Three important truths became apparent to me in listening to the Easter sermon this year. I didn’t really expect to hear much of a different “story” of Easter, but I really “got” something different out of the story I did hear! Isn’t that just like God? He brings about something new even when we think there could not be anything new possible! It had to do with promise, purpose, and initiative. God’s promises overriding our “try harder” kind of mental belief we will be able to do enough to save ourselves from our own sin. God’s purpose determining our course right into the very presence of God and into the waiting arms of his embrace. Lastly, God’s initiative to make a way for each of us where absolutely no other way existed. All be it we try to live right, we don’t really “do” the work of salvation – the basis of our salvation is all in the promise, purpose, and initiative of another – Christ Jesus himself. Although this wasn’t the passage my pastor spoke from, it caught my eye as I was making my way through the Book of Romans again in my morning study. What became quite clear is this idea of promise. A promise in our sense of the word indicates the intent to actually do something – to act upon what we commit to in some sense. Intent differs from actually doing something, doesn’t it? Intent is good, but it lacks carry-through many times! God’s promise is different – it carries his “oath” of covenant – something unable to be broken. It is more than “intent” – it is genuine commitment which will see the fulfillment of the purpose and be born out of his initiative!
Don’t suppose for a moment, though, that God’s Word has malfunctioned in some way or other. The problem goes back a long way. From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise. Remember how it was put: “Your family will be defined by Isaac”? That means that Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God determined by promise. To Rebecca, also, a promise was made that took priority over genetics. What God did in this case made it perfectly plain that his purpose is not a hit-or-miss thing dependent on what we do or don’t do, but a sure thing determined by his decision, flowing from his initiative. (Romans 9:6-8; 10-12 MSG)
Many times we attempt to “redeem” our bad circumstances in life by our own power. Think about being barren – desiring a child to carry on the family bloodline, but incapable of bearing such a child. Then the day comes when you are no longer “of age” to bear children – the “factory” has closed, so to speak. The hope begins to dim, doesn’t it? Why? We thought we could accomplish something in our own plans and purposes, but all life comes from God – not just the union of man and woman! He is the creator of life – whether it be natural (as in the sense of having a baby), or spiritual (as in the sense of something being birthed within us that wasn’t there before). It shouldn’t surprise us that the moment we are “beyond” our natural ability to actually try any longer to get ourselves to the place we hoped to be that God comes along with a promise, purpose, and the specific initiative to actually bring us to the place we needed to be in the first place! Until our striving ceases, God cannot begin to work. All our initiative is not going to fulfill his purpose. His purpose is only realized when we let down our guard – opening ourselves up to the possibilities of his promise being fulfilled in his special way.
God’s promise is the birthing place in our lives. There is much spoken in a promise – the first sign of life is the hope which begins to well up within as a result of having received and believed the promise. If we think back to this story of Sarah and Abraham, Sarah isn’t too sure about God’s promise, though. She actually laughs when she hears that a woman her age, well passed the time of bearing children, could actually be “with child” at all. It isn’t that she really had no faith, she just did what most of us do a great deal of the time – she counted on what she could see, feel, and understand with her own mind. We often try to figure out how God will move in our lives to fulfill his promise without really understanding his purpose or counting on his initiative. God doesn’t need our capability – he needs our capacity! He wants us to empty ourselves of all our self-effort and to count on the promise to create or fill us with what is needed to see his purpose fulfilled. In deferring to his initiative, relying upon his promise as true and worthy of trusting in, we come to the place of seeing his purpose fulfilled. It isn’t in our doing, but in our trusting that his promise begins to be revealed!
We don’t often “laugh at God’s promises” because they are kind of ridiculous in our minds, but I know we have discounted them on occasion. We don’t grow to capacity until we have capacity – which comes from emptying ourselves of our own initiative and effort! Just sayin!