God is Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

It is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.
If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful;
He cannot deny himself”
(2 Tim. 2:11-13).

When I was on a mission trip to Bucharest, Romania, I observed bullet holes that still remained on the walls of buildings. These scars were tokens of the violent rule of the communist president Nicolai Ceausescu, and the uprising that finally pushed him out of office. Believers testified to us about what they went through during the years of government oppression. One of the most inspiring accounts of God’s sustaining grace in the face of the persecution there is the testimony of Joseph Tson. He was prepared to die for Christ and each interrogation became an opportunity to testify of God’s sovereignty and the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. Tson survived the torture and imprisonment. During the final conversation in prison, his interrogator confided that he would miss the opportunities to hear more of this courageous believer’s faith and hope.[1]

The epistle of 2 Timothy was written shortly before Paul’s martyrdom in Rome. [2] The apostle wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, to encourage him to remain faithful in evangelism and pastoral leadership. Since Christians were targeted for persecution under Roman rule in the first century, the theme of perseverance in the face of suffering occurs throughout the letter (2 Tim. 1:8; 2:3,9-10; 3:1,10-12; 4:5,6,14-18). Those who lived as disciples of Jesus would expect to suffer for their faith: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Yet, believers could be reassured of God’s sustaining grace and ultimate deliverance and reward (2 Tim. 1:9-12; 2:19; 3:14-16;4:8,18). The themes of suffering and assurance sometimes blend together:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Tim. 1:8-12).

The text we are considering in this chapter seems to have been a poem and perhaps also a hymn. It is introduced as a “faithful saying”-one that was relevant and reliable. Of particular concern for the biblical doctrine assurance and security is the statement: “If we deny Him, He also will deny us…” (2 Tim. 2:12b). Does this teach that, if a born again believer lapses under persecution and denies Christ (when threatened with torture and/or death), that his salvation is thereby forfeited?

Some commentators interpret the text to teach this kind of idea. They relate it to a warning given by Christ. As He prepared the disciples to face inevitable suffering for the Kingdom of God, He declared:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him [God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:28-33).

Here Jesus is fortifying them by showing the Father’s concern and care, even in the face of such persecution. However, to put risk into perspective, the disciples should realize that the prospect of siding with a godless world would bring more dreadful consequences after this life. The apostle John echoed this warning: “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22,23).

If 2 Timothy 2:12 refers to someone denying Christ from the heart, then what is the meaning of the following verse: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny himself”? According to this view [that the faithless are unsaved unbelievers], God’s faithfulness would relate to His consistency in administering judgment to those who reject His salvation (Deut. 7:9,10). This interpretation is possible if the “we” in “ïf we believe not” refers to those who have never received Christ, or have only made a superficial profession of faith. Some interpret the parable of the soils in this way, considering only the grain that produces a fruitful harvest as symbolizing the redeemed (Matt. 13:5,6,21).

But is this the intent of the “faithful saying” here in 2 Timothy? Which is more characteristic of the New Covenant: to encourage perseverance by the threat of being lost, or the consolation of God’s faithfulness to His people? In light of the previous chapters in this study, the reader will hopefully expect the latter. Let’s reexamine our main text from a grace perspective. This poem has three lines. The first one declares,

“It is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.” As a “faithful saying,” we can expect this early hymn to be a source of relevant encouragement in the face of persecution. The foundational truth that gives assurance and security is the believer’s identification with Christ. “We died with Christ” refers to how, through spiritual union with Christ at salvation, the old person in Adam was put off (Col. 3:9). The child of God is considered co-crucified and co-buried with Christ. Before salvation we are represented by Adam (with resulting condemnation). But, after being reborn spiritually we are represented by Christ-the “last Adam (resulting in justification). To live victoriously, especially in times of affliction, we need to consider as personally true that the old you “died” with Christ (see Col. 3:3; Rom. 6:6-10). You are free from your old sin-stained identity! [3]

Because the old person has been “put off,” the believer is assured that the new person in Christ has been spiritually “put on” (Col. 3:10). Through spiritual union, the believer is also united with Christ’s resurrection: “we shall also live with him” (see Eph. 2:4-7). Paul testified of this precious revelation in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”


Part 1 of 2

[1] Joseph Tson, Living in Union with Christ in Dangerous Times. Three DVDs. Deeper Walk Ministries International. (He wrote the Foreword to the Romanian translation of Charles Solomon’s Handbook to Happiness.) See also Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand (Voice of the Martyrs).

[2] Paul was beheaded in Rome in A.D. 67

[3] For a more detailed explanation of the cross in the life of the believer, see The Wheel and Line article by Dr. Charles Solomon.

Copyright 2015 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint for noncommercial use if credit is given to the author and GraceNotebook.com.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Thomas Nelson Publishers).

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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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