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Can God’s Promises Distract Us From God?

A powerful question

I was leading a home group discussion on how faith must focus on God’s promises.

And a young woman asked — “Isn’t there a danger of focusing on promises more than God?  Couldn’t promises become an idol?”

And it struck me — she’s right.

There is a danger

For example, God promises to supply our financial needs (Phil 4:19).  So couldn’t someone focus on this promise just because they need money — while having no desire for God?

And God promises to deliver us from trouble (Psa 50:15).  So could I trust this promise not because I love God — but because I love being delivered from trouble?

The danger is real.  And deadly.

So how can we avoid this danger?

Help from Thomas Watson

Here’s what Thomas Watson, a 17th century English pastor, wrote about faith —

Faith believes the promise; but that which faith rests upon in the promise is the person of Christ … The promise is but the cabinet, Christ is the jewel in it which faith embraces; the promise is but the dish, Christ is the food in it which faith feeds on.  (A Body of Divinity, p.216)

In other words, when we rightly understand God’s promises, we will see that each of them points to Christ as our all-satisfying Treasure.

Interesting idea, but —

Is that taught in God’s Word?

I think it is.  One example is Matthew 6:33 —

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Here Jesus does promise food and clothing (“all these things”) — but that’s not what we seek first.

What we seek first is God’s kingdom (the all-satisfying presence of the King) and righteousness (a life that glorifies Him).

So this promise confirms Thomas Watson’s point.  The promise doesn’t distract us from Christ, it focuses our hearts on Christ.

It promises that I will have all the food and clothing I need in order to enjoy and obey Christ the most.

Thinking deeply about the promises

It’s also helpful to look at individual promises and ask — what is God actually promising to do?

For example, God promises to give wisdom whenever we ask Him (James 1:5).

So — is God promising the wisdom that will bring us success, ease, and prosperity?

That’s not what we see in the rest of Scripture.

For example, God gave Stephen wisdom to preach in such a way that the Jerusalem council killed him.

But this was gain for Stephen — because as he died, he saw the glory of God (Acts 7:55).

So — what kind of wisdom does God promise?

He promises to give me the wisdom that will bring me the greatest satisfaction in Christ.

Rightly understood, that promise can’t become an idol — because it points me to Christ as my Treasure.

The promise of deliverance

God also promises to deliver us from every day of trouble (Psalm 50:15).

Does this mean God will always immediately remove every trial?

That’s not what we see in God’s Word.

For example, God did not remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh.

And yet God delivered Paul — by using this thorn to bring Paul more of Christ’s grace (2Cor 12:9).

So — what kind of deliverance does God promise?

He promises to deliver me in such a way that I receive the greatest joy in Christ.

So this promise also destroys idols — because it points us to Christ our Treasure.

Summarizing God’s promises

Here’s my summary of God’s promises —

God promises to do everything necessary to give us the infinite joy of beholding His glory in Christ.

Some promises focus on the joy of beholding His glory — like Psa 16:11; John 6:35; 1Pe 1:13.

Other promises focus on what God does to bring us the joy of His glory —

  • He forgives us (1John 1:9)
  • He provides finances (Matthew 6:33)
  • He brings us trials (2Cor 4:17)
  • He delivers us from trials (Phil 2:27)
  • He strengthens us (Phil 4:13)
  • He comforts us (2Cor 1:3-4)
  • He enables us to obey (Rom 6:17)
  • He helps us (Psa 46:1)
  • He raises us from the dead (1Cor 15:52)
  • He gives us eternal life (John 3:16)

So every promise — explicitly or implicitly — points us to Jesus Christ as our Prize.

The diamond ring

Every promise is like a diamond ring in a beautiful box.

The diamond ring is Jesus Christ — the joy of beholding Him.

The box is the promise of forgiveness, wisdom, money, deliverance, strength, resurrection, eternal life.

But the purpose of the box is to point us to the ring.

So — focus on the ring.

Comments?  Feedback?  Pushback?

I’d love to hear — leave a reply below.  Thanks!

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(Picture from everystockphoto by Alfredo-9.)

Category: God's Promises

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9 Responses

  1. Paul Walton says:

    Hey Steve,

    I was reading an article that asked the question; could a true born-again believer ever starve to death? I have to admit I was stumped as how to answer, on one hand God has promised to meet our needs (food), and on the other hand, starvation is a real possibility for believers in third world countries. I was wondering what are your thoughts about this question, and how would you answer it?

    Myself I’m leaning towards a yes, because even in death God will give us the grace to endure to the end, even if it is starving unto death. I have a little trouble with a blanket statement that says God will meet all our needs, (food, shelter) because in some third world countries, true believers may not experience these blessings.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      I agree, Paul. In Rom 8:35 Paul says that even nakedness and famine won’t be able to separate us from God’s love — which implies that believers can face both nakedness and famine.

      I think it’s biblical to say that God will supply all the food, clothes, and money we need in order to experience the greatest joy in Him.

      That’s the greatest good news — because our greatest longing is more joy in Him.

      Onward, brother!

  2. Katherine F. says:

    When I first saw the ring-in-the-box image, I was thinking you were going to go with NOT focusing on the ring (tangible), but focusing on the relationship (intangible) the ring is a sign of… another way to look at it!

  3. Jason says:

    Really thankful for the fresh gospel insight. Losing the main thing (Christ) for a good thing (promises) is so easy to do! May God grant us mercy to see and savor Christ through his promises.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for your encouraging words and for the powerful summary, Jason. And you are right — it IS so easy to lose the main thing (Christ) for a good thing (promises).

      Onward!

  4. Douglas Grimm says:

    I am also teaching about Gods promises and the treasures that we can attain, but as you rightly point out, the treasure is THE GLORY OF GOD IN CHRIST as John Piper would say. Christ is the treasure whether through the gift of wisdom, healing, stuff, or joy it all must point to Him. That’s the problem w the “health and wealth” (so called gospel). In other words, to focus on the promise as the treasure, is sin! I love your comparison of the cabinet as the promise and the treasure as what’s inside.

    Blessings

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Douglas. I agree entirely.

      And I am thrilled that you are preaching Christ as the Treasure — so desperately needed!

      May the Father empower you to teach with a heart set on fire with love for His Holy Son —

      Steve

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