Cutting a Deal with God
How many times have you said something like, “Lord, if you will (fill in the blank), then I will (fill in the blank)”?
“Lord, if you will get me out of this financial mess, then I’ll start tithing every week.”
“Lord, if you will help me not get caught this one time, then I’ll clean up my life.”
“Lord, if you will help me get a new car, then I’ll be more faithful to attend church.”
Lord, if you’ll give me whatever it is that I need, and then I’ll change in my life in whatever that you know I need to change.
It’s easy to try to make a deal with God, because that’s the way our world works. If we want something, we’ve got to pay for it, or if we can’t pay for it, at least we can cut a deal. It’s easy to try to make a deal with God, but it’s not biblical.
Cutting a deal with God is an attempt to earn something from God by your works. It’s an attempt to get God to front a gift to you, by promising an IOU for what you’ll do to earn it on the back end. But our God is a God of grace, not works. Our life with him is built on grace and faith, not religious earning. And trying to earn something from God, to bribe God, to buy him off, is not only not wise, it’s incredibly foolish.
This truth is tragically illustrated by the story of Jephthah in the book of Judges. When Judges 11 begins, the people of Israel had been being oppressed by the Ammonites for 18 years. They cried out to God for deliverance, they put away their idols, and they waited on God’s rescue. Chapter 10 ends with the question – “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites?” And chapter 11 opens with an introduction to Jephthah. “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute” and therefore was hated by his half-brothers. He was seen as an illegitimate son.
Do you ever feel like there are some “but’s” about your life? You’d be a great guy, but you have something in your past. You’re moving up the ladder, but you’ve always got this thing holding you back. On the positive side, Jephthah is an illustration that those things that we think hold us back are nothing before God. God works through messy, struggling, weighed-down people like us.
Jephthah is ultimately chosen by the Israelites to lead them out against the Ammonites, but then he made his tragic mistake. He tried to cut a deal. He tried to bribe God. It seems that he thought that the God of Israel was like the false idols of the nations, that God’s favor had to be bought by our works.
Judges 11:30 says that “Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” And Jephthah went to the Ammonites to fight against them, and struck them down “with a great blow,” defeating them and providing deliverance for the Israelites.
The time came, of course, when Jephthah returned home. It was time to pay up on his vow. And here’s how Judges 11 records what happened:
Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.”Judges 11:34–35
Jephthah tried to buy God’s favor with a great gift. He thought if he just could make the right sacrifice, then God would give him favor. But that’s not how God operates. It would have been far better for Jephthah to not repay his vow, of course, but the best thing would have been for him not to make it in the first place. It’s contrary to the character of God.
And we fall to the same sort of thinking every time we say, “if You will, then I will.”
Jephthah was foolish. And he didn’t understand God’s grace.
God still used him, and by that God shows us that he can use sinful people. But the most important thing is that Jephthah points us to Another who shows us God’s character and the nature of his grace, and who accomplished something by His sacrifice far better than Jephthah’s tragic sacrifice.
Like Jephthah, there was Another who was looked down up on because he was perceived to be an illegitimate son. But this Son, instead of offering to sacrifice another if God would give him a victory, offered Himself as the sacrifice to be God’s gift of victory.
Jesus didn’t say make a vow to sacrifice something else, Jesus became the sacrifice that we needed. Jesus laid down his own life to provide us the gift of forgiveness and give us the gift of life.
Do you see what God has done for us, freely for us to receive and incredibly costly to himself?
So we don’t need to try to buy God’s favor, to try to cut a deal, to try to earn something by a great sacrifice. The sacrifice has already been made. And it was made by Jesus on our behalf. The gospel calls us to rest in his accomplishments, and to know that in Him all the promises of God are “Yes” for us. We don’t have to strive for earning God’s favor, because Jesus has already achieved it for us.
So let’s stop saying “If you will, then I will…” and instead, let’s receive his grace and mercy day by day.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.