Have you ever been let down? Have you ever had someone promise to do something, only for them to fail to deliver on their promise?
You could have bought something that needed to be delivered and made careful arrangements to be in on the day and time agreed. But when the day came, and the time passed, the item wasn’t delivered. And when you rang up to find out what had happened, you were told that item hadn’t even left the store, and no one had bothered to let you know.
You could have called a serviceman, someone who was supposed to come and fix your washing machine. You’d changed your schedule so that you could be in, but again they didn’t turn up. And when you inquired to what went wrong, you were told that they had another job on, and no one had bothered to let you know either.
People making promises and failing to deliver, can be very hurtful. It can be very frustrating, as well as being a waste of time. And it can be even worse when it’s a member of your own family or a very close friend.
Is it any wonder, then, that when it comes to promises, there is a tendency to become sceptical? With so many disappointments, where people say one thing and then do another—and demonstrate they can’t be relied upon—it’s not surprising when people don’t hold promises in store.
It’s also not surprising when people try to become more self-reliant. After all, aren’t those words “It would be easier to do it ourselves” commonly heard. And Do-It-Yourself is often used a symbol of a world where there is growing reluctance to be dependent upon anybody else.
Having said that, if I were to tell you a story of a seventy-five-year-old man, whose wife was about ten years younger, and he was told to leave his country (Genesis 12:1-2) and was promised to be given a land far away, what would you think?
If I were to tell you that part of that promise was that that he would become the father of a great nation, what would you say?
And if I were to tell you that twenty-four years later, that the wife now ninety years of age (Genesis 15:4)—and had not been able to bear any children and considered herself too old to have children—was reminded of that promise, how would you respond?
Well, the woman, Sarah, just laughed (Genesis 18:13).
3. People of Promise
And I can understand why. Because many of us have reason to be very sceptical about promises. And it is often easier to rely on our own selves and our own abilities, rather than on the promises of someone else.
We have an air of scepticism regarding the keeping of promises. And as the expression goes: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And yet God’s people are supposed to be different.
And by that, I don’t mean that we should be taken in with all the promises that come our way. We shouldn’t be that naïve. But we are supposed to be a people of promise, as Paul explained in his letter to the church in Rome.
B. A PEOPLE OF PROMISE
1. The Promise of God (13-18)
Now part of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to remind the Romans believers that they had two options in life: They could either choose to do things their own way or they could depend upon the promises of God.
In other words, they could stick with trying to obey God’s laws as best they could, using their own strength and abilities to see them through. But with the risk that if they made even one mistake in life, they wouldn’t make it, they wouldn’t match up to God’s rules, and therefore they wouldn’t be good enough.
Or they could live by faith, believing that God’s promises were true, that God knew their predicament—their inability to measure up on their own—and had come up with an alternative that didn’t require them to meet his impossible standards. But it was an alternative steeped in promise and needed to be accepted as a free gift from God.
And if they took the second option, that didn’t mean they could throw away the rules as being irrelevant. Because that wasn’t true, they were still important. But what this second option did do was to put God’s rules into perspective.
Because far from being rules that could be kept in order for people to earn their own salvation, the rules were there to show the gulf—the exceedingly large gap—between God’s standards and theirs. And as a consequence, what those rules did was to point to the need for dependence upon God for an alternative solution—to be dependent upon a promise, rather than their own abilities to meet God’s standards.
2. The Example of Abraham (19-22)
What we find then, from Paul, is that the Bible’s teaching goes against the grain of what we often experience. Because from our worldly experiences we have been taught not to trust in promises. And that isn’t just a modern-day phenomenon, it would have been equally true of the experiences of Paul’s readers too.
Which is why Paul, reminded his readers of an instance where God’s promises were kept, despite a seemingly impossible situation. Indeed, he used God’s promises to Abraham to remind his audience that even though other people could not always be relied upon, God’s promises could—one hundred percent.
Now we’ve already discovered that Abraham at the age of seventy-five had been promised a male heir. And at the age of ninety-nine his heir had still not arrived. We’ve also discovered that Sarah’s response to the promise, at aged ninety, was that she laughed at the whole idea. Furthermore, we also know from the original story that when she was about seventy-five years of age, she’d given up hope, and in order for the family line to continue, she had given Abraham her servant Hagar, so that he could have a son and heir.
And yet, Paul said, that despite his age, Abraham even at age ninety-nine never gave up. He believed God’s promise to be true. And Paul said, “Yet he did not waver in unbelief regarding the promise of God but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God. He was completely convinced that what God had promised he was able to do.” (Romans 4:20)
3. The Universal Principle Applied (23-25)
For Paul, then, the example of Abraham was very important. Because despite the fact that people promise things they don’t deliver, and despite the seemingly impossible situation, Abraham has shown the way when it comes to the promises of God. Indeed, he has demonstrated the importance of being a man of promise, not wavering in his belief that God would deliver what he promised.
