Summary: This sermon wrestles with two questions: "Are God's promises conditional or unconditional?" and "Are God's OT promises for his church today?"
Down a New Path
Aug 28, 2012 Is 42:13-16
Last Sunday we began a look at a little section in the middle of the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-44. We took a closer look at some of the promises of God, and this morning we are going to look at a few more. But before diving in, I wanted to invite us to wrestle for a moment with a particular question or two about the promises of God. Are they for us? Are they conditional or unconditional? How do we know?
Conditional or Unconditional?
Let’s start with the question about whether God’s promises are conditional or unconditional. Any initial thoughts anyone would like to share, what do you think about the promises of God?
The problem comes with our role. If we see promises of God as conditional, then we in fact have power over God in response to His promises. If God’s promise depends on a response or action of ours, even if that is only believing in them or accepting them, then we continue to set ourselves up as the ones in power. And we like that… we like to believe that we have a choice, that we are in control, and that we can have God and His goodness on our terms. We even take a bit of pride in that sometimes, embracing our disobedience, thinking “I know I am not supposed to (insert favorite sin here), but it is ok because when I decide to change I can then choose to accept the promises of God”. Or thinking, “I am doing ok in life at the moment on my terms, but when I get desperate I know I can turn to God.” Do you see? Thinking along those lines causes us to reduce God’s promises to a spiritual automatic teller machine at the bank, that we can go and make withdrawals from whenever we choose.
We can get to the same place if we see the promises of God as unconditional. Here we see the promises not depending on anything from us, so then determine it doesn’t matter how we live or whether or not we obey, because God’s promises are unconditional. We can always return and just ask forgiveness and God has to forgive. And if we run right out and do the same thing again, well God just has to forgive us again because He promised. Or we believe that God will always “work everything out for the good”, so again it doesn’t matter how we live because God will take care of it all.
I think there is one deeper issue at play, and it relates to our emotional need for security. The idea of conditional promises produces insecurity in us, rather than responsibility. It makes us feel we are not good enough to receive the promises of God. It grabs our insecurities and says “you don’t deserve that…”. Here the root issue is our confusion between the love of God and the promises of God, and our worth and role in each of them. It gets all warped and twisted in our minds and hearts and experiences of life, and we end up throwing our hands up in the air and feeling like garbage.
See, we’ve got the order of it all really wrong. We start with ourselves, and that really messes it all up. Many of the promises of God are conditional – “I will lead you” is conditional upon us following; “I will forgive you” is conditional upon our repentance and confession; “I will hear you” is conditional upon us speaking. But if we start with us, then suddenly we are evaluating if we are following enough or repenting properly or praying with the right words. And then we think “I’m not good enough to receive the promises of God” and that leads quickly to “I guess God doesn’t really love me because I’m not good enough”, and so then we either give up or we try harder to be good enough to be loved and to be worthy of God’s promises. It comes from starting at the wrong end.
Instead, we must start at God’s end. More specifically, at who God is, then at His unfailing and unconditional and all-powerful love for us, and then allow our behavior and lifestyle to flow out of a natural response to who God is and how He loves us. And then we can accept and enjoy all God’s good gifts, all His amazing promises, because our genuine response to God’s love – with all of ourselves – fulfills every condition for any promise. Our obedience is a response, not an attempt to win favor and be good enough to get some promises fulfilled.
And that really is how Is 40-44 orders it.