Facts, Instructions, & Promises

By Royce Frederick

It has been said that the Bible contains:

Facts to Believe,

Commands to Obey, and

Promises to Receive.

That’s a good statement. However, we need to remember that one very important element should be present in all three of those: faith (belief). Also, some of God’s instructions for us are not in the form of “commands.” Therefore, it’s better to say that the Bible contains:

Facts to Believe,

Instructions to Believe and Obey, and

Promises to Believe and Receive.

Many great verses in the Bible emphasize the importance of faith: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). A diligent study of God’s word, the Bible, causes us to begin believing in the true and living God. And when we truly believe in Him, we then believe all He has revealed in His word the facts, the instructions, and the promises.

FACTS to BELIEVE. The Bible contains multitudes of facts. These help us understand many things about God and our relationship to Him. Learning and believing the facts in the Bible builds a foundation within us for believing His instructions and promises.

For example, the Bible reveals the facts about God creating the heavens, the earth, and all forms of life in six days (Genesis 1-2; Exodus 20:11; 31:17). By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). This helps us understand the awesome power of God.

The Bible reveals many facts about the lives of many people, such as Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the nation of Israel, Jesus, the apostles, and the church. Without knowledge of these facts of history, we would have no reason to listen to the instructions and promises of God. Through these facts, we become acquainted with God and how to please Him.

The Bible contains many “past facts” events which were already part of history when that portion of the Bible was written. But the Bible also reveals some “future facts” events which the Bible said would occur after that portion of the Bible was written. For example, God foretold the “future fact” that many people would depart from the faith: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). This “future fact” was not a promise of something God Himself would do. He was foretelling what some people would do. The Bible was completed in the first century A.D., and many people have departed from the faith in later centuries, as God foretold.

When the Bible reveals facts, our responsibility is to believe those facts. We are not required to obey the facts in the Bible. For example, God told Noah to build an ark, a very large ship (Genesis 6:14-22). That was a command for Noah, but it is now a fact of history for us. God does not require us to build an ark, but He does require us to believe the facts about that event and learn many lessons from it.

INSTRUCTIONS to BELIEVE and OBEY. God’s instructions come in several different forms, such as commands, statements, questions, parables, and examples both good and bad examples by which He tells us what kind of behavior is right and what is wrong.

The Old Testament portion of the Bible contains God’s laws for the people who lived before Jesus died on the cross (see Galatians 3:24-25; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:14). The New Testament, which was given through Jesus Christ, is God’s “law of liberty” for all people who have lived since Jesus died on the cross (James 1:25; 2:12; see Hebrews 8:6-9; 9:15-17; Luke 22:20).

Although we are not under the Old Testament laws today, the Old Testament is still a true record from which we can learn many things (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). For example, we can learn many important lessons about commands and promises when we study several events in the life of Abram (also called “Abraham”). We will consider some of these lessons later in this study.

When the Bible reveals instructions for us today, our responsibility is to believe and obey those instructions.

PROMISES to BELIEVE and RECEIVE. We are using the term “promises” to refer to anything God said He will do, whether it is a blessing or a punishment.

Some of the blessings which God has promised are conditional. To receive some of His blessings, we must obey His commands and other instructions. For example, God told Israel, “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2). However, He also told them, “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God...all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15).

Some of God’s blessings found in the New Testament are likewise conditional. John told Christians, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9). Notice that these “if” statements are not written in the form of “commands.” However, they give us very clear instructions about how to please God and have fellowship with Him.

Some of the blessings which God has promised are not conditional. That means there are some things He has promised to do for us, whether our behavior is good or evil. For example, after the flood in Noah’s time, God promised, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). Even if man is terribly wicked, God will still bless man with these things as long as the earth remains.

Along with that promise, God also gave a promise that He would never again destroy all life on earth by a great flood. “‘Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ And God said: ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth’” (Genesis 9:11-13). That promise is unconditional God will keep that promise, regardless whether man’s behavior is good or evil.

The Lord’s promise to resurrect all people who have ever lived is also an example of a promise which is not conditional. He will raise all people to be judged, whether they have been good or evil (Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10). “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). The resurrection will also include every person whose body was not buried in a grave (Revelation 20:11-15).

When the Bible reveals promises for us today, our responsibility is to believe and receive those promises.

Some COMMANDS and PROMISES in the life of Abraham. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1-3). This contains a command and promises. By studying other scriptures, we understand that Abraham would not have received the blessings if he had not obeyed the command to leave his country. He did not earn the blessings, but his obedience was a condition for receiving these blessings.

Now consider an unconditional promise in Genesis 15: “But Abram said, ‘Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house [for example, a servant] is my heir!’ And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness(Genesis 15:2-6).

That event in Genesis 15 contains only promises. In a sense, “Look” and “count” are commands, but the Lord was not telling Abraham that he would receive the blessings if he looked and counted. The Lord was merely using the stars as a “visual aid.” He did not require Abraham to count all the stars to receive the blessings. Instead, He was showing Abraham that his descendants would be so numerous that he would not be able to count them, just as he could not count all the stars. When Abraham received promises from God, he believed them.

