Words have value. Especially when they are from God. When Jesus was tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread, He said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Deut. 8:3). When we read the Bible, we shouldn’t take one word for granted.
Yet there is one that can easily be skimmed over or dismissed altogether. Though it is not a big word, it is found nearly 1,500 times in the Bible. It does not appear to carry as much weight as other words in the same sentence, but it can bring down many a false doctrine. It is the word “if.” And while we may use this word to talk about things that are “iffy” or to dwell on the “what-ifs” of life, God’s use of it brings certainty and assurance to what is said.
What is involved in the word if?
“IF” identifies free will. Man was created with the power to choose. The first time the word occurs in the Scriptures is in connection with Cain’s anger toward Abel. The Lord said to him, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:7). Cain had to make a decision. He had to choose which way he wanted to go. The word “if” takes care of the argument that says, “I was born this way. I can’t help myself.” You have free will. You must decide.
Jesus further stated that choice was a necessary requirement of being His disciple. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). No one can force you to do this. No one can decide for you. You have to choose IF you WISH to follow Him. But choose wisely. While you are free to make your own decisions, God will also make His (Rev. 22:18-19). Choices bring consequences. No ifs about it.
“IF” implies a conditional promise. Some of God’s promises are unconditional. When Noah and his family came out of the ark, the Lord promised to never again destroy the earth with water. There were no conditions placed on this promise. This was a covenant with Noah and “with your descendants after you...” (Gen. 9:9). But when God made a promise to the nation of Israel, He announced the conditions up front. “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples” (Ex. 19:5). Before the Law was given, God wanted them to know the terms of the covenant. His desire was for them to be His special people, but that was conditioned upon their faithfulness to His Law.
Some seem to think that it doesn’t matter how you live your life. They say things like, “I’m just going to rely on the grace of God at the judgment.” Or, “I’m going to rest in His mercy and forgiveness.” Does that assurance come from the Scriptures? How do we know we have forgiveness? “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Forgiveness is conditional. Salvation is conditional. Certainly God has made these blessings available to all. His love is unconditional, but His mercy is extended to those who are obedient to the conditions He revealed in His word. If you love Him, keep His commandments.
“IF” indicates continued faithfulness. This one word will not tolerate “once saved, always saved.” Two times in Hebrews 3, the writer uses the phrase “if we hold fast...firm until the end” (3:6,14). It’s not just a matter of getting started; you have to continue until you reach the end. If not, why did Paul and Barnabas decide to revisit the churches they established on their first tour (Acts 15:36)? Why did Barnabas go to Antioch to “encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” (Acts 11:23)? These were saved people. Why not focus on the unsaved? Since there’s an “if”, that indicates that we must continue our course.
Redemption comes with responsibilities. “If indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard” (Col. 1:23). Does the marathon runner who yields to fatigue still get the prize when he does not finish the race? Neither do those who begin a good work in Christ Jesus only to drop out before crossing the finish line. When Paul was near death, he was confident in the crown of life waiting for him. He had fought. He had finished. He had kept. If only every disciple would follow his example and be faithful until death.
Every word of God is big. “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”