The Good News - Home
Offering Back the Promise Received
By David A. DePra
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. (Heb 11:17)
For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen. (2 Cor 1:20)
The Bible is filled with promises that God has given. Those promises include everything from salvation to specifics for living. It would be correct to say that the promises of God are expressions of His will – if God promises something it is because He wants to bring it to pass. Sometimes the promise is contingent upon our faith and obedience. The promise is a guarantee of God’s faithfulness.
The verse above, from II Corinthians 1:20, is one that is rarely mentioned when it comes to the promises of God. But it is essential to see the Truth being unfolded. For one thing, Paul is telling us that the promises of God cannot be separated from God Himself. In other words, as noted, the promises are expressions of God’s heart, mind, and will. But in addition, we can find the fulfillment of those promises only to the degree that we find God Himself.
It is very easy to focus on what God has promised and forget about God. It is easy to come to Christ for what we can get from Him, and forget about Christ Himself. Many of us expect God to keep His promises, but we think He will do it to the disregard of our relationship with Him through Christ. He usually will not. The fulfilled promises are supposed to emerge from my relationship by faith with Christ. As I walk with Christ, and grow to know Him, the fulfilled promises are the outcome. Or, to go back to our verse, we will find the YES and AMEN to every promise of God as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
There are a number of other ways to describe this Truth. For example, God is not going to simply bring a promise to pass in our lives until our relationship, in spirit and in Truth, with Jesus Christ, makes it safe for us. God won’t bless us until we can be trusted with blessing. God won’t allow a greater trial that we can bear – our relationship with Christ must be stable enough to bear it. If all of the promises of God find their yes and amen in Himself, then God must be sure that bringing those promises to pass in our lives will be met with a yes and amen by our relationship with Christ.
Herein we see the matter of FAITHFULNESS. God wants us to be faithful over THINGS. But how can we be faithful over things, if we are not faithful to God Himself? How can God see fit to give us THINGS in our lives if He knows that doing so will hinder our walk with Him?
One example: Money. If God knows that I have a love of money – He might know this even if I don’t know it – is God going to simply by pass that fact and bless me with money? Just because there is some promise of God to prosper me? That would be my undoing. God would, just for the sake of a promise, be affirming the very thing I need to relinquish to Him. Never. The promises of God find their yes and amen in HIM – they must all agree with God – or, if you will, God must say yes and amen to any promise that He brings to pass – He must know that it will be for my edification, and not my destruction.
God wants to bring to pass for each of us every promise He has made. But not as things or events exclusive of our relationship with Jesus Christ. No, the promises, are IN Christ – they come to pass as Christ is unfolded. All of the promises of God find their YES and AMEN in His Son.
Faithfulness is a relationship word. There is no such thing as the character trait of faithfulness as a thing unto itself in a person. A person must be faithful to someone – and the only real faithfulness is faithfulness UNTO GOD. So it is to the degree that I am faithful unto God in what He has given that builds into me a greater faithfulness unto God for greater things – eternal things. God is building in us faithfulness unto HIMSELF – and in order to do so, some times He must withhold much.
Why does God sometimes withhold promises and blessings? Well, if you can be faithful to God when He allows you to lack and suffer – if you can be faithful when believing God COSTS you much, instead of gaining you much – if you can be faithful to God when the promises seem impossible – then yes, He is building faithfulness in you. But if you are faithful when God withholds THINGS then your faithfulness will not be built upon THINGS. No, it will be built upon GOD HIMSELF.
We need to note that. If our faith in God is only strong because it is held together by the things God does, and the things He gives – if I believe God because of what I have gained from Him, then what is going to happen if those things are taken away? My faith will collapse. But if I believe God despite bad things happening, and despite His silence, and despite my suffering, then my faith will be real. It won’t be dependent upon THINGS. My faith won’t be in God through things, but it will be in God to the disregard of things. And if I have faith in God I will be faithful. The two are as one.
