What is the purpose of the promises and warnings in the Bible? They serve the same purpose as promises and warnings in regular life. If we examine the promise to see if it had merit and follow through, we’ll get the benefits. If we examine the warnings to see if they have merit and heed them, we’ll be spared the negative consequences. There is nothing supernatural about this.
We naturally respond to promises and warnings. Television advertisers know this and saturate their commercials with promises, stated and unstated, of what we’ll get by purchasing their products. Doctors and mothers regularly issue warnings for unhealthy or bad behavior with the hope that the patient or child will change his ways.
It is expected that when a solid promise or warning is given, people will respond to it.
Like a ball that keeps rolling straight until something slows it down, diverts its path, or stops it, we normally keep doing what we do; we are people of routine and habit. A promise or warning is often used to get us to change our course. As it is in normal, everyday life, so it is with our spiritual life.
Why am I talking about promises and warnings? Because people often wonder why God is not changing their lives. They know they should become better persons, but they still continue in their old ways. They know that they should pray more or do some other spiritual discipline, but they seem stuck where they are.
Enter the promises and warnings. In the Old Testament, God encouraged the people of Israel to let Him lead them by making promises that a faithful God is well able to keep. He also gave them warnings of what would happen if they chose to depart from God. You can read of these blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience in Deuteronomy chapter 28 (please do).
It was God’s purpose to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt and form a new society, the kingdom of God. You can read the details of this kingdom charter in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, in which God explained the new civil and religious systems the people were to follow. Benefits and chastisements were spelled out in detail to encourage them to change from Egypt’s engrained ways to God’s ways. As we see in the sad story of the Israelites’ history, they did not heed the promises and were subject to the warnings. God faithfully sent them prophets who repeated the blessings and curses to help change the course of the nation. (As an aside, when we read of God’s punishments on Israel, they were not acts of a cruel God, but the same punishments spelled out in the charter that the people had agreed to.)
In the New Testament, God continues the same practice. There are blessings and curses for the child of God. God makes a distinction in blessing for the obedient and disobedient, blessing those who obey and holding back blessing for those who don’t. But because He is impartial, He will apply the same blessing to the disobedient if they change their ways and obey Him.
Some people respond to promises better than warnings, while it is the other way around for others. At one time, a promise will stir us up to greater heights; at another time a warning will help us shy away from a course us were thinking of taking.
In this way God changes us. He gives us directions throughout the New Testament for living in a way that’s pleasing to Him. Since we are often set in our ways, He promises us something much more than our current lifestyle can supply us in order to move us off the beaten path to a new one. Since God has an agenda of presenting us before Himself spotless and faultless, and He has given us every means to make this happen, He offers dire warnings to us if we should refuse His teachings.
What can we say to the smoker who lies on his deathbed at 30 years old after smoking several packs a day in spite of the warnings on the box? What can we say to the churchgoer who stands trembling before God, having ignored his warnings to turn from his ways?
If the smoker first becomes aware of his habit and its toxic tobacco effects (though not all tobacco users are affected to the same degree), then he has a chance to re-evaluate the warning and take action. Frequently, though, this is difficult, because tobacco is addictive. In that case, the smoker escapes by seeking outside help, such as a patch, or healthier substitutes for smoking, or help with medical supervision. He must deliberately fight off the addiction until it has lessened enough for him to assume a healthy lifestyle. The warnings have taken on new meaning because he finds they are becoming real to him; he feels the dangerous effects in his body.
It is no different for the sinner who is addicted to her sin and can’t seem to escape on her own strength. Then she needs external help, such as from a pastoral counsellor who shows her the way of receiving God’s strength. She will seek help the more if she sees her life going downhill, if she feels the effects of the sin, of anxiety, depression, and doubts. (These are the curses on the unbelieving, untrusting heart in Christian and non-Christian.)
I encourage you to pay attention to the warnings as well as the positive sayings in the Bible. If you are in the habit of marking up your Bible, mark both of these, not just the good stuff. God provided both to encourage us to change our lives. There are quite a few books published on the promises of God; examine them. You won’t find books on the warnings of God, though; nobody wants to read of gloom and doom. I don’t shy away from gloom and doom in my articles; they have helped me and I know they will help you.
Beware of routine. Beware of staying the same. Progression should be a given in the Christian life. What else is growth, but change? And God is using ordinary methods to change us, like promises and warnings. They are familiar to us, so we already know how to change. Let’s not turn growth into something strange and mystical. We use the natural means God has given us, then God does the supernatural part. Respond to His promises and warnings, and live.
Examples of promises and warnings:
Matthew 24:45-51 – Faithful to the end or not
1 Corinthians 3:10-17 – Built on proper foundation of Christ or not
Matthew 7:24-27 – Building on rock (hearing and doing) or sand (not hearing or doing)
Romans 8:5-8 – Setting the mind on flesh or spirit