The Four Ps
Almost 40 years ago, right after I first got saved, I read a book entitled The Purpose of Temptation by one of the leaders of the Charismatic Movement in the 1970s. In that book, he described a process found throughout Scripture that he termed “The Four Ps,” an acrostic that describes God’s dealings with His people. Here they are:
- The Promise — What is it that God has promised in His Word?
- The Principle — What are God’s conditions for receiving that promise?
- The Problem — The opportunity to stand in faith on that promise, obeying the condition(s), without any external support, internal feelings, or perceived presence of God
- The Provision — The “whatever” that God has promised manifests in our lives in this world
Now let’s examine each of them in some detail:
This is whatever God has promised to us as believers, starting with salvation and covering every area of our lives. There are two kinds of promises: positional and practical:
- Positional Promises are about who we are in Christ. In other words, they are those things instantaneously accomplished in us by the Godhead in the spirit realm at the moment of salvation. These promises have no conditions attached to them because they are unilateral acts of grace that we cannot add to or detract from by our own choices or attitudes, good or bad. Examples of unconditional promises include:
- We are now the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- He has dismissed all evidence against us, taking it out of the way, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14)
- We are new creations in Christ Jesus. Old things have passed away. All things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- We are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10)
- We have been raised up with Jesus and now sit with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6)
The bottom line on these kinds of promises are that we have them whether we choose to believe them or not because they are about what God did in us when we got saved, not about what we have done or not done, thought or not thought, felt or not felt, etc. If we don’t renew our minds to God’s Word regarding these promises, we’ll never walk in the fulness of God’s provision for us, but they are ours nevertheless.
- Practical Promises are all about how we live on this earth. They are not spiritual events that happened instantaneously in an invisible realm, these concern how we conduct our daily lives in relationship with God and other people over time. As I said earlier, these promises have a condition attached to them, where God says, “If you do thus and so, I will do something for/to you.”
Conditional promises can be either positive or negative. An excellent example of a positive conditional promise is:
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved — Romans 10:9-10
The conditions in this promise are: 1) confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and; 2) believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. What has God promised if we would do these two things? Save us!
A great example of a negative promise is found in the Book of Proverbs:
Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard. — Proverbs 21:13
I think it’s pretty obvious what the condition and the promise are in this verse. so we don’t need to belabor the point! While most of the negative promises God has made in His Word concern those who reject Jesus and continue living in their sins, some of them — as in this example — apply to Christians, as well, and we believers would do well to pay as much attention to them as we do to the positive “feel-good” promises.
So that wraps up the first “P.”
For unconditional promises, the issue is simply accepting them by faith, believing that they are true regardless of our previous experiences of neglect, abuse, and/or trauma as well as our past and current sins and addictions.
Conditional promises embrace those same faith requirements and add to them the need for us to engage in specific acts of obedience or changes of attitude over time. Some examples of conditions would be:
- Being generous with our funds or belongings
- Exercising forgiveness towards those who have sinned against us
- Being loving and gracious towards others who are difficult to get along with
- Resisting the impulse to retaliate when we are criticized or insulted
- Being hospitable to strangers
- Not being judgmental towards others who are not doing well
- Being faithful and diligent in our jobs
So, in the example above concerning heeding the cry of the poor, the corollary of that promise is this: if we do harken to the cries of the poor and help them, God will hear our cries and help us.
So that’s the second “P.”
“The Problem” consists of our earthly circumstances which are always opposed to whatever God says. The burning question in our minds during “The Problem” is the same one asked by Satan in Eden — and it’s the same folks asking it — “Has God said?” And the variants on that question are legion. “Did God really mean what He said?” or “Is this really God’s will?” or “Is God making an exception for me because __________?” (fill in the blank), ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
We are left with a simple — though certainly not easy — choice: are we going to believe God’s Word despite what our flesh, the world system, and the devil have to say on the matter, with no external evidence to support our faith other than the Word of God alone or are we going to cave in and give up?
Anyone can believe “by Jesus’ stripes we’re healed” when they are completely healthy and it is absolutely no problem whatsoever to believe “God will supply our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” when there’s plenty of money in the bank to cover everything we need. It’s easy to believe that God will protect us from the tongues of malicious gossips when everybody likes us, but will we really believe God and trust Him according to Isaiah 54:17 when people are doing their dead level best to discredit us with our employers or audiences? It’s one thing to believe Jesus has delivered us from the power of sin and that you are the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) when you’ve lived a so-called “normal” life without becoming entrapped by any addictions — it’s another thing altogether to believe that promise while trying to recover from the depths of an addiction to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or sex.
Here is a fundamental truism concerning faith:
Our faith grows only when we face significant opposition over time, wielding only the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit (the spoken Word of God), without any natural evidence to support that it’s Truth.
So that takes care of the Problem, now let’s move on to…
This is the awesome part, where we actually receive from God whatever it is we’ve been believing for. We’ve stood on the Word through thick and thin, weathered the attacks of the enemy upon our minds and lives, and we finally have in our hands the rewards for our faithful trust in and obedience to the Word.
