Summary: “If” — a tiny little word with immense significance in the things of the Lord. Many blessings and promises of God are qualified by some very important “if” conditions. To lightly disregard these “ifs” can lead to unfortunate, sometimes serious, consequences. Even our very salvation is contingent on some all-important “ifs,” as the verses below clearly show.
I’ve heard people say that you simply need a “relationship with Jesus.” Indeed, that is true, we do need that, but…! A saving relationship with Jesus doesn’t just happen because you want it. Salvation from our sins and eternal entry into the Lord’s redeemed family are linked to some ifs.
Central to the apostle Paul’s Gospel message was that people “must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). Sincere repentance from sin is a “must” — “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Paul elaborates further in the verses from Romans (above). If we believe that the crucified Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the dead for us … and if we confess Him personally as our Lord — “Jesus is Lord” — then the apostle assures us that we “will be saved.”
I won't comment here on the centuries-old debate concerning “can Christians lose their salvation.” But there are some very important ifs for born-again believers to consider. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word” of God, the gospel, that Paul had preached to them. By departing from that gracious gospel, he writes, the Corinthians would “have believed in vain.”
To the Roman Christians Paul wrote a great blessing, but also a sober warning. He reminded the Roman believers of ancient Israel’s mixed history (some continued in faith, others fell away). In light of that, the apostle said three things concerning God’s “goodness and severity”: (1) those [Israelites] who fell experienced God’s severity; (2) you [Roman] believers who continue in God’s goodness will keep on living in God’s goodness to you; but (3) you believers who do not “continue in His goodness…will be cut off.” Theologians debate what exactly “cut off” means. At the very least it means something bad, at the worst something of eternal horror.
I thank God for divine healing! Jesus Christ Himself “took up our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17). Not only did Jesus bear our sins on the cross, He also bore our sicknesses (see 1 Peter 2:24).
But just as we must respond to God’s gracious offer of salvation, there are some Scriptural ifs that pave the way to divine healing. Exodus 15:26 says “if you listen carefully to the Lord … and do what is right in his eyes … [and] pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees,” then He will be to you “the Lord who heals you.”
The apostle Paul urges us: “Examine yourselves … test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). That is a principle with wide-ranging application. Apply it to divine healing. There could be other reasons, but perhaps a desired healing is not coming to you because of some failure to obey the Lord’s “if” conditions listed above. Are there some known areas of disobedience that you’ve held back from repenting of before God? I simply suggest this as a possibility. In any case, commit yourself to living the truths of verse 26 above, and from that obedient vantage point look expectantly to “the Lord who heals you” to do exactly that!
The ifs are plain: humility, prayer, seeking God, turning from iniquity. The answer from heaven? “I will heal [your] land”!
My nation (the USA) needs God’s healing touch! As I write this in June, 2020, we are besieged by the COVID-19 virus. And widespread protests over racial and other issues are often breaking out into violence and looting. What can we do?! The answer falls upon God’s people (“If my people”). We must humble ourselves and pray. We must passionately seek God’s face in the midst of the chaos around us. And we must, we must, turn from our wicked ways. And God promises, if we do those things, “then will I [God] hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Can God save America? asked the late evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. Yes! was his reply to his own question. We must seek God with all our hearts, along with bold preaching of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The nations can be saved, if we turn/turn back to God.
This is a simple truth which results in profound blessing. If you seek the Lord, if you align yourself closely “with Him,” He in turn will be “with you … [and] will be found by you.”
A wise, elderly pastor once reminded me of how simple this “if” is: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, ESV).
Real freedom has nothing to do with an unencumbered, self-centered pursuit of gratifying our flesh. True liberty comes only when the new birth in Christ and the indwelling, sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit enable us to conquer our carnal flesh’s domination of our lives.
It’s not unrestrained license that sets us free. Far from it. It’s “truth [that] will set you free.” What truth? Jesus’ teachings, and by extension the whole of the Word of God, the Bible. As a young adult I came to Jesus for salvation 51 years ago. Instantly He freed me from the guilt of my life’s sins. And immediately He began an ongoing, lifelong process of liberating me from the grip of sin in my life. And that is freedom indeed! Believers, what is Christ’s charge to us in the verses above? — “Hold to my teaching … the truth will set you free.”
