“If” is a powerful word. This tiny word can not only impact our lifetime here on earth, it can also influence our eternity. Most of us have used the words, “If only…” at least once in our lifetime. Looking backward, it is easy to know what choice would have been the best one to make. Looking ahead, the answer is not as easy, unless you have the right help.
In school, I listened carefully to the teacher’s lectures in class and took thorough notes. Even though I studied the materials, I did not always do well on tests. I became anxious at test time and second guessed my answers too often. Had daily work counted more than test scores, I would have made better grades. I was smart and I worked hard, but I seemed to fall short on test days.
My favorite kind of tests were the open book tests. Although they were often filled with more challenging questions, at least the answers could be found in the book if I searched hard enough. It was more difficult to make a mistake when the answer was staring me right in the face, and I felt that gave me an edge.
When I began studying the Bible, it did not take long to realize that God made it easy by giving us the answers to our life questions in His book! I saw that God’s love for all mankind was universal. God is love, and He loves unconditionally every human being, whether we know Him or not. I also discovered, however, that His promises are conditional. With every promise God gave us in the Bible, there is a condition which requires us to “do” something before we can receive His promise. Within the verses explaining the promises of God we can find that little word “if”. God’s promises are not given to us simply because we have become a part of His family/kingdom. Many people have not received the benefit of His wonderful promises because they did not find the significance of that tiny word, “if”.
The Israelites were given promises from the Lord God as He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. He was leading them to the land He had promised Abraham and his descendants, but to gain the “promised” land and God’s blessings, there were requirements the Lord placed upon the people. For instance, “If you will listen diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, being watchful to do all His commandments which I command you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you if you heed the voice of the Lord your God.” AMPV. (Read all the blessings, Deuteronomy 28:1-13). Emphasis mine.
The Lord continued the discourse by ending the list of blessings in verse 13 and then He gave a warning to the people. “And you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God, being watchful to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” Emphasis mine. Deuteronomy 28:14-68. AMPV. The Lord was speaking to the Israelites who He delivered from Egypt. They were His chosen people who washed themselves in water (symbolic of baptism) and willingly accepted His invitation to become His Holy people by consecrating themselves to do His will. See Exodus 19:10. Their place in the family of God did not insure the blessing and favor of God until the “if” in His promises was fulfilled. Sadly, many died in the wilderness having been judged by God as rebellious and idolaters not having received the promise. The journey in the wilderness took 40 years, much longer than necessary. It was a lifetime for many, because the wilderness of testing and trials weeded out the unfaithful.
Before King David died, he appointed his son Solomon as his successor at the word of the Lord. See 1 Chronicles 28:5-7. The Lord gave Solomon a great promise through his father, David. “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.” 1 Chronicles 28:9. NKJV. Emphasis mine. Although the Lord desired Solomon to succeed his father David, Solomon had the responsibility of fulfilling his part of God’s promise. God was willing to do incredible things through Solomon as king of Israel, but it was Solomon’s job to seek the Lord with all his heart and obey His instructions.
The Lord has given us an edge Solomon and the Israelites did not have, the indwelling Holy Spirit. When we seek the Lord, allowing Him to transform us into His image, the Holy Spirit leads us as we work out our own salvation in the fear of the Lord. We humble ourselves allowing God free reign in our lives and the Holy Spirit teaches, guides, transforms and completes His work in us.
The word “if” is not only in the Old Testament promises, it is also included or implied in the New Testament. Paul wrote to the Christian churches in Rome about the requirements of God to be considered true Christian demeanor in Romans 8. “There is therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit…For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” NKJV. See Romans 8:1-5. Emphasis mine. See also John 3:18 Amplified Bible.
Paul defines the “mind of the flesh” in Romans 8:6. “Now the mind of the flesh [which is sense and reason without the Holy Spirit] is death that comprises all the miseries arising from sin, both here and hereafter]. But the mind of the [Holy] Spirit is life and [soul] peace [both now and forever].” AMPV. Emphasis mine. Implied in this verse is the following: If we continue to ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit’s direction and follow our own fleshly reasoning and senses, death and destruction will be our future. Paul also warned the Roman Christians: “”And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree (Israel)…Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.” NKJV. Romans 11:17-21. Emphasis mine. Conversely, if we do heed the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit, doing things God’s way, life, peace and eternal joy in heaven is our reward.
Matthew Chapter 5 contains a list of the “Beatitudes” which Jesus preached to the people beside the Sea of Galilee. Each of the blessings requires a godly nature or attitude if their fulfillment is to be accomplished. They are the following: for the poor in spirit (humble)-theirs is the kingdom of heaven; those who mourn (their sin)-they shall be comforted; the meek (mild, patient, long-suffering)-shall inherit the earth; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness- shall be satisfied; the merciful-shall obtain mercy; the pure in heart-shall see God; the peacemakers-are the sons of God; the persecuted for righteousness sake-theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
These “attitudes” or Godly nature are developed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life and manifest by waiting in the presence of the Lord. “Wait for and expect the Lord and keep and heed His way, and He will exalt you to inherit the land; [in the end] when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.” AMPV. Psalm 37:34. See also Psalm 46:10 and Isaiah 40:31. In this verse we can see the requirement and then the promise of God. In Galatians 5:22-23, many of the same attitudes/nature of God that are in the Beatitudes are easily recognized. “But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love (God’s unconditional love, see 1 Corinthians 13), joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, Gentleness (meekness, humility), and self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge].” AMPV. Emphasis mine. If we truly have the Holy Spirit in our lives and we allow God to have His perfect will accomplished in us, these attitudes/godly nature will manifest and we will not be judged by the Law of God.
If we do not allow Him to do His healing and regenerating work in us, we will be in danger of judgment just as the Israelites were. We must surrender to Him, allowing Him to expose those things that keep us from hearing and seeing His truth, and allowing Him to form us according to His will and purposes. If we rely on the world’s philosophies and opinions, its definition of right and wrong behaviors and its codes of conduct, we will find ourselves at complete enmity with God. In that position, we have removed ourselves from the place of favor with God and will therefore be identified with those who did not inherit the promises of God.
The author of the book of James, identified as the brother of Jesus in Mark 6:3, gave a sober warning to the church. “You believe that there is one God; You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” NKJV. James 2:19-20.
What does all this mean and how can we know for sure we are in right standing with the Lord? Praise be to God, we have an open book test!
The litmus test that we are children of the Lord is not merely our profession of faith; that is the beginning. True faith in the Lord Jesus opens the flow of God’s grace which begins to work within our heart to change us into the image of Christ Jesus. It is our responsibility to allow the Spirit of Grace to do the transforming work without quenching or hindering the Spirit’s work. When the Holy Spirit is at work transforming our minds and hearts into His nature, our love for Him will be perfected and our actions toward others will be the same as those Jesus exemplified.
Jesus said, “Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.” See Matthew 7:13-23. Our fruit is not works, it is developing the nature and character of the Lord Jesus Christ in our heart. Good works will follow as we humble ourselves before the Lord. His promise will then be fulfilled in us: “I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, if anyone steadfastly believes in Me, he will himself be able to do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these, because I go to the Father.” John 14:12. Jesus’ prayer to His heavenly Father in John 17 will be fulfilled and we will become not only the sons of God, but also the bride of Christ.
Jesus offers us complete freedom from the world while making us sons, and brides of Christ through oneness with Him and the Father! Then, we will never have to say, “If I had only known”!