October 15, 2015

If I deny Christ, can I still go to heaven?

by Jesse Johnson

Last week I was doing a Q/A session with AWANA students, and one of them asked this question:

In light of the shooting in Oregon, where the gunman asked students if they were Christian, and if they said ‘yes’ the gunman shot the student in the head, what would happen if a Christian lied? What if it would have been me, and I would have said ‘no’? Would I still go to heaven when I die?

This question is of particular importance because Christianity contains no exception to prohibitions against lying. Islam, for example, has a doctrine called Taqiyya, which allows a Muslim to temporarily deny his faith if his life is in danger—so long as it is not a “heartfelt” objection.

But Christianity is different. In fact, martyrdom is one of the chief means of propagating the gospel. As people boldly stand for Christ and refuse to recant even in the face of death, the gospel message is strengthened. The gospel itself is an example of this. Jesus valued his mission from God as more important than his own life, and his followers ought to do likewise.

And yet…

Thrice Denied.002

many Christians have denied Jesus when faced with persecution. The most obvious example of this is Peter—he denied Jesus three times, yet Jesus directly told him that he was still a follower of Christ (John 21:19). So on the one hand, the heart of the gospel is a truth worth dying for (as evidenced by Jesus and most of the Apostles), but on the other hand the gospel offers forgiveness even to those who deny Christ.

This is potentially confusing because of 2 Timothy 2:12: “If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”

But the denial in this verse is not talking about the momentary denial like Peter, or like a student scared for his life in the face of a gunman. That denial references the absolute walking away from the faith; apostasy.  And in that case, there is no salvation.

This verse seems so drastic, and that is the point. Paul—himself facing martyrdom (4:6)—challenges his readers to persevere. But Paul does not want true believers to lose heart, and so he immediately follows verse 12 with:

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).”

There will always be moments where we lose faith, but for those who are in Christ, we should have confidence that while we may lose faith, Jesus may never lose us. Even if we momentarily are gripped by fear, and value our lives more than the life of Christ, Jesus still possesses us, and he cannot deny himself.

But if we are being honest with our selves, we know this. We know that if the gunman were to point his gun at us, we should say that we are Christians, and so boldly proclaim the gospel even in the face of death. But we also don’t know what we would do. Would we have the strength to do what we ought?

And this is where the promises of the Bible really come alive. Jesus tells us that the time will come when Christians will be delivered over to die, and in the meantime we should “not worry about what you are to say, for it will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19).

In other words, God doesn’t give us the grace or the wisdom to bravely face martyrdom until the moment when we need that grace. It doesn’t come in advance, but rather at the moment.

So if you don’t feel like you would face death well, then don’t worry (Jesus literally forbids it!). Instead, strive to grow in your faith and courage, knowing that if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

 

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Tim Bates

    A very clear, concise and biblical post on an oft asked question. I’m eager to share this with others. Thank you for writing.

  • Gavin C.

    We had this exact same question asked in my adult Sunday School class the other week. Thanks for the clear answer. Let me throw this one at everyone who may want to answer: what about Matthew 10:32-33 where Jesus says 32″Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33″But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”? Is that the same context as 2 Timothy 2?
    Thanks so much, Jesse. Really appreciate it!

    • Matthew 10:32-33 is all about salvation. Vs. 34 makes it clear that Christ comes to make division, not peace. Families will be divided. It is about the importance of self-denial (pick up cross) and particularly about confessing Christ before family members, even when that confession will cause division. So it is slightly different than 2 Tim 2. Basically in Matt 10, Jesus is not talking about something like Peter’s denying him to save his life, but rather he is talking about someone who values his own earthly family above the gospel.

  • Archepoimen follower

    Jesse,
    First, the article is well written and I believe gives a solid biblical response to this question. However, I wonder why you would include a text that is clearly speaking to the twelve about their mission and not a promise to all believers! This type of misapplication of a passage neither is warranted or necessary.

    Tim

    • I think Matt 10 has specific application to the Apostles, but that it applies to every believer as well. I don’t limit it to the 12, but rather take it to be an evidence of the on going illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (see 1 cor 2: 7–ff). So I do think it is a promise to all believers.
      Let me prove it to you this way: do you think it is ok to worry about what you are supposed to say in the event that you are arrested? If no, why not?
      If yes…well, the Bible forbids worry in other passages as well, so I think we end up at the same place anyway.

