Many of us make resolutions this time of year. It just seems natural. Maybe we want to lose weight, get out of debt, or finish a long neglected project around the house. But as a Christian, we want to somehow make our resolutions more spiritual. That also seems natural. So we often resolve something like this:
“I want to read my Bible more.”
“I want to pray more.”
“I want to share my faith more.”
“I want to love more, forgive more, worship more.”
“I want to live more like a Christian.”
“I want to know more of God and have myself conformed to the image of His Son.”
But the key to discovering the “abundant life” (John 10:10) Jesus spoke about is not in keeping resolutions, no matter how good they may be. It’s living a life of holiness. It’s practicing sanctification. It’s being set apart or consecrated unto God. After all, we belong to Him.
But sanctification never takes place unless we first understand the way God’s if / then promises work. The promise comes after the condition. The then follows the if. Consider the following:
Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
(condition one) Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
(condition two) and lean not on your own understanding;
(condition three) in all your ways acknowledge Him,
(promise) and He shall direct your paths.
Want to know more. Then keep listening.
The following is a study on Proverbs 3:5-6.
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We have previously talked about the importance of understanding our responsibility regarding the if / then passages in Scripture. In these, the promise of God (then) is contingent upon some completed action on our part (if). One always precedes the other. One is always contingent upon the other. When the if is satisfied, the promised then is realized. But the opposite is also true. If there is no if, there will be no then. If no condition is met, there will be no fulfillment of the promise. It’s Contract Law, 101.
For example, when Peter preached his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost that ushered in the birth of the church, he closed his message with an if / then promise. Let’s look at this in context. First, Peter concludes his message with a statement about Jesus and their guilt in rejecting and crucifying Him.
Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified (now it’s personal), both Lord and Christ.”
Then, under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the people cry out for an answer. They long and seek for salvation, some deliverance from the guilt of their sin.
Acts 2:37 – Now when they heard this (the words Peter just spoke), they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Peter answers their question with an if / then promise regarding repentance and salvation. They must do something (if) to receive salvation and the forgiveness of their sins (then). If they fail to do what is required of them (if – repentance), then salvation does not follow (then). Watch how this plays out.
Acts 2:38 – Then Peter said to them, “Repent (if – the condition they must meet), and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (as an outward sign of their repentance and submission to Christ); and (then – the promise of salvation, the result of meeting the condition of repentance) you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Remember, the Holy Spirit is our proof of salvation. Ephesians 1 says we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” in Him (Eph. 1:13-14). Again, no Holy Spirit, no regeneration, no changed nature— no salvation. But you already know this.
Turn at My Rebuke
Yet even after salvation, we find the same if / then conditions and promises still apply in our lives today. This is especially true regarding the sins we commit as a believer and our refusal to repent of them and give them up in exchange for a deeper relationship with the Lord. Look at your own life. You and I have areas right now that we struggle with and refuse to submit to Him. But you also already know this. The end result of this inaction on our part is a grieving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and a noticeable break in our fellowship with the Lord. Can you relate? Ever been there?
We even see this scenario played out for us in the first chapter of Proverbs. In this chapter, the young man (representing you and me) is warned by his father and mother not to forsake what he has been taught and to not consent when sinners entice him to sin (Prov. 1:10). The Lord then spends the next nine verses detailing the types of pressure each of us will face when we are tempted to sin. There’s peer pressure, greed, anger, violence, acceptance, excitement— it’s all there. Read it for yourself.
By the time we get to Proverbs 1:20, things change a bit in the text. Now we have wisdom, the personified wisdom of God, calling out to this young man with the message of repentance. In fact, we see wisdom calling out to anyone who will listen. Wisdom calls out in the “open squares,” in the “chief concourses” and “at the opening of the gates in the city” (Prov. 1:20-21). Wisdom is calling to everyone. To those who are lost, it’s a message of repentance unto salvation. To those, like the young man and you and me, it’s a message of repentance unto fellowship and a restoration of our intimate relationship with our Lord.
Wisdom’s message begins with a rebuke. It’s like incredulously asking, “Just how stupid are you?”
Proverbs 1:22 – “How long, you simple ones (foolish ones, naive ones, stupid ones, moronic ones), will you love simplicity (what is foolish, stupid, moronic)? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge.”
