Monday 11 August 2014
He cannot deny himself - 2 Timothy 2:13
This would not matter so much if it were simply a verse describing which town in Asia Minor St Paul was intending to visit, or if it involved an edited list of Christians that St Paul was addressing his letter to. But in fact in this instance it was a matter of great importance to our very understanding of God and salvation, and the misuse of the passage could very easily cause those embracing it to hold an entirely erroneous view of their relationship to God.
It was a verse from 2 Timothy 2, and in its context it says…
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
What is St Paul saying? He is expressing the teaching that if we have died with Christ we shall live with him in eternity. If we have suffered with him in this life, and for his sake, then we will reign with him when he comes in his kingdom. These teachings are found in the very words of Christ himself.
We find these same ideas in many passages but especially,
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
But St Paul does more than remind Timothy, to whom he is writing, of these rewards of faithfulness. He also has something to say about the state of those who deny Christ and who prove themselves faithless. Our Lord Jesus Christ also spoke about those who would deny him, and said,
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:33)
All of this is a straightforward reiteration of the teaching of Christ. If we put self to death we will find life with Christ. If we suffer in this life we will be rewarded in the kingdom to come. And if we deny Christ then he will deny us.
It was the very last verse in this passage which was quoted and appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. St Paul is saying that if we are faithless, then God will remain faithful. Faithful to who? Faithful to himself of course. He will not change his nature and character. He will not abandon the plan of salvation which alone is consistent both with his mercy and his righteousness. He will not fail to judge, as though our denial and faithlessness means nothing.
Again, as the Lord Jesus Christ has said,
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
Now, the translation used to express this sole verse, while ignoring the context of the clear condemnation of those who deny Christ, couched it in these words,
Even when we are too weak to have any faith left, He remains faithful to us and will help us, for He cannot disown us who are part of Himself, and He will always carry out His promises to us.
It is impossible to read this sense into the passage from the Second Letter to St Timothy. If he cannot disown us, then what does it mean when it is written just before these words… If we deny him, he also will deny us. This is what is promised. Together with the words… He that believeth not is condemned already.
This mistranslation has one part which is true. God will keep his promises. But in this passage we must read this as a warning. It is part of the caution that those who deny Christ will be denied by Christ.
I looked through a selection of Protestant commentaries on the Scripture, looking to see if any others misrepresented the text in such a way. None did. A representative protestant commentary says…
The passage is one of distinct severity—may even be termed one of the sternest in the Book of Life; for it tells how it is impossible even for the pitiful Redeemer to forgive in the future life. “He cannot deny Himself”—cannot treat the faithless as though he were faithful—cannot act as though faithfulness and faithlessness were one and the same thing.
This is in fact the universal understanding of this passage. It is one of warning. God is faithful to himself, and to his own character and own judgements.
How is this passage explained by the controversial preacher who appeared on Facebook this morning? He says that it does not matter what we do, or what we believe, even if we fall away from faith altogether. We are still saved. We are still free from any judgement and condemnation. It is an easy grace which is preached in such words. It is a greasy grace which is preached in such words.
Have you prayed the sinners prayer? If you have, then even if you abandon faith in God altogether for a life of sin and depravity, you are still safe, you are still saved. This is a cheap salvation. It costs us nothing.
But it is a false salvation, indeed it is no salvation at all. And this is why it is so disturbing. It has the appearance of truth, but it has twisted the word of God to make it say the very opposite to what the Apostle teaches.
St Paul says be very careful. If you have no faith then God will not bend from his character and righteous nature. This modern preacher, with his entirely novel teachings says don’t worry. It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter if you abandon all faith in God. You are safe for ever, and God will allow you into the Paradise of Grace even if you have spent every moment of your life in opposition to God after praying a prayer inviting him into your heart.
Greasy grace. It has no power to save. Indeed those who follow and embrace such a teaching are in grave danger of losing all that they might have received from God. God is not mocked. If we deny him he will deny us. If we have no faith we are already condemned. Lord have mercy on all those tempted by such false teachers and false Gospels to live according to this world, as if the judgement of God were a fiction.