God is seeking a people who will believe Him and be faithful to Him no matter what the cost to themselves – because then He knows their faith is in HIMSELF. Those are the kinds of people that God can trust with THINGS – because faith that is built upon God, and not things, cannot be ruined by things. Do you want to know who the people are who God can entrust with eternal responsibility? This is the answer – people whose faithfulness to God is unconditional, and not linked in any way to what they might, or might not, gain from it.
Abraham and the Promise
There is probably no better picture of what God is doing in the lives of His people than the story of Abraham and the promise God gave to him of a son. But the Truth that is built into this story is perhaps far deeper than most of us have seen. Often we limit the faith of Abraham to the fact that he waited on God for a son. Or we might go as far as to say that Abraham trusted God because he was willing to offer up Isaac. But there is a picture of faith in this matter that is foundational for the lives of Christian people.
Let’s ask: Why did God require Abraham to offer up Isaac? Abraham had to believe God for the promise of a son for 26 years. And God had kept that promise – God had already given Isaac to Abraham in fulfillment of His promise. The above quote from Hebrews says, "He that had RECEIVED the promises offered up his only begotten son." Get that: Abraham had to offer up the promise already RECEIVED. Why was there this additional requirement? Why was Abraham required to offer back to God what God’s had already given to him?
God explained why to Abraham. He said, "For now I know that you fear (revere) God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me." (Gen 22:12) In other words, even though Abraham had fully received Isaac from God, Abraham was not to WITHHOLD Isaac from God. In short, even that which is received from God solely by His grace is not to be withheld from God – is not to be taken under the ownership of the one who has received.
There is a principle of Truth involved here that is immense. It is a Truth that is quite fundamental in all that God does for us, gives to us, and wants to do with us. Even that which God freely gives to us does not belong to us. It continues to belong to God. Indeed, we don’t even belong to ourselves. We cannot truly be trusted with that which belongs to God until we are willing and able to live within this Truth.
God said, "Now I know you will not withhold from Me your only son." We might think that the birth of Isaac was the pivotal point in God’s dealing with Abraham. But it was not. The pivotal point was the sacrifice of Isaac. Despite all that had gone on between Abraham and God up to this point, everything in the purpose of God was finally released unto God’s greater purpose because Abraham had not withheld Isaac.
Can we see the great Truth revealed in this account? It is a great thing when God makes a promise. It is a wonderful thing when God fulfills a promise. But until we refuse to take ownership over what God has done through the promise – refuse to withhold it from God – until that happens we are not yet proven to be faithful.
Faithfulness to God is not merely a matter of doing the right thing. It is more than that. Faithfulness is a matter of right relationship in the Truth. A faithful steward owns nothing – he is merely the caretaker of the possessions of his master. It is when we revere God to the point where we will not take possession for ourselves even that which He has given us, and will not withhold from Him – it is then that we are faithful stewards. A faithful steward owns nothing. That is why God is able to entrust him or her with ALL.
Possession and Ownership
Human beings have a desire to OWN and POSSESS. We certainly want to own ourselves – and then all the material things possible. Each one of us would consider this to be NORMAL. Indeed, many professing Christians probably think that God WANTS us to think in these terms – we might even think that it is God’s will for us to own what He gives us.
The shocking Truth is that God never made human beings to own or possess anything. He did not even build human beings to possess themselves. Thus, what we take for granted as a normal part of our makeup is actually the result of the fall of man into sin and darkness. It is ABNORMAL. Our drive to own and possess is nothing more than the result of being alienated from God – it is the outcome of unbelief.
This is why Paul was able to say to those who are in Christ, "You are not your own. You are bought with a price." This is utterly contrary to man as he exists in ADAM. But it is absolutely NORMAL for those in Christ – in Christ we are restored back again to the original design God had for man, and back again to the original relationship man was to have with God.
The original design that God had for human beings was that we own nothing, including ourselves, but to be fully possessed and indwelt by God Himself. We were to live to God’s glory – experiencing all that He is. God would be all to us – and provide all for us. And we would fellowship with Him. All of this, of course, has not only been destroyed, but most of us are completely blind to it. We have even fashioned a Christianity that, in most cases, is blind to it. But to God, it is NORMAL.
