Colossians 1:1-2 (NIV)
I have often made the statement that the promises in the Bible are pretty much all conditional. But I haven’t always thought along those lines.
When I was a kid, my mom had a “Bible Promise Box.” It was a little plastic box in which were a number of colored tagboard strips, about 3/4″ x 2″. On the strips were printed various promises from the Bible. The idea, as I remember, was that every day you pulled out one of the strips, and that was your promise for the day. Pretty cool!
But as I started reading the actual words of the Bible in context, it seemed that pretty much every promise, including the ones on those little strips of colored tagboard, came with “ifs,” things that had to be done in order to claim the promise (which seemed to be missing from the strips of tagboard). Now, I realize that to some people that kind of thinking might seem a little legalistic. “Are you saying that we have to EARN the promises from God?” Well, EARN is probably the wrong word. But there are clearly conditions that have to be met in order for the promise to work in our lives.
Let me give you a good example. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus promises that our food and clothing will be given to us by God, just like God provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. But there are conditions that must be met in order to receive this kind of provision, conditions that Jesus clearly stated right along with the promise: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) Clearly, as expressed by Jesus, seeking first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness is a condition of receiving the promised provision.
Pretty much every promise in the Bible is an if-then proposition. If you want the promise, you have to meet the conditions. Check it out for yourself. Next time you notice a promise, look a little further for the conditions that must be met. Sometimes there is actually the word “if” (like Exodus 15:26), and sometime the word “if” is implied (like in Matthew 6:33 above.
Over the years I have read Paul’s epistle to the Colossians several times, but until this morning I never really noticed the if-then relationship that is implied in the greeting. (Let’s face it – how much attention do you normally pay to the greeting section of the epistles? We usually don’t figure that there is much theological meat there!) Take a look at the prayer and the implied promise: That the people of Colosse would receive grace and peace from God. Now what are the implied conditions? The letter and greeting are written very specifically to “The holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse.” This really spoke to my heart this morning. If we want to receive the grace and peace that God has for us, then we must be holy and faithful, and we must be “in Christ.”
And this really does make sense. If we are unholy, living sinful and sin-filled lives, how can we receive God’s grace and peace? If we are not faithful, meaning that we do not hold strongly to our relationship with God, and we don’t believe His word, how can we be in a position to receive His grace and peace? And, of course, if we are not “in Christ,” that is we are not continually connected to Him in vital relationship, how can we be in a position to receive grace and peace from Him?
The thing is, none of this is designed to discourage of frustrate us. After all, even the promise of salvation has its conditions: We have to repent and believe in Jesus, or we don’t get the promise. All of God’s other promise have the same kinds of conditions – pretty much all of them related to making or keeping our relationship with God strong through obedience and faith. It may seem like too much work on our part to keep ourselves in a position to receive these promises from God, but the work on our part is actually microscopic when compared to the glorious riches that are promised us in Christ Jesus!