And this forms a valuable asset to our future faith challenges, something called “experience.” Someone said a long time ago that “a man with an argument is no match against a man with an experience.” If you have experienced the healing power of God, or God’s deliverance from a financial pickle, or He’s pulled your irons out of the fire when people have attacked you unjustly, there is not a single argument that can be posed by the most brilliant minds on the planet who can talk you out of that experience. As one of my former pastors once said, “You never really know that by Jesus’ stripes you’re healed until by Jesus’ stripes you’re healed!” In other words, until you have the manifestation of your healing, such promises are like mathematical theorems awaiting their proofs.
Once you have experiential revelation of God’s will in a certain area, say healing, God has established a track record of being faithful to His Word in that same area. And the next time you face a challenge concerning your physical health, finances, or whatever, those data points will be your anchors for overcoming it. And the next and the next and the next.
For example, when I faced my cancer challenge earlier this year, on top of all the teaching I had received and Bible study I had performed on the subject, I also had had years of believing God for small stuff like colds, sore throats, allergies, etc. So when faced with early cold symptoms, if I act immediately when my throat starts feeling itchy and rebuke that attack in the name of Jesus, by God’s grace it rarely develops into a full-blown cold. So when I heard the diagnosis of kidney cancer, I had years of experience of God demonstrating His willingness and ability to heal me. The idea that He wouldn’t honor His Word concerning the cancer diagnosis never a question in my mind because He had proven Himself faithful to His promises over time.
So someone can come along and try to argue with me that divine healing went away with the apostles (didn’t he know that we still have apostles walking this planet even today?) or that it’s God’s will for me to be sick so I can learn humility or some other such theological claptrap and I can look him in the eye and say, “Too late! He’s already healed me on multiple occasions including cancer. I’ll continue to believe the Word rather than your bogus theological traditions!”
The 4 Ps in Practice
The classic example of the 4 Ps in action would be the children of Israel during the Exodus. Here’s how their tale breaks down:
- The Promise — There’s 4 of them found In Exodus 3:18-22, so here’s the list:
- He will deliver them from Egyptian slavery
- He will bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey.
- He will strike Egypt with supernatural judgements to induce Pharaoh’s cooperation.
- They will plunder the Egyptians before they leave Egypt.
- The Principle — Trust and obey
- The Problem — Pharaoh and the Sinai Wilderness. At the outset, the problem was Pharaoh himself, who oppressed the Israelites worse than ever once Moses approached him (sometimes that happens to us, as well — the problem immediately gets worse, not better, and we start wondering if we did the right thing). But once Pharaoh relented and set them free, the Israelites did indeed plunder the Egyptians (how else did a bunch of slaves have all that gold and jewels to decorate the tabernacle or make that golden calf?).
Then, beginning with the Egyptian army at the Red Sea and ending with the evil report of the 10 spies sent into the Promised Land, the children of Israel faced a series of opportunities where they needed to respond in faith to God’s promise. Instead, they responded with “We were better off as slaves. You just brought us our here to die!” They were so consistent with that response that God finally threw up His hands and told them they would have what they had said. And so they spent the next 40 years in the wilderness until every one of that generation died off before the rest of them could enter into God’s promise.
- The Promise — Once the unbelieving generation had passed away, the next generation led by Joshua entered the Promised Land and, so long as they were obedient to whatever it was that God had commanded of them, they won every battle and took the land.
Why Do the Conditions Exist?
The problem we have with conditions is that we have this innate desire and ability to transform complying with them into dead religious works, thinking that we have to earn stuff from God. But the conditions exist for a very different reason within God’s plans and purposes for our lives and I’m going to describe that reason now.
My Star Trek Revelation
As a fanatical sci-fi buff since childhood, I’m a big-time Trekkie despite the fact that the entire franchise is the ultimate expression of secular humanism, the antithesis of Christianity. While I missed out on the original series when it was first aired during my childhood because my family only had one TV and my parents didn’t care for sci-fi, I caught it in syndication as an adult and have watched every Star Trek TV show and movie since.
The second pilot in the original series, the debut of William Shatner as Captain Kirk, is entitled, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and forms the backdrop for what I’m about to share. Some of you are wondering how a show that glorified and exemplified secular humanism could be used of God — hang in there, I’m about to tell you! 🙂
Here’s the broad strokes of the plot, courtesy of Wikipedia because they summarized it ever so much better than I could have:
The starship USS Enterprise is on an exploratory mission to leave the galaxy. En route, a damaged ship’s recorder of the SS Valiant, an Earth spaceship lost 200 years earlier, is found. Its record is incomplete, but it reveals that the Valiant had been swept from its path by a “magnetic space storm,” and that the crew had frantically searched for information about extra-sensory perception (ESP) in the ship’s library computer. The recording ends with the captain of the Valiant apparently giving a self-destruct order.
