Are the Promises of God Conditional?

Recently I heard Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, announce what they are calling The Daniel Plan.  In short this is a weight loss program for the whole congregation, with Warren leading the way and pledging to lose 90 lbs.  Think The Biggest Loser with a praise band (as pionted out by Chris Roseborough on Issues Etc.).  What struck me is two statements that Warren made:
“The goal of radical preaching is obedience”.
“God promises to bless you IF you follow his instructions. Every promise has a premise; there’s a condition attached.”

The basis of these statements, Warren says, is first the common translation of the Great Commission.  “19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV)  The second is the many times the word “if” is used when attached to the various promises Jesus makes.  For instance, Warren says:  “God promises to bless my life IF I share the Good News. “I pray you will be active in sharing your faith, so that you will fully understand every blessing we have in Christ.” Philemon 1:6“[translation unknown], and also “God promises to bless my life IF I participate in fellowship with other believers. “I’m eager to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. In this way, each of us will be a blessing to the other.” Romans 1:12” [again translation unknown].

There’s a problem with both of these a matter of sloppy translation and not understanding what God’s Word is actually saying.

Take the supposed condition of “obey” that Warren cites is in the Great Commission.  The word used in Greek is tēreō (τηρέω), this word can mean obey… but it doesn’t always mean that.  For instance, in the Garden of Gesthemane, when Jesus is praying on the night He was betrayed, He says “11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11 ESV)  The word tēreō, there makes absolutely no sense if it is to mean “obey.”  Here Jesus is asking the Father to protect, to guard, to defend us in His name.  You can almost picture God the Father wrapping His arms around His beloved children and shielding them from all harm.  This is at the essence of what the word tēreō means.  And so to tēreō what Jesus has commanded/instructed is to cherish, to hold on to, to guard and defend His Word and His Sacrament.

The thing is, this still is an action, yet it is not the condition which we must fulfill to be disciples.  Rather, what Jesus is saying here is that the apostles (sent ones) are to make disciples (learners) of all nations by means of their baptizing and teaching.  The activity is really on the part of the apostles, as sent ones, being the instrumental means employing the very means of Grace (that is through the Word – see Romans 10:13-17) which makes disciples.  And let there be no misunderstanding, it is God Himself that does the making of disciples, yet it has pleased Him to use the simple means of the proclaimed Word, and the Word with the Water in Baptism to accomplish this.

The second mistake of Biblical interpretation is Warren’s emphasis on God’s promises being conditional.  In fact, Warren goes so far to say that God is waiting on us to make the move.  That God has a treasury of blessings all stored up for us, if only we would act and obey.  (Wow this sounds like John Tetzel, the indulgence preacher that Luther reacted against to start the reformation)  Here’s the problem, just because one finds the word “if” in a Bible verse does not mean that that is how the Greek text reads.  Furthermore, the alleged conditions cited above are not even conditions in English grammar.  They are resultant or purpose clauses.  Whenever you see “so that” in an English translation, it most likely is translating a Greek word that denotes purpose.  What this means is that the first thing, namely the blessing, is the premise on which the following action comes.  For example, if I build a hammer, my intention is that its purpose is to drive nails.  Now if this hammer is never used to drive nails, it does not cease to be a hammer.  Of course the analogy breaks down a bit.  However the thing that remains is that what a thing is defines it’s purpose.  If you want to do some research, in the realm of philosophy this is called teleology.  It is truly amazing that a man who wrote a several books on “purpose” could never actually get this point right.  For example if a hammer is used to fasten screws, it doesn’t suddenly become a hammer.  This gets to the adage: use the right tool for the job.  The same goes with being a Christian, your salvation, your identity in Christ is not contingent on what YOU do, rather, it is contingent on your Creator, who through His declarative Word states that you are His child, that your sins are forgiven, and that life everlasting is yours.

4 thoughts on “Are the Promises of God Conditional?

  1. No, they are not “if-then” as in computer logic statements. Most often the ean + the subjunctive in the case where God is promising is an indefinite relational clause where the element of contingency is the person not their actions or time. In these cases the clause is descriptive.

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