Christ, Our Righteousness, Part 15
In our last installment, we mentioned we would look at a section of Scripture from 2 Timothy 2 and we will do that. Previously, I had also mentioned we would look into the Scripture that deals with the different types of soils that highlight the fact that even as the gospel “seed” is sown (the Parable of the Sower), the response by people is based upon the condition of their soil (cf. Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8).
We will get to this parable, dissect and unpack it in a future article (as well as a section in Hebrews 10), but for this particular article, I want to focus on 2 Timothy 2 because it actually lays some very solid groundwork about our salvation. I apologize ahead of time for the length of this article, but I didn’t want to break it into parts and destroy the momentum.
Let’s see if we can get through this difficult passage, written by Paul to his spiritual son, Timothy (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
11 This saying is trustworthy:
If we died with him, we will also live with him.
12 If we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we deny him, he will also deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself.
Okay, we’ll take a look at each verse carefully. But first, understand that this chapter opens with Paul emphasizing the need for Timothy to “be strong” in God’s grace. Persecution was ramping up and Paul was proof of it. He was in prison for preaching the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of chaffing at his imprisonment, he acknowledged it and understood its purpose. He wanted Timothy to understand the same thing and warned him that though suffering was certainly coming, Timothy should endure it as a “good soldier” endures the physical trauma and requirements of military training and the battlefield.
Paul reminds Timothy that no good soldier gets involved in civilian affairs, but remains focused on the task at hand. What was Timothy’s task? To continue to be a quality leader and good teacher, one who responded to the spiritual needs of the flock over which God had placed him, and to bear up under the coming intensity of persecution.
Paul even reminds Timothy that though he (Paul) is in chains (imprisoned, likely to guards daily), the gospel was not in chains. As Paul lived his life in chains, God would be glorified. Moreover, you can bet that Paul took every opportunity to talk about Jesus to the guards to whom he was chained. They were his captive audience and may be in heaven today because of Paul’s willingness to be a strong witness for Christ, both in word and deed in spite of his persecution that led to his imprisonment.
Then Paul arrives to verse 11 (above) and points out that what he is going to say next is a “trustworthy saying.” In other words, Paul is getting ready to deliver some extremely potent and important information and he wanted Timothy to take note of it. What comes next are not just words, but truth that cannot be assailed. Timothy should take it to heart and of course, so should we.
There is a three-fold structure to Paul’s words in verses 11b through 13. He presents three main facts and there has been some misunderstanding concerning them. I think when seen for their own clarity, truth comes into view. All too often, Paul’s words are muddied, creating false notions and bad theology, by people who don’t really comprehend his words. Let’s see what he says starting with verse 11b.
“If we died with him, we will also live with him.” (emphasis added)
The verse starts with an if-clause, something Dr. Thomas Constable calls a protasis. It’s a bit of a conditional clause.
Verse 11b seems obvious, doesn’t it? There is a great deal within God’s Word that promises eternal life for those who “died” with Him (Col. 2:20; 3:1, 3). What does that mean? It literally means that because of our faith in Jesus, we “died” (certainly not physically, but vicariously through faith), with Him when He died physically on Calvary’s cross. Because of that, the result is also true. We will (or do) live with Him (Rom. 6:2-23, esp. v. 8). While some view Paul’s meaning here as one who dies as a martyr, I would agree with and defer to Dr. Constable who does not accept this as Paul’s meaning.
In essence, we have placed our faith in His substitutionary atonement and we will not be disappointed in the end (when we pass from this life to the next). Our faith in Him and His redemptive work on our behalf grants us eternal life; salvation. We will one day, live with God forever and ever. Nothing can change that.
We enter into His death by faith. We recognize that by ourselves, we cannot even hope to extricate ourselves from this eternal problem we face – an eternity apart from God. It required the death of Another, a sinless Individual who would voluntarily be seen as sin by God the Father (2 Corinthians 5:21 – please note that God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us! that we might be established in God as righteous). This is the beginning of salvation for everyone who places their faith in Christ’s redemptive work.
Authentic Christians died with Him. Because of that, we will also live with Him. It is very straightforward, very clear, and unrelenting. Those who have salvation, truly have salvation and nothing can take that away. Let’s look at the next part, verse 12a.
