Four problems with "claiming" promises

Many people seem to make a habit of “claiming” promises from scripture. Here are four major problems with doing so:

1. You can’t “claim” promises

As Barnabas Piper outlines here, you simply cannot “claim” promises. To do so is to miss the point. As he comments “A promise tells a little bit about who God is and what He will do. It is anchored in His holiness, goodness, power, and sovereignty. It is based on his omnipotence and omniscience. And it will come to pass in a way only God knows and ordains.” We cannot “claim” it and take control of it. Were we to do so, we would change both the nature of the promise and they way it is ultimately realised. A promise is a gift that one receives from God and He will make it happen, not us.

2. The promise we claim may not be directed at us

As Graeme Goldsworthy reminded us in Gospel and Kingdom, it is false to read the Old Testament as a series of stories we can mine for moral lessons that relate directly to us. That being the case, we cannot simply “claim” the promises of the Old Testament and relate them directly to ourselves. When God makes a promise to King David, for example, he does so in his capacity as the Lord’s anointed. It would, therefore, be misguided to presume the promises to David relate directly to ourselves in the same way. The way those promises come to us, if at all, is through our relationship to Christ. David was a type of Christ who is the Archtype. Jesus is the ultimate heir to those promises and they relate only to us by way of Him.

Other issues arise when we try to “claim” certain supposed promises. It has become fairly common to cite the prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) as a basis for claiming health and wealth. Firstly, there is no promise from God anywhere in scripture that he will do this for us (in fact, there is plenty which suggests the opposite). All we are told is that the Lord did this for Jabez. Secondly, we simply don’t know why the Lord did this for Jabez. Perhaps there was a particular reason. What we do know is that plenty of other passages in scripture speak against wealth for wealth’s sake. Thirdly, and most significantly, this simply isn’t a promise. Jabez prayed and the Lord granted his prayer. This wasn’t a promise from God that he would do this for Jabez nor is there any suggestion this is a promise of what God will do for us.

3. Claiming promises turns them into magic spells and silver bullets

At heart, we must ask why we see fit to “claim” promises. If we are working on the premise that claiming a promise will make it happen, we are really turning God’s word into magic spells. We suggest that by reciting a mantra, or prayer, God will somehow honour us. The Lord never worked that way in scripture. More to the point, He does not appreciate being treated like a genie who exists only to grant our wishes.

4. We only ever seem to claim the promises we like

As in (2), associating ourselves with the bits we like and ignoring the less attractive parts is a particularly poor way to read scripture. Psalm 139 is a good case in point. Many of us like to associate with vv1-18, applying it directly to our situation and “claiming” these truths for ourselves. I am yet to meet anyone who “claims” vv19-22 for themselves! It is simply not credible to cherry pick the nice parts and ignore the less pleasant bits – especially within the same Psalm! Again, as in (2), these things only really relate to us so far as they relate to Christ and we are in Him.

3 comments

  1. On point 3 … Isn't this what Satan is trying to tempt Jesus to do in Matthew 4:5-7 – turn a “promise” of God into a magic spell … ?

    Really good article, Steve!

    Like

  2. Thanks Joe.

    Yes, I suppose that is what he was doing (though I hadn't made the connection myself). Certainly he was trying to get Jesus to “claim” a promise from the Father.

    In fact, that whole section seems to be Satan tempting Jesus to “claim” promises already made by the Father. That is to say, what the Father promised to grant at some future time e.g. principalities and power, Satan was offering here and now. That sort of seems to be the heart of this promise claiming idea – what God has promised to do I want right now.

    Like

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