Promises & Faith


CONSIDER

  • Do you think it is possible to know the future?
  • Are there things that you know for sure will happen? If so, how do you know?

How to Know the Future

Faith is about knowing the future.

According to the writer of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) This definition tells us that faith is looking forward to that which is not yet seen, and that faith operates with both assurance and conviction that go beyond optimistic guesswork or wishful thinking. Faith knows for sure what will happen and acts in accordance with this knowledge.

God is absolutely sovereign. Not a single sparrow falls from the sky nor an electron orbits a nucleus without his knowledge and his providence. He upholds all things. He is in control of all things. When challenging the idolatry of Israel, God pointed out that what differentiates him from their idols is that before anything started, God has already declared how it would end. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

God knows the future, surely and certainly. He is already there and He is already at work. The consequence of this is that whenever God says something about the future, he is right and is telling the truth.

We can’t know everything about the future, but whatever God has said about the future we can believe with certainty.

This is faith.

CONSIDER

  • Look back at your answers to the questions above. In light of the Bible verses that we have looked at, would you add any more things that you are certain will happen in the future?

Two Big Faith Questions

Many of the characters in the Bible that we find inspirational are role models of faith, and we find a lot of these people profiled in Hebrews 11. In this chapter, more column inches are given to the faith of one man than any other: Abraham. This example of Abraham’s faith is also picked up by Paul in Romans 4, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:20-21)

God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, and for years Abraham and his wife Sarah had carried this promise but had not seen it fulfilled. They were both old (Abraham was one hundred years of age and Sarah was ninety), well past the age of child-bearing, and for her entire life, Sarah had been barren. They had reached the stage where having a child, through whose line could come these nations, had become a biological impossibility.

Nevertheless, his faith did not waver, because that faith was not based on biological possibilities but on the answers to two questions:

  • Did God say it?
  • Can God do it?

The first of these questions leans on the truthfulness of God. Once you are convinced that God has said something, then you can take it to the bank. God was not being deceptive in the promise that he made, and he neither lies nor says things that he does not mean.

The second question leans on God’s sovereignty. If God is in control of all things, and if nothing is impossible for him, then he is able to bring about whatever he has said and fulfil the promise he made. Whatever the circumstances, the answer to this question will always be ‘yes’, because God can do all things.

For Abraham, the answer to both questions was a clear ‘yes’. God had certainly promised him a son, and God can do anything. What option was there but to trust, in the sure knowledge that what God has spoken about their future would come to pass?

THINK IT THROUGH

  • What specific promises can you think of that God has made in Scripture? Try to list as many as you can.

The Promises of God

Faith works when God has spoken. It is believing him at his word and trusting that he will do what he has said. Therefore, it essential to know what God has said, in order to provide the foundation for our actions of faith.

God has made some promises in the Bible that are relevant for each one of us:

  • “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
  • “Of the increase of his (Jesus’) government and of peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7)
  • “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  • “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
  • “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
  • “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:15)
  • “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
  • “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

There are many, many more of God’s promises in Scripture. Look out for them as you read, and when you find them treasure them, plead them in prayer, and act in the sure knowledge that what God has said will come to pass.

Prophetic Promises

CONSIDER

  • Can you think of anything that God has promised you prophetically? In what ways have you weighed it to be sure it is from God?

In addition to the general promises of Scripture, God will sometimes make more specific promises to individuals, churches or communities through prophecy.

In these instances, care must be taken to weigh the prophecy. One of the questions on which faith hangs is ‘Has God said it?’, and this question must be answered as accurately as possible.

As part of weighing a prophecy, assess whether it is consistent with Scripture, look at the credibility of the person bringing the word, invite the input of wise and godly leaders, and see if the prophecy rings true in your spirit.

Even if the word checks out in all of these ways, it is wise to hold it more lightly than a Scriptural promise.

Many people who were given prophetic promises in the Bible had them confirmed in supernatural ways. Experience shows that often God makes his prophetic promises crystal clear, by independently bringing the same prophetic words through multiple people, or through other supernatural events.

CONSIDER

  • What are some practical ways to see our faith levels rise?

A Model of Faith

One of the best ways to understand and grow in faith is to see it in action. Nothing beats spending time around people with great faith and witnessing the way they live and minister, and the impact their faith has.

CONSIDER

  • Who do you know that has lots of faith? Why not ask if you could spend some time around them?

As well as spending time with people of faith, reading stories of faith can have a profound effect. There are many such stories, both in the Bible and in church history.

One of the greatest models of faith is David, as he fought against Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.

Israel was at war with the Philistines. The people were intimidated and the Philistines had the upper hand. Each day, the Philistine champion would step forward to challenge anybody in Israel to fight against him, but nobody would.

“Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were encamped at Socoh, which belongs to Judah… And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span… He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel… ‘Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.'” (1 Samuel 17:1-9)

The most significant verse in this passage is the first one. As terrifying as the description of Goliath is, the most important fact is that the armies were encamped at Socoh, which belongs to Judah. Centuries earlier, God had said to Abraham, “To your offspring I will give this land.” (Genesis 12:7) Now, a Philistine bully is standing there, laying his claim on that same land, and nobody will step up to his challenge.

