Believing God: 12 Promises Christians Struggle to Accept

from Feb 27, 2009 Category: Ligonier Resources

A passion to see Christians take God at His word inspired Dr. R. C. Sproul Jr. to write Believing God: Twelve Biblical Promises Christians Struggle to Accept, the latest release from Reformation Trust Publishing.

Of course we believe that God speaks truthfully,” Sproul writes. “But do we really believe it? Does our belief shape our lives? Is that belief something we tell ourselves or is it something others can see in us? Are our lives characterized by the joy that must naturally flow from entering into the fullness of the grace of God?”

To help believers toward this kind of life-altering belief, Sproul explores twelve of the most significant promises in Scripture. As he methodically unpacks each divine pledge, he shows that while Christians may express trust in God’s words, they refuse, in numerous ways, to stake their lives on what He says. Sproul takes pains to present the clear biblical meaning of each promise and strives to help his readers grasp the sheer wonder and glory of it. Through his trademark use of creative writing, he gleefully slays sacred cows, showing how evangelical assumptions can get in the way of understanding what Christians have been promised. In the final analysis, the book functions as a mirror in which every reader with a teachable heart will see how he or she can more fully believe God.

Excerpts

Page xiv - My father suffers from a dilemma. The book of his with which he is most often identified is titled The Holiness of God. It is a potent exposition of that Believing God most potent reality. The problem is that people have so come to identify him with the holiness of God that they make the mistake of thinking he is a peculiarly holy man. He explains wisely and humbly that he was driven to study and to teach on the holiness of God not because of his holiness, but because of his lack of it. He sought to look deeply into God’s holiness because of his emptiness rather than his fullness.

In like manner, I would be loathe to learn that anyone reading this book would walk away thinking of the author, “Now, there is a man who obviously believes God.” The truth of the matter is that I am a man who knows that I need to believe God and that I fail bitterly. But I came to this study knowing that sin began in the garden with a failure to believe the promises of God and with the conviction that the fear of the Lord, the beginning of wisdom, begins with saying “Amen” to all that He speaks—including when He speaks blessing on us.

I knew I needed to learn better to believe God, not because my life was moving from comfort to ease, but because God—for His own good purposes, and for my good as well—was putting me through a time of significant challenge. In other words, I do not find it easy to believe God’s promises because He’s given me an easy life. Instead, I know I need to believe God’s promises because He has, wisely, sent me some hard providences.

Pages 3,4 - The problem in the garden, after all, wasn’t in the fruit. Both Adam and Eve fell simply because they didn’t believe God. All that we, in turn, strive for as those in Christ is to believe God. This is what faith is, what trust is, what sanctification is. To disbelieve God is death, for a person, a family, a church, or a culture. Conversely, to believe God is life itself. We do not, after all, live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. That is why I am writing this book.

We rightly worry that God’s warnings sometimes fall on deaf ears. He tells us that judgment is coming, and it comes, precisely because we do not believe Him (remember that He promised to judge Nineveh, but because they heard Jonah and repented, He showed them grace). But as strange as it is that we don’t believe His warnings, even inside the church, stranger still is that we don’t believe His promises. Therefore, we are going to look, in due time, at twelve promises that God has given us in His Word, promises that Christians find difficult to believe.

My goal is that as you read this book, you not only will believe each of these twelve promises, but that you will in turn believe all that God has promised.

Page 6 - Our problem in the evangelical church isn’t, I believe, that we aren’t trained well enough to grasp the hard teachings of the Bible, but that we are too worldly to believe the plain promises of the Bible. The difficulty isn’t that the Bible is esoteric, but that it is profligate. The problem isn’t that God speaks with a forked tongue, but that He speaks such incredible promises that we find them to be less than credible. The answer isn’t to run from what God speaks, but to run to it. Thus, Paul makes perspicuous what he hopes for Timothy, and for us: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16). What are we seeking? That we might be “competent,” or complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. And that is exactly what God promises here. I know that this promise hasn’t been hidden from the evangelical church. We are more than familiar with this passage. The trouble is that we don’t believe it.

Page 10 - When God makes a promise, unlike every other promise that we encounter,it is too good not to be true. God not only has given us the promise in His Word, He has given us the promise of His Word. We are equipped, ready to go. We do not need the latest Christian fad to come down the pike. We need instead the oldest Christian habit to come down the pike. We need to read, to understand, and most important, to believe the Word of God.

Pages 12, 13 - Obedience is better even than the flattery of imitation. We ought to come to God’s law as King David did, delighting in it, meditating on it, and obeying it. Too often, however, we “honor” God by creating our own law, making ourselves more pious than Him. God says, “Don’t eat,” and we say, “Don’t touch.” God says, “Give ten percent,” and we say, “Give twenty percent.” Like the Pharisees before us, we add to God’s law, then expect Him to pat us on the back. This problem of seeking a piety greater than God’s, however, gets no uglier than when we apply it to ourselves.

Page 16 - God’s covenant of grace isn’t simply a legal arrangement, any more than our marriage covenants are merely legal arrangements. Yes, there is a legal side to covenant, but we too often miss the familial side. Covenant, in fact, is the marriage of the legal and the familial. God does not merely welcome us into His kingdom because He’s such a nice guy, a sweet-hearted father. By no means. Blood had to be spilled. The penalty had to be paid. But the end result wasn’t merely acquittal. When you stand before the judgment seat and God asks you how you plead, if you are wise you will plead the blood of Christ. When you have done so, however, God will not merely look over His glasses at you, shuffle a few papers, bang His celestial gavel, and say: “Not guilty. Next.” No, the image of what happens at the death of the saint is rather different. God will indeed be in a robe, but He, seeing you coming from afar off, will gird up the hems of His robe and run to meet you. He will throw His arms about your neck and cry out, “My son, My son.” He will command that a robe and a ring be brought for you, and that the fatted calf be killed so that a feast might be held for you.

Page 22 - Of course, our careful doctrine tself reminds us that we can’t earn God’s favor. So we vacillate between pride and humility, between ease and despair. To put it more clearly, we reflect the folly of Pelagius when we cry out in despair, “We’re not worthy,” when confronted with the grace of God. But we reflect the wisdom of Augustine when we cry out with joy, “We’re not worthy,” when confronted with the grace of God. As Pelagians, we mourn because we know we have missed the mark, but foolishly hink we missed it just barely. We think we almost earned peace with God and weep that we came up short. That means that our despair is less the result of not having God’s love and more the result of having failed to reach our goal. We feel bad about ourselves because we did not win the prize.

Page 25 - In my years as a pastor, the most frequent question I have received is, “How can I know if I am saved?” The question isn’t an apologetical one, such as, “How can I know that the Bible is true?” It isn’t a theological one, like, “How can I know that the Bible teaches I must trust in Christ alone for my salvation?” Instead, it is an assurance question: “How can I know that I truly believe the gospel?” What typically prompts the uncertainty is an all-too-real certainty about the remaining sin in the person’s life. What are we left to do in such circumstances? We could take a mathematically precise measurement of sin in our lives, which likely would cause us to despair all the more. Or we could gaze more deeply into our navels, trying to find inwardly an outward measure of faith. (And here we find another Pelagian temptation, thinking that the depth of our doubt and sorrow somehow will earn God’s favor.)

Page 30, 31 - Too often it is the “normal” that encourages us to practice simultaneous translation. We come to the Bible expecting little, so we miss the greatness of the promises. We reduce them down to something manageable, something safe. Sometimes the Bible is so straightforward in what it promises, however, that we can’t turn it into something safe. What we do instead is determine that while we can’t know what the text means, it certainly can’t mean what it says. Once more, I suspect that many Christians do this, because I know that I do this.

Page 39 - That is the very nature of wisdom,to see the world the way God sees the world. As we grow in wisdom, we learn more and more that the world does not exist for our glory, our comfort, our peace. We learn that it exists for God’s glory. As we grow in wisdom, we learn more and more that God loves those who are His in Christ and that He is our Father. We learn to see our brothers the way our Father sees our brothers, as His adopted children in Christ. As we grow in wisdom, we learn more and more that there is no greater glory than the glory of Christ, and so we long for nothing more than to become more and more like Him.

Pages 65, 66 - Likewise, the Devil is not only terribly crafty, but resourceful as well. His schemes are rarely discreet, operating on one level only, and with only one goal. When, for instance, he came up with the silly notion that there is no objective right and wrong, he was not merely seeking to confuse the gullible. That’s all well and good, but there is more he can achieve through this strategy. For instance, actual Christians can lose a degree of confidence in the Bible. They may not embrace relativism, but they may feel intimidated by its general acceptance. Perhaps most subtle is this eventuality, which affects even the most ardent defenders of the biblical truth account: when we come to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, we are told what God really requires, objectively. But the Devil succeeds if we come to this text believing that its ultimate purpose is to refute relativism.

Page 93 - In sending us hardships, God does not call us merely to hold our breath, knowing that a better day is coming. Our calling isn’t to suffer through our threescore and ten, knowing that things will get better in the end and make all our suffering worthwhile. We do not manage this hardship or that by means of a promise about the future promise. We do so in light of a present promise, a present reality. The good news isn’t that we can endure a present hardship because of future blessing. The good news is that the hardship itself is, according to this biblical promise, the blessing.

Endorsements

Believing God addresses one of the most significant problems in the church today: We do not take the Bible seriously. Specifically, in regard to God’s amazing promises, we tend to believe only those that seem logical to us. R. C. Sproul Jr. helps us see that in Christ Jesus all of God’s promises are “Yes” and are meant to be believed and relied upon. This book will stimulate your faith.
—Jerry Bridges
Bible teacher, conference speaker, Author, The Pursuit of Holiness and other titles

Most of us only scratch the surface of what it means to believe God. We say we “take Him at His Word,” but do we? The book you hold in your hands presents he supreme promises of God we fight to hold on to, and what each one conveys bout our awesome Creator and Redeemer. Thank you, R. C. Jr., for showing us how to enter—how to believe—the promises of God and truly live.
—Joni Eareckson Tada
Founder, Joni and Friends International Disability Center Agoura Hills, California

Many years ago, I first heard the cute catchphrase “Some people are just sitting on the premises instead of standing on the promises.” As a fired-up young Christian, I was quite sure it didn’t apply to me. More than fifty years later, Believing God has challenged me to have a reality check. R. C. Sproul Jr.’s excellent approach to twelve key biblical promises achieves the combination of being both forensic and pastoral, clinical and tender, surgical and sympathetic. Read it carefully, apply it diligently—then be sure to pass it on to somebody else. I predict it will do a power of good.
—John Blanchard
Preacher, teacher, and apologist Author, Does God Believe in Atheists?

This book is rich provision for all of us who have cried out, “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” R. C. Jr. has marshaled the hope of faith for a host of our recurring doubts—that we might be tossed to and fro no longer.
—George Grant
Pastor, Parish Presbyterian Church, Franklin, Tennessee; Founder, King’s Meadow Study Center

About the Author

R.C. Sproul Jr. is the founder of the Highlands Study Center in Mendota, Va., which seeks to help Christians live more simple, separate, and deliberate lives to the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom. Dr. Sproul travels extensively as a conference speaker and has written several books, including Tearing Down Strongholds, When You Rise Up, Bound for Glory, and Biblical Economics. He and his wife, Denise, have seven children.