The Three Denials of Christ

2 Timothy 2:11-13

Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers


Many hymns contain some amazing theology. Hymns that are rich and deep with Biblical theology are some of my favorite to sing. Hymns like A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, and Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty contain some great truths which can not only be sung, but can be studied and discussed. Though they are not Scripture, they contain much Scripture and I have known some churches to have Bible studies and even sermons based on the text of hymns. A good hymn is like a theology lesson you can sing. There are, of course, many hymns with bad theology, and so we must not think that all hymns contain good ideas about God and salvation. We must be discerning and Biblical thinkers to know the good from the bad.

The early church sang hymns too. One example of this is found 2 Timothy 2:11-13. Though we do not have the rest of the hymn today, nor do we know the tune, almost everybody agrees that the style and structure of these verses indicate that they were quoted from a hymn. Oftentimes a pastor will choose choruses and hymns that reinforce the point of his message. Paul did the same thing. The hymn he quotes in 2 Timothy 2 reads:

11This is a faithful saying:

For if we died with Him,

    We shall also live with Him.

12If we endure,

    We shall also reign with Him.

If we deny Him,

    He also will deny us.

13If we are faithless,

    He remains faithful;

    He cannot deny Himself.

This is a beautiful hymn full of beautiful truths. The problem is that there is not much agreement on what he hymn says. One segment of Christianity says these verses contain some of the clearest statements about eternal security in Bible. Another segment says exactly the opposite - that these verses contain one of the clearest statements in the Bible that we can lose our salvation.

Generally, in such debates, each side has their favorite set of verses they like to use while neglecting the passages that are preferred by the other side. But this passage is preferred by both! Isn't that ironic? In the eternal security debate, both sides claim 2 Timothy 2:11-13 as a clear verse for their position.  Men like Charles Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Charles Ryrie and Charles Spurgeon (I guess if you want your child to believe in eternal security, you name him Charles) all talk about this verse as clearly teaching the faithfulness of God, even when we are faithless. And, if you focus only on verses 11 and 13, the passage clearly teaches this.

The other camp, those who believe you can lose your salvation and those who believe you cannot always be certain you are saved, prefer to focus on verse 12, and the clear statements there that if we deny Jesus, He will deny us. They explain verse 13 by saying that if we are faithless, Christ is faithful to Himself, and will condemn us.

So what is it that 2 Timothy 2:11-13 says? Both sides cannot be right and claim this as a favorite verse. One of them must have a faulty understanding of this ancient hymn. It is my conviction that when the context and grammar are carefully observed, the passage is seen to be teaching a balanced view of the eternal security of the believer.  The balanced view is that while we are eternally secure in Christ, there are still serious consequences for sin and unfaithfulness. If you are a believer, you cannot lose your eternal life, but there is still much that can be lost, both now and in eternity. The context and the grammar of 2 Timothy 2:11-13 reveals this. Let's consider the context first.


In context, Paul encourages Timothy to be strong in grace, and to pass on to other men the things which he has learned (2 Tim. 2:1-2). Paul tells Timothy that this is important because as a soldier of Christ, it is vital that he please Christ. Why? Not so that he can earn eternal life for himself, but so that he can earn rewards in heaven (2:3-10). Paul gives numerous examples of this. He provides the picture of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer, all who must work hard and obey the rules in order to receive reward. The soldier pleases his commanding officer (2:4). The athlete receives a crown (2:5). The farmer receives a crop (2:6).

Down in verse 10, where Paul mentions salvation, we ask ourselves the cardinal rule of such passages in the Bible: "Salvation from what?" In the immediate context, it is deliverance from failing to please our commanding officer, failing to receive a crown, failing to receive a crop. In verse 10 itself, the salvation refers to our eternal glory. There is a glory with Jesus Christ in heaven which can be lost or earned based upon how we live in this life. Eternal life is free to all who believe, but this glory is earned.

Paul then quotes the hymn, after which, he gives some examples of people who have failed and so will not receive this reward in heaven. He warns Timothy first to be diligent in his work before God so that Timothy will not be ashamed. Did you know it is possible to get to heaven, and then stand ashamed before God in heaven (1 John 2:28). It is possible to get to heaven and NOT hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Paul does not want Timothy to be that sort of Christian.

He gives Timothy some instructions on how to be an approved worker, and among these instructions is the command to avoid two men, Hymenaeus and Philetus. These men, Paul says, have wandered into false teaching, and so have overthrown the faith of some. Does this mean that these people have lost their eternal life? No, but it means they will be ashamed before God in heaven, and will not receive His praise, or a crown, or the glory that they otherwise could have had.  Paul goes on to give Timothy several more instructions, and then near the close of his letter, reminds Timothy again that there are rewards and crowns to be earned by those who are faithful to Jesus (4:8).

