As Christians, most of us have taken vows at one time or another — involving baptism, confirmation, confession of faith, wedding, or ordination. These vows are usually taken at a time of exuberance and joy — thus the “wow” factor. These are happy occasions. The joy of the occasion can sometimes overshadow the solemnity of the vow. But a vow made is still a vow. It is to be kept as long as it conforms to God’s Word.
A vow is a promise or a commitment that we make to God in public, with people present as witnesses. The purpose of the witnesses is to testify that these promises were indeed made, and then call on the person(s) to keep these vows. This is a little different from an “oath” in which we make a promise to another person(s) with God as our witness. In either case, we are required to keep our word.
If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.Numbers 30:2; Psalm 50:14; 65:1; Proverbs 20:25; cf. 28:20–22 with 31:13
Most of the time people take these promises to God very seriously. But it seems to me that in the present life of the church, there is an increasing number of people who feel little guilt or consequence when they break a vow — a promise they have made to God Himself. David says,
Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You.Psalm 56:12
Again, the Lord warns us, That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.Deuteronomy 23:23
To break a vow to God is to become a covenant breaker. For example, when parents, in a baptism, vow to teach their children the Bible as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism and then fail to do so, they have broken their word to God. When people join the church by confession of faith or confirmation, they make a vow to God that their faith stands on the teaching of the “Word of God, and its doctrine, as summarized in the confessions of this church.” In a conjugal union — marriage — men and women promise God that they will “love, cherish, and keep themselves only for their partner, as long as they both shall live.” In ordinations, pastors, elders, and deacons vow to God that they believe in the Scriptures and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine of the Three Forms of Unity are in complete and accurate agreement with the Word of God, and to exercise their office faithfully.
What happens if we would fail to follow through and keep these vows? We would be breaking our word with God! I suppose the result is that some people become “ex-cons” (in terms of confirmation, confession, conjugal union, etc.) They no longer maintain the conviction behind these vows.
There might be various reasons given as to why some folks seem justified in breaking a vow to God. I suspect that it has a lot to do with the postmodern way of thinking, which says “all truth is relative.” So, people keep their word “in their own way,” or they’ve “changed their mind.” But, they have violated their vow. If God’s Word and the creeds of the church are deemed no more than putty to be molded human situation, then there little guilt in the mind the covenant breaker.
Another factor is the “wow” factor — in which we are so concerned about the outward ceremony and the celebration of an event, that the vows — the most important part — are not sufficiently meditated upon before they are made. Baptisms, confessions of faith, and are especially joyful events. But the joy and enthusiasm ought to focus on the importance and privilege of making a lifelong vow to God.
A biblical vow not kept is a covenant broken.
What has become a blight on the Christian Church today is a lack of commitment to the church and its doctrines, which results from a lack of heartfelt conviction in the first place. God gave the life of His Son to keep His Word. Would you give your life in order to keep your word to God? If not, don’t commit yourself. Such conviction and commitment are only caused by the internal working of the Holy Spirit — something we must all pray for every day. A vow is a commitment to God that we will stand upon a faith-and-life promise made to Him.
It is a joy and blessing for us to make our vows to God, so let nothing distract us so they are forgotten. Let us also pray for His grace to keep our word no matter what the cost to us. Follow the Psalmist, who says,
So I will sing praise to Your name forever, that I may daily perform my vows.Psalm 61:8