In order to understand the promise of God, we have to know the meaning of grace.
The Greek word in the New Testament is charis, which has a numeric value of 911. Our emergency telephone number in America is 911, so one might say that a 911 call is a call for grace.
On a prophetic level, this is what occurred on September 11, 2001, which we write as 9/11. It was America’s emergency call for grace.
The Hebrew word in the Old Testament is khane (or hen), which is defined as “grace, gracious, favor, acceptance.” It is used of Noah in Gen. 6:8, where “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”
In a judicial sense involving a dispute between two parties, the judge gives grace to one and condemns the other. So Noah was found innocent, while the rest were condemned to die in the flood.
The main thing about grace is that it is the decision of the Judge. When God is portrayed as the Judge, grace is His verdict or His decision, and man does not have the authority to decide for himself.
The Remnant of Grace
Paul speaks of the remnant of grace in Rom. 11, which, in the days of Elijah, numbered 7,000. Paul applies this principle of grace to the remnant in his own time, saying in Rom. 11:5-7,
5 In the same way, then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. 7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened [or “blinded,” KJV].
The choice was God’s to make. When men make choices, it is not a matter of grace, but of works. Grace is by God’s sovereign decision; works are men’s decisions and their subsequent actions.
This gets into the question of “free will,” which is said to be man’s right to choose or decide his own course of action. When God chooses or “elects” a remnant in which to work His plan in the earth, it is by grace. Why? Because it was not for men to decide whether or not to be part of the remnant of grace.
Those of the remnant of grace will no doubt decide to follow Jesus to the end, but their decisions are predetermined by God—otherwise it is no longer by grace but by works.
Hence, man’s decision is not the cause but the response to God’s will and His decision. As with Jacob and Esau, God made His choice before the twins were even born and before they could make their own choices (Rom. 9:11).
In that passage, Paul explains God’s promise to Sarah that she would bear a son who would be Abraham’s heir. Then Paul includes God’s promise to Rebekah, who bore the twins, Jacob and Esau. In that case, Jacob was the chosen one, while Esau was rejected. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:13).
This divine choice was not made on the grounds that God knew in advance that Esau would turn out bad. Such a view still bases the choice on the works of men. The whole point of Paul’s discussion is to separate grace from works.
Paul says that we, “like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Just as Sarah had received a promise from God that she would have a son, so also are we collectively the children of promise, the seed of Abraham.
This promise is in direct contrast to nonbelievers, who are children of the flesh—those who claim Hagar as their mother. Children of the flesh, Paul says, are those who are born naturally by the will of their earthly parents. These are not the children of promise, nor the remnant of grace. They are children of the flesh, its decisions, and its works.
Those who desire to live by the principle of “free will” show evidence of being children of the flesh. Other evidence is the belief that the earthly Jerusalem is the prophetic “mother” of the church or of the Kingdom. Still more evidence is when the church persecutes the remnant of grace, even as Ishmael persecuted Isaac (Gal. 4:29).
The Two Covenants
As children of promise, we claim Sarah as our mother. Paul says in Gal. 4:23 that Sarah represents the New Covenant.
23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the freewoman through the promise. 24 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia [the inheritance of Ishmael] and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 25 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
So “the present Jerusalem” (i.e., the earthly city) stands in contrast to “the Jerusalem above” (i.e., the heavenly city), and their children are also contrasted.
If we are the children of promise, then we ought to know what it means to be born (or begotten) by promise. The promise of God (given to Sarah) has everything to do with grace and the New Covenant. Grace is extended by the decision and choice of God Himself, and the New Covenant is based likewise on the promise of God.
Both grace and promise are rooted in the sovereignty of God. The New Covenant is God’s promise to us; the Old Covenant is man’s promise to God. Abrahamic faith believes the promise of God; man’s faith believes in his own promise to follow and obey God. Rom. 4:20-22 says,
20 Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.
