"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call," Acts 2:39

The Promise

Serious Questions, Serious Issues

The Real Promise, The Real Keeper

4. The Promise Respecting Marriage,
Children, and God's Faithfulness

The promise of God to a believer and his house, "...to you and your children," is the foundation of the Christian life in Christian marriage.It also shapes how we understand God's promises to our children and the grace of God at work in them, and it rests upon God's faithfulness. For it is His promise and He keeps it. In that faithfulness of God we also walk in the promises we make in this life. In God's faithfulness, we have a refuge in trial, and answers in the midst of our own sin and weakness. God's word is sure. It never fails.

God's Promise of Grace and Marriage

That truth of God's promise directs us to look more closely to the subject of marriage. It is according to the promise, that we are made partakers of God's grace in Christian marriage as "heirs together of the grace of life," I Peter 3:7. The design of marriage, while rooted in creation, so that marriage outside of Christ is still marriage, is nevertheless, after the fall into sin, taken up in God's grace and promise. God normally sets believers in Christian marriage in a bond of life centering in the Lord. Because of the promise, one may speak not simply of two individual believers under a roof who happen to be married, but one can speak of Christian marriage. Because of the promise we are to marry "only in the Lord," I Corinthians 7:39. Therefore a godly wife must be found for Isaac, Genesis 24:3,4. Jacob also may not marry, as Esau had done, of the daughters of the heathen, Genesis 27:46. Because of this truth, Samson's parents are burdened with the same struggle for their son when he wanted to marry a Philistine, Judges 14:3. Ruth and Boaz are drawn together, not because of outward beauty, but because of their mutual love of the LORD, Ruth 2:11,12. God sets His grace in Christian marriage

Therefore in the New Testament, the word of God in the epistles addressed to the churches, addresses not only believers personally, but also the relationship of marriage under the promise of God as it stands in Christ, in the church. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Wives are to be in subjection to their husbands for the Lord's sake (Ephesians 5;22-33; Colossians 3:18,19; I Peter 3:1-8). The word also addresses the situation of one married to an unbeliever with God's promise of grace. By that grace of God, through the means of a godly walk in marriage, the unbelieving spouse may be saved. (I Corinthians 7: 13-16; I Peter 3;1). There is hope in grace. Apart from God's grace, the matter would be hopeless, for you cannot change, by human strength, the unbelieving heart of an unbelieving spouse.

That God sets His grace in Christian marriage is explicitly stated in connection with our calling. We are "heirs together of the grace of life," I Peter 3:7. Our walk in marriage also has to do with our prayer life, so that we walk, "that your prayers be not hindered."( I Peter 3:7) The Word of God declares, "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." (I Corinthians 11:3) There is, in harmony with the promise, a spiritual order in Christian family life. God designed it this way in creation and grace, after the fall, makes it a living reality. It is exactly upon such promises that the duties of Christian marriage rest.

In harmony with this truth is all that the word of God, and our Savior Himself, says to believers about marriage. The word sets forth the unbreakable bond of marriage (Matthew 19:6; I Corinthians 7:39). Likewise, the Word of God addresses the sin of divorce (Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9; Mark 10;11; I Corinthians 7:12). The Word of God calls those who are divorced or separated to remain unmarried or be reconciled (I Corinthians 7:11; I Corinthians 7:27). The same Word of God calls remarriage adultery in Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:11; Romans 7:2,3. It is upon the promise also that the grace to walk in the trials of marriage is to be found. It is something given of God, Matthew 19:11.

God's Saves the Children of Believers According to the Promise

The truth of God's promise leads us also to look at our children, who are the fruit of marriage and God's blessing to us. It is, according to the promise of God, Who gathers his people in the generations of believers, that children are an heritage of the Lord, Psalm 127:3 (emphasis added). God made marriage a union of one flesh with a view to children, "That he might seek a godly seed," Malachi 2:15. This is God's design in marriage. Children are not an add-on option. God made marriage and renews it in grace in Christ for the express purpose, "That he might seek a godly seed." This needs to be stressed in our age.

God builds the house of His people in Christ, as God said to David, "Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house," II Samuel 7:11, which promise includes Christ, but also a godly seed in Him, II Samuel 7: 12,13, 19; 27. Therefore the word of God declares,

"Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it..." for it is of grace and yet assures us, "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate." Psalm 127:3-5.

The promise is of a spiritual seed who will stand for God's cause in the gate. Likewise the Word of God views God's blessing of grace as set in family life,

"Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD." Psalm 128:3,4.

This is how God blesses us in His grace. Because this is so, the Word of God also sets before us repeatedly the fact that childlessness is an affliction, that God opens the womb and grants conception. The Word of God also has comfort for one who cannot have children, even for the unmarried and the eunuch.

In harmony with this work of grace, the promise itself concerning our children is richly set before us in Scripture. In the context of the prophecy concerning the return from captivity (Deuteronomy 30:1-3) and coming of Christ, the Word of God declares,

"And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. Deuteronomy 30:6.

This circumcision of the heart is the promise of the saving grace of God in the heart, of being born after the Spirit. Similarly, we read of the promise of the saving grace of the Holy Spirit in Christ given to our children,

"And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever." Isaiah 59:20-21.

Nor is that work of the Redeemer, which is Christ, limited to the Jew, for the Spirit of Christ is poured out on the church, Jew and Gentile. Jeremiah speaks the same language,

"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Jeremiah 31:33,34.

