The Bible is full of God’s promises to His people. We love to read them. We love to apply them to our lives. We use them to remember that we serve a good and giving God. But are all those promises for us? Do we have the liberty to apply them to any life situation? After all, we serve a God who does not change and His promises are true.
As with any type of Bible passage, we have to carefully study and interpret God's promises in order to apply them correctly rather than misuse them. Just because God made a promise to Abraham, for example, does not automatically mean He made the same promise to you. If He spoke to the nation of Israel at a certain time in history, His promises refer to those specific events, not necessarily to your circumstances today.
God Does Not Change
However, before we dive into some basic ways to discern God’s promises, let me assure you of this: God really is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8). He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end (Revelation 22:13). His character does not change (Malachi 3:6). He remains faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9). His words are always true (John 17:17).
When God makes a promise to His people, He keeps it. He won't change His mind because He is steadfast. He won't go back on His word because He is faithful. We can trust Him.
The Word of God is Truth
2 Timothy 3:16 says that the Bible is inspired by God, reliable, and useful. To say that a promise found in the Bible does not apply to every life circumstance is not to say that God's word is void. It only means we have to interpret it with care.
3 Principles of Studying, Interpreting, and Applying God's Promises
To begin, let’s look at some basic interpretation and application principles that will help you faithfully apply not only God's promises but other Scriptures as well.
1. Pay Attention to the Context
In any piece of literature, it is essential to read a sentence within its context. You know that any article, interview, or even your love letter to your boyfriend can be misquoted when one phrase or sentence is taken out of its context and applied to life in general. It's not fair when the media does it. And it's not OK for us to do so with Scripture either.
When you see a beautiful verse on Pinterest or Facebook, open your Bible and look at its context before claiming it for your personal circumstances. As an example let's take a look at one of our favorite verses, Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you.’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
We love that verse. Who doesn't like to hear that God wants to prosper them? Are you in a financial bind right now? Hey, this verse seems to say that one day God will make you prosperous. One day you'll have lots of money. Is that really what it says? I hope you can read my sarcasm between the lines.
Let's take a look at the context by reading Jeremiah 29:10-1:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”
God made this promise in a context. He promised the nation of Israel while they were in captivity that one day He would restore them as a nation. And while they did not fully understand God's ultimate plan, we now know that it included Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through Him as a free gift for all of us.
What does that mean for this beautiful verse and our life today? Can we not apply this verse at all? Should we forget about His promise to give us a hope and a future? Are we silly to assure ourselves that His plans are not to harm us? No. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, we are going to move on to another method of interpretation.
2. Find the Principle
Let's consider some principles behind this verse. Here is what I see…
• Our God is one who delivers hope rather than harm.
• God always has a plan. He is not taken aback by anything.
• God shows concern for us and our future.
As you consider your specific circumstance, like financial troubles, you can be assured that God will ultimately use this time in your life as a part of His plan. He is not taken aback by your financial situation as you are, but rather He is in control. He is neither delighting in your stress nor does He intend to harm you. Instead, He loves you and has good things in store for you, which ultimately includes eternity spent with Him, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior.
3. Look for Conditions
Some promises have a big "if" attached to them. They are considered "conditional promises". That means God's promise only applies if we follow the command attached to it. It's not a blanket promise.
As an example, let's look at 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
What is the promise? God will be faithful to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. In the midst of our failures, He will restore us again to a righteous status. He will not allow our sin to come between us and Him. Instead, He wants us to remain in close relationship. He washes us of our sins continually.
Don't let me skip over the condition. This passage contains a big "if". If we confess our sin, He will be faithful to forgive us and restore us. Personally, I have experienced this. When I walk in sin - maybe even grumbling to myself, justifying my sin - I feel distant from God. But as soon as I confess my sin to Him, admit that I am in the wrong and ask for God's forgiveness, I immediately am forgiven. I can feel it. What do I mean by that? I can sense that I've been once again restored to a close relationship with God. I no longer feel distant from Him but rather reconciled. This is one of God’s standing promises for all believers. What a great God we serve!
Side note: If you are wondering about all those sins that you may have committed unknowingly or that passed so quickly that you would not even have remembered to confess them, know that ultimately for the Day of Judgment, we are forgiven in Christ. One day you will meet your Maker, and He will not look at our sins for more than a moment before looking instead on Christ who died for them all. He died for confessed and unconfessed sins. How can I say that after looking at 1 John 1:9? Remember, context!
1 John 1:9 is not the only verse that talks about forgiveness. It addresses how we should deal with our sins while here on earth. We should confess them and experience reconciliation with God. However, the Bible has much more to say about forgiveness, and it is clear that no action of ours ultimately saves our soul, but rather it is God through Christ.
There is much more to interpreting the promises of God and applying them correctly. However, we will pause here with these basic tips on interpretation that will help you with any passage of Scripture. Let’s continue our conversation as this series continues. If you don't want to miss the next post, make sure to subscribe to this blog (category: “Scripture Confidence”) below.
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