Is the world safe?

The Bible is peppered with God’s promises. They are the certainties we need to know as we navigate our way through all that happens in this world.

Politicians know they must promise something to have us vote for them. But they can’t ensure that what they promise will happen. Only God can do that!

Here’s some of the first promises God makes (See Genesis 3:15; 8:20—9:17).

The first is announced to Adam and Eve in Eden. They have asserted their independence from God and want to determine what is right and wrong for themselves. Because of this, as God had told them, they will die. 

And since then, we all die. And we must deal with many threats and uncertainties along the way. Death, and the fear of it, lingers closely. 

But immediately, God makes this promise. Adam and Eve will have a child who will undo the mischief caused by Satan’s deadly temptation (Genesis 3:15). It will come at a cost to the promised child, but shows, immediately, that God’s enemy will never have the last word.

We can think this is just a quaint story, or we can see it he one chance we have to live a full life. 

The story that follows in the book of Genesis bears this out (chapters 3—5). The people who believe God’s promise find some poise and certainty, and generosity in life. Those who won’t believe this promise feel threatened, become angry, grasping and even cruel.

The child God has promised will be no less than his own Son—Jesus Christ. And the rest of the Bible is the story of this unfolding—as we shall see. But, already, God’s promise changes how people live.

Then, there’s another great promise.

By the time of Noah, the earth has become so violent that God promises to destroy it. Except for Noah and his family. God will gracious to him (Genesis 6:8). He must build what amounts to a floating zoo to house his family and many animals. 

The flood that then comes is so comprehensive that only those floating in the ark survive. God is starting again with a new couple. The story is quite long (Genesis 6—9), but, at the end of it, Noah says thankyou with a sacrificial offering. 

And God makes a promise. ‘I will never again strike down every creature as I have done’ (Genesis 8:21-22). And the next line is very important—seasons and harvests will continue as long as the earth remains.

This is a promise to all of us—all of Noah’s descendants. God is establishing a relationship or covenant with the human race. He will never again reduce the world to a single family with a flood like the one they have just had. This is what we are to remember when we see a rainbow in the sky. Seasons and harvests will continue.

Think of the difference it makes if you have a promise that the Creator will see to it that harvests will continue.

But most interesting is the reason why this is so. ‘The intention of men’s hearts is evil from his youth’. This is the same reason God has for flooding the earth (Genesis 6:5). Nothing has really changed. But God’s relationship to what he has made is a relationship of grace. We are not going to get what we deserve. We’ll get what he has promised.

If this is what we believe, it makes a huge difference! Without it, we become threatened, anxious, angry, grasping, and even cruel. But believing God’s promise can make us trusting, settled, and even generous.

As we think about people around us, we can tell them what Paul says. ‘We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. … He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy’ (Acts 14:15-16).

Right now, we are facing a massive food shortage around the world. But, in fact, the world is producing more food than ever before. We don’t do very well distributing it evenly. But think of the difference it will make if we believe that God has promised never to destroy the means of production.

God has promised this, not because we deserve it. We never will. He’s promised it because he is kind. And not for any other reason.But there’s still the promise of a child to come. And this is where the next promises will take us.

Who can we trust?

Everything we do in life needs some confidence that it might work out well. And God has not left us in the dark about this. From the beginning, he has surrounded us with promises. 

For example, a Psalm tell us that ‘the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity’ (Psalm 37:11). Jesus reflects this in his Sermon on the mount, saying that the meek are blessed because they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). 

Really? The world looks like it belongs to those who take it by storm. So how can this promise, and many others, settle our hearts to trust in God and in Jesus whom he has sent?

From the beginning, humanity decided it wouldn’t trust God. And ever since then, that’s been our problem. We’d rather be the ones who are trustworthy. God must painstakingly demonstrate that he is the only one who can guarantee our future (Isaiah 48:3-8). And this is what he does.

The numerous promises made by prophets, or by Jesus and his apostles belong in a structure of promises—covenants of promise (Ephesians 2:12). If we know what these are, it helps us understand all the others. 

The first of these is a promise made to Abraham. His whole story is in Genesis (chapters 12—25), but here is how Paul describes him coming to trust in God’s word (Romans 4:13-23). 

First, God tells Abraham that he will inherit the world (v. 13). 

This means he will have a family, his own country and become a nation. That’s just a start. He will become the father of nations (v. 17). God will bless him so he can be a blessing in the whole earth (Genesis 12:1-3).

