The Greek concept of knowledge was that it meant acquiring propositional truth-information gained and stored in the mind. But the Hebrews saw knowledge as having to do with relationship and experience. The Old Testament says that Adam “knew” his wife (Genesis 4:1). To “know” her meant that he had an intimate husband-wife relationship with her.
The apostle Peter in the New Testament wrote in the Greek language, but he had a Hebrew mind-set Thus he wrote,
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)
He was saying that our intimate, personal, “marriage” relationship with Christ provides us with everything we need to live a godly life. So how do we enhance our marriage to Christ? How do we deepen our experience of him? In the next verse Peter wrote that God gave us
his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
As we appropriate God’s promises by faith, we enrich our communication with Christ, our trust and adoration of him, and our obedience to him. This is a lifetime process. The better we get to know him, seeing him make and keep promises, the greater confidence we will have in his trustworthiness as the years go by. A beautiful marriage is a work of art that takes a lifetime to complete, and so does a beautiful Christian life.
A promise from God is a fact
Another important passage which speaks of God’s promises is 2 Corinthians 1:20.
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
God doesn’t make any yes-and-no promises. All of his promises are positive in outlook, and in Christ they are “So be it” and “Count it done.” When God promises to do something, he will do it.
All this is for the glory of God. It is not so that any of us can be known as great promise-claimers. It is for God’s glory, but it is “by us.” You and I are the means, the vehicle, the channel by which God glorifies himself as we experience, appropriate, and claim the promises of God. We should claim these promises for ourselves, for our families, and for others to whom we minister.
There are two kinds of promises in the Bible: general promises, which apply to all Christians at all times under all circumstances; and specific promises which apply only in certain situations.
Examples of general promises are 1 John 5:11-12 (“God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son”) and John 3:16 (“Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life”). If you heard the gospel of Christ and believed it, you have received eternal life. This promise is always true. Whenever we are tempted to doubt it, we can go back to God’s word and ask, “What does God say?”
Another general promise is 1 John 1:9, which is the Christian’s bar of soap: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” If you’re a Christian, there will never be a time in your life when 1 John 1:9 isn’t true for you, and available when you need it. The Holy Spirit wants us to confess the sins he points out to us. When we are sensitive and responsive—confessing, and making restitution if necessary—then God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The slate is clean, and our channel of communication with the Father is wide open and perfect. Our intimacy with him grows.
Incidentally, the difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the accusation of Satan is threefold. When the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, the conviction is specific, gentle, and hopeful. But the accusation of Satan is vague, harsh, and discouraging. If you’re struggling with guilt recognizing this difference can help you determine whether it is the Holy Spirit’s work or the devil’s.
Another general promise is Galatians 5:22-23.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Have you ever met a Christian whose life did not manifest all these qualities? Probably you have-perhaps while looking in the mirror this morning. But why do we not experience all of them? Aren’t they the fruit of the Spirit promised by God? Yes, but we may not experience these fruits because we aren’t claiming this passage in prayer, and allowing the Holy Spirit to control us.
Claiming God’s promises is the heart of our prayer life. We simply take back to God his promises of what he said he would do. We do not try to twist his arm and persuade him to do something he’s not inclined to do. We don’t say, “Well, you probably don’t want to do this for me, but I would like to ask you anyway.” No, God has said he will do it. It brings joy to the Father’s heart when his children come to him and say, “Please fulfill this promise in my experience today.”
Another general promise is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which tells us we have a way of escape from temptation. We are all tempted, and when temptation comes we should ask, “Father, show me now the way of escape in this particular situation.”
The more specific we are with God in the way we claim his promises, the more specific he will be with us. To pray, “Lord, bless so-and-so” may be only a salve for our conscience. That’s all. Dawson Trotman used to mention the man whose prayer life consisted of glancing up at the framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer on the wall each night before turning out the light, and saying, “Those are my sentiments”-click. No real substance. No real depth. Therefore, no deepening marriage relationship with Christ.
The Bible contains an incredible wealth of promises from God which he wants us to appropriate and spend. So many Christians go through life “nickel-and-diming it.” They’ve got millions in the bank, but they won’t write a check. They’re afraid God will go bankrupt. They would never admit that, but it is the way they live.
God frequently will give guidance and direction to individual
Christians in particular areas of life in a way that doesn’t apply to the entire body of Christ or to all the Christians in a given community.
One illustration of this is found in Acts 13:47. The apostle Paul had preached the gospel to the Jews, but they had rejected his message. Therefore, he said, he would turn to the Gentiles.
For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
The passage Paul quoted was a messianic promise from Isaiah 49. This promise had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But now God led Paul in a new direction in his ministry through a secondary use of the promise. Every teaching of Scripture has one basic interpretation, but it can have several applications-and here is a case in point. The promise in Isaiah had one interpretation—Jesus Christ. It had one application in the coming of Christ, but it also had a secondary application (not an interpretation) in offering guidance for Paul as he shifted from ministering primarily to Jews to ministering to Gentiles. This verse didn’t apply in this way to the entire body of Christ, but it did to Paul and his team.
When we come to a promise of this kind, there are several guidelines to have in mind to keep us from drifting off into error, imbalance, heresy, or some other harmful and subjective application.
First of all, many promises are conditioned upon our obedience to God.
Second, the Holy Spirit is sovereign and can say what he will to whom he Pleases; but God will never lead you through one verse of Scripture to do something he clearly prohibits somewhere else in the Scriptures. We must be careful not to put a wrench on a passage in such a way that we say, “God led me to do this” about something God doesn’t allow. Keep in mind the total witness of the Scriptures whenever you use a particular promise as the basis for making a decision.
Third, do not decide when and how a promise should be fulfilled. Don’t prejudge God, or try to paint him into a comer. Remember whose servant is whom. God is not my servant; I am his. He gives me the privilege of prayer and of claiming promises, but in doing that he doesn’t become my servant. God is not my errand boy. I am his servant, and his errand boy.
God wants us to know that he is loving, kind, wise, and gracious. He wants us to believe he is like this whether or not he answers our prayers the way we had in mind.
The fourth guideline I would suggest is that you present your need to God in prayer, and let God pick out the promise. Don’t jump the gun. Don’t be anxious. Don’t turn the Bible into a magic book or a fetish-putting it out in the breeze and letting the pages flip to a certain place. Simply continue having your quiet time, reading and studying the Bible, and going to church, and let your heart go out to the Lord concerning your need. At some point in time-it may be a day or a week or a month or several months later-the Holy Spirit will impress you as you’re moving through God’s word, and he’ll say, “This is for you.” You have been presenting your need to him, and suddenly the Spirit of God witnesses to your heart and says, “Claim this promise in prayer.” God has spoken to you.
Remember finally that God makes and keeps promises for his glory-“that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God” (1 Kings 8:60).