Wisdom asks each of us the same question: “How long, you foolish, moronic, stupid ones, will you love your stupidity? How long, you fools, will you be enamored in your folly?”
Just like those who heard Peter’s charge in Acts 2:36, we also ask the same question: “What must we do?” The answer is simple. But it’s an if / then answer. It requires something of us in order to receive something from the Lord.
Proverbs 1:23 – “Turn (if – the condition that must be met) at my rebuke; Surely (then – the results of meeting the condition) I will pour out my spirit (Holy Spirit) on you; (then) I will make my words known (yada) to you.”
The promise is that God would pour (to gush forth, to flow) out the Holy Spirit on those who turned (turn back, returned) and repented at the rebuke (correction, reproof, chastisement) of wisdom. And, as if it couldn’t get any better, He also promised to make His words known (yada) to those who repented and turned back to Him. The word “known” is yada in the Hebrew and means to know, or be known, in a loving, intimate, experiential way. The promise offered by the Lord is for Him to pour Himself out on us in the Person of the Holy Spirit and make His words become something we love because we have experienced them ourselves, first-hand, and have an intimate, loving relationship with Him. Does it get any better than this? Not for me.
But don’t get too excited. This wonderful promise is conditional. It’s the then side of the if / then equation. There is something that is required in order to receive the promise from God. Something each of us must do.
We must repent. We must turn at the rebuke or correction and chastisement of the Lord.
It means to go back to where we were with Him before we jumped ship to blindly go after the trinkets and toys this world offers. It means to embrace the eternal and reject the temporal, no matter how good the temporal may make us feel in the short run. It means placing ourselves back under the Lordship of Christ as the Sovereign One. We must repent of the selfishness of demanding our Christian life being about us, and not about Him. And we must vow to never view Christ as a genie in a bottle, always at our beck and call, whose sole purpose, according to us, is to make all our dreams come true.
Turn. Return. Go back. Repent.
But What If I Don’t?
I mean, what if I refuse to return to Him? What if I’m ok where I’m at and don’t want to go through the pain and hard times that come with repentance? What if I say, no?
I’ll close by letting you read what the Lord says about people who stubbornly refuse His rebuke. These are sobering words. Take them to heart. Because they are a warning from Him. Another if / then promise.
Proverbs 1:24-27 – “Because (if – the condition we have met) I have called and you refused, (if – the condition) I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because (if) you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, (then – the result of our actions) I also will laugh at your calamity; (then) I will mock when your terror comes, (to what extent) when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.”
But it gets worse. What happens when we reject the wisdom of the Lord and inevitably begin to experience all the “terror” and “destruction” that “comes like a whirlwind” (Prov. 1:26-27)? What happens when the Lord gives us what we want and allows us to experience the consequences of our own sin (Rom.1:24-28)? What happens when we’ve had enough of God’s chastisement, throw up our hands in defeat, and begrudgingly come to Him on His terms? What happens then? How will He receive us?
Read this carefully. These are sobering words.
Proverbs 1:28-30 – “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. (why) Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke.”
These are some of the most frightening words in all of Scripture. They indicate there may come a time when our constant rejection of the Lord will dry up His grace. A time when heaven is quiet and, no matter how hard we try, we can’t find the grace from Him we took for granted for so long. The time may come, according to this if / then promise, when God allows us to experience the consequence of our sins and may give us exactly what we have asked for, what we have demanded— deliverance from Him.
Pray that day never comes.
And while you still can, turn at His rebuke and allow Him to “pour out my spirit on you” and “make my words known to you” (Prov. 1:23). Because when He does what He has promised in the verse, you will begin to experience heaven on earth.
Return to Him today.
If your resolution this year is to “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:5), then you must begin this vision quest by understanding how the if / then passages in Scripture work. Simply put, you do the ifs, and God provides the thens. One is contingent upon another. One comes first, and the other follows after. One is a condition that must be met, the other is the result of meeting that condition. One is your responsibility, and the other is His.