I like those promises: no harm, no disaster, God’s protection and rescue. But they don’t just happen simply because there’s a God in heaven. The ifs are: make the Lord your refuge … make the Most High your dwelling … love Him … acknowledge His name before others.
If we commit ourselves to God’s and Christ’s Lordship in our lives, if we make them our dwelling place, our greatest love, then these heaven-sent blessings are ours. Walk close to God, close to Jesus His Son, and remember Jesus’ promise: “…no one will snatch them out of my hand … [and] no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29). That’s safety and security at the highest levels.
Let’s take another look at divine healing. Sometimes we tend to find it easy to believe God to heal seemingly “little” things, but find it harder to believe for “big” issues like cancer, cardiac disease, etc. Consider the man with leprosy who came to Jesus. He was unclean by Jewish law, an outcast, an untouchable in every way. His faith was partial: “Lord, IF you are willing, you can make me clean.” But let Jesus’ answer ring in your ears and your heart: “I AM willing!” Don’t pray the leper’s prayer (“If you are willing”); pray the Lord’s response. He IS willing!
Do you have a serious health issue? That’s a problem only in our minds, not in Jesus’ mind. He healed all types of sickness, blindness, epilepsy, paralysis, and more while on earth. And the Scripture assures us that Jesus “is the same…today” (Hebrews 13:8). What He healed 20 centuries ago He still heals today. So bring even your greatest healing needs to Him, and expect to hear His timeless response: “I am willing!” The leper's if has been eternally answered by Jesus' "I am willing!"
The Lord’s forgiveness of our sins is wonderful. The sense of a heart and conscience cleansed by Him is a thing to be gratefully treasured. But there is something that can block us from receiving the Lord’s forgiveness. And that is our failing to forgive others who’ve sinned against us.
Matthew 18:21-35 is a parable about a wicked servant. He owed large debts to his master [think us and God]. But the generous master forgave it all. By contrast, that wicked servant in turn refused to forgive even a small debt owed to him by a fellow servant. Instead, he had the debtor thrown in jail! As one might expect, when the master heard this he had that wicked, unforgiving servant delivered to “the tormentors” (vs. 34, KJV). The point is clear. God forgives all of us who come to Him through faith in Jesus’ blood shed for our sins on the Cross. But if we then refuse to forgive those who offend us, Jesus explicitly declared that “your Father will not forgive your sins.”
The key takeaway is in the Lord’s Prayer — “Our Father … forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:9, 12).
Faith in the Lord and in His faithfulness to His promises to us — that is an essential key to answered prayer. The disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a demon-possessed boy. They asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out? He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith’ (Matthew 17:19-20).
Are you desiring more answers to prayer (assuming that you’re asking consistent with the will of God - 1 John 5:14f)? Call upon the Lord to increase your faith. Then pray with that increased faith. Jesus promised: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” He said that faith as small as a mustard seed can be mountain-moving faith. And remember James’s encouragement about praying in faith: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:6, NKJV).
Jesus used some natural illustrations here to make some spiritual points. The “if” was how trustworthy someone had been (1) in handling worldly wealth and (2) in properly caring for someone else’s property. How we deal with those natural realms says much about how we’ll deal with spiritual issues.
If you’re faithful in handling worldly wealth, then it is implied by Jesus that He can trust you with “true riches,” the things of the kingdom of God. If you are faithful to “that which is another man’s,” then He can consider you trustworthy to “give you that which is your own” (vs. 12, KJV).
In the years when I was helping train future ministers in our church-based Bible School, I would watch how those future ministers performed in helping existing church leaders in their ministries. Those faithful to serve others in their ministries often proved to be the ones who could then be entrusted with leading ministries of their own.
This is a short verse, but it's a biggie! It’s very easy to say, “I love you, Lord.” But Jesus said there’s a practical proof that we love Him: “keep my commandments” (KJV). The apostle John wrote similarly: “This is love for God: to keep his commands” (1 John 5:2).
This concept of keeping, of obeying, of putting into practice the Lord’s commands and teachings is a principle that runs throughout Scripture. For example, in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Luke 6:46-49), there are two types, the wise and the foolish. The wise ones are those who (1) hear the Lord’s words and (2) put them into practice. The foolish ones are those who (1) likewise hear the Lord’s words, but (2) do not put them into practice. To those so foolish, the Lord says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
If you love Jesus, keep His commandments! Talk is cheap. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22, NKJV).
