Aside from weddings, you don’t hear much about vows these days. Beyond the traditional “I do’s,” when a couple solemnly pledges that they will uphold their promises to love each other and stay together come what may, we seem to shy away from making vows. In fact, it is probably safe to say we’ve become vow-avoidant.
But it isn’t because vows don’t fit in a New Testament world.
I find it fascinating that Paul, a champion and proponent of the gospel of grace, still made vows at certain points in his Christian life:
After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.Acts 18:18
What kind of vow was it that Paul made? Most likely, it was something like a Nazirite vow, in which Paul had dedicated himself to the Lord for a special task during a unique life season. For a set period of time, as symbols of his vow, he resolved not to drink anything produced by grapes, nor to cut his hair. Tom Constable explains,
“They were…expressions of dedication or thanksgiving. Perhaps Paul took this vow out of gratitude to God for the safety He had granted him in Corinth. At the end of the vow, the person who made it would cut his hair and offer it as a burnt offering, along with a sacrifice, on the altar in Jerusalem (cf. Num. 6:1-21).”
What we learn from Paul’s example is that making vows to God still has a place in a graced-based theological system. For people who are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, it is still appropriate to respond with occasional vows of dedication to the Lord.
A case could be made that the basic concept behind the Nazarite vow of the Old Testament is one that we would do well to re-visit in our time. The Nazirite (not to be confused with a Nazarene, a native of the town of Nazareth) was someone who was fully devoted to the Lord. By taking a vow they were “...setting themselves apart to the LORD in a special way…” (Numbers 6:2, NLT).
These men and women were so engaged by the beauty and goodness of God that they were willing to periodically unhook from certain pleasures of the world as a means of expressing their devotion. It probably wasn’t easy. Taking everything grape-based off the menu in that day would be similar to taking caffeine, social media, alcohol, and chocolate off the menu in our day.
Could we agree that while all the details of a Nazirite vow may no longer apply, being devoted to the Lord still does?
As one scholar has noted, the attitude underlying the old vows is as relevant as ever:
“…there were provisions not just for the priest but for all members of God’s people to commit themselves wholly to God. Complete holiness was not the sole prerogative of the priesthood or the Levites. The Nazirite vow shows that even laypersons, men and women in everyday walks of life, could enter into a state of complete devotion to God.” (John Sailhamer)
Question: It is totally between you and God, but is there space in your life for an occasional vow? Might there be a special time when you say “Lord, you’ve done so much for me…In response to your grace, I am making this vow to you and I will symbolize it by ____________________ between now and _______________.”
To be clear, this is not to gain favor or standing with God – we’ve already received that fully in Christ – but rather to express our gratitude to the Lord for His kindness and loyal love.
If you’re at a loss as to what a vow might sound like, take some time to pray about it. Open your heart and let the Lord lead you as you bring back the long lost vow.
It’s a new day with God. Run with it.