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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Standing on the Promises - Correctly

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

So wrote Russell Kelso Carter, reminding us of the great faith with which we can approach God’s Word and God’s promises. It’s a wonderful reminder, and I enjoy the song (in spite of some who feel every singing of this song demands the introduction: “And we’ll ask you to stand and sing, because you can’t be standing on the promises while sitting on the premises.” Ha, ha, laugh, laugh)

It’s good for us to remember the faith with which we can stand on those faithful promises of God. And yet, we also need to be reminded to approach those promises in a faithful, biblical way. Which is why I was so thankful to recently read this article by Sinclair Ferguson posted at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals site. Originally published years ago, the message is a great one. I’ve copied it below (hope that’s not some sort of violation somewhere), but if you prefer you can follow the link here. (But come back, I’ve got just a brief closing comment)

Boldly and Expectantly Leaning on the Promises

One of the very first “Christian” possessions I ever had, apart from a Bible, was a “Promise Box”—a box containing hundreds of biblical promises printed on small cards, one for each day of the year. I cannot now remember whether it was a gift or a personal purchase. Perhaps my forgetfulness is a personal convenience. It might be something of an embarrassment today to admit it to my friends if I still used a promise box. After all, we do not wrest Scripture texts out of their context; nor do we use the Bible as the ancients used the famous sortes virgiliance—randomly finding a line from Virgil to guide them on their daily path. To live in this way smacks of the Chinese fortune cookie approach to the Christian life.

My promise box went the way of all flesh. God’s promises are not fortune cookies. We do not use them in order to get a spiritual “fix” for the day. Serious progress in the Christian life requires the thoughtful understanding of the biblical message as a whole, understood in this context and applied appropriately to our own context. We are, after all, learning to think God’s thoughts after him—about himself, about the world, about others, about ourselves. God’s Word is not our comfort blanket. It is the sword of the Spirit; indeed it is sharper than any two- edged sword.

All this is true. But the other day, when I remembered my long-lost promise box, I found myself asking the question: Did I throw out the baby with the bath water? Do I still have a firm grasp on the promises the Lord has given me, and am I living on that basis day by day? What promises have I seen him fulfilling for me recently? What promises am I expecting him to keep in my life?

There are two places in the New Testament where right living is seen as the direct consequence of trusting God’s promises. Writes Paul to the Corinthians: “Since we have these promises . . . let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit . . .” (2 Cor. 7:10). The “promises” to which he refers are God’s covenant with his people that he will 1) be with them, 2) receive those who “touch no unclean thing,” and 3) be a Father to them (2 Cor. 6:16-18). Paul’s reasoning is: If this is what God promises to be to his holy people, let us make every effort to be such holy people. If these are the riches that await me, let me walk on that path of holiness that leads to them. Here holiness is a direct result of living in the light of the divine promises.

Peter writes in a similar vein: “[God] has given 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” (2 Pet. 1:4). Here, the promises of God in general are in view. What is their fruit? Once again it is holiness, or right living.

The question this raises is: What promises of God have been etched upon my heart? What am I expectantly waiting for the Father of lights who does not change like shifting shadows, to give to me (James 1:16)? Am I really living as his covenant child, with the words, “Father, you promised” forming on my lips, as I live in expectation of him keeping his Word?
How am I to live my life in the light of God’s promises?

First of all, I must know what God’s promises are. The old daily Bible study question was not far off the mark when it asked: “Is there a promise here for me today?” We have outgrown the “promise box mentally,” but we can never outgrow the promises themselves. Scripture is full of them. Is there one in the passage of Scripture I read today? (Did I even remember to read a passage of Scripture today?)

Second, I must feed my mind on the promises of God. As a child I was often amazed by the ability of my grandparents’ generation to suck a single peppermint for half an hour, while mine was crunched to pieces within minutes!

We need to learn to do the same with God’s promises, metaphorically placing them “under our tongue,” allowing them to release their pleasurable blessings over the whole day. We need to meditate on them if we are to find them redirecting our thinking and filling us with an expectation that the Lord will keep his Word. Only then will we be able to say “How sweet are your promises to my taste” (Ps. 119:103).

Thirdly, I must let God’s promises govern my life-style. Has he promised never to leave me? Then I will commune with him regularly, as an expression of my faith that he is near. I will allow the knowledge of his presence to give me poise in times of crisis and pressure. I will live in such a way that I will not be ashamed that he is near.

It is not surprising that Peter speaks about “great and precious promises.” He himself had clung fiercely to Christ’s promise when everything within him and around him seemed to be caving in. Jesus has said: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back . . .” (Lk. 22:32). His hope in Christ’s implicit promise of his restoration was the “very reason” he had held on. May God’s promises similarly renew your life.

What a wonderful set of reminders, to boldly stand on God’s promises, but to do so in a faithful and biblical way. I pray that we would grasp this concept firmly, and that our hearts would cry out confidently to God in the way John Newton expresses in this hymn on pleading the promises.

Approach, my soul, the mercy-seat, Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet, For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea, With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burden’d souls to Thee, And such, O Lord, am I.

Bow’d down beneath a load of sin, By Satan sorely press’d:
By war without, and fears within, I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my shield and hiding-place! That, shelter’d near Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face, And tell him Thou has died.

Oh wondrous love! To bleed and die, To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I, Might plead Thy gracious name.

“Poor tempest-tossed soul, be still, My promised grace receive:”
‘Tis Jesus speaks – I must, I will, I can, I do believe.

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