“if we endure, we will also reign with him.” (emphasis added)
Here, our minds begin to start thinking and analyzing. The word “if” is the same “if” in 11b. If we do something, He does something or we benefit from something. In 11b, if we die with Him, we will also live with Him. Here in 12a, we tend to see it differently even though the structure of the Greek verbiage is essentially the same. It says if we endure, we will also reign with Him. Uh oh. Problem. Slam on the brakes. What does that mean?
Many see the word “reign” here as having the exact same meaning as the word “live” in verse 11a. In other words, if we die with Him, we will live with Him. It appears conditional and it is. There must be some sort of death on our part in order to appropriate eternal life. Here in 12a, some see this as simply another way of saying verse 11a (it’s not), while others see this conditional clause as putting a special “if” in the works. They see this in the negative, if we fail to endure, we will not reign, therefore, we will have lost eternal life or salvation.
We must understand the word “reign” here. Is it a synonym for salvation? I don’t believe it is at all. Paul is not repeating 11a several ways differently. He is actually building on the foundation created by our salvation.
I believe Paul is referring to enduring the temptation to apostatize, to forsake, and even walk away from Jesus permanently. Christians who successfully endure the trials in this life that constantly push them towards apostasy, without giving into those temptations, will be rewarded by reigning with Jesus during the upcoming Millennial Kingdom.
As Constable notes, in a very real sense, all Christians will “reign” with Christ simply by being there with Him during His Millennial Kingdom. However, it seems plain from this passage that only those Christians who never apostatize permanently, will actually reign with Him.
Of course, I also realize that many take this verse to mean that for those who do not endure (and apostatize), their actual salvation will be lost. They argue that this is the implied meaning in the text. It really can’t be though, based on the entirety of this text (and others), especially considering the fact that the apostle Paul tells us quite clearly that those who died with Christ will also live with Him.
Remember, the conditional clause is based on our deaths with Christ, which can only happen when people become truly born again (John 3). If/when a person dies with Christ, they will live with Him. This is the foundational aspect of our salvation. We move from the unrighteous column to the righteous column; from death to life.
Once Paul has laid down this extremely important foundational aspect of our salvation, he then moves onto the next step. This next step involves whether or not we will actively reign with Jesus and according to Paul, that is not automatic. It depends upon our faithfulness to Jesus in this life. In essence, it is part of the reward system that God has set up (1 Corinthians 3:12) beyond salvation. We gain salvation by simply receiving it through faith. We do not earn our salvation in any way, shape, or form. However, we can and do earn rewards, but these rewards can only come to those who already have salvation. Let’s move onto verse 12b.
“If we deny him, he will also deny us.” (emphasis added)
Ooh, tough one, right? We are talking about the possibility of a Christian actually denying Jesus, denying Him to the point that the person wants nothing further to do with Him, permanently. Wow, how could that happen we would do well to ask?! It is usually created out of intense fear but could also occur by people who simply have gotten to a point of no longer wanting to deal with what they perceive to be the “do’s” and “don’ts” of Christianity. The Prodigal Son was a great example of this, but as we noted, his rejection of his father was based on his faulty understanding of his father’s demeanor toward him. In the end, the Prodigal did return to his father completely renewed.
How can an authentic Christian actually come to the point of denying Jesus? Though it is a difficult thing to believe, it is clear that Peter did it on the very night Jesus was betrayed (Mark 14:66-72). He actually said he (Peter) never knew the man, referring to Jesus! So afraid of the potential repercussions of knowing Jesus – Jesus was actually on trial at that point – that he wanted to save his own skin so he denied his own Lord. But note the text says that if we deny Him, He’ll deny us! We’ll get to that shortly.
This whole warning should serve to make us aware of the potential danger of permanently falling away, if we are not careful. When I say “if we’re not careful,” I’m talking about not submitting ourselves to God and relying on His strength to keep us committed to Him on a daily basis. We know that Jesus forgave Peter and brought him back into the fold, but we also know that Peter was truly guilty of denying Jesus, denying that he even knew Him.