Paul goes on to tell us that this was written to us also who are the children of Abraham. In other words, as children of promise, we believe the promise of God.
Our faith is not based on our promises to God—however well intentioned—for our promises are rooted in the work and power of the flesh. Flesh always fall short of the glory of God.
Though Moses is seen as the prophet of the Old Covenant, this is only partially true. Moses also prophesied of the New Covenant, and in his personal life, he experienced the glory of God in his face—a glory that comes only through the New Covenant.
So also, Moses spoke of God circumcising the hearts of the people and their descendants (Deut. 10:16; 30:6). This is a New Covenant manner of speaking, as Paul tells us in Rom. 2:28, 29,
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Paul probably received this revelation from Moses’ words. Jew (Judah) means “praise,” and one cannot truly praise God by fleshly circumcision. Many unbelievers have been circumcised in the flesh without pleasing God. Hence, fleshly Jews, who claim to be of the tribe of Judah by the mark of fleshly circumcision, are not Jews at all. Why? Because their fleshly circumcision is not circumcision as God views it.
It is only when the heart is changed that God is pleased. Heart circumcision is what gives praise to God, and only those believers are true praisers and receive praise from God. In other words, only those with heart circumcision are of Judah, as far as God is concerned.
The Exodus Covenant
The Old Covenant was given to Israel in Exodus 19:8,
8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.
It was a covenant where men made a promise to God. We know, of course, that they soon discovered that they were incapable of keeping that covenant. It was doomed to fail, because it was made by the power of the flesh. No matter how sincere they were, it put an impossible burden upon them.
At the first Council in Jerusalem, Peter stated in Acts 15:10,
10 Now therefore, why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
The main issue was about fleshly circumcision, which was the sign of the Old Covenant. It was not difficult to be circumcised; it was, however, an unbearable yoke to make the promises of men the basis of one’s salvation. Even with much prayer and with the help of the Holy Spirit, men still failed to fulfill their promises to God.
This became evident to “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38 KJV). Being much like us, most of them were sincere. They prayed and asked God to help them keep their Old Covenant promise. But that was not the quality of faith necessary for God to credit them with righteousness.
Only those who remembered the New Covenant promise to Abraham might have prayed a better prayer: “Lord, I believe Your promise. Fulfill Your promise in me! It is no longer I but Christ that lives in me. Let Christ live His perfect life in my body!”
Yet even after 40 years, most of the Israelites failed. Either they still had faith in their Old Covenant vow, or they became discouraged and quit trying altogether.
The Deuteronomy Covenant
Most Christians know about the New Covenant that God made with Abraham. They focus upon the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic covenant but fail to understand the implications of the promise of God. Few Christians know that the promise of God means that God is responsible to keep His promise. They still try to fit “free will” into it, as if the promise of God somehow makes men responsible to keep His promise.
Likewise, few Christians know that God made a second covenant with Israel 40 years after the first one. After 40 years of wilderness wandering, Israel was given a second covenant in the plains of Moab. Just before Moses was to die, he gave a series of speeches that restated and summarized the law. Then in Deut. 29 he assembled the people so that they might receive the New Covenant. Deut. 29:1 starts out,
1 These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.
This second covenant was to be based on the promise of God, following the pattern of the promise to Abraham. Once again, God took an oath without requiring any of the people to take responsibility for that oath. Deut. 29:10-13 says,
10 You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps… 12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
First, we see that God’s oath is the same as that which He swore “to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” In other words, the Deuteronomy covenant is a New Covenant promise that is the same as what we see with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All of these are New Covenant promises, where God bound Himself unconditionally to be the God of all and for all to be His people.
Notice that the provision of this covenant is the same as the first covenant in Exodus 19. It is to make us His people and to be our God. The difference is in WHO is making the vow, oath, or promise. In Exodus, the people made their vow; in Deuteronomy, God made His vow (“oath”).
