THE “IF’S” OF CHRISTIANITY
A popular form of evangelism invites you “just to trust in Jesus and be saved,” and "once saved, always saved." This form of preaching can be dangerously misleading unless the matter of trusting Jesus is more carefully defined.
We can all agree that salvation is by grace, but to receive it we must believe in the Jesus of the Bible, the Messiah, the King of Israel and the world; we must also persist in our faith until the end of our life (Matt. 24:13). To believe in the Jesus of Scripture, we must first know something about who he was, what he does now and what he is going to do in the future. We must grasp the Gospel as Jesus preached it! (see Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43). We must understand that Jesus is the promised Messiah whom God planned to send by birth from the virgin Mary — a birth having its origin in Holy Spirit, that is, divine power (Matt. 1:20: “begotten,” in the original Greek). The Messiah is not only the one whom God sent, that is, commissioned, to die for the sins of the world; he is also the High Priest of all the Christians and the future King of the world. We must welcome this information about the Savior, before we can believe in him in the way the Bible asks. That is why the Gospel is a call to believe in the Kingdom, the coming Reign or Empire of God, as well as in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Mark 1:15; Acts 8:12; 28:23, 31; Dan. 2:44; 7:27).
Conditions of Salvation
When we first understand and believe in Jesus, the Messiah, and his teachings, we begin to be rescued from all the false beliefs we have previously held. We should then be baptized as a sign that we want to become a member of God’s family and receive His Spirit. Can we then relax, knowing that there is nothing further for us to do? Here is where the “if’s” of Christianity come in.
After baptism there is a sense in which we have been saved. Yet that is only part of the story. It is not always realized (due to obscure translation in the King James Version) that the Christian is one who is being saved and looks forward to complete salvation in the future. This shows that there can be no room for complacency: “Let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). The popular notion that there are no conditions to salvation once you have made an initial commitment is not borne out by the New Testament facts.
The Word "If"
The word “if” is a sign of condition. If Paul had taught that salvation could never be rejected after it had been initially granted, he could not have used the word “if” as he did. In Colossians 1:21-23 he makes a most interesting statement:
“You who were once alienated, enemies in your mind by wicked works, Jesus has now reconciled you in the body of his flesh through death, in order to present you holy and blameless and beyond reproach — IF indeed you continue in the faith founded and firm, and not being moved away from the hope of the Gospel which you heard.”
Paul makes it very clear that the hope offered by the Gospel — the hope of resurrection and rulership with the Messiah in his Kingdom when he comes back — must be grasped and held on to. This is a condition of receiving salvation. Salvation is indeed offered by grace, but our cooperation is required. Paul says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2:
“I make known to you, brothers and sisters, the Gospel which I preached to you, which you also received and in which you now stand, by which you are being saved — IF you hold fast to the message which I preached to you as Gospel.”
This makes it quite clear that persistence in the Gospel is a condition of obtaining final salvation. The facts embodied in the Good News, including faith in the person of the Messiah Jesus, must be held firm. This includes the hope of rulership with Christ in the Kingdom. Paul always preached the Gospel about the Kingdom (Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31; cp. Acts 8:12).
More "If's" in Paul
In three other passages Paul uses similar language. In 1 Thessalonians 3:8 he says: “Now we live IF you stand firm in the Lord.” The implication is that he will be most unhappy if they do not! And again, in 2 Timothy 2:12, there is a most important passage written by Paul at the very end of his career as an Apostle: “IF we endure we will reign as kings with him” — that is, if we successfully come through the trials of this life, we will reign with him in the Messianic Kingdom of the coming age. Paul had said the same thing in slightly different words in Romans 8:17: “IF we suffer with him we will be glorified with him.” You will find by comparing Mark 10:37 with Matthew 20:21 that the word "Glory" is another term for "Kingdom."
In all the passages we have quoted the IF’s show the condition which must be fulfilled by Christians before they can finally enter the Kingdom of God to be revealed at the Second Coming of Christ. Salvation is therefore in one sense past: we have been rescued from the world, the Satanic system which at present dominates all forms of civilization. Secondly, in a very important sense salvation is a continuing process — we are being saved. 1 Corinthians 1:18 speaks of those who are “being saved” (NASV) as contrasted with the rest who are perishing. Thirdly, salvation is a future event to which we are to look forward. That is why Paul can say “Salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). That salvation comes to us only IF we hold fast to the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God and the things pertaining to the name of Jesus firm until the end (Heb. 6:11).
The Christian Life is a Race
The Christian life is thus properly likened to a race. At the starting line you have not won the race. You must persist and persevere until you reach the finish line. A prize awaits each winner. We must all finish the race! We will achieve this only by the grace of God working in our lives. Again, “Salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). We must persevere until salvation finally comes to us at the resurrection when Jesus returns to rule in Jerusalem.
Mark 4:11-12 tells us that intelligent reception of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:19) is the first step for the believer. Repentance means repenting of our blindness in regard to Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. The Devil tries to keep us from believing in that “word” about the Kingdom, “so that we cannot believe it and be saved” (see Luke 8:12).
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