Abraham’s family has come through a time when people gathered together to secure their own future—by building a massive tower—at Babel (Genesis 11). It all comes to nothing because God confuses their languages.

God is showing Abraham, and us, a better way. Paul says God’s promise is for all of us who don’t trust in ourselves but in his goodness (v. 16). (What he’s doing in this letter is comparing Abraham with people who are trying to justify themselves by being good law-keepers.) 

Paul says we are added to Abraham’s family and share the family inheritance. Abraham will ‘inherit the world’ (v. 13), and so shall we.

This might sound a long way from what we are interested in, but think about the promise Jesus makes to us all: the meek will inherit the earth. We all need to know that God will provide for us and give us our place in life. Our future is important—and it matters to him.

The disciples of Jesus give us an interesting example of this (Matthew 19:27-30).

We may be thinking of inheritance as property or wealth, but God is thinking of us being a blessing in it—not being concerned with ourselves but with those we can serve. This is the way Jesus Christ will inherit the earth, and it’s the same for us. 

We don’t have to make ourselves significant, important, rich and powerful. God is promising, not just to keep the world functioning (the promise to Noah) but to make us significant in his kingdom (Matthew 25:34)—to bless us and make us a blessing.

Second, here’s how God evokes trust.

Simply, God speaks to Abraham (Genesis 12:1). We don’t know what this looks like but it gets Abraham going. The God of glory has come to him (Acts 7:2). 

It’s the same now. When we hear the gospel preached, God’s word comes to us. The God of glory has appeared in the person of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6) and his glory has been revealed in what he has done. We have more to go on than Abraham did.

Faith comes by hearing this word of Christ (Romans 10:17). We don’t know how this happens, but it’s how God brings us to trust him.

Abraham doesn’t sit easily with this. He doesn’t have a son, let alone a family or a nation. And this continues for some time. What God is promising is impossible. It’s not easy trusting what we can’t see.

Our natural habit is to want immediate gratification. But trusting God involves waiting. We need to stop pumping up our own importance and see that God is ‘waiting to be gracious’ to us (Isaiah 30:18). There’s no other way to know that God is good.

God persists with Abraham. And, he grows strong in faith (vv. 18-19).

Third, two miracles now happen.

Abraham confesses that God is good and true and reliable (v. 20). This is a reversal of all that went wrong in Eden. Abraham doesn’t need to make himself great. He’s found that God is the one with all the glory—he’s good, and he’s trustworthy.

This is what happens to every Christian. We can see that the one who made the world knows how to look after it. We know he is being kind to his creatures and that he’s making a world community that reflects his kindness. We know God has the power to do what he promises (v. 21).

The second miracle is that God calls a sinner righteous (v. 22-25). We’d sought to be the ones who were right and good—and made a thorough mess of it. Now, when we stop seeking to create our own righteousness, God gives it to us. 

We have more to go on than Abraham ever did. We’ve seen the God of glory in the face of Christ because he gave up his Son to death for our sins. 

We’ve also seen him being raised from the dead, not just to prove that he was in the right all along, but to reckon this justification to all of us who trust him. Being called ‘right’ by God changes everything.

We can now hear God’s promises clearly. We will inherit the earth. We will inherit the world over which God reigns—his kingdom (Matthew 25:34). We will have eternal life (Matthew 19:29). And if this is the way we are living, we will have his promise that he can look after all our needs and take us through our troubles as well (Matthew 6:31-34). Life is good!

Why Jesus Christ?

God starts making promises after we become sinners. He gives us an opportunity to start trusting him again—to discover that he is worthy of our love. So, it’s not surprising that every promise he makes (in the Old Testament) is based on what Jesus will do, or (in the New Testament), has done among us. 

The Bible has many promises that God will be with us or help us (Psalm 37 and 91:14-16 are some well-known examples). We may be comforted by them. But then, if we imagine that these promises will be fulfilled because we are nice people or because we feel good when we read them, we are deceived. We need what Christ does to receive what is promised.

Jesus says ‘Yes’ on our behalf to everything God promises (2 Corinthians 1:20). We are slow to believe and reticent to trust. Not Jesus! He wants God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

For example, he has power to lay his life down and take it up again because his Father has commanded it—or we could say, promised it (John 10:18). That’s amazing certainty to have in a world that’s full of danger.

It’s Christ’s ‘Yes!’ that enables us to say ‘Amen!’  We learn from him that God means what he says, wants do us good and can bring about what he has promised.

Notice how confident Paul is when he says this. Because God’s promises are being fulfilled in Christ, he can be definite in making promises to other people. The reliability we need to make a good future comes from what Christ does.