This is why, when God does bestow upon us His promises, gifts, and even His very life through His Son – it is why nothing that is given to us from God belongs to us. Everything is of God and remains so. Indeed, the more God does in our lives, the more we will be set free from wanting to own anything. This is true freedom. It is the only place the Truth will lead us.
We are talking here, not about a pattern to follow, imposed by rules and laws. No. We are talking about relationship with God in the Truth – we are talking about THE only true relationship. God wants to bring us to the point where He can entrust everything He has to us through His Son. And the only way He can do this is to set us free from the desire to own anything or to use anything for ourselves. This is what He was doing in the life of Abraham, as a lesson for us.
Possession and ownership are traits of the flesh – as noted -- God never built into man the desire to possess anything for himself. Thus, to the extent that I take possession over the things of God I am bringing the corruption of the flesh into it. I am introducing that which is NOT of God into the things of God.
There are a number of ways I could make this mistake. There is, of course, the possibility of blatantly withholding something from God – including even something He has originally given, such as a ministry. People begin to hold ministry to themselves – as if it belongs to them and must be protected. Some use ministry to feed their pride, their bank account, or to feed their lust for power. This is all the result of the unbelief of taking ownership. Or, in a less blatant way, I could exercise ownership over something God has given by fashioning it according to my mind, my desires, and my goals – never realizing what I am doing. I might think I am supposed to. But usually this is the result of not knowing God. I may not even realize that there is such a thing as, "not withholding," from God that which He has given me.
There are some foundational Truths in the NT that ought to give us pause for thought in these matters. For example, the word HOLY (haggios). In the NT Greek, it means, "to be set apart for God’s use." In other words, this word means, "to belong to God." Now, once we realize the meaning of this word, can we see that the entire Christian life is to be lived as one who, "belongs to God?" Indeed, the name SAINT is from that same Greek word (haggai) and means, "holy ones," that is, "ones who belong to God." Thus, the very name of those who are in Christ is a direct statement to the effect that we do not own ourselves. The name, "HOLY Spirit," tells us that all that is of God’s Spirit is going to lead us into the reality that all belongs to God, and not ourselves. Therefore, it is a fact that POSSESSION and OWNERSHIP are foundational issues. God owns all. We own nothing. And that is good. It is normal. It is freedom.
But you see, when the mind of man begins to introduce the ownership of man over even that which is given of God you will have corruption every time. Indeed, even the dominion that God gave Adam over the earth was never intended to suggest that Adam owned anything – the earth belonged to Adam only to the extent that Adam belonged to God. Adam was an extension of God in that case. Thus, when Adam walked away from God, the earth was cursed because of him. All that man tries to possess that is not ultimately in God’s hands is under that curse. That is because if is then of the flesh and natural.
Note here that the ACTS of doing things that speak of owning and controlling is secondary. The issue here is the ownership itself – the spirit of possession. It is possible to possess little but to possess yourself. Indeed, if God does not possess you, you DO possess yourself. That is your nature – in Adam.
Jesus said, "He that seeks to possess himself for himself will lose life. But he that loses himself into My hands will find true life." There it is in the ultimate sense. If we are to lose our entire selves and our entire lives into the hands of God has HIS possession, then it follows that all that is included in our life must be transferred into His hands. This speaks of faith in God. It speaks of walking in the Truth.
You can trace this issue of possession from Genesis to Revelation. It is central. Jesus died to purchase or redeem us for Himself. We are not our own; we are bought with a price. From that comes holiness, holy living, and all else that is within the purpose of God.
The Promises of God
The story, and the failures of Abraham, are well documented in scripture. When Abraham offered Isaac to God he was commended. It released all of God’s deeper purpose. But getting to that point did involve some mistakes. The biggest one was the birth of Ishmael.
Having said that, you cannot find any place in the NT where Abraham is portrayed other than faithful. The NT says, "Abraham waxed strong in faith….he did not doubt." And yet he DID give birth to Ishmael – and it was out of God’s will to do so. What happened?