The third couplet (v. 12b) is a warning. If the believer departs from following Christ faithfully (“If we deny Him”) during his or her life (i.e., apostatizes), Christ will “deny him” or her at the judgment seat of Christ (Matt. 10:33; Mark 8:38; Luke 12:9; cf. Luke 19:22; Matt. 22:13; cf. Matt. 25:41-46). The unfaithful believer will not lose his salvation (1 John 5:13) or all of his reward (1 Pet. 1:4), but he will lose some of his reward (1 Cor. 3:12-15; cf. Luke 19:24-26).
Mounce, p. 517 (emphasis added)
In essence then, a Christian can stop actively following Jesus at some point in their life and do their own thing. It can be for a brief excursion into sin for a time or can refer to extensive situations where it takes on a life of its own and lasts permanently, for the duration of that person’s life.
Christians can stop attending church. They can stop their fellowship with other Christians. They can stop reading His Word and they can stop praying. A Christian who does that will soon find himself or herself thinking the world isn’t really that bad a place. What was all the fuss? As they continue their slide into apostasy, they may end up doing again some of the very things they did (and knew they were wrong), before they became Christians. Ultimately, their lives will not even look as though they are Christians anymore, so complete could the transformation back to the world be for them.
The reason I think that people believe this verse is speaking of losing one’s salvation is because of the phrase, “he will also deny us” (some versions, like the New International Version use the word “disown”). Yet, if we look to the very next verse, it seems to negate that premise. What is up?
I agree with Constable quoted above who notes that if we deny Jesus in this life until we die, at the Bema Seat of Judgment where Christians learn which (if any) rewards they receive, Jesus will deny us rewards. This is very much like the loving parent who denies his/her child rewards because of their wrong behavior and visits sometimes severe consequences on the child for their wrongdoing.
Constable also points out that this verse of 12b is referring to a permanent denial of Jesus, one lasting until the death of the Christian. “To deny Christ clearly does not mean to deny Him only once or twice (cf. Luke 22:54-62), but to deny Him permanently, since the other three human conditions in the couplets are also permanent.” 
“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself.” (emphasis added)
In truth, though we can be unfaithful to Jesus (through all forms of sin/idolatry) in the short-term, or even in the long-term (unfortunately), Jesus will remain faithful to His promises. Which promises are these? These are the promises that connect with our salvation. He promises to never leave or forsake us. He promises that once saved, we are no longer under God’s wrath or condemnation (Romans 8). He promises that nothing will ever be able to separate us from His love (also Romans 8).
In short, “Christ will not renege on His promises to save us (cf. 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18-20; 1 Thess. 5:24; et al.), even though we may go back on our commitments to Him (1 John 5:13).” 
I bet there are some reading that who just don’t like it. Would I be correct? It used to bug me too, but the truth is that we need to check our attitudes. We need to understand that people are fallible and God’s love is perfect, far greater than we can ever comprehend in this life. This is is why we need Jesus and His salvation in the first place. There is no guarantee that each and every believer will continue in faithful service to Jesus until the end of his/her days. In fact, from this section, as well as other sections in Scripture, it would appear that God recognizes it and has made provision for it.
The people we like to call “professing” Christians or “carnal” Christians (we’re all carnal) makes us feel better about how we think of those who say they are Christians but appear anything but that to us (as if we are the final arbiters in the matter). We cannot wrap our brains around the fact that some who actually have salvation, may end up wandering away from Jesus and remain so to the end of their lives. It’s not as simple and neat as just saying, “Well, that person was obviously only a ‘professing’ Christian, but didn’t actually know Jesus.” According to the text in 2 Timothy 2, the person did know Jesus yet ended up denying the Lord who saved them for whatever reason. Let’s be honest and admit that if true, that concept really galls us, doesn’t it? Why?
It’s because we honestly have no idea of the true nature of God’s love for us so we hide behind a false sense of jealousy for our Lord that makes us claim that there is no way a “true” or “authentic” Christian can ever walk away because to know Jesus is to submit to Him. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that.
There are still people who only profess (and do not authentically know), Jesus in this life. In fact, there are probably plenty of them. There are also authentic Christians who never get far in their walk with God, though truly have salvation, and may wind up going backwards away from Jesus. It’s simply not up to us to make that determination. That is in God’s hand and it is His responsibility alone.
Hebrews 10 deals with this same subject and we’ll cover it next time. Stick with me.
 Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 2 Timothy, 2015, p. 19
 Ibid, p. 20