This is why, when Jesus is born, that there is so much joy (Luke 2:8-14). A promise made to King David—that he would have a great Son—has come. All the things God will do to save our broken world and damaged lives are now going to happen (Luke 1:67-79).

What God promises David is central to all the promises God makes. A descendant of his will reign forever (2 Samuel 7:12-19).

Finally, someone will come who can deal with this world, and with us—given our capacity for deceit and distrust. He will be greater than David—his ‘lord’ in fact (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44-46). He will sit beside God until all opposition is overcome. 

He will be a priest as well as a king. That’s because we need more than a leader to solve problems. We need someone to bring us to God.

As Israel’s history becomes worse and worse, God’s promises about his King get better and better. This son will be God’s Son. And the idea that any power could frustrate his purpose is laughable (Psalm 2).

Later generations are told that he will be called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6). Through him, the whole earth will be given peace, and will know God (Isaiah 11:1-9).

When Jesus comes, promises made about David’s Son are quoted to show that he is the one promised. Everyone needs to decide if Jesus is this Christ or Messiah—like Peter (Matthew 16:15-16), or Jewish leaders (Matthew 26:63-64) or the people at Pentecost.

This is what Peter talks about after Jesus ascends and sends his Holy Spirit. God’s people have killed their anointed Leader and King. But God has raised him up. They need his forgiveness—urgently (Acts 2:36-38). 

This is why it’s so important to hear God’s promises brought to us in Jesus’ name. He’s taken account of our preference to trust ourselves, our ungratefulness and resentment. And, he comes to us, raised from the dead, with the offer of new life.

This promise is not only being made to Peter’s audience. It’s being made to us—as many as God calls (Acts 2:39; Romans 15:8). Our sins too can be forgiven. We too can be reconciled to the God we have offended. And we can hear all the promises Christ came to fulfil and be persuaded that God really means to do us good. 

We can read Psalm 37:4: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart’. We can hear the same thing from Jesus: ‘If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you’ (John 15:7). 

Preaching about Jesus as God’s promised Saviour starts with forgiveness through Christ’s death, and with the renewal of hope through his resurrection (Acts 13:23, 32, 38; 26:6). By raising Jesus from the dead, the promise made to us is not, ‘You will die’, but ‘You will live!’ 

Our life is now full of hope. We can be what we really are because of ‘the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 1:1). Instead of being subject to the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15), we are liberated by the expectation of life and resurrection. 

No wonder the promises of God needs this coming King. No-one can guarantee anything unless they are in charge. And here, Jesus has taken charge of everything—our self-sufficiency and troubles and fears on the one hand, but also, all the wonderful purpose of God for us on the other. He has led us into the meekness of trusting in him. 

This changes our expectations, our habits, our relationships, our conversations—everything!

Whose promise counts? God’s or mine?

The promises of God we often turn to are those that offer help with our daily life and its battles. But the promise we look at here is a promise that God will make us holy—that is, like himself. 

This must be the best of all promises. It’s our one chance to be what we really are. We are God’s image, and if we are not reflecting him, every part of us is working hard to be something we are not built for.

This promise that God will make us holy—or sanctify us, is absolutely necessary. It’s like a parent’s confidence that their baby can walk. God believes we can be holy—and will make it happen. That’s what we need to hear.

Like Paul, we can ask God to sanctify young Christians, and keep them so they will be entirely blameless for when Christ returns. And Paul adds, ‘God is faithful. And he will do it’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). To another group, he says God will keep them guiltless—to the very end. And he adds, ‘God is faithful’ (1 Corinthians 1:7-9). This is very different from telling people they are on their own!

If we are going to be godly—that is, trust him and become like him, we will need to know that this is something God has promised to do.

This is illustrated dramatically when Peter promises Jesus that he will be a faithful disciple. The Lord contradicts him. And by morning, Peter knows that his claims have been empty (Luke 22:31-34). But Jesus has prayed for him that his faith will not fail. And this is exactly what happens. He fails, but not his faith. 

He thought he loved Jesus. Jesus knows better (John 14:28). But God’s promises are fulfilled, and, after the resurrection, he knows himself better, and he knows he loves Christ (John 21:15-19). His holiness is dependent on Christ’s prayer and promise.

This is the way with all of us. We fail, even often. But because God makes a promise to keep us, we get up again and make progress. 

What Jesus is doing here is fulfilling God’s promise to write his law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). In other words, what God commands will become what we want to do. And God vows to relate to us in such a way that this will happen. He will forgive our sins and enable us to know him. 

