Claiming the Promises

by | Mar 27, 2012

Is it alright for Christians to claim promises that aren’t specifically written to them?  For example, Philippians 4:19 is often used by believers today as assurance that God will provide for our basic needs.

Is that a misuse of that text since Paul was referring to a specific situation pertaining to the Philippians’ generosity to him?  How do we know which promises we can claim?


Dear Valorie,

Great question! I’ve never had to spell this out before, so this is my first shot at it. Let’s begin with a definition of a “promise” in Scripture. A promise is a statement that God will be or do something for someone. Some promises are conditional, and some are unconditional. Some are corporate; some are individual.

So, the answer to your first question is “it depends.”  It depends on a lot of things.  Here are steps to use in determining whether you can claim a promise in Scripture:

1) From the context identify the original recipient of the promise

If the recipient is a single named individual, and the promise is not given to his descendants, then it may not be claimed today. For example, the promise to Hannah that she would have children is not a promise to all barren wives that they will have children. If the recipients are an individual and his descendants, one of whom is Jesus, then it can be claimed.

This is Paul’s line of argument in Galatians 3. He says the promises given to Abraham and his seed (singular) apply to us, because Christ was the seed of Abraham and we are Christ’s seed (Gal. 3:16-29). If the recipient is a group, we must be members of that group to claim the promise.

For example, Jesus promised the apostles in John 14:26 that the Spirit would teach them all things and bring all that He had said to their remembrance. This promise does not apply to us because we are not apostles.

2) Determine if the promise has been fulfilled using a good cross-reference Bible

If it has been fulfilled the promise may not be claimed. For example, God promised David that his son would build a house for God (2 Sam. 7:13). That promise was fulfilled through Solomon (1 Kings 8:19-20). This is not a promise to claim about my son building a house.

Isaiah 53:4 “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” was fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry recorded in Matt. 8:16-17.

3) Determine whether the promise is conditional or unconditional

We must meet the conditions of a promise before we can claim the promise. God’s promise to Noah and all humanity to never destroy the earth again with a flood is unconditional (Gen. 9:9-11). God’s promise to establish Solomon as king over Israel just as He established David’s throne was conditioned upon Solomon’s obedience (1 Kings 9:4-5).

When Solomon failed to meet those conditions, God removed him from being king over Israel and limited him to ruling only Judah and Benjamin (1 Kings 11:11). If a promise is given to a person identified by a characteristic (e.g., righteous, wise, godly), then it is a conditional promise and anyone who shares that character can claim the promise.

4) Distinguish promises made to the nation of Israel from promises made to spiritual Israel

God’s promise to cause Israel’s national enemies to flee before them seven ways (Deut. 28:7) is not a promise to make the national enemies of any or all Christians to flee before them in battle. It was a promise to national Israel.

On the other hand, God’s promise to dwell in the midst of his people (Lev. 26:12; Ezek. 37:27) is a promise for all His people and it is being fulfilled now by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (2 Cor. 6:16-18).

I’m out of room, so next time I’ll address distinguishing spiritual impressions from Scriptural promises, distinguishing descriptive texts from prescriptive texts, and whether Phil. 4:19 is a universal promise.

Dr. Phil