This blessing has come in Christ. It includes the "least," or as Jesus speaks of them, while holding a toddler on his lap, (Matthew 18:2) it includes "one of these little ones which believe in me," Matthew 18:6.

At issue is the promise of Christ Himself, the great Shepherd. Isaiah declares,

"He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young," Isaiah 40:11.

In harmony with the promise Jesus takes infants, carried in their parents' arms, and says,

" Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." Mark 10:14,15.

The children of believers, for it was believers who were bringing their children, belong to Christ, to His church and kingdom. He declares Himself their shepherd. Adults can, in fact, according to what Jesus says, only be saved in the same way, coming to Christ the way infants do, by grace alone, as children of the promise. We read of Jesus, "And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." Mark 10:16. This is the blessing Peter proclaims, "...and to your children," Acts 2:39. It is the blessing Paul proclaims, ..."and thy house," Acts 16:31. It is Jesus' own work.

According to the promise, children, whom God is pleased to gather, while like David are born in sin, are renewed in grace. David says of his birth after the flesh," Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 51:5. But he also speaks of that wonder of God's saving grace in his life and says,

"But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother' breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother' belly." Psalm 22:9,10

Moreover, as this was true of David and is true of children of promise who grow up in a believing home, so also what David says was prophetic of Christ's greater birth by conception of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.

In harmony with this work of grace is the calling of parents, and fathers especially, to "but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Ephesians 6:4. Grace makes this calling possible. For nurture is given to a living plant and admonition is profitable in God's grace. Children are addressed as living members of the church included in the address to the Ephesians as, "the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:" Ephesians 1:1, and therefore are addressed in the epistle, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.," Ephesians 6:1. They are children, moreover, who by God's grace are viewed as motivated by grace in what is right. In Colossians 3:20 we read, "Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord." The Word addresses the children. It does so out of the principle that they are spiritually concerned with what is "well pleasing unto the Lord," Colossians 3:20. But that requires that they be understood as also addressed when the apostle addresses the church as, "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Colossians 1:2.

The children of the church are not viewed in Scripture as outside of the body of Christ and unwashed in Christ spiritually (unbaptized either). They are not little heathen, but viewed as saints, faithful brethen. The Word of God says of the children of believers, that they are not unclean but "holy," I Corinthians 7:14. It does so because God keeps His promise, gathers His church in Christ in the generations of believers, and makes these children the "heritage of the LORD." Psalm 127:3.

Looking to God's Faithfulness

While it is true that not every child of believers, is a child of promise, it is also true that not every adult who name themselves a Christian is a Christian, for there was also an Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Faith and unbelief are not a matter of age. Yet the Word of God compels us to look at the body of Christ, adults and children, in the light of God's promises. The children of believers, as a body, are the holy body of Christ, washed in His blood. His Spirit is given to them by promise and God works grace in them. We are to approach one another and our children by faith in God's promises. Does God's promise fail because some do not believe? No, for the Word of God says, "Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel," Romans 9:6 God's promise is always "as many as the Lord our God shall call." It is God Who makes a distinction between men, between the seed of promise and the children of the flesh. Deny God's sovereignty over His promise, insist that it is in man's hand and not God's, and you are walking after the power of the flesh and not after the Spirit of God. Jesus said, "for without me ye can do nothing." John 15:5.

There is an important point in this, namely that we walk by faith in what God in His grace does in the life of our marriage, home, and family, and in the church. We are to speak of those who walk in an orderly manner, and of our children also, in harmony with the language of the word of God. God is pleased to use the means of a faithful walk in marriage and parental labor to impart the blessings He has promised us. It is His faithfulness to His promise and the power of His grace that makes that walk a living reality. We are sinners, though redeemed, forgiven, and the recipients of a new life. Yet, that new life is in Christ, and we have nothing of ourselves. The prophet Jeremiah confesses, "O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. "Jeremiah 10:23. That which proceeds from our own strength will fail. God is sovereign.

Faith, true saving faith, rests rather in the Lord, Who calls us to walk in marriage, home, family, in all godliness. The Word of God declares, "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it," I Thessalonians 5:24. God is a faithful covenant God. His grace works what His word commands. He calls us to walk, and by His word and Spirit works the walk of faith.

He is moreover faithful in His promise to all generations. This truth upholds us in the lives of our homes, marriages, and family. It also upholds the universe! We read,

"For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants." Psalm 119:89-91.

The Word of God says of God's grace,

"Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture....his truth endureth to all generations." Psalm 100:3-5.

In His faithfulness God sent Christ into the world to save His people lost in sin. The Psalmist sings,

"I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations." Psalm 89:1-4.

In the Lord lies the true strength of a believer. He changes not. "He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations," Psalm 105:8. Because God in Christ is the true keeper of the promise, in Him we may also begin to walk in faithfulness.

For Further Study

The Gospel and the Promise

Section: What Jesus said about...
Children and the Church

Section: Questions -

Family

A series of articles on Family and Marriage

Family Life

Baptism

What Jesus said about....Marriage

Section: Marriage

Section: Covenant

The Wonder of Grace -Book

  1. The Idea of Salvation by Grace
  2. Chosen by Grace
  3. Reconciled by Grace
  4. United With Christ by Grace
  5. Regenerated by Grace
  6. Called by Grace
  7. Believing Through Grace
  8. Justified by Grace
  9. Converted by Grace
  10. Working Out Our Salvation by Grace
  11. Good Works Through Grace
  12. Suffering Through Grace
  13. Victory Through Grace
  14. Assurance of Grace
  15. Glorified Through Grace

The Sovereign Grace of God

The Church

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