís promises is faith in Christ when it says, "All the promises of God in Him are yea, and in him Amen. // That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe" (2 Corinthians 1:20, Galatians 3:14, 22).

    It is also worthy of note that Paulís quotations of the promise given to Abraham are taken from three different occasions in the life of Abraham. That fact tells us that the same promise was being given on all three occasions, even though only parts of it are recorded each time. Compare Genesis 12:3 with Galatians 3:8, Genesis 15:6 with Galatians 3:6, and Genesis 22:18 with Galatians 3:16.

STANDING ON THE PROMISES


    Since the promises of God are only meant for those who trust in Christ, if we are to receive what is promised, the faith that we place in those promises must be faith in Christ Ė No other faith brings Godís blessing (2 Corinthians 1:20, Romans 5:2, Galatians 3:13, 22, John 5:39). For that reason, each of Godís promises must be understood in a way that constitutes faith in Christ. Moreover, since those promises were intended to be the anchor of our faith in Christ, the meaning that constitutes faith in Christ is the meaning that God intended for us to put on them (John 5:39). Therefore, if we place any meaning on Godís promise, other than the one that constitutes faith in Christ, we will not receive what is promised. That holds true even for John 3:16. For, if our faith in the words, "Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," was faith in anyone other than Christ, we would be trusting in a false Christ (John 3:16, Acts 4:12).

    When Godís promises refer directly to Christ, it is not difficult for us to see that faith in what is promised is faith in Christ. The words, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth," give us one example of such a promise (Romans 10:4). However, it is not always so easy to see the relationship of the promise to faith in Christ. For example: That relationship is not immediately evident in the words, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." Nevertheless, that promise (like all of Godís promises) does relate to Christ, and should be understood in that light (Matthew 5:4). When it is interpreted in that way, it becomes evident that the word "mourn" is a reference to sorrow over sin (and thus to repentance), and the word "comforted" refers to the comfort that comes with Godís assurance of salvation in Christ (Isaiah 40:1). Therefore, the words ďBlessed are they that mournĒ are a promise of Godís grace to those who are sorry for their sins.

    Another promise to consider is found in the words, "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11). Many people read those words without even seeing how they relate to Christ. However, Paul makes it clear that those words do relate to Christ when he tells us that, "A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:16). In other words, the relationship of Psalm 84:11 to our faith in Christ has to do with the fact that if we are "not justified by the works of the law," then walking "uprightly" has nothing to do with the works of the law! Conversely, if we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, then it is only through faith in Christ that we can "walk uprightly." Just as Abrahamís faith "was accounted to him for righteousness," our faith is counted as uprightness (Galatians 3:6). [Read Philippians 3:9.]

    A similar promise is given to us in the words, "The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant" (Psalm 25:14). Without understanding the proper relationship of Godís law to His promises the carnal mind assumes that the fear of God somehow involves works (Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 16:25). However, once we realize that what is promised comes to us by faith, not works, we can see that the "fear" of God is the fear that leads to faith, [i.e. The fear that grips someone who is convicted of his sin (Acts 2:37, 2 Corinthians 7:10)]. And God shows "them His covenant" by enabling them to understand the way of salvation. [When David wrote those words, the way of salvation was "secret" only in the sense that it could not yet be fully revealed in Scripture.]

    The words, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you," provide us another promise (John 16:23). In this case, the relationship of that promise to Christ has to do with the meaning of the words "in my name." To ask something in Christís "name" is to ask believing that God will hear your prayers, not because of any worthiness in you, but because "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son" has cleansed you of all sin (1 John 1:7, Hebrews 10:19). In other words, we ask in Christís name when we ask on the authority of His righteousness, believing that God will hear us because Christ has washed away our sins.

    Even though the words, "whosoever is born of God sinneth not," speak of the new birth, many people fail to recognize them as a promise of Godís grace (1 John 5:18). However, those words are not commanding us to be sinless, but are instead assuring (promising) us that no sin will be imputed to us when we trust in Christ. Just as no sin was imputed to David ("save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite"), no sin will be imputed to us (compare 1 Kings 15:5 with Romans 4:8 and Hebrews 10:26-31). Or, to put it another way, our faith will be counted as sinlessness (Galatians 3:6). [Those who assume that these words are law wind up trying to water them down in order to get around the fact that we do sin, and in so doing fail to rightly divide the Word of Truth (compare 1 John 5:18 with 1 John 1:8).]

