Can Authentic Christians Deny Jesus? Part 1
The short answer is unfortunate: absolutely. Please read on.
The tragic truth is that Christians are quite capable of being moved in fear to deny Jesus. But you are probably thinking of a situation where a Christian stands before “accusers” or just prior to being beheaded or persecuted to death in some other way and like Peter, the fear becomes palpable and overwhelming. Because of this, our flesh (too often governed by the sin nature) creates within that “fight” or “flight” mechanism and to save self, some Christians might give into the temptation to deny Jesus.
This has happened before and I’m not just talking about Peter here either (cf. Mark 14:66-72). There have been examples of people throughout history, in order to avoid persecution, publicly denied Jesus. Did they lose their salvation because of it? Did Peter? Paul seems to state in 2 Timothy 2:12 the concept that Jesus will “deny” believers if they deny Him and that is often taken to mean that the person will have his salvation yanked from Him, by Jesus.
If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us.
Is that what Paul actually means by this statement? Remember, in order to understand passages like this, it is imperative to allow the entirety of the Bible to speak to itself. Therefore, not only are we to negotiate our way through the above passages, but also passages like John 15 where Jesus refers to “abiding” in Him, as well as 1 John and other areas. If we are to believe that the Bible is a book ultimately written by God, but having chose to physically pen Scripture by using some 40 authors over a period of 1,600 years, the one reality that stands out is that God is still the ultimate and final Author. If that is the case, then surely He was very capable in using people (and allowing for their personalities in the way they wrote), to carry His thoughts to the written page, no? If you don’t believe that, then you have a very unrealistic view of just who God is, to be sure.
But there are really numerous areas in which the authentic Christian can actually deny Jesus. First, as just mentioned, a Christian can publicly denounce Jesus and deny that he/she is a Christian. Certainly, that is sin because that Christian is lying. He/she does know God to an extent and their salvation has made this possible. Because of salvation, they have entered into a relationship with Jesus that saves them from the Lake of Fire for all eternity. That never, ever changes. I fully believe that Peter had salvation – was counted righteous – when he publicly denied Jesus. He didn’t lose his salvation. Rather, he sinned and broke off fellowship with God. It was not until he repented of that sin (no doubt, in anguish), that he was restored to fellowship with God. His salvation had never been in question.
Second, there are other times when we can deny Jesus by living lives that exclude Him. I personally think this is the average Christian (and I include myself in that mix). We spend our lives wondering why we are powerless to overcome sin, why we don’t love as we ought to love, and why there is this general fear while we live in this world. None of it is from God. It stems from the fact that while we live in this world – behind enemy lines – we hide the Light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). I realize that Jesus was speaking to the nation of Israel at that point, informing then that Israel was the nation that had been given the true Light but they lived as though they had no light. In short, there was little to no difference between Israel and surrounding pagan nations and the Old Testament is filled with example after example of that.
Jesus’ statement also applies to us though because as Christians, the true Light (Him) actually lives within us from the moment we receive salvation. We can do many things to squelch His Presence within us so that our life essentially looks no different from those people in the world who are unsaved. If we worry about what the world thinks, are concerned about becoming a target for Jesus, or living in fear of the repercussions that might come our way if we are too vocal about being a Christian, then we are giving into the temptation to deny Jesus.
What I’m not saying is that from the moment you rise to the moment you go to sleep, you need to be preaching about Jesus to the world. We need to learn to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves. The first thing the world needs to see is the difference in our lifestyle. As they see that, they will likely be drawn to us and want to ask questions.
Years ago, I worked in a manufacturing plant. I didn’t swear or use off-color language like everyone else did. One day, out of the blue, the shift supervisor looked at me with intensity and asked, “I want to know why I never hear you swear!” You can imagine my surprise. I didn’t think anyone was paying attention. Clearly, he was and I’m not sure my answer made any real difference to him (it’s in God’s hands), but it satisfied his curiosity, I’m sure.
The world is watching us and when we act the same way the world acts, why would they even want to ask us about Jesus? We’ve given them no reason to ask.
So we can deny Jesus outright and we can deny Him through omission. Both are sins. Both are lies. Both cater to self. Both ways give room to the flesh, the world, and the devil. When we deny Jesus – either in response to an outright question – “Are you a Christian?” – or simply by squelching the Spirit and enjoying the pleasures of the flesh because we were invited to participate (“Hey, join us for a drink at Joe’s Bar”), we are still denying Jesus. It is really the same thing.
What is the cure? The cure is that we simply refuse to deny Him at all. If we do, He says He’ll deny us (2 Timothy 2:12), right? We will talk about the meaning of Paul’s words in our next article. We will also get into practical ways to avoid denying Jesus. Join me then.