Well, about half way through his 26-year wait for Isaac, Abraham allowed natural thinking to lead him off course. He knew the promise of God. He believed God. But it was the MEANS by which that promise would come to pass that began to perplex him. He knew that each year that passed by made it all the more impossible for him to father a child, not to mention that Sara had long before passed the age where she could bear children. So, at that point in time, Abraham apparently thought to himself, "I know God is going to keep His promise. But I must have misunderstood Him. He could not have meant that Sara was going to bear my son. So much time has passed. Surely God must have meant for me to have a son through Sara’s handmaiden. That’s it. That is what God meant!"
Can we see that Abraham is not really doubting God? He is not really accusing God of lying to Him. No, Abraham continues to believe God, but he doubts his own interpretation of God. Of course, there is a reason that makes it easy for him to accept that his interpretation of God is wrong – that reason is that it gives him a way out. If his interpretation of God is wrong, then Abraham can justify an interpretation that will free him to take matters in his own hands. Once he dismissed that Sara had to be the mother of his son, he could reason that God meant him to have a son through Sara’s handmaid – which was perfectly legal in that day and age.
Now, this IS sin. It is not blatant, red-handed rebellion against God. It is not a decision to do his own thing because he refuses the will of God. No. But it is the flesh entering into the picture. Instead of allowing FAITH to fill the void between God’s promise and his understanding, Abraham allowed natural thinking to try to fill the void. And God let him. Ishmael was born.
Abraham is not representative of an unbeliever or one who is in rebellion. No. Rather, he represents the people of God. He represents people who have known God to a degree and who have been called into His purpose. He stands for those who have received promises from God. Even at this point Abraham WANTS God’s will. He believes God. It’s just that at this point, he has taken ownership over the purpose and promise of God, and is putting his hand to what only God can do.
Note those words: Abraham has taken ownership over the promises of God. But why? To contradict God? No. To bring to pass his own will? No. In Abraham’s mind, he has taken ownership over the promises of God to bring to pass GOD’S WILL. He has taken ownership over those promises because he has convinced himself that God wants him to do so – Abraham thinks that God wants him to take ownership over the promise for the purpose of bringing that promise to pass fully according to the will of God.
Abraham was completely wrong. Where did he get off the track? Well, he apparently did not understand at this point in his experience with God that the impossibility of the promise coming to pass was exactly where God wanted to bring things. He did not realize that the entire GOAL of God was to get him to where he could have no hope in himself of bringing to pass the promise. In fact, he probably thought it was up to him to keep that from happening! So he tried.
There is so much of this in each of us. There are certain promises of God that are given to us pertaining both to the spiritual and material. Many of us rightly believe them. But then we make the same mistake that Abraham made. When those promises seem to be fading away under the weight of known possibilities, we often reason that this must be because we have missed the boat – God promised and now it cannot happen! Surely this is a sign that God wants US to do something! And so we do it.
The reason we fall into this error is the same reason Abraham fell into it – we WANT the promise of God. Sure we do. And it is right to want it. But instead of relinquishing all ownership over it, and letting God be true, we panic and try to save it. We try to make it happen. Often, we birth an Ishmael.
There are other ways in which we err along this line. Perhaps, just as Abraham did receive Isaac, we have received a certain blessing, promise, or calling from God. Maybe we are already in it – and have seen some purpose unfolding. There is going to come a time when God will tell us that we need to offer back to him the very blessings that He has given to us. He will say, "This was never yours. It has always been mine. That is only way in which it can function to My glory and to your benefit." The question is, will we do so? Or will we tighten our grip and withhold ourselves from God? If we do, we are going to bring corruption to even that which may have started out as being of God. The fact of our possession over it will do so.
If we would look at the Truth in this matter it would answer a great many questions. Have you ever known that God has promised certain things – and believed Him – only to see the possibility of that promise DIE? Have you ever actually received from God a blessing or a direction – and rejoiced – only to see the thing go down the drain? There can be many reasons such a thing happens -- not just this one – but one reason might be that you must relinquish all ownership over what God has given. You must do that to receive the promise, and if not, you must do it after you receive it. But you must do it. There is simply no other way that God can lead us if He is to lead us into the Truth.
