A conditional concept well known to all of us is the “if… then.” We have had it used on us: “If you work hard, you’ll be in line for a promotion.” We’ve used it on our kids: “If you put your toys away, you can go outside to play.” It is used largely to encourage a desired behavior.
This familiar idiom is also seen in relationship with God. He used it with the Israelites when He brought them out of slavery, gave them His law, and took them into the Promised Land. As God’s servant, Moses reminded the people repeatedly that if they would love and obey God, He would drive out their enemies, provide for them, and bless them abundantly in the land He was giving them. Jesus used it in His teachings and parables. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” (Matt 17:20) The Apostles did likewise. One of my favorites from Paul is more implied than overt: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)
If God’s conditional promises span the entire history of man, how do we reconcile “conditions” with the unconditional love of God expressed in wiping out our sin – no matter how horrid – through Jesus’ death in our place?
The Lord uses the give and take of “if/then” brilliantly to establish interactive relationship with us, His children. When God gives us an “if”, it is not just a friendly suggestion we can consider and casually discard, it is instruction for profound life-change and blessing. His unconditional love is the Source of the blessing or promise. Our obedience pushes the button that launches His promise. Obedience is key. Every time we obey God, He hears, “I love You.” (“If you love Me, keep My commands.” John 14:15) Obedience additionally reveals whether we trust God enough to step outside the comfort zone of our experiences and circumstances to believe Him for what we cannot see, feel, or touch. It is a test. His lavish promises cannot be appropriately handled if we are disobedient, as disobedience (rebellion, if it is intentional) drives a wedge of our own making between us and God. The unfortunate consequence is that it leaves us lacking His Wisdom to be able to use the gift. His unconditional love will actually withhold blessings that would harm us in our willfulness and self-centeredness.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we loved God so much that obedience was a natural byproduct of our love (like involuntarily smiling at a beautiful sunset), instead of an analytical choice? But His unconditional love allows us the choice, rather than demanding compliance. So, the ultimate question of the “condition” remains: do we believe, trust, and love Him enough to obey?