      • Archepoimen follower

        Jesse,
        Your reply that indicates because we end up in the same place since other verses forbid worries is true but not my point. The issue I am addressing is your misapplication of a specific passage. Your response actually makes my point! That you could have and should have made your point by reference to a verse that actually is a command or promise to all believers.
        Obviously, if we can claim any passage has universal application by reference to an unrelated passage (1 Cor 2-7 ff) every scripture can be used as we please.
        One issue to consider, the writings of the NT are historical in both senses of the word. They are factual and recorded in history! Unlike sayings of Confucius or other philosophers which are ahistorical in the second sense, the scriptures are not a list of things Jesus said but writings that occurred in a specific context. This is why expository teaching is so powerful.

        Tim

  • Jack

    While the general premise of the article is good, I do see the interpretation and application of 2 Timothy 2:13 a bit different. Yes, Jesus is faithful in the sense of keeping his elect secure.

    However, in the immediate context, especially in the light of 2:12 which reads, “if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us,” I see the faithfulness of Jesus indicates his faithfulness to deny those who disown him. He is faithful to judge the faithless in keeping with this character.

    Yes, momentary failures (or denials) when facing a gun does not mean one is not a true Christian. And those who deny him applies to a lifestyle of denial when faced with challenges. I agree. However, 2 Timothy 2:13 when seen in the light of 2:12 does not seem to be given a fair exegesis.

    • I see what you are saying about verse 13. I’d never heard that view of the verse before…but then I went and checked the MSB, and it takes the same view (although it does connect vs. 12 to Peter…so that leaves me confused–I guess a 1/2 point for each side!).

      • So I’ve gone back and done some reading on 2 Tim 2:13. IT does indeed look like commentators are split on this issue. The question, as most of them frame it, is “does the faithfulness of Jesus indicate he will be faithful to condemn those who whose faith becomes unbelief, or does it mean he will be faithful to still save those whose faith falters.”

        The NAC and EBC (and Lenski) all take the first view; that this is about judgement.

        The NIGTC makes what I think is a very strong case for the second view. Their main point is this:

        “Paul’s references to the faithfulness of God and Christ are strikingly uniform. This faithfulness is God’s fidelity to his promises, and those promises relate to the positive outcome of human salvation (cf. 1 Cor. 1:9). Paul does not mention God’s faithfulness as a basis for the certainty that the faithless will be punished, but as the basis for the assurance of the gospel promises (2 Cor. 1:18–20), for safety in temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), for protection from the evil one (2 Thes. 3:3), and for the sanctification and preservation of God’s people (1 Thes. 5:24; cf. also Heb. 10:23; 11:11; 1 Pet. 4:19; 1 Jn. 1:9; Rev. 1:5; 3:14; 19:11). This understanding is also suggested here by μένει (“he remains,”) which with πιστός (“faithful”) implies that Christ continues as the faithful one in his relationship to Christians. Though they change and become unfaithful (to him, understood), he does not change but has remained faithful (to them, understood). The Pauline and NT usage also suggests that Christ’s remaining faithful here also includes his continuing adherence to the divine promises to his people even in the midst of their unfaithfulness. This understanding of the apodosis entails that the protasis most likely refers to temporary unfaithfulness and not to unbelief.”

        Here is the footnote:

        George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: a Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 407.

      • This totally deserves more thought from me though, because the commentators are sort of divided on this, and it is an issue I hadn’t through through before, so I don’t want to just side with the commentators that agree with my unstudied opinion! This might be its own post some day…

        • Jack

          Thanks for the views. Yes, it is a pretty challenging one. What makes me consider the view of judgment toward those who are faithless is the fact that 12b and 13a seems to be a continuing thought.

          “If we disown him he will also disown us” (v.12b) taken on its own seems to clearly indicate enduring in the faith is an essential and non-negotiable requisite for experiencing final salvation. I am not suggesting a works-based issue here, but true God-given faith will persevere.

          And since this is set in contrast to 12a which calls for endurance, “He will also disown us” clearly indicates judgment – a final separation from Christ. “You endure, you reign with him, you deny him, he will also deny you” is the idea.

