Even More Unintended Consequences of Message Efficiency

A pastor friend of mine recently said that he believed someone could turn away from their faith in Jesus, but still be saved.

A feather could have knocked me over in that moment.

“Second Timothy 2 proves it,” he said. Then he quoted verse 13: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”

My friend also pointed to verse 12, which he quoted as: “If we deny him, he will also deny us our rewards.”

Still in shock, I said that I would take a closer look at those verses when I got home. And that’s what I did.

I saw right away that 2 Timothy 2:12-13 form the last two stanzas of a four-stanza creed. Here is the complete version, which begins in 2:11:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
If we endure, we will also reign with him;
If we deny him, he also will deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful—

For he cannot deny himself.

The early church employed many such creeds to perpetuate orthodoxy among believers. In that vein, Paul includes this one in 2 Timothy 2 to remind believers that suffering for Christ is an integral part of their association with him by faith. He encourages them therefore to share in the suffering, and not turn away preemptively.

In 2:4-7, Paul uses the metaphors of a soldier to inspire loyalty to Christ (even when the fight requires suffering); of an athlete to inspire legal competition (which disallows stepping out of the bounds of faith to avoid suffering); and of a farmer to inspire forward-looking endurance (to share in the life of the harvest).

Then, in 2:8-10, Paul points to the example of Jesus in suffering, and to his own example in following Jesus.

Finally, Paul inserts the creed, which lays out what follows from four initial conditions. The first two are tremendous encouragements:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
If we endure, we will also reign with him;

The last two are sober warnings:

If we deny him, he also will deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful—

For he cannot deny himself.

The two-fold division of encouragements and warnings are reminiscent of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:32-33:

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.

Paul is issuing the same encouragement and warning as Jesus. He does NOT allow for the possibility of someone surviving judgment when they turn away from faith in Jesus. Instead he cautions against ever denying Jesus, even when denying is a preemptive move to avoid suffering.

Honestly, there’s no rocket science here. The things I just shared are obvious on their face when you pay attention to the story.

So how did my friend come to his conclusion?

By disconnecting his theology from the story.

My friend has gotten so caught up with the logical inferences of his theological positions that he has set aside the plain sense of what Jesus taught. He even had to add to Paul’s words to support his conclusion.

It’s an unintended consequence of message efficiency: not that someone will always conclude that it’s possible to deny Jesus and still be saved, but that layer upon layer of human logic applied to theological explanations of salvation, disconnected from the story, can lead to faulty and dangerous conclusions.

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NEWSLETTER
Randal Gilmore