Consider this passage from Proverbs 2:
Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (condition) you receive my words, and (if you) treasure my commands within you, (to what extent) so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if (condition) you cry out for discernment, and (if you) lift up your voice for understanding, if (condition) you seek her as silver, and (if you) search for her as for hidden treasures; then (result of meeting the condition) you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
As you can see, the promise of understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God only comes after the if conditions are met. One is contingent upon another. Meeting the if condition is the key that unlocks the then promise, If I want to understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God, then I must meet the condition set forth to receive that promise. It is foolishness, according to this passage, to assume we will receive the promise without meeting the condition.
Some promises in Scripture are granted without a condition being met.1 Others, most in fact, have a condition attached to them. For example, our salvation is based on meeting a condition:
Romans 10:9 – That if (condition) you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and (if you) believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, (then – result or promise) you will be saved.
Note that salvation comes after the condition is met. Repentance and the acknowledgement of Christ as Lord is mandatory, not optional. You cannot come to faith in Him any other way. This is an if / then passage about salvation.
If / Then Passages
But there’s so much more. Take a look at a few of these if / then passages. See if you can begin to understand how important your part is in receiving the promises of the Father.
Matthew 6:14-15 – “For if (condition – your action and responsibility) you forgive men their trespasses, (then – the result or promise from God) your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if (condition – your action and responsibility) you do not forgive men their trespasses, (then – the result or promise from God) neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
If we desire forgiveness from God, we must first forgive others. First the condition, then the promise. How important is it for me to forgive others who have wronged me? It’s vital. For without meeting the horizontal condition of forgiveness between me and another, God is not obligated to fulfill the vertical condition of forgiving me for my sins and transgressions. This is not something to play around with. This if / then condition has lasting, eternal consequences.
John 15:10 – “If (condition) you keep My commandments, (then – result) you will abide (rest, dwell, make your home) in My love, (example) just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
How do I rest and abide in the love (agape) of Christ? And how can I experience the abiding presence of that love like Jesus had with His Father? By meeting the if condition of the if / then promise. By keeping His commandments. By doing what He tells me to do. By loving Him through my obedience and not living a life of rebellion, apathy or arrogance. After all, Jesus also said in another if / then passage, “If you love Me, (then) keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Which means, if I love Him, then I will show my love for Him by keeping His commandments. And if I don’t love Him, then I won’t keep His commandments. Or, more frightening still, if I’m not keeping His commandments, then I must not love Him at all. Which means our love for Christ can be clearly seen by our obedience to Him. Not in our words, but in our actions (Luke 6:46).
We’ll close today with just one more. This if / then promise was spoken to Martha at the tomb of Lazarus right before Jesus raised him from the dead in the sight of all.
John 11:40 – Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if (condition) you would believe (then – result) you would see the glory of God?”
Jesus was about to raise a man back to life who had been dead and buried four full days. It was to be a powerful testimony that Christ is God and can do all things. For me, it’s one of the greatest miracles in the New Testament. But Martha would fail to see God in any of this unless she believed. She was in danger of becoming hard hearted and spiritually blind, much like the Pharisees and others who made up the religious establishment of that day, to what was about to take place. Instead of experiencing the glory of God, she would go back to her home unchanged, unmoved, and further away from the One who raised her brother from the dead. Why? Because of her lack of belief. Jesus’ words to her were simple, “If you believe (the condition that unlocks the revelation of the glory of God), then (the result of her faith and belief) you will see the glory of God.” And the opposite is also true. “If you do not believe (condition), then (result of lack of faith) you will not see the glory of God.”
The spiritual magnitude of this momentous event for Martha was contingent on her belief— on the if part of the if / then promise from Jesus.
Are you beginning to see the importance of these overlooked if / then promises in Scripture? Good. Because there are hundreds of them.
For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the if / then passages found in Scripture to discover what part we must play in receiving the promises from God. Why? Because fulfilling the if part is something we can do. It’s something we can get better at. Something the Lord has left in our hands. Obedience to His Word is our responsibility. And the promises for obedience, the results of the if / then promises in Scripture are, honestly, overwhelmingly wonderful.
Tomorrow we’ll begin looking at the if / then promises found in the Proverbs.
1 – For example, God’s promise to Abraham is not conditional on anything Abraham would, or would not do (Gen.12:7). See also Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:18-21; 17:6-8; and 35:11-12.
