Ever get an offer in the mail that said “Satisfaction Guaranteed*” and you were interested until you looked to see what the little asterisk was about, and then you found twelve pages of small print? Typically if you were to boil down those long pages of small print into something of more reasonable length they would say something like “Satisfaction Guaranteed…at least for the first six months, unless you have unrealistic expectations, or you use the product in ways it wasn’t intended to use it. Only good on Tuesdays when the moon is full in months ending in ‘Q’, and even then we won’t actually give you a refund or anything but we’ll let you tell us about why you didn’t end up liking it. At least, we’ll let you tell the answering machine in our complaints department after several dozen indecipherable prompts.” In our every day world we are so used to small print and watered down “guarantees” that we don’t believe them any more. Instead of being surprised at promises that sound absolute but really aren’t, for the most part we’ve adopted the view that the world is just going to be full of asterisks and small print, and that’s just normal. This expectation creeps slowly into all parts of our life, until we become convinced that there are no solid promises that anybody really keeps, and that it is OK if we do the same.
In our culture we treat marriage vows this way. “I do, until death do us part, or she uses the toothpaste tube wrong, or I just don’t feel like I’m in love anymore…” Those of us who have asterisks and small print in our marriage vows end up explaining to the divorce court how the person we used to think we loved didn’t live up to the requirements in our small print. If that kind of marriage works out its just blind luck. Those of us who treat marriage vows like they are as absolute as we originally say them are in a shrinking minority.
Our watered down attitude about absolutes creeps into our view of God, and our relationship with him, as well. We say we will follow him, but we really mean only if he does things right. If God doesn’t meet my expectations, do I continue to trust that he is still God, and it was my expectations that need adjusting, or do I start to doubt God, or turn to other things that I think will be more in my control? We look for small print in God’s promises as well, expecting for them to not really be as good as they seem. Of course we won’t find any. God doesn’t put asterisks in his promises. His guarantees are real.
Israel had a covenant with God. If you’re like me, you have probably heard that some of God’s covenants with Israel were conditional. God would do Y if the people did X. I don’t think that the covenants were really conditional. Instead, I think they had built in choices that Israel could make. God said “If you do A, I will do B. If you do X, I will do Y.” In Ezekiel 20 God reminded them of the history of that covenant. They kept choosing A and wanting Y. God says, “That wasn’t the promise. I did exactly what I told you I would do based on your choices under our covenant.” So they said (paraphrasing verse 32), “We want out of this deal!” God’s response was “That will never happen. In fact, in the end you will choose X so that I can finally give you Y, because I am God and I will deal with you for my name’s sake.” God always keeps his promises.
We aren’t so different from Israel. God’s New Covenant with us is different, in that he has promised to pay for what he knows we cannot. But we still don’t take him more seriously than Israel did. We want to claim to have him as our God, but we want to also bow down to our other gods too. Like Israel, we want God to be a god, and keep his part of the deal, and we want to be able to have our high places at the end of every street as well. We have our idols on Financial Security Street, and Comfort Road, and Nice Stuff Lane. Those of us in ministry settings bow down at Ministry Strategy Way, and place our own efforts and good works and plans where only God belongs. Some of us have Christianity the Religion as our idol. Few of us serve God alone.
God doesn’t put up with that with us any more than he did with Israel. It is true that the price for our redemption is paid. God keeps his promises. One of his promises to us is that he will transform us. For his name sake he will mold us into the people who can keep our hearts properly faced toward God. He is able, and he will continue this work in us until it is complete. God said so, and he keeps his promises. We can make this process easier and more productive by cooperating with him rather than pushing against what he is doing. Consider the long hard path Israel chose to the Promised Land and promised rest, the full completion of which are still only in the future for them. To some extent we each get to choose if we will surrender to God’s process of transformation or if we will fight it, but once we are his children he will bring it to completion. If we are under the new Covenant God will keep his word.
God’s promises don’t come with small print and footnotes. He does what he says he will do. How often are my promises and relationships full of small print and asterisks? God’s grace isn’t dependent on external factors. Is mine? God’s promises aren’t dependent on whether he still feels like keeping them or not. How often do my promises shift based on how well my expectations are met? How often is my love based on how I feel and what mood I’m in? How often does how I relate to others depend on the small print? Indeed when I examine my life I find that my transformation isn’t complete. Fortunately, God isn’t done with me yet. He always keeps his promises, and his promises are not full of small print. He doesn’t not have any footnotes in what he says. For his name sake, he will do what he has promised in me and in you. Guaranteed.