The point of this entire section, even the entire letter, is that God rewards those Christians who are faithful, and punishes and even disinherits those who are unfaithful. They are still in His family. They are still His children. They will still be in heaven. They still have eternal life. They will make it to heaven "so as through fire" as we read in 1 Corinthians 3:15.  This is what 2 Timothy 2:11-13 is all about. We are secure in Christ as far as our eternal destiny is concerned, but scrutinized regarding our eternal reward. Eternal life is based on faith alone in Christ alone. Eternal reward is based on faithfulness to Christ. The context reveals this, but the grammar makes it even clearer.


By grammar, we mean two things: (1) the structure of the hymn and (2) the meaning of the words. The hymn is structured quite simply and is based on a popular Hebrew poetic structure. Even the way it is laid out in our English Bibles reveals this.  First of all, notice that the hymn has four parallel couplets. A couplet is two lines of a poem in which the second line either completes, compares or contrasts with the first. This happens all the time in the books of Proverbs and Psalms. Here, the second line of each couplet completes the first line. There is a statement, and then the completion of that statement.

Furthermore, notice that each of the four couplets begins with the word If. This provides rhythm and parallelism to the entire hymn.

The main feature of the structure that we must notice is that it employs a Hebrew poetic form called a chaism. These are everywhere in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament. They are hard for us to recognize sometimes, because a chaistic structure is so foreign to our way of thinking. In our culture, we have been trained to think in outline form. Main point One, subpoints A, B and C. Main point Two, subpoints A, B and C.

But in Eastern cultures, especially in Biblical times, they often organized things in what is called a chaism. Here is how it works. The most simple chaism would be a two point chaism. Make a point A, make a point B, and then work your way back out. Make point B again, Make point A again. So you would have A, B, B, A. Sometimes, a chaism has a single point at it's center, such as A, B, C, B, A. Most often, the second time a point is covered, rather than just repeating what was already said, something new is revealed about that subject.

There are a lot more to chaisms than this, but I just want you to be aware of them because they are everywhere in Scripture, and this Hymn is one of them. This is the format the Hymn is based on. Point A is made up of the two if statements in verses 11 and 13. Point B is made up of the two if statements in verse 12.

With all of this in mind, let's look at the words of this hymn to see if we can understand what Paul is saying. Let's take the chaism one point at a time.

Point A in verse 11 says,

For if we died with Him,

    We shall also live with Him.

This is a clear reference to our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. The Bible states numerous times that when we believe in Jesus, we die with Him (Rom. 6:3-11; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 2:20, 5:24, 6:14; Col. 2:11-13, 3:1, 3; 1 Pet. 2:24). A related truth brought out over and over is that if we died with him, we will also be raised with Him, which is exactly what verse 11 says.

If we have believed in Jesus for eternal life, then we have died with Christ. We are in Christ. And if we have died with Him, then it is the promise of God that we will also live with Him. It is impossible to die with Christ, and then not be raised to new life with Him. This is the exact point of verse 11 and a wonderful promise of our security in Jesus Christ. Verse 13 will get back to point and add a new dimension to it, but the hymn now moves on to it's second point in verse 13.

12If we endure,

    We shall also reign with Him.

Our certain resurrection in Christ was the point of verse 11. What is the point of this statement? It is not about our justification or whether we have eternal life or not. It is not about our certain resurrection. It is about our conditional reigning with Christ. The hymn does not say, "If we endure, then we will make it to heaven." No, verse 11 already said that being raised to new life was a guaranteed promise. Here is something conditional based upon enduring with Christ. And what is it that is conditional? Not being resurrected, but reigning with Christ.

Throughout the entire Bible, God promises blessings and privilege and reward, both in this life and the life to come, for those of His children who are obedient and faithful to Him (e.g. Matt. 19:28; 25:20-23; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Tim. 4:6-8; Rev. 2:10; 20:4-6). Christ has been given authority over the entire universe. And during the Millennium, and afterwards in heaven, he is going to parcel out some of His authority to those Christians who endured with Him, and obeyed Him until the end.

Listen to what Jesus says to us in Revelation 2:26-27:

"And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations, - He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels' - as I also have received from My Father.

We see this also in the parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Minas, and in many of Christ's other parables. Christ is forever telling us that though eternal life is free of charge to all who will believe in Him for it, reigning and ruling with Him in heaven is conditioned upon our obedience and faithfulness to Him. If we endure, if we persevere, then we will also reign. But what if we fail to persevere? What if we fail to endure? What if, rather than life for Christ, we deny Him? Paul answers this with the third stanza of the chaism in the second half of verse 12.

If we deny Him,

    He also will deny us.

