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  • Writer's pictureWes Van Fleet

He Cannot Deny Himself

Kaleo Church,

   This Saturday night we will be preaching through 2 Timothy 2:8-13. The text is a beautiful passage about Jesus, his resurrection, our endurance, and God's faithfulness. Due to us trying to keep sermons shorter during this season, I am going to give some info on 2 Timothy 2:12b-13. I only give the main thrust of the text in the sermon but wanted to use this email to give you a bit more help.

The text reads: "if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself."

In verses 11 and 12a, we see the first of four conditional clauses, meaning "If" one thing happens, another thing will follow. The first 3 seem to make sense to us:

1) "If we have died with him, we will also live with him."

2) "If we endure, we will also reign with him."

3) "If we deny him, he also will deny us."

As hard as that third one is to read, I think it is pretty clear and fits with the flow of the argument. However, the fourth conditional clause seems to not mesh with the first three:

4) "If we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself." My first question that arose while studying this text was: Why would God deny those who deny him but then being faithful to those who are faithless? To me this seems like a contradiction. It appears that God's own character is inconsistent. But I assure you, the answers are incredibly comforting and are meant to help us see how steady and faithful God really is.  To understand what Paul is trying to communicate here, we must look back to verse 10. It reads, "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Paul is laboring for the sake of the elect..., Why? that they will make it to that great and final Day where they see Jesus face to face, or, obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. So the "we" in all four conditional clauses of verses 11-13 are describing the elect. It is those who are followers of Jesus. The question that may arise for you right now is, "Can we actually lose our salvation?" Is that what it means for Jesus to deny us? No and no. However, I think we downplay a necessary role in the Christian life quite often. That necessary role is endurance. 2 Timothy makes endurance a non-negotiable fruit of the Gospel. Those who are in Christ will make it home to that great Day. A quick historical issue that may help. From the 1950's through today, there has been an often trusted theological idea that shouldn't necessarily be trusted. It is called The Sinner's Prayer. The last 70 years or so in American Evangelicalism there has been this idea that if you say a prayer with someone to trust in Jesus, and never walk with him again, you are saved from the penalty of sin. Unfortunately, there is no such thing in the Bible. God's Word lays before us a reality that we have to hold on to with both hands: Those whom God justifies he will also glorify (Rom. 8:28-30). The elect people of God will endure through trials and temptation by grace alone.  So, with all this in mind, how do we read 2 Timothy 12b-13? The denial that Paul is describing is not the kind we quickly think about regarding Peter denying Jesus three times. Peter repented because Jesus prayed for him that he would belong to God forever (Luke 22:32). The type of denial that Paul is talking about is the person who has an outward confession of faith but eventually denies who Jesus is and what he accomplished. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:33, "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. So, verse 12b is describing apostasy or denying Jesus' person and work. But then, verse 12 comes and throws in this gospel twist of sorts. When Paul says "if we are faithless" he is not talking about belief in Jesus. He is not talking about unbelievers. In fact, I would argue that he has a situation like Peter in mind. But more importantly is the last phrase, "for he cannot deny himself." Again, the context is the elect people of God. Sometimes we will waver in our endurance. Sometimes we will be faithless in our endurance. But the comforting factor is that our God is unlike us in this way because he is always faithful and cannot deny himself.  The Greek word for faithless in this context means to lack a sense of obligation. Think of the time the Spirit was nudging you to share the gospel with your neighbor but you let your fear of man outweigh the goodness of the gospel. Think of the times where you were tempted to sin against him, and rather than call a friend to pray with you, you lacked the sense of obligation to obey and gave in to that sin.  The comforting news that Paul wants Timothy, and us, to remember is that God is not like us. When we are faithless, he is faithful--for he cannot deny himself. This means when we trust in Jesus day in and day out, when we fight to endure to the end, we place all our hope in the One who gave his life for us so that we could live (2 Tim. 2:11). It is not the strength of our faith that saves us but the object of our faith (Jesus) that does. He is our Rock and Refuge. And on that day when we see him face to face and obtain our salvation in him, there will only be humble words and tears of thanksgiving. 

Pastor Wes

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