The Most Offensive Two-Letter Word in the Bible Today
With the Tokyo Summer Olympics upon us, I am reminded of a time in my adolescence where I legitimately thought I could have become an Olympian. Never mind that I had not trained to become an Olympian. Or sacrificed anything out of the ordinary to become the extraordinary. Still, silly as it sounds, I actually believed that I could athletically represent my country on a national stage.
My figure-skating idol was Scott Hamilton and I would occasionally go to the ice rink and daydream about what it would be like to compete for my country just like Scott. Then came the day at the local ice rink when I slipped on the ice trying to navigate around other weekend-only skaters. My friend, Bill, skated up to me and seeing a tear in my eye, blurted out with zero compassion in his voice, “You’re kidding, right? Are we back on the Olympics thing? You barely go ice skating. You’re not going to the Olympics.” If I had trained, if I had made the sacrifices common to those who achieve Olympic greatness, perhaps outcomes would have been different. Yet I had done none of the above.
Was my faulty reasoning of becoming an Olympian any different than assumptions made by many American Christians today? When it comes to what we believe about a relationship with God, many one-foot-in-one-foot-out Christians expect intimacy without intention, blessing without obedience, and God’s power without our presence in the relationship. Could it be that in both cases –– whether my delusion of Olympic grandeur or the lofty spiritual expectations of casual Christians –– we were not willing to be confronted by the most offensive two-letter word in the Bible today? That word is “if.”
Our Issue with “If”
The word “if” not only sounds unpleasant, it runs the serious risk of coming across not only as offensive, but downright doctrinally unsound. “If” doesn’t just sound conditional; by very definition, it is conditional. Isn’t God’s grace and love unconditional? “If” makes us feel like we need to do something. Didn’t Jesus do it all for us already? Isn’t salvation a free gift, not based on our works or merit? Yes, and yes. And yes, there are times when God uses the word “if” when speaking to His people.
Many times, the word “if” is used not as a condition for love or salvation, but as a condition of our obedience that results in God’s felt presence, power, and protection coming into our circumstances. God does not contradict himself in this: both in God’s unconditional love and in His conditional use of “if,” God is calling His people deeper into a committed, intimate and vibrant relationship with Himself.
King Asa’s Response to “If”
In 2 Chronicles 15:2, the prophet Azariah came to Asa, the King of Judah, and said, “Hear me, Asa, and all of Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” King Asa’s backstory is found in the previous chapter where he “did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 14:2). Asa was already eradicating idol worship in Judah, taking away foreign altars and fortifying Judah’s cities against future attacks of the enemy (14:3,7). So why the harsh ultimatum? Could it be that the Lord was drawing Asa into more? More trust. More surrender to His ways. More dependence on Himself.
Asa’s response to the prophet’s words was swift and decisive. 2 Chronicles 15:8 says, “As soon as Asa heard these words,” “he took courage,” “put away the detestable idols” and “repaired the altar of the Lord.” When Asa answered God’s “if” with obedience, God promised His presence and delivered on His word. When others saw “that the Lord his God was with him,” “great numbers had deserted to him from Israel” (15:9). From there, worship and sacrifice followed (15:11), and all of Judah entered into a covenant to seek the Lord with all their heart and with all their soul (15:12).
God’s invitation through “if” no longer threatened Asa, it empowered him. It became the catalyst that ignited a nationwide revival through one man’s response. “And all Judah rejoiced over the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them and the Lord gave them rest all around” (15:15).
The Purpose of “If”
Just like Asa, may we come to understand the purpose of God’s “if” in our lives:
“If” tests the sincerity and seriousness of our hearts toward God (15:13).
“If” cuts to the core of what we believe (15:2).
“If” is a cry for courage (15:7).
“If” calls us into covenant (15:12).
“If” confronts our compromise (15:16).
Over and over again in Scripture, answering God’s “if” with our obedience is a condition for His blessing, presence, power, and protection. If glossed over, God’s “ifs” may come across as arbitrary ultimatums, but upon a closer look, they are used to demonstrate the passion and resolve about a real God who desires a real relationship with real people. “If’ is making the believer a disciple and challenging God’s people to cast off double-mindedness and love God with an undivided heart.
Annemarie McLean is a four-girl mom, freelance writer, and co-founder of Brave & Beautiful, a ministry focused on challenging young women to live purpose-driven lives full of courage and character, while developing Christ-centered inner beauty. Annemarie holds a journalism degree from Oral Roberts University, with graduate work in organizational leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University.