The apostle PAUL uses the event in Genesis 15 to teach us that righteousness comes by faith in God, not by our own works of earning righteousness: “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:1-5). When God cleanses us from sin and declares us righteous, it is a gift from God (Romans 6:23). We should never think that we can earn righteousness and salvation by our own human labor.

Some people quote Paul’s statement in Romans 4 and say it teaches that we are saved by “faith only,” without obeying God’s instructions. Some also use Romans 5:1, John 3:16, and Ephesians 2:8-9 in a similar way. But none of these scriptures teaches salvation by faith only. These scriptures do teach salvation by faith faith which believes in God and in everything He says. When we truly have faith in God, we believe all that He says all the facts, all the instructions, and all the promises. Paul was not teaching that a person can be saved by believing only the facts and promises from God, while ignoring the instructions of God. Paul himself wrote several times in Romans about obedience and salvation (Romans 1:5; 6:17-18, 3-5; 16:26). The questions he was discussing was this: Can a person earn salvation by works of human merit? Paul’s answer in Romans 4 is very clear: NO, we cannot EARN salvation.

Like Paul, JAMES uses Genesis 15 as a good example of faith. However, James and Paul use the word “works” in different ways. We do the same today. We often use a word in more than one way. When Paul uses the word “works” in Romans 4, he is talking about “works of human labor” trying to “earn” our salvation, like a person earning wages by working in a field. We cannot “work our way to heaven.” In contrast, James uses the word “works” to mean “actions.” Can a person be saved by faith without the works (actions) of obeying God’s instructions? In chapter 2, James tells us, NO, we cannot be saved by a “faith” which does not “act.”

Notice how James uses Genesis 22, then Genesis 15. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works [actions], is dead...But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified [declared just or righteous] by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? [Gen. 22] Do you see that faith was working together with his works [actions], and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ [Gen. 15] And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only...For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:17, 20-24, 26).

In Genesis 15, God had given Abraham promises with no commands. But in Genesis 22, God gave Abraham a command with no promises. “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (Genesis 22:1-2).

Abraham had several choices:

1. He could choose to believe only God’s promise that descendants would come through Isaac, and not believe God’s command to sacrifice Isaac.

2. He could choose to believe only God’s command to sacrifice Isaac, but quit believing God’s promise that descendants would come through Isaac, since Isaac had no children at that time.

3. He could choose to quit believing God’s promise AND His command, since the promise and command seemed to conflict with each other.

4. He could choose to believe God’s promise AND His command, even though he did not know how God would be able to keep His promise.

Abraham made the fourth choice. He believed (and obeyed) God’s command and continued believing God’s promises. He did not know exactly how God would keep His promise, but Abraham believed God could and would keep it. Abraham did not need to know exactly how God would keep His promise. Keeping the promise was God’s job. Obeying the command was Abraham’s job.

Hebrews 11 explains Abraham’s faith during that dilemma: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed [descendants] shall be called,’ accounting [considering] that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:17-19). Notice that “by faith” Abraham “offered up Isaac.” Offering Isaac was an act of faith. When Abraham received a command from God, he believed and obeyed.

As far as we can learn from the Bible, Abraham had never seen or heard of anyone ever being raised from death by God. But he believed God could and would raise Isaac from death, if He needed to do that to keep His promise! The record in Genesis 22 reveals that an angel of God spoke to Abraham, stopping him from killing Isaac. Abraham had passed the test! Then Abraham noticed that God had provided a substitute which he could sacrifice in place of Isaac a ram which was caught in a thicket nearby.

When God gave him promises only (Gen. 15), Abraham’s faith was not tested at that time. God was not commanding him to do anything. All Abraham had to do was believe the promises that he would receive. Abraham did believe, and God accounted his faith as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). Later, God did test Abraham’s faith (Gen. 22) by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac. By believing and obeying the command, Abraham showed that he truly believed God’s word  His promises and His commands.

So, James says that Abraham’s obedient faith in Genesis 22 fulfilled the statement that had been made earlier in Genesis 15:6 about his faith. Abraham truly did believe God!

Just as God allowed Abraham to offer a ram in place of Isaac, Jesus took our place and suffered the death penalty for our sins (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 5:6-8). We receive the saving benefit of His death when, by faith, we obey the gospel of Christ. Jesus Himself told His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). To be saved eternally, a sinner must hear the gospel, believe it, repent of his sins, confess his faith in Christ, and be baptized in water for the remission of sins. A sinner is saved by faith when he is baptized (Acts 2:38; 8:35-39; 10:47-48; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5, 17-18; 1 Peter 3:20-22). “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). Salvation does not come by “faith only,” but by faith which works which acts through love (see Galatians 5:6).

We cannot please God if we choose to believe the facts and promises from Him, yet ignore His instructions. True faith in God means believing everything He says all the facts, instructions, and promises. All people receive benefits from some of God’s unconditional promises, such as Gen. 8:22. But the spiritual and eternal blessings from God are conditional. They come only to people who believe everything God says, including His instructions. So, He urges us, “...Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).