And in the same way that Abraham responded to the promises of God, so Paul expected the members of the church at Rome to respond to the promises of God. And the promise that the people of the church in Rome could rely on, Paul stated, was that come judgement day they could trust in God to see them through.
Yes, on judgement day they would all have to face judgement. But if they held on to the promises of God—promises based on the fact that he sent his Son Jesus as a substitute, to take the punishment we deserve, because we don’t measure up—if they could hold on to that promise then they would inherit eternal life.
And the implication of that is that if they were not willing to be people of faith—and if they wanted to join with Sarah in laughing at the whole suggestion, preferring to go their own way—then they would be judged on their own merits. And as a consequence, would be found to be wanting.
It’s a fairly simple message, and Paul probably couldn’t have put it much plainer. The reality is that God did give Abraham a son, Isaac, through Sarah. And so God is the one person who can be relied upon to keep his promises, even when other people fail.
As a consequence, God’s promises have some very important implications, that are worth noting. Because the promises of God do not just relate to Paul and the church in Rome, they are very much relevant for us today too.
1. What God Has Promised
And the first implication is . . . the magnitude of what has been promised.
Because God isn’t just offering us a comfortable home, good friends, good health, or a steady income. No! None of those things come even remotely close to what God is offering. What God has promised is nothing more that immortality. But an immortality with a difference. A commitment that we will live in heaven with him throughout eternity. In other words, no more corruption, no more sickness, no more pain, no more world gone crazy. But peace, a meaningful existence, the glory of everything heavenly, and being in the continual presence of our creator and redeemer. In other words, nothing less than the gift of eternal life—a life we can’t even begin to imagine.
2. God’s Ability and Willingness to Deliver
The second implication is . . . that God doesn’t make empty promises.
Others around us may say one thing and then do another, but not God. God has the ability not only to promise great things but to deliver on his promises. And the experiences of God’s people, and Abraham in particular, have shown that he can be relied upon time after time after time. Indeed, unlike our experiences in this world, with God we can be certain that he will not fail. For even a promise of this magnitude is not impossible with God. For as Mark quotes Jesus: “With man, it is impossible, With God anything is possible.” (Mark 10:27). And many of God’s people can personally say “Amen” to that.
3. God’s Timing
The third implication, however, is a warning about timing. For when you’re talking about God’s promises, the one thing you have to be clear about is that God does things in his own time not necessarily ours. And as a consequence, we have to stick with the promises of God.
In the case of Abraham, he was seventy-five when God promised that he would have a son. And when he had reached eighty-five, Sarah had given up waiting and had given him Hagar to produce an heir. Indeed, it was only when Abraham was ninety-nine (and Sarah ninety) that Sarah became pregnant, and the promised son, Isaac, was born.
God did what he said he would do, but in his own time and in his own way. He did not necessarily conform to the expectations of either Sarah or Abraham. Consequently, even today, we can expect that any promises that God has given, will also be done in his timing, not necessarily when we expect or hope.
4. Our Need to Believe
And the fourth implication, and most importantly for us . . . is the need to hold on to the promises of God.
Now God’s rules should instil in our hearts the idea that trying to keep them won’t get us to heaven. For they are there to show the gulf between God’s standards and ours. As a consequence God doesn’t expect us to them. He knows we can’t. But he does expect us to try. As a consequence, we need to take seriously the promises of God. Because if we don’t, then come judgement day we’ll be on our own, and even one mistake will disqualify us from sharing in eternity with him.
Holding on to the promises of God, being a people of promise, then, can leave us in a bit of quandary. After all, it’s not always popular to have some sort of “religious” affiliation, and we will face pressures from others to conform. We will face pressures not to pursue the promises of God.
But what we have to consider is what is at stake. After all, some people are happy to play not only with their own lives but with other people’s too. And as far as I’m concerned, my life is not theirs to play with. They aren’t God, and they cannot offer me either a relationship with my creator or eternal life. Only God can do that. And that is why being a person of promise is so important to me.
In the world today there are many people who make us promises. And unfortunately on many occasions, those promises are not met and we are faced with disappointment. As a consequence, it can seem easier not to rely on others, but to do everything yourself.
But in regard to our spiritual welfare, it’s not that simple. Indeed, as we have discovered, it has to be the other way around. And it has to be like that, because there’s one thing we can’t do ourselves—and that is to live good enough lives to get into heaven based on our own merit.
But God has given us a promise—a promise that will ensure our eternal wellbeing. It is a promise that doesn’t rely on keeping of his laws—because we can’t. But it is a promise that is based on the fact that Jesus substituted himself for us on the cross.
So today, are we a people of promise? Do we rely on God for our eternal welfare? Or are we convinced we can do the impossible and get to heaven based on our own merit? The choice is up to us.
Posted: 15th February 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis