Table Charismata Matters

Saturday, August 17, 2013

God's Promises and Our Warranted Expectation of Their Fulfillment

In response to Rhology HERE, I wrote up my understanding of the relationship between God's promises and our warranted expectation of their fulfillment. Here's a copy of my response (with minor corrections & additions):

Rhology, I understand if you don't respond to this post. I think this conversation has run it's course (you probably do too). I always enjoy discussions with knowledgeable committed fellow believers like you. But for the record I wanted to respond again to something you said one more (& last) time.

2) Just b/c we seek something doesn't mean God always gives it.
As Christians (and especially as Calvinists) we believe that all our prayers should be submitted to God's Sovereign will which He has purposed according to His superior wisdom which is coupled with His love.

However, I believe some things are more clearly His will than others. Also, as Calvinists we distinguish between God's revealed will and His decretive will (which is secret). Since we cannot know what God's secret will of decree is, we cannot specifically pray for those things. We can only submit to it, praising God that it's for the ultimate best. However, when it comes to God's revealed will, there are some things that we can pray for which are 1. specifically promised/commanded in Scripture, 2. generally promised in Scripture, 3. things not specifically promised but are consistent and in keeping with His general promises, 4. things contrary to His revealed will. Then we have to also distinguish between conditional and unconditional promises. For example, God's promise to keep the current cosmos ordered till His purposes are fulfilled are unconditional (Jer. 31:35-36; Isa. 66:22). God will do it regardless of whether we pray and obey. But, many of God's promises are conditional. Additionally, God teaches us (and promises by that teaching) that our ability to fulfill the conditions are from Him (Isa. 26:12; Phil. 2:12-13). Moreover, God teaches that He has ordained to what degree we will fulfill those conditions at any given time (Eph. 1:11; 2:10; Prov. 19:21; 20:24; 21:1; Jer. 10:23).

To the degree that something is God's will or promise, and to whatever degree of consistency (or inconsistency) we fulfill their conditions: 1. God will fulfill His promises (whether they be specific or general); 2. we can have confidence to believe we may, can (or definitely will) receive them (1 John 3:21-22; 5:14-15). As well as having Biblical warrant to persist and persevere in prayer until we receive their fulfillment (Luke 11:8; 18:1, 7; Matt. 7:7-11).
For example, God's revealed will clearly and specifically commands us to (and promises us that we can by His grace) glorify God (command: Matt. 6:9; 1 Cor. 10:31; promise: John 15:5, 16) and pursue our sanctification (command: 1 Thess. 4:3; promise 1 Thess. 5:23-34). Since these are specifically God's revealed will, we have warrant to pray for these things with boldness.

Speaking of perseverance, George Mueller said: 

"It is not enough to begin to pray, nor to pray aright; nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray; but we must patiently, believingly continue in prayer, until we obtain an answer; and further, we have not only to continue in prayer unto the end, but we have also to believe that God does hear us and will answer our prayers. Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained, and in not expecting the blessing."

The question then is whether spiritual gifts are specifically or generally promised; and whether they are promised with or without conditions. Same thing for other promises like wisdom (Jehovah Ori: 1 Cor. 1:30; Ps. 27:1; James 1:5-8), justification (Jehovah Tsidkenu: 1 Cor. 1:30; Isa. 23:6; 53:11; Rom. 10:9-10), sanctification (Jehovah Mekaddishkem: 1 Cor. 1:30; Exo. 31:12-13; Lev. 20:7-8; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; Heb. 12:14), redemption (Jehovah Goel: 1 Cor. 1:30; Is. 49:26, 60:16; Rom. 3:24; 8:23), provision (Jehovah Jireh: Gen. 22:14; Matt. 6:8, 11 25-26, 30-33; Phil. 4:19; 2 Cor. 9:8, 10-11), healing (Jehovah Rapha: Exo. 15:26; 23:25-26; Ps. 103:2-3; Mal. 4:2; James 5:14-16ff; Acts 3:16; Mark 1:41; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; et cetera, et cetera, etc. See my blog HERE). I could type up more references for promises of protection, long life, perseverance in the faith, and much more, but you all get the picture. There are also dozens more Jehovah compound names.

Paul tells us, "For all the promises of God in Him [i.e. in Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us" (2 Cor. 1:20). Yet we know instances of Christians or OT believers who weren't protected (but died as martyrs), starved to death (for not compromising), died of sickness, made foolish choices, got morally worse as they got older (e.g. Solomon). To summarize my resolution to the apparent contradiction between God's promises and our (sometimes) lack of experience of them, I would point to the distinctions I made above concerning specific, general, unconditional, conditional promises and God's sovereign purposes. Regardless of God secret intentions, I believe we are to persist in seeking for the fulfillment of God's promises since 1. God commands us to and 2. tells us their fulfillment is often conditioned on faith, prayer, persistent prayer, and obedience (and God commands us to fulfill those conditions).

When it comes to spiritual gifts, and assuming some form of continuationism, it's clear that God generally promises spiritual gifts and conditions their giving based on earnestly desiring and pursuing them in prayer (1 Cor. 14:1, 39; James 4:2; Luke 11:9-13; Matt. 7:7-11). From those same passages (and others) it's also clear that all Christians OUGHT to have spiritual gifts. Some might even argue that Scripture declares and explicitly teaches ALL Christians DO have spiritual gifts. If that's true, then (it has been argued) they remain LATENT until we pursue them and we find out which spiritual gifts we have or until God reveals to us which we have and which others God may want to additionally give us.
  In addition to the Calvinism's distinctions of God's 1. Will of Decree and 2. Will of Demand (also known as, "will of command", "revealed will", "prescriptive will", or "preceptive will"), I also believe in 3. God's Will Delight. I suspect this is the same as R.C. Sproul's distinction and description of God's Will of Disposition (or dispositional will).  It refers to God's general benevolent attitude toward His creation and creatures and what He's willing to do for it and them.

For example, God's revealed will during Christ's earthly ministry was that the Gospel be only preached, heralded and offered to the lost House of Israel (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24; Acts 3:26; 13:46; Luke 24:47). Nevertheless, because of God's dispositional will (which is alluded to in many passages in God's revealed will in Scripture; e.g. Ps. 145:8-9), Jesus (with God the Father's approval) answered the prayer and responded to the faith of the Syrophoenician woman who was a Gentile. Even though it was contrary to God's revealed will. Initially, when the woman asked Jesus for mercy on her daughter, Jesus kept quiet and didn't respond to her (Matt. 15:23a). His disciples begged Him to command her to leave (Matt. 15:23b). He chose not to send her away even though He reiterated His mission was only for "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). The woman persisted and asked for mercy again (Matt. 15:25). Then Jesus responded by saying, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." Then she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." By her insightful response, Jesus gladly granted her request and commended her for her great faith. From this passage we can see that all along Jesus was secretly willing to grant her request even though it contradicted God's revealed will, since He didn't send her away (when He could have). Evidently, His intention was to draw out her faith by His initial refusal. A refusal which was based on God's revealed will concerning His mission. This is an instance where God's Will of Disposition/Delight contradicted God's Revealed Will. But because of the woman's persistent faith, she was able to appropriate what God was willing to grant in one sense, which He was not willing to grant in another sense.


I also believe in 4. God's Directional Will. It refers to situations in which God reveals to us outside of Scripture (but which doesn't contradict Scripture) a course of action He would have us take. Such impressions, leadings, or commands may have differing degrees of clearness, certainty and urgency.
This would have been a common situation before the close of the Bible's Canon. Cessationists and (and some semi-Cessationists) would deny that such directions are possible (or are EXTREMELY rare) after the close of the Canon or the death of the last Apostle. However, continuationist believe that they can or do happen even if they are rare. An example might be waking up in the middle of the night to a voice saying there's a fire in the house and to get out. The voice may be directly from God or the voice of an angel commissioned by God to protect you (and if necessary to speak to you).

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