It is obvious that fallen man cannot fulfill his vows well enough to satisfy a righteous God. So the Exodus covenant could not make us His people or ensure that He would be our God. To do so required a second covenant, this time conditional only upon God’s ability to fulfill His promise.
The question is this: Do we have the faith to believe that God could actually save all mankind? Most people think that His holiness is an unmovable impediment, and that God must work under a deadline. They think that once a man dies, God can no longer cause him to turn from his wicked ways. Death is said to lock him up in unbelief and sin, and even God Himself must abandon him.
Scripture says nothing of the kind. This view is based mostly on Heb. 9:27,
27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.
This verse gives the order of events: life, death, judgment. It does not describe the nature of judgment nor what will actually take place at the great White Throne. There is no indication that the sinners being judged cannot repent.
Isaiah’s Revelation of the New Covenant
Isaiah 45:23-25 records another vow that God took,
23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. 25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory.”
Paul quotes this passage in Phil. 2:10, 11, telling us that “every knee will bow,” and that “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Neither of these things have taken place, at least not universally. These will take place at the great White Throne when all are summoned for judgment (Rev. 20:11, 12).
This is the moment when “all who were angry at Him will be put to shame.” This is when they will confess (literally, profess) “that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Keep in mind that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Therefore, when every knee bows to Christ and every tongue professes Christ, saying, “Jesus is Lord,” it will be because the Holy Spirit has led them to make this profession of faith.
When I was a child, I was taught that every knee will be forced to bow, and every tongue will be forced to admit that they were wrong—and then they will all be cast into a torture pit forever.
To support this, they take the Greek word aionian and translate it “forever” or “everlasting.” In fact, it means “pertaining to an age (eon).” It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word olam, which means “hidden, unknown, or indefinite.” (The root word is alam, “to hide.”)
In other words, “eternal punishment” is better translated “judgment for an age—an unknown or indefinite period of time.” An age is indeed an indefinite period of time. The meaning of this word allows God to bring judgment to an end, which is the principle behind the law of Jubilee.
Both Isaiah and Paul paint an entirely different picture than that which is taught today in most churches. Their revelation is based on the New Covenant promises, vows, and oaths that God made with the whole world.
The real question is this: do we have faith in God? Do we believe that He is really able to fulfill those promises? Shall we misinterpret aionian and olam in order to make God incapable of fulfilling His promise?
The Scope of the New Covenant
The full scope of God’s oath is given in verse 14,
14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
In other words, God’s New Covenant oath—which is conditional only upon God’s ability to fulfill it—applies universally. It is God’s unconditional guarantee that He will establish all mankind as His people and will be their God. If anyone is lost, God is responsible for failure.
This is comparable to God’s promise to Abraham, making him “the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:17, 18) and for blessing “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3).
God chose one man to bless the many. Likewise, He chose the remnant of grace to be the seed of Abraham that would carry on this work of blessing the earth. Yet the purpose of calling the few is not to bless the few alone; it is to bless all the families of the earth.
The Blessing of Abraham
Being “chosen,” then, is not about the salvation of a few throughout history. It is about using the few to bring about the salvation of all (1 Tim. 4:10). To bless is defined in Acts 3:25, 26,
25 It is to you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 26 For you first, God raised upon His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
The blessing of Abraham is not to save everyone in their sins but to turn them from their wicked ways so that they will indeed be saved. God’s purpose is not to make people immortal sinners but to transform them into His image.
This promise is not only to Abraham or to Christ; it is given to “those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.” Most of us were not present when God made His oath to the assembled Israelites and aliens. But in no way does this exclude the vast majority of men who have lived and died without ever hearing the name of Moses or Israel or Yahweh or Jesus.
If we have Abrahamic faith, we will be “fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:21). Such faith is the basis of our righteousness. We do not base our righteousness (our right standing with God) upon our own vows to God but upon His promise to us. If we have this New Covenant faith, it is evidence that the Holy Spirit has called us in our lifetime to be part of the remnant of grace that will bless the nations.