God also promises to fill us with his Spirit. Instead of having hard hearts, he will make them clean and will live in them. And what he wants will be what we want (Ezekiel 36:25-28).

These promises are part of a new covenant that God makes when his earlier covenant has been broken. And it is this covenant that Jesus puts into action. Just before his death, he gives a cup of wine to his followers and says ‘this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’ (Luke 22:20). 

This means that if we take the ‘cup’ he offers—if we entrust ourselves wholly to what he does when he dies for us, God will fulfil the promise he made and forgive our sins, enable us to know him, and his law will be written on our hearts. We will pray the Lord’s prayer with enthusiasm— ‘May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10).

Don’t underestimate what is going on here. Our situation is hopeless. Jesus must do, for us, what we will not and cannot do for ourselves. We should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. But we don’t. And we should suffer God’s judgement for our failure. And we can’t do this without being destroyed forever. 

But Jesus is keeping this new covenant promise. Because we share with Christ—in his body and blood—that is, in what he does with his body and blood, we will know God as he really is. We will want to live as his people. And he will forgive all that has happened beforehand.

We need to know this new covenant promise well. Here’s how it is spelt out by the apostles.

First, the letter of Hebrews tells us that we are forgiven—completely (Hebrews 8:6, 10-12; 9:14, 24-26). Sin has effectively been ‘put away’. 

The sacrifice Jesus offers to God for our sins turns a light on inside our conscience. We can stop debating with ourselves about what we have done. We can stop inventing ways to appear righteous. Instead, our cleansed conscience can tell us what to run from and what to give ourselves to.

And when Jesus enters into God’s presence on our behalf, we travel there with him (4:14-16). We are ‘at home’ with God and want to please him.

Second, Peter, as we have seen, is renewed by this new covenant promise. He says there are many promises—great and precious. They enable us to share in what God is like (2 Peter 1:3-11).

Peter is not suggesting we be lazy. He urges us to give everything we have to pleasing God. We need to get some virtue into our faith, and some knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, affection and love. All these take work, but we have the enthusiasm for it because we know God is reliable. He’s guaranteed that our godliness is going to happen. 

On the other hand, if we don’t do this, Peter says we have forgotten we are forgiven! God’s forgiveness is not just him emptying our trash can. It’s Jesus showing us that God is totally reliable and gracious. We’ve not just had an experience. We’ve met a person.

Third, Paul tells us how bold this can make us (2 Corinthians 3:4-18). There’s no life in just having instructions. The world is handing out instructions all the time but it has no power to put love in people’s hearts. 

The promise we are living under is actually the outshining of God’s glory in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). And while we keep looking at Christ rather than at ourselves, we are being changed—being made more glorious! 

With hope like this, we have every reason to be confident. And this is what God wants. We can come to him, we can live in this world, and we can look forward to the future God is making.

What are we waiting for?

Trusting God’s promises isn’t always easy. It takes us into new territory. And we need to grow in faith. However, none of the difficulties involved need to tarnish our faith. 

God has opened his heart up to us. He’s calling us to discover his faithful love. And he wants us to live in this hope while we wait for his time of fulfilment. By promising us a future, God is enabling us to live in his eternal plan—now. But we need some perseverance.

Many of us have lived through very pleasant times. This has made us think God’s promises only relate to having more nice times. But God wants us to live in what the future will be—even while the present is proving to be difficult.

The letter of Hebrews has much to say about living by God’s promises—particularly towards its end (Hebrews 10:32—12:3). You may find it helpful to read this passage first. There’s five points that it makes clear. This makes my article longer than usual—but I hope, worthwhile.

First, our fathers in the faith faced the same difficulties that we do in living by God’s promises.

There are enemies opposing those who first get this letter (Hebrews 10:36-39). They have an option to live comfortably, but at the risk of giving up their faith in Christ. They need some help to live by what is unseen rather than what would be culturally safe. They, and we, are warned not to ‘shrink back’ from waiting for what God promises.

Israel’s founding father, Abraham, and his wife Sarah, wait for decades for the child God promises to them. Then, they live among enemies in the land God has promised (11:12-13). And there’s delay for everyone in the Old Testament, waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled (11:39-40).

God is painting on a large canvas and he needs us to step back—with him—and appreciate that more is going on than we may understand while we wait. 

Second, hoping for things we can’t see (or control) is no problem to faith.

