You Can’t Claim a Promise
One of the Christian messages out there today is something known as “name it, claim it”. It is known also by other names (the “prosperity gospel” being one), but the basic idea is this: God has made promises in his Word to you, and your job is to claim them. The reason Christians lack anything is because they do not lay hold of the promises of God. In your minds eye, picture it like God holding out a gift to you. We fail to receive the gift not because God doesn’t offer it, but because we don’t reach out and grab it. In other words, name the promise God has made and then claim it as your own.
I have several issues with this teaching, but the one I want to highlight here is this: you can’t claim a promise. It is literally impossible. In fact, it doesn’t even make sense. Allow me to explain.
Let’s use the most frequent and most powerful promise that God gives us in the Bible.
I am with you always… (Matthew 28:20)
God’s presence is the most commonly mentioned promise in the Word, mentioned repeatedly to individuals but also to whole nations and most certainly to all who follow Jesus Christ. This promise is meant to be the most comforting thought a person can have. In the midst of trial, heartache, persecution, loneliness, or whatever else, we are never alone. God is with us.
Now, imagine for a moment that a believer is doubting God’s presence. For some reason, God feels distant. They open up the Word and read that God promises to be with them. They close their eyes and in an act of faith, pray “God, you promised you would be with me. I claim this promise as my own! I believe!”
On the outside, this seems like an act of faith – and indeed it is. But I will tell you what it is not. It is not making the promise any more true than it was 10 seconds earlier. The human eye may see faith, but the spiritual eye sees God standing right next to the person saying “I’ve been here the whole time!”
My problem with claiming a promise is that it can’t be done. A promise is true, or it is no promise at all. Even if a promise remains unclaimed, does God not follow through anyways? The “name it, claim it” teaching suggests that the claiming of a promise is what activates that promise. Without the claiming, a promise lays there limp and lifeless. But this is not true. God’s promises are sure and true wether we doubt them or claim them with emphatic exuberance.
In the “name it, claim it” crowd, usually the promise has something to do with material blessing or physical healing. God wants to prosper you, so you need to claim it. God wants to heal you, so you need to claim it. The key to getting it is faith. Yet this “claiming” is not the same as faith. One can say they have faith without truly having it. Claiming a promise is not necessarily the same as having true faith. True faith of the heart simply believes that God can heal or provide and has a quiet trust that God will do what God will do. Many of the “promises” of the “name it, claim it” crowd are not Scriptural promises at all.
The beauty of God’s promises are that many of them are unconditional. Our faith does not need to activate the promise. It is already in full swing. Instead, faith gives us the ability to see that it is true, even if we do not feel like it is at the time. So, in reality, there are only two correct responses to God’s promises: (1) action that meets God’s requirement for a conditional promise, which is not the same as merely claiming, or (2) simply believing that God is already fulfilling an unconditional promise. To claim a promise simply makes no sense. A promise is a promise wether it is claimed or not.
Fellow believers, let us not behave as if God needed our permission to follow through on what he already said he would do. He is God. When he makes a promise, it is sure and steady as the rising sun. On that we need not lay a claim, but simply enjoy the surety that comes from our faithful God.