Conditional sentences are composed of two distinct halves and have been used by writers throughout recorded history. One half (with the word ‘if’ in it) is the condition, and the other half (with the word ‘then’ in it) states the action, or the outcome, to occur if the condition is met.
I became aware of this type of sentence as a very young boy, when my father explained what would happen (the action) when I did not do as told (the condition). I had no earthly idea what a conditional sentence was, nor that there were two parts to it; however, I DID know what the ‘action’ part meant, and my behind paid the price for my failure many times.
That may sound humorous, and in hindsight, it is, even to me; but my dad was trying to instill in me a sense of responsibility, which meant that I was to obey him when he spoke to me. For example, he might say, “Son, take the trash out to the street tonight so it can be picked up by the trash collectors first thing tomorrow.” This was not a conditional sentence because there was no ‘if-then’ statement; it was a straightforward command. However, we both knew his expectation was that my action should align with his spoken words. We also both knew there would be consequences if I failed to obey his words.
Admittedly, I was not always the obedient son and at times disobeyed him, sometimes even managing to get away with disobedience. Eventually, though, I found out what the writer of the Book of Numbers meant when he said, in Numbers 32:23,
“But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.”
Although my dad was a merciful man, a good Christian man and father, who gave me ample opportunities to avoid serious consequences of disobedience, eventually his patience would wear thin and his mercy would run out, and my sin of disobedience was ‘found out’. After failing to obey his simple command several times, the next time the trash needed taking out, he would speak a conditional sentence: “If you don’t get that trash out to the street tonight, I’ll make you sorry you didn’t.” When the situation reached that point, I knew what the consequences would be.
But, the issue of a conditional sentence coming from my dad was not always a potentially bad thing. There were times when he would say, “If you do so and so, we’ll go later and get some ice cream.” That was one ‘if-then’ sentence I had no intention of messing up. It is amazing how the promise of a reward can light a fire under a small boy’s butt. The real point of all this is, I knew that whether he was issuing a simple command or an ‘if-then’ conditional sentence, he would follow through on the promised action, based on how I handled the required condition. In other words, I knew my dad was as good as his word.
The God that we serve and worship is also as good as His word. In fact, God’s Word is forever settled in heaven. Throughout the course of His dealings with man, even starting in the Garden of Eden, God showed to His creation just how settled, and sure, His Word is. After making a perfect environment for Adam and then placing him and Eve into it, He gave them several conditions coupled with resulting actions. They were told that they could eat of every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were told that, in the day they ate of that tree, they would surely die.
It could easily have been written, “If” you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “then” you shall surely die.” Of course, we know that they did eat, and they were cut off from God. Even though they continued to live physically for hundreds of years, they died spiritually that same day. God honored His Word, as He always does. He cannot lie, and He will not change.
I believe that, but are there situations where He might change His mind? Is that scenario even possible to contemplate if His Word is “forever settled?” I believe it is, without causing any conflict with His Word. There are some instances recorded in the Bible where God did ‘change His mind’, and they involved specific interactions with men when they occurred. Let’s look at a few examples:
In one instance, recorded in Genesis 6:6-8, due to the magnitude of sin that was multiplied in the earth, the Lord was grieved that He had made man; and He decided to destroy all living creatures that He had made. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord because he was a just man and perfect in all his ways. Even though His mind was made up about the future of his human creation, He revised His judgment and spared eight souls: those of Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives. He also spared a pair of each of the clean animals that He had created. This is a magnificent display of God’s mercy at work.
Possibly the best example of the “if-then” condition is found in the Biblical account of God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord had determined that those cities would be destroyed due to the excess of sin of their inhabitants. He visited Abraham on the way and shared His judgment plan with the man He called His friend. When Abraham realized that his nephew Lot and all his family would be destroyed with the wicked people of those cities, he pleaded with God to spare the cities. He asked God a question using the “if-then” condition.
“Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?” (Genesis 18:24).
The Lord answered Abraham: “And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Genesis 18:26).
We know that Abraham continued asking God the same question, revising downward the number of ‘righteous’ that would be needed to spare the cities, finally stopping at the number ten. However, there were not ten righteous souls in those wicked cities. And after warning Lot to remove himself and his family, the fire and brimstone rained down from heaven and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
We are not told in the Bible what God would have done if Abraham had continued with his requests for leniency based on fewer righteous souls found. Once again, God’s action proved He is always faithful to His Word. Perhaps, at the request of His friend, Abraham, both cities might have been spared.
After freeing the Children of Israel from 400 years of Egyptian bondage, God made perfectly clear to them that He desired to be God to them and wanted them to be a special people to Him. He also made clear exactly what He expected them to do to receive His blessings.
In the Book of Deuteronomy 28:1, God provided probably the most amazing “if-then” conditional sentence ever uttered:
“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth.”
Then, in verses 2-14 He issued a long list of wonderful blessings that they would enjoy through obedience to His commands, followed in verses 15-68, by an even longer list of curses that would happen to them if they failed to be obedient.
We know from the recorded history of the Jewish nation that God became angry with the Israelites many times due to their often-repeated failures. The offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) became the loudest complainers on earth when things did not go their way. In response, God was true to His Word and brought many of the curses upon them because of their disobedience.
The “if-then” condition was even used by Satan when Jesus was tempted by him after having spent forty days and forty nights fasting in the wilderness. This story is recorded in Matthew 4: 1-11. Look at verse 8-10:
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.’
“Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
Faced with a temptation that no other man on earth could have resisted, Jesus resisted the “then” (the action) part of Satan’s conditional sentence by refusing to fulfill the “if” (conditional) part. As He always did in His human life, Jesus relied totally on the power of the written word of God to resist Satan and fulfill the will of God. This was recorded for the benefit of all future believers.
Today, God desires for all men to worship Him, and in return He wants to pour out upon them untold blessings. However, just as God’s blessings were conditional in the Old Testament, there are conditions that must be met in the New.
We are told in Romans 10:6-10, “But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
The ‘if’ (condition) requires: a) belief, and b) confession; the ‘then’ (action) is, “thou shalt be saved.” To receive all the blessings of the salvation offered and purchased with the blood of Jesus, these specific conditions must be met. Every man who desires to be saved must believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and confess with his mouth the Lordship of Jesus. That person is then expected to learn what is required of him in his walk as a believer, and then to live accordingly.
I have heard people ask, just what does it mean to be saved? Look up the word translated ‘saved’ in verse nine above; it comes from the Greek word ‘sozo’ (Strong’s 4982), meaning ‘safe’, or ‘to save’ i.e., deliver or protect, also to heal, preserve, and be (or make) whole.
To me it means: I am saved, healed, delivered, set free and made whole. To express it further, I am saved from whatever I need saving from, healed of every disease and sickness, delivered from every snare or trap of the devil, set free from every hindrance to my spiritual success, and made whole, with everything Satan has stolen from me returned with interest. To walk in this requires a deep belief in the absolute truth of God’s Word and a commitment to allow God to prove that His Word is indeed settled forever, not only in heaven, but in my own heart.
This is not an easy walk to undertake because, I can assure you, Satan will do everything in his power to sidetrack you and get you to doubt the ‘forever settled’ status of God’s Word. It is up to me, indeed to all of us, to follow the instructions of the Apostle Paul and to put on the full armor of God, using all the weapons He provided in Ephesians 6:10-18.
If you’re willing to do this, be prepared for a lifelong battle. But, the best part is, for the victorious, the rewards are definitely worth the fight!