    Now let us consider how what I have just said applies to baptism. The words, ďHe that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,Ē convey a clear promise of Godís grace (Mark 16:16). And the words, ďArise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins,Ē make it clear that that promise is a promise of forgiveness in Christ (Acts 22:16). However, what many people fail to understand is that we only have access to what is promised through personal faith in Jesus Christ! Just because God has connected a ceremony with that promise does not change the fact that we have access to what is promised through faith in Christ. The words, ďThat the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe,Ē apply to all of Godís promises, including baptism (Galatians 3:22). Therefore, even though God may use the ceremony of baptism to give us His promise, it is only through personal faith in Jesus Christ that we receive what is promised (Romans 5:2, 2Corinthians 1:20, Galatians 3:14, 22, Ephesians 2:8-9).

    The relationship of Christ to baptism lies in the fact that forgiveness is being offered to all who believe, and Christ is the source of that forgiveness. Moreover, to be baptized ďin the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,Ē is to be baptized believing that there is forgiveness in Christ (Acts 2:38, Luke 3:3, 2 Samuel 12:13, John 1:29, Romans 5:2).

    Like baptism, the Lordís Supper also has a promise connected with it. The words, ďMy bodyÖ is given for youĒ and ďMy bloodÖ is shed for you // for the remission of sins,Ē give all who partake Christís own promise, that His body was given and his blood shed for them for the remission of sins (Luke 22: 19-20, Matthew 26:28). That being the case, everyone who partakes believing that Christís body was ďgivenĒ and His blood ďshedĒ for their sin, has received His atonement. And to receive His atonement is to receive His body and shed blood as the sacrifice for sin. Therefore, while God may use the ceremony to give us the promise, it is only through faith in Christ that we receive what is promised (Galatians 3:22).

    Those who fail to understand the relationship of Godís promises to faith in Christ often assume that what is promised comes to us automatically, regardless of whether we have faith or not. When it comes to baptism, they assume that forgiveness comes to us merely by performing the act. The same is true of the Lordís Supper. Nevertheless, that is not what Paul is teaching (Galatians 3:14, 22). Because the promise that God connected with those ceremonies was only meant for those who trust in Christ, only those who trust in Christ receive what is promised (2 Corinthians 1:20, Hebrews 11:6).

    When we come to Romans 10:13, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved," we find another promise connected with an outward action. And just as some people assume that baptism and the Lordís Supper convey forgiveness without faith, they also assume that calling "upon the name of the Lord" will bring automatic salvation, regardless of whether the person calling upon God has faith or not. However, as I have pointed out before, only those who trust in Christ receive what is promised.

    Several years ago, a number of congregations (about 100) that had been connected with Campus Crusade for Christ broke with the past and wound up merging with the Greek Orthodox Church. At the time one of the reasons that they gave for the change was their disillusionment with the "sinnerís prayer." They had seen many people pray that prayer without ever changing their sinful lifestyle, joining a church, or even coming to church. However, instead of realizing that the problem was a lack of faith, they assumed that the problem was a lack of works, and concluded that they needed to require works in addition to faith.
   
    The problem that they observed stemmed from the fact that they assumed people could be saved simply by praying a prayer. Nevertheless, that is just another form of "sacramentalism." I am quite aware that God does promise to save those who "call upon" Him. He also says, "Baptism doth also now save us." However, it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is promised. And that is just what Paul was trying to tell us when he said, "That the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe" (Galatians 3:22).

    The publican (in the story of the Pharisee and the publican, Luke 18:10-14) is often held up as an example of someone who prayed the "sinners prayer." Yet he only went "down to his house justified" because he had faith (Psalm 13:5, Psalm 25:14, Joshua 24:19). If he had not had faith, he would not have been justified (Romans 3:28). Likewise, those who, like the publican, pray the "sinners prayer," only receive what is promised if they believe that Christ died for their sins. And unbelievers are unlikely to get such faith from a two-minute presentation of the way of salvation.

CONCLUSION


    It is impossible for someone who does not understand the proper relationship of Godís law to His promises to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Without understanding that relationship they tend to assume that works bring Godís favor. As a result, they either give the unrepentant a false assurance of salvation or deny that we can be certain of our salvation. At the same time, they either assume that the ceremony of baptism conveys grace to those without faith, or deny the promise altogether.