Should you make promises to God? It’s tempting to make a promise to God after you sin in some terrible way, “God, I promise I will never do that again if your forgive me.” Or when you want something desperately, it’s easy to say something like, “God, I promise I will serve you my whole life if you do this one thing for me.”
To cut right to the answer for the question, “Should you make promises to God?” the answer is “No.” Christianity is not about making promises to God. Christianity is about relying on the promises of God.
Often we are well intentioned when we make our promises to the Lord, but there are multiple reasons this is a bad idea.
Making Promises to God Is Relying On a Deal Rather Than Grace
To answer why we should not make promises to God, I think it helps to examine the motives behind why we would even attempt such a thing to begin with. So why do we make promises to God? Here are a few examples:
- We make promises to God when we doubt he will forgive us. We feel our sin is too great and therefore we feel the need to add some extra motivation for God to accept us again.
- We make promises to God when we want something very badly but we feel God is not going to give it to us, therefore we feel making a promise to God will increase our chances.
- We make promises to God when we are so grateful for God’s blessings (love, forgiveness, grace, material provision, etc.) we feel we owe him and we want to pay God back.
The common motivation that underlies all promises to God is a lack of relying on God’s grace. God’s grace is a free gift that we don’t deserve. His grace is always expressed primarily through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Everything good we have is because of God’s grace because we don’t deserve anything good – thus it is all a free gift. If you deserve something or if it costs you something, it is not grace.
So when we make promises to God, we feel God’s grace is not enough. When we feel God’s intentions for us are not good enough, we take matters into our own hands and start cutting deals to get what we want, “Okay, God. What will it take to get what I want?” And then we throw some potential offers out to him in the form of promises.
Even if we make a promise to God with the best of intentions, simply wanting to show our gratitude for his kindness towards us, we are still showing a lack of relying on God’s grace. Our promises to God show us how uncomfortable we are with relying on someone else. We prefer to just rely on ourselves. We prefer to not ask for help. We prefer to not be indebted to anyone. And therefore when God is gracious and lavish towards us, rather than praise him for his unconditional grace, we make promises so we can feel more self-reliant and thus praise worthy ourselves.
We Should Not Make Promises to God Because He Does Not Want to Share the Praise
Society praises those who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and makes something of themselves despite the odds stacked against them. Not very often is a poor beggar celebrated when he is given an extraordinary gift by a gracious benefactor. And since we want to be celebrated, we don’t like identifying with the poor beggar. But when it comes to our relationship with God, that’s what we are. We are totally dependent on our benefactor, Jesus Christ, who transforms us from a beggar into a son or daughter of the King. God calls us to simply receive his grace. Why? So no man can boast. He desires all the glory:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
God saved us and loves us because he is “rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us.” We were made alive with Christ “so that in the coming ages God might show the immeasurable riches of his grace” and “so that no one may boast.”
In other words, God does not want you to make promises to him because he does not want to share the praise. As 2 Corinthians 1:20 states, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
The promises of God are fulfilled in Christ “for his glory.”
You Should Not Make Promises to God Because You Are Flawed
Another reason we should not make promises to God is because we will never be able to keep them. This is the whole reasons we need God’s grace to begin with. We need a gift of righteousness and power because we are unable to be righteous and obey God in our own power.
Therefore to make a promise is to start building on a poor foundation – your flawed flesh. Promises are rooted in the person who makes them. If you are imperfect your promises will be imperfect. God is perfect, therefore only God can make perfect promises and keep them every time.
As the Bible warns us in multiple places (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7, James 5:12, Matthew 5:33-37), we should simply let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” (For more helpful resources about oaths and vows, read these articles by Ligonier Ministries.) Anything else comes from the evil one because any promise made that depends on something other than God is an aversion to the grace of God.
Satan wants you to rely on your promises to God rather than on God’s promises to you.
So Should You Make Promises to God?
No, we should not make promises to God. 2 Corinthians 1:17-20 summarizes much of what we’ve said in this article:
Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
When we are walking in the flesh, our promises will be double talk because we will be duplicitous, double-minded people wavering between the new man and the old man (2 Corinthians 1:17). We should not rely on our flawed selves but on the faithfulness of God (2 Corinthians 1:18). For only is Christ, the Son of God, will we “always” have the stability we lack in our flesh (2 Corinthians 1:19). For all the promises of God will always come through for us because all the promises of God our rooted and achieved through Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
So we should not make promises to God because Christianity is not about making promises; it’s about relying on the promises of God which are all fulfilled in Christ.