“If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (II Timothy 2:12-13).
What is the difference between disowning Christ and being faithless?
The first is tragic because to disown Christ is followed by him disowning us. The second is encouraging because we sing with honesty, “Prone to wander Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” Our missteps often disrupt faithful devotion to our Lord.
A stronger contrast
The first (“If we disown Him…”) seems to be a decisive and willful defiance. The second, (“if we are faithless”) seems more like a temporary weakness. When we feel plagued by doubts or unbelief, he remains faithful (πιστὸς). He does not abandon us, indeed, cannot abandon us because of our union with him — “for he cannot disown himself.”
The act of disowning Christ draws up the warning of Jesus, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38). It seems that being ashamed of Christ (ἐπαισχυνθῇ) and disowning him (ἀρνησόμεθα) are two similar actions.
Jesus contrasted disowning with acknowledging or confessing,
“Whoever acknowledges (ὁμολογήσει) me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me (ἀρνήσηταί) before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
In II Timothy 2, the promise just prior to the warning about disowning Christ assures us that, “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (II Timothy 2:12). Perhaps the denial of Christ in this verse is to escape suffering or enduring for him.
Along these lines, the warnings of Jesus appear in contexts announcing the costly nature of discipleship, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:38) and the possibility of persecution, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Words about confessing Christ remind us of the promise in Romans 10:9-10, “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
The promise of security (even for faithless followers) is rooted deeply in God’s character as the faithful One. This is an emphasis that finds repeated expression in Scripture. It is worthy of deep meditation and worship.
- Lamentations 3:22-24 “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
- 1 Corinthians 1:9 “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
- I Thessalonians 5:23-24 “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
- Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
- I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”