For example, it is possible to read in scripture a promise of God and to absolutely understand it the way in which God means it. You are not wrong. You are right. And you believe it. But then you are faced with choices in life that must be made on the basis of whether you believe it. And you make those choices, perhaps at great cost, in faith. Maybe you even avoid the pitfall that Abraham avoided, and refuse to give birth to an Ishmael. You move forward, believing and expecting – you are counting on God. And then it all dies. The promise doesn’t come to pass. It is as if all of your faith was based on a bunch of lies.
How can this happen? There is no use in saying it cannot happen. It DOES. And there are reasons. God is faithful and yet His Word has seemed to fail. Where is the problem?
The problem may be ownership. It doesn't have to be on purpose. The tendency towards ownership is built into natural man. So God needs to deal with that -- not because He doesn't want to bless us, but because He does. God is not going to affirm us in our error. He wants to set us free so that He can bless us.
You will note that I did not mention anything about trying to OPPOSE God’s purpose. No. I’m talking about believing God’s purpose, and wanting it, but of trying to bring it to pass. I may do this by taking outward action. Or it may simply be something that is in my heart and mind. But it is of the flesh. It is me taking ownership and control, rather than trust God.
Examine your faith and attitude towards God. Are you continually fearing that God won’t keep His Word? Do you grip at Him? Are you nagging Him – all over Him about His promise? Few of us would say we have taken control over God’s promises, but these things are usually signs that we have or would -- if God were to do what we want Him to do. We would not be expressing these attitudes if we really knew and believed God.
If I were a passenger in the car of the best driver in the world, even if I got into the care in the first place because I trusted that the driver would get me to the promised destination, what would it say if I acted like the ultimate, "back seat driver?" What if I questioned every move; every turn? What if I was so afraid that the driver wasn’t paying attention that I nagged him continually? "What about this…what about that…watch this obstacle….don’t miss that turn….you are going too slow…do you realize we are going to be late…..?" This is what we often do with God – right within His purpose. He is in control, but we are actually trying to take control and ownership. We don’t know or believe Him.
Can we see that the problem here is NOT that we can actually take control? No. The problem is relationship. How can we be a great passenger in the purpose of God if this is our attitude? How can we have fellowship in the Truth with God if we are living in error?
One of the ways in which we try to control God and bring His promises to pass is by trying to force His hand. Some of us have not learned that psychological arguments do not work on God. We cannot get Him to sympathize with us by an emotional display, or by trying to lay a guilt trip on Him. We cannot tell Him something He does not know. We cannot make a victim out of ourselves and appeal to Him, on that basis, to lift our suffering. We cannot give him ultimatums, or make Him promises. He won’t respond. He will be silent – because all of these things are nothing more than us trying to move God and control God – even if it is to get Him to do the very things He has promised to do. He simply wants us to take our hands off and believe.
When you and I try to move or control God into doing even what He, Himself, has promised to do, we have brought into our relationship with God the flesh. We have brought in the ownership and possession of the flesh over the things of God. I submit that most of us do this by force of habit to such a degree that we don’t even realize that it is wrong. We do believe God, and we do want the promises of God, but we often try to bring it to pass – even of we are trying to move God Himself to bring it to pass. This is an indication that we have not fully lost our entire selves into the hands of God.
As already noted, the problem here is the flesh – the spirit of ownership by man. How I manifest it is secondary. But when I try to be in control over even what God has promised I have brought corruption into the situation.
God wants to bring us to the place where we know Him and trust Him to the point where we will not only let everything go into His hands, but will lose ourselves into His hands. Then things are safe. Then the flesh, and the pride of man, will not direct things in a way that bring glory to man and not God.
Now, God does have a way to deal with all of this. How did he deal with Abraham? – I’m sure Abraham had many times like I’ve just described. His eventual error in birthing Ishmael was not out of the blue – it was the outcome of such thinking. How did God deal with Abraham? Well, he let him try to bring to pass the promise. God let Abraham gender a son.