In fact, faith is being assured and persuaded that what we hope for and cannot see is substantial (11:1). God himself gives us this faith and when he does, we can ‘see’ what is invisible and experience what can’t be measured.

We need to think about the world we can see. Why is there something and not nothing? Why do we have consciousness and not just instincts? The world can’t answer these questions. But the answer is that everything we see and experience has come from something unseen—from God speaking (11:3, 27). 

It’s always God’s word that makes things happen. And faith is being assured and persuaded that this is why there is a world, and a universe, and us. 

If we insist that there’s no God to make everything, we exist without ever having started. We try to proceed without understanding who we are or what we are for. And we certainly have nothing to give us hope. We lack assurance and persuasion.

On the other hand, understanding that God creates everything by his word speaks to us deeply because we are made by God, and for him. 

This sets the pattern for all that the writer then tells us.

Noah builds an ark in the light of things not yet visible—a flood (11:7). Then, Abraham leaves his cosy life for one promised by God. He is looking for something God builds. Something solid (11:8-10).

Paul says that seen things pass away. It’s the unseen things that are durable (2 Cor. 4:18). This idea is strange to someone who doesn’t know God. But it’s natural to faith. Everything God does starts from what we can’t see.

Third, God is setting up a world where everything will be as he intends it to be. Hebrews calls it ‘a better country’, ‘a heavenly one’ (11:16). It’s a kingdom that can’t be shaken (12:26-28).

If we believe God can’t make anything better than what we see at the moment, he wouldn’t want to be known as our God—expecting so little of him. Do we think he is satisfied with injustice, suffering and death? Are we happy for everything—including ourselves—to be no better than they are at the moment? Is a shaky world good enough? 

God’s promises point to something amazing, complete, without danger or pollution.

We said earlier that all God’s promises find their ‘Yes’ in Christ. And this ‘Yes’ includes what he has done in his first coming and what he will complete in his second coming. 

That’s why people who please God with their faith are people who are looking for a city that has foundations (11:10)—not like the shaky things we tend to trust at the moment.

Scoffers think the promise of Christ’s return is a fiction. But Peter tells us the reason for his delay is not incompetence or carelessness but patience with our race (2 Pet. 3:2-4, 8-13). As we noted before, God paints on a large canvas. And he longs for us to be in the picture!

Fourth, all the people who are waiting are, in fact, busy.

The catalogue of accomplishments attributed to faith is impressive. Abraham doesn’t sit and meditate. He leaves everything to take up what God is going to do with him and his family. Moses prefers trouble with God’s people to safety as a celebrity in Egypt. 

Sometimes, God’s people seem to succeed, and other times, seem to fail. But it’s God who knows what will last. Being assured there will be a good outcome gives us energy, and a readiness to endure hardship.

If God’s promises are ringing in our ears and warming our hearts, we’ll do things that fit God’s eternal plan. We’re headed for a new creation, but we are already a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—part of the future God is making. 

Everything we now do through faith and love is eternal.  Nothing is lost. Think of Jesus commending someone on judgement day for giving a cup of water to one of his servants (Matthew 10:42). Think of the clothes we’ll wear when the church is married to Christ. What we do now is what we’ll wear then (Revelation 19:8).

If you are a politician, you have to do things that fit the immediate situation. But if you are building what is eternal, you’ll make sure you’re doing something that Jesus will acknowledge. 

In fact, what is eternal is what is best for the world now. It’s just that the world doesn’t see it that way.

Fifth, we look to Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith (12:2). 

Jesus believes God’s promise, that he would have many brothers and sisters to share with him in knowing his Father’s love. Because he believed this promise, he endured the sufferings of death—for us. That’s where we need to be looking if we are going to carry on, and then receive what God has promised.

It’s love—his love—that keeps hope alive. The Holy Spirit comes as an outpouring of God’s love to us, and in us. This is why we don’t get disappointed or ashamed (Romans 5:5). 

God takes pleasure in faith like this (11:2, 4, 5, 39)! And his pleasure is not about us being good but us discovering that he is good! We discover he can be trusted. And he says, ‘You’re mine!’

So, we have seen that when God makes promises, he takes the initiative in what goes on in his world. And he opens up his plans so we can share with him in building and enjoying what is eternal. More particularly, we discover him!

This takes us well out of our depth! We’ll need to swim. But then, we’re sharing with God is what we are made for! Our thinking and affections need more to feed on than what we can see. 

We are to live by every word that God speaks. And a lot of what he has said hasn’t happened yet. So, we need to hear his promises, and persist. And then, when Christ returns, we will see that everything God promised has happened.