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.
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.