Why is it that some of the most powerful words in the English language are also the shortest ones? Consider the weight of consequence carried on the minuscule frame of “if”. If you do something or don’t do something, then something will or won’t happen. All because of “if”.
We use “if” to set conditions, expectations, and their consequences. It feels like “if” should be more massive to carry all that weight. But it’s not. “If” is small and powerful but sometimes a little shy; overshadowed by the words around it.
Consider for instance 1 John 1:5-10. John writes, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5–10, NASB95) Six verses filled with big ideas impacting life, reality, and eternity. Eye-opening verses that challenge the perceptions about ourselves. All of which hinges on the little word of “if”.
If we say that we have fellowship with Jesus… John starts out with an important condition. Anybody can claim to follow Jesus or declare they are a Christian. Polls have consistently shown that a high percentage of Americans call themselves Christians. Even though the percentages have slipped the latest polls still put that number at 70 – 80%. Polls that look beyond self-labeling and into Christian thought and practice reveal a much different picture. Some polls reflect that only 43% attend church at least once a month. When other cultural markers like TV, Social Media, and the state of the family are considered you really have to ask how many are failing at this “if”. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. Following Jesus is more than just identifying with an idea, a heritage, or a culture. It is choosing to walk in the light of God instead of walking in darkness. Are we living the life or living the lie?
If we walk in the light… John’s second “if” contrasts with the first. If we are truly walking in the light of Jesus, then we will have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus will cleanse us from our sins. The Bible talks a lot about what our relationships are to be like. Fellowship is to be a mutual exchange of love, care, forgiveness, correction, and encouragement through vital connections with other followers of Christ. As we are walking in the light we will not only be drawn to Christ but also to each other. Yes, life in fellowship is messy. People don’t all have the same likes or maturity. Bumping up against the lives of others reveals our faults, not for the purpose of division or to determine who belongs and who doesn’t, but so sin can be cleansed and forgiven. Peter instructed, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NASB95) Are we allowing the light of God to shine on our relationships?
If we say we have no sin… I doubt that any of us would say out loud that we don’t sin but I wonder how many of us think it. How easy is it to see the sin in others and be blinded to our own sin? How easy is it to judge others because of their stumbles when we’ve just taken a nose dive off a high cliff? Whenever there is a conflict how often are we the ones that admit we are wrong, that we have a problem, or that we sinned? If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. It may seem that the first “if” and this “if” stand in conflict and contradiction. The first “if” maintained that those who follow Jesus do not walk in darkness, meaning that we don’t practice sin. While we have new life in Jesus Christ and all things have become new, we are in the process of transformation that will culminate in Heaven. We are fully redeemed and made new, but we grow into the grace we have been given. Sanctified yet also being made sanctified. Are we being honest with ourselves and others?
If we confess… The glorious promise is that as we agree with God about our sin, He is faithful and righteous (or just) to forgive us. It requires honesty, truthfulness, and humility to confess our sins before God and to receive His forgiveness. Yes, we asked for Christ’s forgiveness when we knelt at the cross and asked Jesus to be our Savior and Lord. (You’ve done that, right?) But as we walk in the world we may fall due to the “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Whenever we fall, Jesus is ready and willing to lift us back on to the path, not only for to forgive our sins but also to cleanse our heart. Are we being honest with God?
If we say that we have not sinned… This final “if” looks at whether we have ever sinned at all. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. Robert Duvall’s character in the movie Get Low spends most of his life in a self-imposed prison due to an event forty years earlier. At one point in the movie, Duvall’s character says, “They keep talking about forgiveness. ‘Ask Jesus for forgiveness.’ I never did nothing to him.” Most folks will readily agree that they make mistakes. They may even read through the Ten Commandments and agree they have done some of those things but with a healthy dose of explanation. They couldn’t help themselves. It was someone else’s fault. Love made it okay. They deserved it. There were extenuating circumstances. Folks may see that they’ve hurt or offended someone but fail to see that their words, thoughts, and deeds also hurt God. The result of denying our sinfulness is a rejection of God and His word. Are we allowing pride to block all that God has for us?
“If”, a little word with some huge consequences.