Because there is a promise of God in play, Goliath’s size and fighting experience become irrelevant. Most of the people shrunk away from him in fear, but one boy saw things differently. When God is in the picture, a nine and a half foot giant is tiny. David knew this. Instead of fear of the man, he had faith in the God of the promises to deliver on what he had said.

David was not even supposed to be there. He was a messenger boy bringing supplies to his brothers, and he happened to get caught up in the action. He saw Goliath come forward and heard his challenge. His instinctive response was faith, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

Every word of David’s reply to Goliath is important, but the most important of all is when he refers to Goliath as an ‘uncircumcised Philistine’. This is not merely a juvenile insult, but a reference to the promise of God. “I will give you and your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession… You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:8,11)

Circumcision was the sign of God’s promise to give the land to his people, and by pointing out that Goliath was an ‘uncircumcised Philistine’, he is emphasising the fact that he is not part of the people of the promise. In David’s eyes it is clear; God has made a promise, therefore Goliath can’t win.

In faith, David steps forward to fight. Before he reaches Goliath, there are other obstacles to overcome by faith, concerning his brothers and King Saul.

THINK IT THROUGH

Read 1 Samuel 17:28-40.

  • What challenges are set before David's faith? How does he overcome these challenges?

As they met, Goliath hurled insults at David, and David responded in faith. He was sure and certain of what would happen, because he had faith in the promise of God, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head… For the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” (1 Samuel 17:46-47) Then David ran into battle, swung his sling and saw the stone lodge right into the gap in Goliath’s helmet and strike his forehead. Goliath tumbled to the ground, and David used the Philistine’s own sword to slice his head off.

The stone had no right to go there. It was a one in a million shot. There was only one small chink in Goliath’s armour and David found it with his first stone.

But God had made a promise.

A one in a million shot is no problem when God has made a promise. Taking down a giant is easy when you do it by faith. David stepped out in faith and God came good on his promise. That’s how it works.

THINK IT THROUGH

Read 1 Chronicles 20:4-8.

  • What was the legacy of David's faith?
  • Can you think of more recent examples of people stepping out in faith and leaving such a legacy in the lives of others?

When You Don't Have a Promise

In many of the situations we face in life, we do not have a direct promise of God. This does not, however, mean that God’s sovereignty and our faith have no bearing on the situation.

THINK IT THROUGH

  • What place is there for faith if the answer to 'Did God say it?' is 'no'?

An extreme example of such a situation is if you were asked to deny your faith at gunpoint. In such a situation, God has not said that if you keep your faith you will not be shot, but he has promised to work all things for your good and to receive you in glory. The moment still requires faith, but that faith will take a different form to the faith that is based on a direct promise from God.

A very similar situation was faced by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They had been caught disobeying an order that everybody should worship a statue of the king, and so they are called to give an account before him. He decides to give them one more chance, and again commands them to bow to the statue. All eyes are on them, and if they refuse they will be thrown into a fiery furnace.

The nearest thing they have to a promise is, “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2) In context, this verse elicits poetic imagery of how God will bring a nation through hard times. The verse would doubtless have served as an encouragement to the three men, but can hardly be construed as a direct promise for their specific situation. If these men asked the two questions of faith, they would find that the answers are: ‘Can God do it?’ – Yes; ‘Did God say it?’ – No.

When you have direct promises from God, then you know in advance what will happen. In faith, the future is clear and we can act accordingly. When you don’t have a direct promise, although you do not know what God’s actions will be, you do know God’s character.

When you do not have a promise, you can act in faith based on the character of God (you may find it helpful to watch the hangout on ‘Knowing God’s Character?'). Though they do not know for sure what will happen, they trust that God has the situation under control, and they suspect that he will rescue them, as they explain to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

In essence, their reply boils down to three statements, that make up the nature of faith when you do not have a promise to lean on:

We know God CAN do it – One thing that was never in doubt was God’s ability. The God who made the world, parted the red sea and sent fire from heaven can do what he pleases. Standing up to an arrogant king and protecting his people from fire are certainly within his ability range. Whatever the situation, God is able to do immeasurably more than all we imagine or expect.

We think God WILL do it – It is important not to mix up what we know with what we think, and we mustn’t put promises into God’s mouth that he has not made. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego fully expect that God will deliver them and act in accordance with that, though they aware that he hasn’t promised to do so and that he might, in his sovereignty and goodness, choose not to.

Even if he DOESN’T… - Regardless of whether or not God delivers them, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego will not worship the statue. They enjoy God’s presence, they know his character and they trust his will. They don’t need him to do things the way they expect in order for them to worship him. They have confidence that God will make the decision whether or not to deliver them, and they know that whatever he does will be for the best, and so the decision is easy, they will not worship the statue, they will worship God.

Faith is assurance of what you do not see.

When God has spoken about the future, faith takes him at his word and acts on the knowledge that every word he has said will come to pass.

When God has not spoken, faith rests on his character, the same yesterday, today and forever, and trusts that in all things he is active and sovereign and is working all things for good.

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith." (1 John 5:4)?

APPLY

  • What challenges do you have in life where you do not have a direct promise of God? What would it look like to follow the example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's faith in those situations?
  • Why do you think it is that God sometimes does things differently to how you would expect? What is your response when he does so?
  • What does it look like for the promises of God to fuel your prayer life?

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