There are two things about Abraham’s attempt to bring God’s promise to pass for God that are valuable to see: First, God let Abraham try. He let him try so that Abraham would learn the hard way that it wasn’t going to matter what he did – the promised son was never going to be Ishmael. Second, God let Abraham see that despite his foolish attempts God was nevertheless going to keep His promise to Abraham. This was because Abraham repented. And it is because God is faithful.
The error of trying to control God within His own promises, or of trying to bring to pass the purpose of God FOR HIM, is all through the Bible. We see it with the disciples in the gospels. Jesus preached about a kingdom and they wanted that kingdom. So they were continually bugging Him about that kingdom – when it would come, who would be the greatest in it, etc. However, Judas took this over into a betrayal of Jesus – his betrayal was an attempt to maneuver Jesus into proclaiming Himself Messiah before the Sanhedrin. The disciples weren’t against the kingdom. They wanted it. But try to do something under the power of the flesh – even a good thing, "for God," and you may wind up betraying Him.
We also see this when King David tried to help get the ark to Jerusalem, but did it with a cart – a way that was contrary to God’s commands. David was also tempted to topple Saul instead of letting God take care of it. Over and over it would seem that one of the biggest temptations and pitfalls of the people of God is to try to bring to pass God’s will through man’s means, with man’s flesh, and under man’s ownership. It seems good at the time. But it can turn into a very evil thing.
Most religion is a way that man has fashioned to reach up to God – when the Truth is that God has reached down to man in Christ. But what could possibly be wrong with man wanting to reach God? It isn’t the, "wanting," that is the problem. It is the MEANS. To try to fashion a religious way to reach up to God is error. It is based on the notion that I can actually do so – which means that I have not seen my terrible inability. The Truth is the Truth, not because God invented it to be that way, but because it reflects who God is, and who man is. Man CANNOT reach up to God. God MUST reach down to man. Man CANNOT bring to pass God’s will. God MUST do this. Disturb this and you are in darkness. It is just that simple.
In the Bible, to be under the law -- to seek to make myself righteous before God through works -- is ANOTHER GOSPEL. It is error. It is sin. But examine this. Is it not a good thing to want to obey God? Is it not God's will that we be righteous? Is it not a good thing that we live holy lives? Yes. All good. But it is entirely possible to try to obey God, not because you believe Him, but because you don't. You are deceived. You are trying to accomplish what God actually wants through the flesh. You have left out Jesus Christ, and God's grace through Him.
All of the promises of God find their YES and AMEN -- in HIM. Not us. God didn't give promises and then tell US to keep them. He will keep them. Much of the wait and the delay is because we are not yet ready or spiritually able to live in the promises. They would do us more harm than good – in our relationship with God.
God’s promises are statement of His will for us. He is telling us what He wants for us. But He is not telling us to figure out a way to get Him to keep those promises. Neither is He demanding that we make ourselves righteous enough to merit them. No. If we are still trying to make ourselves righteous we are already sinning through unbelief. All of God’s promises are based on His grace in His Son – which is the whole point. God wants to get us to where we can freely receive what He has freely given. Thus, we have to drop all of the religious games. Then there will be a basis in Christ.
God simply wants us to lose ourselves in utter abandonment to Himself. Only then will we find true life. But within, "losing our lives," is certainly the need to lose the promises – in other words, I have to be faithful to God and go on with Him, and leave the fulfillment of those promises to HIM. God wants us to, "seek first," Truth in Jesus Christ. All the fulfilled promises will be added to us as Christ unfolds to us. "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," are hidden in Christ. Only as Christ is unfolded can all that is IN Christ come into our experience.
We see this with Abraham. He received the promise, and yet, having received it, did not hold it to himself apart from God. No. He offered it back to God. This was no small test. It was the pivot point for all that was to follow. Once we lose ourselves into the hands of God and find true life – or any expression of life – we do not then grab what we find and hold it to ourselves. There is no gift, ministry, material possession, or relationship that belongs to us, for we do not belong to ourselves. Eternal life based in Truth means that for all eternity I am in a relationship with God wherein I belong to Him. And yet because I do, I am able to freely experience all things through Him.
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