When we instinctively think about a time for new beginnings (lose weight, get healthy, read the Bible more, get out of debt, etc.), one of the verses that is often quoted by well-meaning Christians is Proverbs 3:5-6. In this verse we find the elusive promise that we all crave: How to know what is the will of God for our lives or, more precisely, how to get God to show us what we need to do in a particular situation that we are clueless about, such as, should I marry this person? Or, where should I work? Or, what college should I attend? Or, should I do this or that or go here or there? I think you probably get the point.
The promise we want to claim is found in the latter part of Proverbs 3:6 and says: “And He (God) shall direct your (me and you) paths.” Yes, this is what we want. This promise is what we so desperately need. We want and need God to direct our paths, to show us what to do, to let us know what’s the right decision He wants us to make— to literally bring us out of the darkness of doubt, indecision and fear and into His light of perfect peace (Isa. 26:3).
And, if you are completely honest with yourself, you’d probably have to admit this promise usually, almost always, goes unanswered. Did you ever wonder why?
Is God somehow not in the promise keeping business these days? Or, were these words meant for someone other than you? You know, someone God loves more than you, or someone who is a better person than you, or someone more likeable than you? In other words, is God selfish in keeping His Word and does He only hand out His blessings to His children like the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in the Dicken’s classic? Is that how you view your God?
Or could there be some conditions to the promise that we’ve failed to meet? Maybe we didn’t even know those conditions existed.
Let’s take a closer look at these two verses and see exactly what they say.
Building on What Came Before
In Proverbs 3 we see the Lord, through the pen of Solomon, building upon a base already established in the two previous chapters. For example, Proverbs 1:7 tells us “the fear (awe, profound respect, terror) of the Lord is the beginning (starting point, genesis, first, best) of knowledge (discernment, insight, understanding, notion).” Then, moving to the next chapter, Proverbs 2:5 reveals how we can “understand (to perceive, discern, become aware of) the fear of the Lord and find (attain) the knowledge of God.” How? How can we find the knowledge of God? By reading the conditions in the previous verses.
Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (conditional clause) you receive my words, and (if) treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then (promise) you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
This is a classic if / then conditional promise. it states that If you do this, then I will do this. It’s basic, first year, Contract Law 101.
But there’s also a condition, actually three conditions, that must be met to receive the desired promise found in Proverbs 3:6. And those conditions are also found by reading the previous verses. Let’s take a look together and discover the if / then conditional promise in Proverbs 3:5-6.
What It Says
Proverbs 3:5-6 reads:
Condition One (the Do): Trust in the Lord with all your heart
Trust (to be confident, secure, bold, safe) in (who or what) the Lord (how much) with all (with each, every, the entire, the whole, complete, inclusive, holding nothing back) your (personal responsibility, something you can and are expected to do) heart (or, your inner self, your mind, will, emotions, personality, the “you”).
Condition One states we are to trust and have confidence and security in the Lord, in the Sovereign One, the Creator God, the Personal God; and we are to trust Him with all our heart, with all that we are, with our entire being, our complete person; with our mind, our will, our emotions, our personality and our volition. We are to trust Him completely and personally and this is something we have the responsibility to do. It’s one of the ifs in the if / then conditional promise.
Question: But how do we do this? How do we trust in the Lord with all our heart?
Answer: See Condition Two.
Condition Two (the Don’t): And lean not on your own understanding
And lean (rely, trust in, support) not (no, not, never) on (what) your own understanding (comprehension, discernment, perception).
Why are we not to trust or rely on our own understanding, on our own personal take on things? After all, didn’t God give us a mind and expect us to use it? And am I not to “follow my heart” and do the things that seem right to me, things that give me peace and make me happy? Isn’t that what the Disney movies have taught me from Bambi on? Can’t I trust my own heart and my own feelings? Who knows me better than me? And who knows what is best for me better than me?
This is why Condition Two is so hard to meet and why we seldom are blessed with the then part of the if / then promise. Consider the following:
Jeremiah 17:5 – Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.”
Jeremiah 17:7 – “Blessed in the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.”
And the grand finale regarding the heart and our own feelings and understanding of things:
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart (your inner self, your mind, will, emotions, personality, the “you”) is deceitful (sly, insidious, slippery) above (what) all things, and desperately wicked (sick, ill, diseased, incurable, in a weakened condition that leads to death); who can know (to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) it?”