Remember that since this is a chaism, it completes the thought of the first half of verse 12, not verse 11. The denial here by Christ has nothing to do with our entrance into heaven, or our justification, but has everything to do with our ruling and reigning with Christ in heaven. We can be certain that whoever wrote this early hymn had in mind Christ's words in Matthew 10:33, 16:24 and Luke 12:9 where Christ says that if we disown him before men, Christ will disown us before God and the angels in heaven.

All of these verses teach that if we deny Christ, we do not lose our salvation, we do not lose our eternal life. Instead, we lose our reward. We lose our right to rule and reign with Christ in His Kingdom. We will still get entrance into the Kingdom, but will not be given an inheritance there. The very words that the hymn uses show this to us. The Greek word for deny can also mean to disown or disinherit. If the hymn writer had wanted to say that such people were refused eternal life, or were completely rejected, there are other Greek words that would have been used.

Verse 12 is the central point of this chaistic hymn, and it is not talking about our eternal destiny, but about our eternal reward. If we endure, we will reign with Christ. If we don't endure, but instead deny Him, we will not reign with Him, but He will deny us, or disown us. We will still receive eternal life, but we will not receive eternal reward. And remember, this is the context of the entire passage also. Faithfulness results in reward, unfaithfulness results in loss of reward and spiritual ruin.

But what about those who stop believing? What about those who did believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, but no longer? What about those who have fallen away and have been led into serious sin and false teaching? Can God really allow them into heaven? The last part of this hymn answers this question. Point A in verse 11 was a clear statement about our eternal security. Both parts of Point B were about our eternal reward and why we should live for Christ. Now, back to the second half of point A, we should expect another statement about our eternal security.

13If we are faithless,

    He remains faithful;

    He cannot deny Himself.

They hymn began with a strong statement of reassurance and comfort, and if at all possible, it ends with an even stronger one. Just as we learned from the Gospel of John, even if we are faithless to Him, He remains faithful to us, because He always keeps His promises, even when we do not (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:39; 10:28).

How grateful we can be that our eternal destiny is not dependant upon how faithful we are to God, but how faithful He is to us. We are told at the end of verse 13 that he remains faithful to us because He cannot deny Himself. Christ, as we all know, was completely faithful to God and obedient to what He was sent to this earth to do. Because of this, he has received the right to rule and reign over the universe, and everything has been placed under His feet (Eph. 1:22; Php. 2:5-11; Heb. 2:8). Part of this reward is the church, the Bride of Christ. If He were to lose some of us, He would lose some of His reward, and in effect, be denying or disowning Himself. But since He was completely faithful, He cannot lose any of His reward.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 is a wonderful passage. It teaches both the eternal security of the believer, and the serious consequences of failure. Our goal should be to persevere because that is were true satisfaction and joy comes from in the Christian life, and how we will can give the most glory to God in eternity. But at the same time, we must recognize that the Bible teaches the possibility of true, genuine Christians falling away.

It talks about believers who commit idolatry (1 King 11:1-10), believe only for a while (Luke 8:13), do not continue in the Word of Christ (John 8:31), do not abide in Christ (John 15:1-8), become disqualified in the race of the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:24-27), resist God's correction up to the point of physical death (1 Cor. 11:30-32), stray from the faith (1 Tim. 1:5-6), shipwreck their faith (1 Tim. 1:18-20), fall away from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-3), deny the faith (1 Tim. 5:8), cast off initial faith to follow Satan (1 Tim. 5:12-15), stray from the faith by loving money (1 Tim. 6:9-10), stray from the faith by teaching false doctrine (1 Tim. 6:20-21) and deny Christ and be faithless (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

We have the examples of people in the Bible who murdered and committed adultery, and yet were said to be saved (Jacob's sons). Other men, like Lot, King Saul, Solomon, Amaziah and Uzziah will most likely be in heaven, but did not live very faithfully to God during their lives. Then there is the righteous man who commits unrighteousness and dies as a result of it in Ezekiel 18, and the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who was involved in an incestuous relationship with his mother in law. Ananais and Sapphira in Acts 5 and so many other examples in Scripture of genuine believers who fell away.

Did this people lose their eternal life? No, Jesus cannot deny Himself. Some of them did, however, receive serious divine discipline in this life, and all of them will experience some loss of reward in the life to come. Someone has suggested this interpretive paraphrase for 2 Timothy 2:11-13:

If we have died with Him (and every believer has) - then we will also live with Him (in His presence after death/the Rapture).

If we are faithful/endure for Him through the course of our lives - then we will also reign/govern with Him in his Kingdom.

If we deny Him/are unfaithful to Him - then He will deny us the privilege of reigning/governing with Him.

But even if we are unfaithful (forfeiting the privilege of reigning/governing with Him) - Even then He remains faithful to us - we will live with Him -

For He cannot deny Himself.