Don’t Castrate the “IF” in your Bible Study, sermons, and counseling.
Whatever you do, don’t let your theological grid castrate the word of God. When you read the Bible, if you find yourself trying to explain away some of the hard texts, somethings off. And it’s not the Bible.
I love my systematic theology just as much as the next guy, but our organization of theology is not Lord over the Word. The Bible is a sword, not a jellyfish. We can’t remove all of the cutting, uncomfortable, and jarring verses, words, and conclusions of the Bible. No one puts the Spirit in a corner.
The Word is designed to make us squirm (2 Tim. 3:16). We still have a residual, faint, zombie-reeking flesh in the corners of our hearts. That old DNA will argue with clear words in the Word; he will try to pick a fight with the Bible. Don’t do it. Kill that impulse. Remember, double-tab.
A Super-Heavy “IF.”
The “if” passages are heavy. Yeah, it’s a small word, but it has eternal implications. And the normally nominal Bible-belt has neutered and robbed the power of the inspired “if.”
Listen to Paul in Colossians 1:
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21–23 ESV)
Though only two letters, that “if” is a major player in the passage. It’s the heaviest word in the text.
Paul is affirming that Christians are going to appear before God at the end of it all—if they continue in the Christian faith. Yep. That’s right. He said it. God wrote it.
“What about once-saved-always-saved?” Still true.
Eternal security is all over the Bible. But the Bible says nothing about once-professed-always-protected.
Many people claim to be Christians, but they simply aren’t. How can I say that so simply? According to Paul, if people don’t continue, keep going, keep walking, keep repenting, keep believing—they were never really saved in the first place.
Once saved, people will continue (imperfectly), and are always saved.
So what should we think about people who make a profession, spring up with joy and then walk away (Matthew 13:20-21)?
The Apostle John nails it:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19 ESV)
We can’t rob Paul, and the Spirit, of the “if.” Everything in Colossians chapter one sounds great and then all of a sudden, Paul slams on the logical breaks, does a Jerusalem-drift with the car and parks the text where we weren’t expecting.
The Apostolic “IF.”
The “if”—if you remain—should be a frequent word in our sermons and counseling.
Paul used “if” a lot. He gave the “if”-like word to every church he wrote to.
- Paul told the Romans to continue in God’s kindness—or they’d be cut off (Romans 11:22)
- Paul asked the Galatians if they believed in vain too (Galatians 3:1-6, cf. Galatians 4:11).
- Paul charged the Philippians to hold fast to Christ, proving that his labor wasn’t in vain (Philippians 2:16).
- Paul didn’t want the Thessalonians to be lured by the devil, showing his mission to have been in vain (1 Thessalonians 3:5).
Paul told the Corinthian church:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV)
The Corinthians needed to hear, “Some of you may not have really believed, it may have been in vain. And those who have believed—hold fast.” Redeemer Church in Tomball, TX needs to hear those words. I need to hear that Apostolic word—and so do you.
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV)
Paul told the Ephesian church:
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. (Ephesians 4:20–21 ESV)
The writer of Hebrews structures his “if” beautifully.
For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:14 ESV)
No one shares in Christ and then loses Christ. Nah. If we are presently “in Christ,” we will make it to end—he’s what gets us there. Those who don’t make it—never had a share in Christ, they only said Jesus was their Lord; they never believed in the Lord (Matthew 7:21).
There is an if-then of the gospel. If you truly believe, then you will make it to the then.
The Pastoral Implications of the “IF.”
- Never assume that your counseling appointment knows Jesus.
- Assume there are people in your congregation that have never actually heard of him—and heard him.
- Sprinkle the “if you know Jesus” throughout your sermons. Call for people to examine their faith, that it not be vain.
- Charge the Christians to hold fast to Jesus and the gospel, till the end.
- Remind the saints of the end to come.
- Profession doesn’t mean a thing. Faith be-lived out is the fruit.
May we continue in the faith.