by Russell Young
The word “if” appears many times within the New Testament. According to the Merriam Webster’s Deluxe Dictionary, if means “a. in the event of; b. allowing that; c. on the assumption that; d. on condition that.” It is a conditional word making one state or promise conditional upon another state or promise.
There are many promises that are presented with conditions attached and the fulfilment of these promises should be considered as invalid until the condition applied has been met. Unfortunately, from experience, it seems that insufficient consideration is often given to the condition attached.
In Colossians 1:21─23 Paul wrote, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” (NIV)
The word “if” is used in this passage. The state of being “holy in his sight, without blemish and free of accusation” is conditioned upon a person’s continuing to be faithful, and is necessary for anyone to dwell in the presence of God. (Heb 12:14) When examining this passage, the reader needs to appropriate the same mind as Paul had concerning his understanding of “faith.” Unfortunately, many are left to their own interpretation and may end up with a faulty perception of his teaching. Paul used the same thoughts concerning holiness in Philippians 2:14 and states that the believer is to “Do everything (to act according to [God’s] good purpose) without complaining or arguing.” (NIV) That is, one’s acceptable state of holiness before God is conditional to his doing everything God asks without complaining or arguing. The writer of Hebrews called this the obedience that brings eternal salvation (Heb 5:9), while the Lord said that it was doing the Father’s will, allowing the believer to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 7:21)
The word “if” in this passage challenges teachings concerning ‘eternal security.’ If the state of holiness depends upon the believer’s “obedience” or “continuing in faith” following confession of faith, his or her eternal salvation cannot be said to be secure unless ‘obedience’ to God by the confessor can be assured.
There are many other passages in which the word “if” presents a condition and they, too, must be considered in the light of having a condition attached. Paul taught, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13─14 NIV) Accordingly, a person’s actions are important. Unless he or she lives according to the leading of the Spirit and defeats the misdeeds of the body they will not find eternal life.
Further in Romans 8 Paul wrote, “Now if we are God’s children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory.” (v. 17 NIV)
The condition that Paul required is that believers “share in [Christ’s] sufferings.” What does that mean? The writer of Hebrews gave explanation. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) Christ was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet did not sin.” (Heb 4:15 NIV) To affirm the reality of his suffering for victory over temptations, it has been recorded: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) (This should not be confused with the Lord’s petition before his crucifixion since it was during his life and he did suffer a physical death.)
With the conditions provided by the word “if” and comparative replacements in the Word, many teachings that are often accepted as absolute must be given careful thought.
Consider: Mt 6:15, 19:17; Mk 11:26; Jn 8:51, 12:26, 14:15, 15:6, 15:10; Rom 6:5, 11:22; 1 Cor 3:14, 17, 15:2; Gal 2:18, 5:18; 2 Tim 2:11; Heb 3:14, 6:6, 10:26; Jas 2:17; 1 Pet 1:17; 2 Pet 2:20; 1 Jn 1:7, 9, 2:3, 15, 29, 3:21, 4:20; Rev 3:20.
The little word “if” bears big impact on gaining truth and upon the believer’s eternal hope.