This little word may seem to be small and unimportant, but its presence in a sentence changes literally everything about the meaning: if. By definition and usage, if is a conditional conjunction, indicating something must take place for a particular desired result to occur. We are likely familiar with the common “if-then” statements [common in computer coding] that make this fact even clearer. For example: “If you clean your room, then you may go to the park.” That is a conditional statement.
With that addressed, we must then consider the fact that within God’s written word, we find several conditional statements relative to disciples and their responsibilities. This is worthy of consideration, for one of the most popular doctrines amongst professing believers teaches that one cannot “do” anything toward their salvation. Now, friends and brethren, either this doctrine is false or the Bible itself is false, but they cannot be contradictory and both be true. Which shall we believe? I don’t think it is beyond reason to conclude that God’s written word must be our choice, for it is the words of Jesus and the gospel itself that will judge us in the last day (John 12:47, 48; Rom. 2:16). Since none of us are going to be judged by the wisdom and reasoning of man, I would urge you to stand with the written word of God; your eternal fate rests on this choice!
But let us not merely mention these conditional statements; let us consider what is said and what the results will be if those conditions are met. In so doing, we will see that this concept of man not doing anything toward his salvation does not match with what the Scriptures teach. When you see this to be true, you will then have a choice: Hang on to a false concept, or accept the truth and its resulting demands.
If We: Hold Fast Our Hope. Before digging into this statement, it is beneficial to know that the letter of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were considering turning back from following Christ to follow the Old Law. It seems that they were considering this under the false belief that since the Old Law was God’s law, they would simultaneously remove the cause for their persecutions [their Jewish brethren persecuting them for turning away from the Old Law and following Christ] and still be pleasing to God [since, as they reasoned, it was God’s will]. The entire letter is an argument against such thinking, and time and time again the writer argues for how the things of the New Covenant are “better” than anything under the Old, and what they now had under Christ was something the Old could not, in fact, offer to them — most importantly, forgiveness of their sins.
With that said, the writer tells these Jewish Christians, that Christ stood “as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Heb. 3:26). Note the conditional statement that we are of Christ’s house “if we hold fast… firm to the end.” Let us note, first of all, the condition of being of His house only if we meet the conditions, then note, too, that this requires we hold fast our hope to the end. This was not something they could turn their backs on and expect to be true. The fact the divinely-inspired writer used the word “if” indicates there is a possibility of it not happening; in other words, a Christian can fall away and lose the reward!
He will state something similar to this just a few verses later: “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14). Again, the conditional statement that we are partakers of Christ “if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” If we do not — and the possibility is necessarily implied — then we cannot be called partakers with Christ. And keep in mind that he had warned them just a couple of verses earlier to “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). Again, how can one [a Christian] depart from someone [“the living God”] if they were never with Him? This concept of ‘once saved, always saved’ does not stand up to the challenge of the written word of God!
If We: Turn Away From Christ. Let it again be noted that this letter was written to Jewish Christians; with that said, consider that the writer warned them, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26, 27). He would later warn, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven” (Heb. 12:25). If anything, this points to the possibility of turning away from Christ after having known Him and become one of His disciples. It also tells us plainly that this will not end well for the one who does so.
For those Jewish Christians who were thinking about turning away from Christ, the warning was that they were turning away from the only sacrifice that brought forgiveness of sins [“there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”]; the latter warning pointed to a certain punishment for those who turned away from Christ [“Him who speaks from heaven”]. The conditional statements [“if we”] are followed by the certain consequences “if we” turn back.
But this matches with the words of the apostle Peter, who also told the early disciples, “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:20, 21). An honest interpretation and application of these words would tell us plainly that a Christian who turns back to the world is in a much worse state than he was before he became a Christian! That doesn’t sound like ‘once saved, always saved’ to me, by any stretch.
If We: Have Been United With Christ. Paul noted in his words to the brethren at Rome, “that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3, 4). With this said, he then argues, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5); and, later, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:8).
The point Paul is making is that if they had been united with Christ in baptism, they should likewise live as He lived — “in newness of life” and no longer living for sin. He would go on to make that argument again in the following verses (Rom. 6:12-22). It is a logical expectation for every Christian to live as Christ lived (1 John 2:6; Matt. 10:24, 25).
The lesson? If we are united with Christ, we must live as Christ. If we turn back, we surrender our hope. — Steven Harper