Captain Kirk decides that they need to know what happened to the Valiant, and the Enterprise crosses the edge of the galaxy where it encounters a strange barrier which damages the ship’s systems and warp drive, forcing a retreat. At the same time, nine crew members are killed and both helmsman Gary Mitchell and ship’s psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Dehner are knocked unconscious by the barrier’s effect. When he awakens, Mitchell’s eyes glow silver, and he begins to display remarkable psychic powers.
Mitchell becomes increasingly arrogant and hostile toward the rest of the crew, declaring that he has become godlike, enforcing his desires with fearsome displays of telepathic and telekinetic power. Science Officer Spock comes to believe that Valiant crew members may have experienced the same phenomenon, and destroyed the ship to keep the power from spreading. He advises Kirk that Mitchell may have to be killed before his powers develop further, but Kirk angrily disagrees.
Alarmed that Mitchell may take over the Enterprise, Kirk decides to maroon him on an unmanned lithium-cracking facility on the remote planet of Delta Vega. Once there, the landing party tries to confine Mitchell, but his powers have become great. He goes on a rampage, kills navigator Lt. Lee Kelso and escapes, taking with him Dr. Dehner, who has now developed similar powers.
Kirk follows and appeals to Dr. Dehner’s humanity for help. Before Mitchell can kill Kirk, the doctor attacks and weakens him. Mitchell fatally injures Dehner, but before he can recover from the effort, Kirk uses a phaser rifle to create a rock slide, killing Mitchell.
There are two pertinent-to-my-revelation scenes in this episode. The first is immediately after he escapes confinement with Dr. Dehner. In that scene he entices her to remain with him as co-god of that planet, showing her how they can provide for themselves by supernaturally creating a lush garden on the barren planet surface.
The second pertinent scene is the climax of the episode, where Kirk attempts to confront Mitchell in order to save Dr. Dehner. During that confrontation, Mitchell declares himself to be God and forces Kirk to his knees, with his hands together in an attitude of prayer, then tries to coerce Kirk to pray to him and acknowledge his diety. Kirk resists, stammering out the phrase, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Then Dr. Dehner intervenes and the story concludes as described in the plot summary above.
At the time I received this revelation, I was attending college on the GI Bill to further develop my IT skills and, since my wife worked outside our home to support us while I was in school, I did quite a few of the household chores. After viewing this episode, I was vacuuming the living room and the Lord wouldn’t let me alone about what I had just seen.
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” paraphrases a quote from Lord Acton (1834-1902) and in its original context, he was speaking of political power. We’ve all heard it at one time or another when dealing with the likes of Hitler or Stalin. What the Holy Spirit arrested me with was coupling this phrase to supernatural power rather than the political kind.
So I applied the verse in James that says, “if any man lack wisdom, let him ask…” and asked God what He was trying to tell me. He pointed me to the following passage in the Bible:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. — 2 Peter 1:2-4
By that point in my ministry, I had taught this passage repeatedly, making the point that by believing the promises of God, we somehow became more like Him (“partakers of the divine nature”). So I replied to the Lord and said, “Yes, I see this. You know I’ve been teaching from this passage for years.”
He responded with, “What part of the promise imparts My nature to you?”
God never asks a question to seek information because He already knows everything to be known, so I knew that the question and its answer were the core of what God was trying to tell me. I thought about it for a bit, but couldn’t come up with an answer, so I said, “I don’t know, Lord.”
His reply revolutionized my theology. He said, “It’s the condition! The more you fulfill the conditions of my promises, the more you are acting like me. The more you act like me, the more you actually become like me because it becomes habit.”
And it all suddenly fell into place as He reminded me of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson I once heard mentioned during a sermon on character:
Sow a thought, reap a choice.
Sow a choice, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
Then the Lord pointed me to one of Jesus’ parables:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.
Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents and likewise he who had received two gained two more also, but he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.
After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’… — Matthew 25:14-21
While there are other things to be gleaned from this passage, the point I want to make is the phrase underlined above. What the Lord showed me is that the more we are like Him, the more He can give us. Why? Because whatever “it” is will not corrupt us as what happened to Mitchell in the Star Trek episode. Then He gave me a more specific application:
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. — Luke 6:38
So what is an essential part of God’s character? Loving generosity! So when we give, we are imitating God, right? And what happens when generous giving becomes a part of our lifestyle? It becomes part of our character. And to the extent that we are generous and unselfish with our substance, God can entrust us with greater amounts of that substance, knowing that we will control it, rather than it controlling us!
That’s why there are conditions on the promises that govern our everyday relationships. Whenever we are conducting ourselves in agreement with the conditions in God’s promises, those relationships exhibit the character of God as expressed in our love, generosity, forgiveness, righteousness, joy, and peace, just to name a few.
So the conditions should never become a list of do’s and don’t’s, but things we do as children imitating our Heavenly Daddy. In the same manner that we reward our children for good behavior to develop their character, so too does God, and as we sow these things, we will indeed reap the harvest!
Thanks for reading!