A Simple Study of the Particle “If”

By Wayne Jackson

Some of the most profound truths come in small word packages. One of these little packages, of merely two letters, is the term “if.” Grammatically speaking, “if” is identified as a conditional particle. That is, it mentions conditions or circumstances upon which certain consequences follow.

“If” has a great variety of applications; they may involve blessings, punishments, opportunities, etc. “If” does not stand alone. It is a component of the “word neighborhood” in which it is found.

“If” is one of the first words a child begins to associate with logical thinking. The youngster as yet does not know anything about the formal process of reasoning from a logical vantage point, much less does he know of “conditional particles.” But children quickly can fathom the significance of “if.”

“Bobby, if you eat your carrots, mommy will let you have some ice cream.” Down go the carrots because Bobby already has learned the significance of “if.”

As one grows, the “ifs” come fast and furiously, and they whip us into logical submission many times each day.

“If you finish your homework, you may go out and play.” “If you complete your chores, you may use the car this weekend.” “If you take this medicine, it should relieve your symptoms.” “If you service your car regularly, it will last much longer.” On and on go the “ifs.”

Why is it that “if” is so well-understood in virtually every realm of life — except that of religion? That is a terribly strange phenomenon. And it reveals how stubborn some religious folks are.

One of the vilest doctrines ever to be foisted upon humanity by Satan is the idea that a child of God can never lose his/her salvation — no matter what he/she does. As the serpent told grandmother Eve, “You shall not die” (Gensis 3:4), which was quite contrary to the explicit warning of the Creator (2:17).

This notion of “the impossibility of apostasy” is taught by the disciples of John Calvin (and some who are not formally identified with the Swiss reformer).

Consider the following promise by Christ:

“If a man keep my word, he shall never see death” (John 8:51).

Does this text affirm that no one will ever be lost — regardless of how he lives? Of course it doesn’t, and most acknowledge that. It does affirm that no one, who “keeps [Christ’s] word” (the verb implies abiding action), will be lost.

But the particle “if” is crucial; it states a condition. Note the following passages that equally are appropriate to this brief study.

IF we hold fast the word, we will be saved (1 Corinthians 15:2).IF we faint not, we shall reap in due season (Galatians 6:9).IF we continue in the faith, we will be unreprovable before Him (Colossians 1:22-23).IF we endure, we shall reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12).IF we add the Christian virtues, we shall never stumble (2 Peter 1:10).IF we walk in the light, Christ’s blood keeps us clean (1 John 1:7).

In each of the texts cited above, observe the leading conditional particle. Further, note the action verbs that are connected to these particles.

How can any reasonable person, in light of these texts, contend that the retention of one’s salvation is unconditional? That God will save us no matter how we live?

One gentleman, with whom I recently discussed this matter, responded to this line of evidence in the following way: “You place too much emphasis on ‘if’.”

Isn’t that a compelling statement? Actually, it disregards the value of the inspired words of the sacred text. There is little one can do to help the person who flings logic to the wind and refuses to see the truth.

These passages, and numerous others, make it absolutely clear that our salvation is dependent upon our sincere and determined effort to pursue the will of the Son of God.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.