“If” is a small word with a great potential for misuse. In fact, according to the four Gospels, many of the spiritual attacks against Jesus were based on this diminutive word. Satan’s temptations of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry show us one of the ways in which we can be lured by an “If” mentality. Notice the wording: “If you are the Son of God command that these stones be made bread … if you are the son of God throw yourself down … if you will fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:3-8).
When we study these temptations in detail we see Satan repeatedly used the word “if” with the implication that if some action would be for a good purpose, then it is justified. This is the underlying attitude that we too may have in suggesting that God do something for what we feel is a good and necessary goal. We should always remember that even if it is for a good purpose, the ends do not justify the means unless they conform to God’s will.
Later in the ministry of Jesus we see the word “if” used in response to him in numerous other settings. We see it, for example, in the demands of the Jewish leaders: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" (John 10: 24), and we should be careful not to fall into this particular “If” trap, also. Jesus had performed many miracles and signs throughout Judea, yet the Jewish leaders wanted him to confirm the signs for them – to see them with their own eyes. We need to be careful to be attuned to what God is doing in our lives and the things he is wanting us to be aware of. We should not tell God how to get a point across to us any more than we should suggest that we will only hear if the message is conveyed in a manner we think is “proof” to us.
The Gospels record the “If”mentality manifesting itself all the way down to the end of Jesus’s life. Some of those present at his crucifixion, including some of the rulers and chief priests, said: "If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him" (Matthew 27:42 NKJV). Here, we see the attitude of “if” in its most raw and rebellious form – “If God does what I think is necessary, I’ll respond as I should.” This is not far from the attempts to make a deal with God that we mentioned as we began this discussion. There may seem to be “nothing in it for us” in some of these circumstances – but we still try to make God conform to our will, our conditions for obedience.
In every one of these cases and many more in the ministry of Jesus, the word “if” was used in a manner which sought to impose another will, another viewpoint, on that of God. We see it in the attitude of the self-righteous Pharisee who said “if he were a prophet, he would know who and what manner of woman … touched him” (Luke 7:39) and in dozens of other places. We must always remember that God’s way is not one of a number of options for which we can negotiate. There is truly only one kind of “If” mentality that is right and proper in our relationship with God: the attitude that Jesus himself exhibited throughout his earthly life – the attitude of “If it is your will…” (Matthew 26:42).