Since my earliest days as a born-again believer more than 50 years ago, I have been motivated by verse 8: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” (KJV). I want to bear fruit of the Spirit in my own life and the fruit of souls won and trained for the Lord. The evaluation of the success of those efforts, of course, belongs only to the Lord. Bearing fruit within and without should be a strong motive in every believer.
Jesus gives us a key in His likening of Himself to the life-giving Vine and us as the branches dependent upon the Vine for life and fruit-bearing. The key? — “Remain in me and I in you.” Some other versions translate “remaining” in Jesus as abiding in Him, living in Him, staying united with Him, staying joined to Him. In other words, be a branch firmly and always attached to Jesus the Vine, drawing our life from Him and, in turn, able to bear upon our branches much fruit for the Vine.
The “if” takeaway for us to be fruit-bearers: live very close to Jesus, abiding in Him and allowing Him full reign in you and in the living of your life.
The “if” here is a partial list of areas of spiritual giftedness from God — “if” in the sense of “whatever” gift or gifts God has placed in you, use that gift as part of the overall “body ministry” of the body of Christ on earth. This is the team concept spelled out in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 and 14, and elsewhere. God gives a spiritual gift or gifts to each of us (1 Peter 4:10). It is our duty to use that gift, to minister that gift, in order to add to the overall ministry of the wider body of Christ (our local church and the Church of the Lord at large).
This was a message from Jesus, via the apostle John, to the leader (presumably the pastor) of the first-century church in Ephesus. Their problem? They were mostly a good church — hard-working, persevering, intolerant of evil people, rejecting false apostles, and enduring hardships for Jesus’ Name (vss. 2-3). But their potentially fatal flaw (vs. 4) was that they had “forsaken the love [they] had at first.”
This is a serious warning from Jesus to pastors, elders, and all Christians. We can be doing many things well (as the Lord told them they were), yet still be forsaking our first love for the Lord. We must always remember the “first and greatest commandment” and allow it to motivate us daily: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). A church can be very busy, but that busyness can hide a declining heart-level relationship with our Lord. To such a church Jesus said, “If you do not repent, I will…remove your lampstand [church] from its place.” Guard your first love diligently.
This is an exhortation from Paul to Timothy in the church that younger man was pastoring. It applies particularly to those in church leadership, but the principle is broadly applicable. The apostle’s “if” related to his charge to Timothy to watch closely his life and doctrine and to persevere in those things. IF he did that — hear that, church leaders — it would have a beneficial, saving influence both on himself and on those he was ministering to.
1) “Watch your life” — spiritual leaders must aim for a blameless, godly life, lest they bring discredit to the Lord, His Church, and the ministry. The positive side is that such a godly, exemplary life in the leaders provides splendid role models for others in the church to emulate (as in 1 Corinthians 11:1 and Hebrews 13:7).
2) “Watch your doctrine” (some translations read: your teaching) — church leaders must be diligent in their own study of God’s Word. Otherwise, their personal maturity in the Lord will not grow. And if they, like the early apostles (Acts 6:4), dedicate themselves primarily to prayer and to the ministry of the Word, that will have a profoundly beneficial effect on their hearers.
To borrow from the Chronicler’s words, God is looking for an “IF MY PEOPLE” local and worldwide Church of committed Christian believers, men and women, boys and girls, who will:
• believe in Jesus with all their hearts and speak about Him to others
• hold firmly to the Gospel and continue in God’s goodness
• listen carefully to the Lord and obey Him in all things
• humble themselves, pray, seek God, and repent of all sin
• seek Him and spend time devotionally with Him
• hold firmly to His teaching and thereby become disciples
• love God and make Him your refuge, your dwelling place
• be willing to forgive those who sin against you
• believe God, have faith without doubting
• be faithful in the things of this world en route to the “true riches”
• be willing helpers to others in their ministries
• keep the Lord’s commandments faithfully
• as branches, live close to Jesus the Vine to bear much fruit
• be willing to minister to others God’s spiritual gifts that are in you
• hold fast to your first love for God the Father and Jesus His Son
• be devoted to living godly and studying and sharing God’s Word
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©2020, James H. Feeney.
& Bible Studies by
Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.