          And then when we look at v.13a, this seems to the idea carried over from 12b.

          Yes he is faithful (1 Cor 1:9) and it is the faithfulness of Christ that secures our salvation. But true salvation also endures (not suggesting perfection, but rather a pattern of obedience).

          Anyway, I think we can safely agree that true faith perseveres and a moment’s denial (e.g. Peter) does not disqualify one from experiencing the full salvation that our faithful Lord grants. May we all cling close to him and finish the race strong.

          • Jason

            To continue this thought: Jesus spoke of those who “believe” superficially but don’t persevere with the parable of the sower (Matthew 13). Certainly, some are rocky soil and just outright reject the message, but there are also those who appear to receive the message but ultimately prove to also be incapable of truly accepting it. These people are who John talks about in 1 John 2:19.

            I’ve often heard people claim that their loved ones who used to profess faith but who have now disowned God are just “prodigal sons” who will still be welcomed by Christ in the end. While it’s true that God could still grant them new life, it’s also clear from scripture that their previous profession was false and secured nothing for them.

  • tovlogos

    Very good message at this time of much suffering.
    As Christians are being martyred overseas, almost daily; and Christian women are committing suicide
    by the hundreds, to avoid the scourge of ISIS, including gang rapes and slavery — it appears the Lord is reaping His bounty. Even little children are standing firm and refusing to deny Christ with swords at their throats.
    Yet, We see Christians in the US being prepped for things to come — as Christianity has been all but removed
    from the social landscape, we are being given the choice to accept biblical sin as something “good”, or suffer
    deprivation — a clear foreshadowing of Revelation 13.
    Revelation 14:9,10 tells us, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives the mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of
    His anger…”
    At that point it doesn’t look like 2nd chances will be available. Moreover, ISIS has been known to demand that a person deny Christ; and when he/she does, they murder them on the spot — believing they have sent them to Islamic paradise.
    Although Revelation constitutes the final episode of this world order, and a different time from the present, we see the same principles being applied now. Just as disciples, for example, Peter (Acts 4:8), Stephen (Acts 7), etc. were routinely filled with the Spirit to perform successfully, I pray I am in the Spirit If the Lord puts me in the position to be martyred.

    • You are right. Preparation for martyrdom used to be a basic part of church’s new believer’s classes. How far we’ve come! (he says sarcastically)

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    This is interesting. I guess I had never viewed 2 Timothy 2:12 in that light. When Paul said that if we are faithless, Christ will remain faithful, I understood that to say that Jesus can’t be what He isn’t (disown Himself), not a promise that He would remain faithful to the faithless. If that were true, what do we do with verses like Titus 1:16, 2 Peter 2:1 and Jude 4 which equate denying Christ with destruction?

    Now I know we often cite Peter’s denial, but can we truly apply that to the believer since Peter had not yet been regenerated?

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Christ’s mercy would be extended to those who in a moment of fear may deny their faith. But I’m not sure that is what Paul was talking about in 2 Timothy when he spoke of the faithless. But I look forward to learning more about this!

    • Archepoimen follower

      Jane,
      It seems from the context of 2 Tim 2 that verse 13 is in fact an acknowledgement about Jesus’ unchanging nature! That even in the midst of persecution, like Paul, or in the midst of defection like Hymenaeus and Philetus, we can count on this fact, circumstances do not affect Jesus’ faithfulness!
      Jesus’ faithfulness does indeed affect how we view the person who wavers in whatever circumstance not because of any specific verse but because of Who He is and that His faithfulness is the avenue God chooses to view those of us He has called to Him through His Son. Salvation in Christ insures that in spite of our lapses we can be sure of our destiny, eternal Glory. This is Paul’s point in 2nd Tim 2 and the answer to the original question. Thank God that Jesus is ever faithful!
      Tim

  • Michael

    This is a kind of special comment thread. You usually don’t get productive disagreement that leads to openness to reassessment in the blogs I read.