In other words, the heart, our heart, our self, our mind, our will, our emotions, and our personality is deceitful and insidious, sly above all things, above anything, with no limit. It is desperately wicked, sick, incurable, wracked with disease, weakened to the point of death, to the point of who can know it, or who can be intimate with it, approve of it, or have a relationship with it? Answer: No one. Zip.
Our heart cannot be trusted, ever. It must be redeemed.
Question: How can we learn not to lean and rely on our own understanding when that’s all we’ve ever been taught since kindergarten? What can we do to meet the requirement of Condition Two?
Answer: See Condition Three.
Condition Three (the Do): In all your ways acknowledge Him
In all (with each, every, the entire, the whole, complete, inclusive, holding nothing back) your (personal responsibility, something you can and are expected to do) ways (your paths, journeys, walk, the road traveled) acknowledge (to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) Him (God).
Think for a moment. In all your, or our, ways, in everything that we do, secular or sacred, in church or out of church, seen and public or hidden and private, in everything we do, in every place we walk, wherever the Lord sends us, whomever we encounter, whatever the circumstances or conditions, either good or bad, in all situations, success or failures, pain or joy, life or death, in each and every thing and without exception— we are to acknowledge Him.
Let’s stop for a moment and look closer at what it means to acknowledge someone or something. In our language the term acknowledge means to “accept or admit the existence of something.” For example, “I acknowledge my mistake.” Or, “I acknowledge your authority.” Or again, “I acknowledge that you believe what you are saying is true, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.” It also means to “show or express recognition or the realization of something or someone.” An example would be when one man slightly nods his head in acknowledgment or recognition of another man. “I see you big guy. I acknowledge your presence.” We see this all the time in life.
But that’s not what the Hebrew word means in this Proverb. Condition Three doesn’t say “in all our ways we are to nod our head or tip our hat in simple recognition that God exists.” No, the word is much deeper.
The Hebrew word for acknowledge in this verse is yada and is the same word defined above as know in Jeremiah 17:9. The word, yada, means “to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship.”
Or, simply this: Condition Three means we are, in all our ways and in everything we do or say throughout our lives, we are to know and live intimately with God in such a way that He would approve of, and show His pleasure and favor on, the way we live our lives. It means we would trust Him for everything (Isa. 41:10), strive to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), to “walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16), and to “find out what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph. 5:10) and live our lives accordingly.
This is the meaning of Condition Three. We are to “walk just as He (Jesus) walked” (1 John 2:6).
Question: And what about the promise?
The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is: And He shall direct your paths
And He (God) shall direct (make right, straight, smooth, level, to lead, to be pleasing, to approve, esteem) your paths (way, journey, course of life and lifestyle).
In other words, God will take our fallen lives and our fractured past and smooth out the way before us. He will lead us as He did His children in the times past (Isa. 52:12) and His glory will be our rear guard (Isa. 58:8). He will “instruct us and teach us in the way we should go and will guide us with His eye” (Ps. 32:8). As the Good Shepherd, He will freely “give His life for His sheep”— for you and me, for those He loves (John 10:11). He will “strengthen and protect us from the evil one” (2 Thes. 3:3), and “present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
This, beloved, is the promise of the Father given to you. It’s a gift, it’s the abundant life Jesus promised just waiting to be opened by you (John 10:10).
Are you living in the reality of that promise? Has God taken your broken paths and made them smooth before you? Has he redeemed the years you’ve lost to sin and selfishness and turned them into a testimony of His grace freely given to you? Has He “numbered your wanderings and collected your tears in His bottle and written them in His book”? (Ps. 56:8). Are you currently in the center of His will and is He directing “your steps by His Word”? (Ps. 119:133).
He can, you know. And He will. He wants to. All you have to do is claim His promise by meeting the conditions of one of the most glorious if / then promises in all of Scripture.
If – Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
If – And lean not on your own understanding;
If – In all your ways acknowledge Him,
Then – And He shall direct your paths (Prov. 3:5-6).
Begin this wondrous walk of faith today. Don’t wait. Why?
Because we’re all running out of time.