The Promise: The Lord Will Keep You from Harm
The United States Secret Service is the federal law enforcement agency primarily responsible for protecting high-profile government figures and for conducting investigations into criminal activity targeting the country’s financial infrastructure. In the 2021 fiscal year, the Service spent around $2.5B, over $1B of which was committed to protecting a total of 53 individuals, most notably the President and Vice President of the United States of America. The purpose for this significant expense is relatively simple: keep the designated “protectees” from harm.
As impressive as this billion-dollar federal operation may be, God’s promise to His covenant people to keep them from harm is infinitely more grand. World leaders and their campaigns come and go, but the commitment which the covenant-keeping Lord of heaven and earth has made to His people endures forever. If you look to Christ for salvation, the Lord will keep your immortal soul from the ultimate ravages of sin: unbearable judgment and everlasting torment in the unquenchable fires of an eternal hell. In the here and now, the Spirit of God will sustain and protect you from the assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil in your pilgrimage through this treacherous world. In place of wrath, God will remember mercy.
This doctrine of God’s promise to be a refuge to His people in distress must be understood in its proper context so as not to be confused with the empty promises of so many “health, wealth, and prosperity” preachers. Beware of the religious charlatan that claims that God will keep you from physical harm, social intimidation, economic poverty, medical trials, religious persecution, and political oppression. Typically, such false teachers extoll the efficacy of “having enough faith” or “seeding” some tangible proof of your faith (e.g., a donation to a particular ‘ministry’ or cause bearing the teacher’s imprimatur in some form). But God sets up no such machinery for a life of ease.
The German Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), while encouraging the people of God to persevere in spiritual warfare, poignantly captured the perils which Christians face: And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed His truth to triumph through us. Indeed, we know from the prophet Samuel’s prophesying mother Hannah, “He keeps the feet of His godly ones” (1 Sam. 2:9). And King David called upon God, saying under divine inspiration, “But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head” (Ps. 3:3).
Again and again in the Psalms and elsewhere in Scripture, the people of God run up against seemingly insurmountable trials, and they yet express confidence in God as the Protector and Keeper of their souls. When faced with the threat of losing his beloved son Isaac, the patriarch Abraham trusted God to secure for him a posterity according to divine promise (Gen. 22:1-19). When suffering under the weight of unbearable pain and loss, feeling utterly forsaken by God, righteous Job confessed in the face of his accusers, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). When intimidated and threatened by the leaders of Israel, the Apostles resisted with boldness, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
There is no doubt that these saints suffered harm in their lives (see Heb. 11:35-38). Abraham died as a sojourner in the land of Canaan. Job lost everything of value he had (including his own children). The Apostles were routinely beaten, run out of town by frantic mobs, and even put to death by imperial Roman decree. In what sense can we say with any confidence at all that the Lord will keep His people from harm?
Jesus Christ provides the answer. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, He pronounces, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 6:10-11). Though the forces of this world are arrayed against the follower of Christ even to the point of physical persecution and social ostracization, believers can maintain a clean conscience and personal dignity with assurance of God’s provision for their everlasting good. Furthermore, as recorded for us in John’s Gospel, Christ encouraged His fearful disciples on the eve of His death, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Peace with God in Christ is greater by far than any instance – or pattern – of suffering and trauma experienced in this present evil age.
We must not handle lightly these promises and encouragements from God’s Word. To do so would be to run the risk of trivializing and abusing the Word of God. That is what the religious hucksters of the “health, wealth, and prosperity gospel” invariably do as they take advantage of insecure, ignorant, and gullible people around the world. Even as we “look down the barrel” of the proverbial gun of this world’s many and variegated difficulties, we must yet lend our voices to the chorus of those who have gone before us, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:30-32). With this confession in our hearts and upon our lips, we can endure the fiercest firestorm of grief and woe, for God by His Spirit is with us.
Zachary Groff (MDiv, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodruff, SC and he serves as Director of Advancement & Admissions at GPTS in Taylors, SC.