  • Adam

    Will Jesus deny us in times of failure? Of course not! He will not deny us in ANY moment of weakness. True conversion here and eternal security must not be overlooked concerning this issue. Once born again into the family of God, I have a changed identity and new nature and the following promise – consider Ephesians 4:30 – “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” We often do grieve the Holy Spirit whenever we sin, but the verse makes it clear that this in no way affects how we have been sealed by His Spirit. Denying Jesus in a moment of weakness no don’t will grieve the Spirit but it nevertheless has no impact on His indwelling Presence in our heart. The Holy Spirit is a gift, a gift given to us ensuring we will inherit eternal life. Once regenerated we cannot regress backward and become “unborn.” We are SEALED, Paul says, until the day we are redeemed from corruption and mortality to incorruption and immortality. This is where Paul’s text from Romans 5:20 also comes into play – “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The grace of God is always greater than our sin. If this were not the case, then we never could be redeemed. This truth extends beyond the cross and our salvation; it also applies to our ongoing sanctification. If we deny Christ in a moment of fear or trial post salvation, the grace of God and the blood of Christ being much greater than our failure, retains what has been bought with the precious blood of Christ. If not, then grace does not “abound” over our sin.
    Then there is the text from Romans 8:38-39 in which Paul combs through the entire universe in search of someone or something that can separate us from the love of Christ. Paul says He is persuaded that there is nothing that can which would include a denial of our Lord in the hour of trial.
    Our Christianity is never about us. In a recent post on this site, someone challenged me concerning the assurance of salvation asking: “how can you know if you have enough faith or if you have repented enough?” To which I merely responded that the amount of faith or how much someone has repented is irrelevant. What matters is how much Christ has to offer in terms of infinite love, mercy and grace when I do repent and trust Him. Whether I have little faith or “weak” repentance matters little. Infinite grace will always abound over “finite” failure – and this includes my failure should I ever fail to confess Him as Lord when put to the test. Being born again into the family of God secures me forever as His child whether I am faithful or not. Failure to confess Jesus under trying circumstances is just that – a HUMAN failure. A failure, mind you, that is inferior to the infinite power and promise of God to keep me sealed “unto the day of redemption.”

    • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

      Adam, no one is disagreeing with you on this. Jesse made that point regarding 2 Timothy 2:12 when he said, “This verse is not talking about the momentary denial like Peter, or like a student scared for his life in the face of a gunman. That denial references the absolute walking away from the faith; apostasy. And in that case, there is no salvation.”

      The verse that is being discussed in the comments is when Paul said, “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself,” and whether or not he meant that Christ remains faithful to the faithless or He is faithful to judge the faithless in keeping with His character.

      • Adam

        I understand what Jesse was getting at, but I also think that the matter of eternal security is pertinent to the discussion considering the topic of the post dealt with the subject matter of going or not going to heaven, and eternal security is an integral part of that. I agreed fully with Jesse’s post, I just chose to address the subject from an alternate but nevertheless relevant perspective.

        • Archepoimen follower

          Adam,
          If I understand what you wrote:). I agree with what you stated and that you do indeed address the issue of 2:12, just from a third perspective. That the gist of the verse is about Jesus’ faithfulness and that it never varies or changes and therefore we can be sure of our position because our position is based on faithfulness indeed, but not ours rather Jesus’.
          I add a hearty Amen to this.

          Tim

          • Adam

            You are correct. My point was to show that while 2 Tim. 2:13 tells us Christ will remain faithful when we are not, it doesn’t give commentary as to why He will remain faithful, only that He cannot deny Himself. The verses I gave in my post give further commentary as to WHY He will remain faithful – 1) Because His grace is greater than our sin (Rom. 5:20) 2) Because His infinite love will never allow for a separation between Himself and His beloved (Rom. 8:38-39) 3) Because He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit until the day of our full redemption (Eph. 4:30)

  • Amanda Moody (Daydream Face Pa

    Thank you for this. My 6 year old daughter asked me about this today after we read Daniel 3. She wanted to know about what would have happened if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been too scared to die and instead bowed to the king’s golden idol. She wondered if they could be forgiven if they had denied God. This was so helpful!

  • Really appreciate this post, Jesse.

  • Harry

    Would that sad event qualify as spiritual warfare?

  • Mo86

    My biggest fear in life would be to deny Christ at such a moment. (Not for fear of losing salvation. I’d deserve that!) But just because He does not deserve that.