by Barbara Lane Geistfeld, D.V.M.
“If”: Let Us Examine This Tiny Word More Carefully.
Lutherans have a pretty good handle on the delicate balance between Law and Gospel, between the gift of eternal life found in the Gospel and the doing of good works in response to that gift, and between guidance from the indwelling Holy Spirit and our free will. Ephesians 2:10 affirms that, “God created us in Christ Jesus [grace] to do good works [our “assignment” if you will], which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In John 15:16 Jesus tells His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you [grace] and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last …” Again, grace is entwined with our assignment to do good works—as we are exhorted to do in many other New Testament Scriptures:
“[L]et your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
“They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share …” (1 Timothy 6:18).
“[S]o that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8).
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works …” (Hebrews 10:24).
And finally, the text that so concerned Dr. Martin Luther: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).
Ahh! Here we find that little word “if.” Let us examine this tiny word more carefully. The word “if” appears in the Bible several thousand times, both in the Old and New testaments. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “if” as a word “introducing a conditional clause.” “If this happens, then this happens.” Why does this matter? Because Jesus used this conditional word “if” over and over again. It must, therefore, be very important for us to comprehend the context and His meaning.
“If you love me, [then] you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
“Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, [then] he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23).
“If anyone does not abide in me [then] he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned … If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, [then] ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you … If you keep my commandments, [then] you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:6-7,10).
Jesus is appealing to us to remain in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us in our Baptism. He tells us that the promises of God are always there, and they will benefit us substantially if we love Him, if we abide in Him, and if we keep our eyes fixed on Him as the Holy Spirit indeed leads and enables us to do. If we do not love Him or abide in Him, then it is to our own detriment. Jesus calls us to live in a constant state of repentance, prayer, and trust, again, possible only by the strength of the Holy Spirit in us. He is surely telling us openly and clearly that if we do not remain in Him, then there are serious spiritual consequences. Is He saying this to frighten us? Not at all. Jesus says this because He loves us! He loves us so much that He gave His life for each one of us. He knows the consequences of us losing our desire to remain in Him. He knows the “ifs” and “thens.”
The Scriptures call us to submit our will—this free will given to us by God—to God our Father. A constant struggle, is it not?
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).
May each of us continue to rest in the power of the Holy Spirit so that He might soften our wills and give us the desire and the strength to love Jesus, to abide in Him, and to walk with Him as we continue to do the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.