He Remains Faithful

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 2 Timothy 2:11-13

When I identify with Christ in his death I also know that I share in the power of his new life here and now.

I’m reading from 2 Timothy 2, beginning at verse 8 (esv):

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy:

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.

My very first ministry trip for Words of Hope took me to India. I’ve traveled many miles to many different places since then, but I don’t think I will ever forget the powerful impressions and experiences of that very first trip. One of the most vivid scenes in my memory is of a baptism service I attended in northern Bengal, the Indian state near the border between India and Bangladesh.

It was an all-day experience. In the morning we drove many miles into the countryside to reach a tiny rural village where a new church had been started. We held an outdoor service there filled with singing and testimonies and preaching. The Christians had gathered from throughout the district and had erected a pavilion with bamboo supports and a palm leaf roof right next to the village well. This pavilion was crowded with believers, all sitting on the ground and around the sides, and in back stood their curious Hindu neighbors, looking on and listening in.

After the service we broke for lunch, which had been simmering on nearby cookfires all morning. When we returned, we formed a procession and walked down to the nearby river to witness the baptism of 18 new Christian believers. The day concluded with another walk to the plot of land that had been purchased for a new church building. There we had a brief service dedicating the site and laying a ceremonial cornerstone. What a day!

What I remember most about that day was standing on the riverbank watching the baptisms. It was a deeply moving scene as each man or woman went down into the water and was “buried with [Christ] by baptism into death,” as Paul says in Romans 6, and then symbolically raised up to new life in him. But one thing that especially struck me was how long it took for each baptism. The Indian pastor who was officiating was very deliberate. (I’ve noticed that Christians in the Third World are not quite as pressed for time when it comes to worship as we tend to be. They don’t seem to mind it when the service spills over its allotted period. After all, very few of them are in a rush to go to Sunday brunch or to jump in the car to get out to the beach.) So these baptisms took a long time.

The pastor stood in the river speaking quietly with each candidate for some minutes before plunging them beneath the surface. “What is he talking about?” I asked my guide. He is giving them a new name, I was told, and he’s preparing them for what they were now likely to face as Christians from their old neighbors, acquaintances and family members. In other words, he was encouraging them to endure.

It’s the same thing with the trustworthy saying the apostle Paul repeats in 2nd Timothy 2.

“The saying is trustworthy,” he writes:

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.

2 Timothy 2:11-13

These words are an encouragement to endure, a way of preparing Christians for what we may be called upon to face as followers of Jesus Christ. The saying reads almost like poetry, or like part of an early Christian hymn, or a brief creed that the early Christians recited together in their worship services. It’s a string of conditional statements, where the second part depends upon the first: If this, then that. In every case, the key statement is an affirmation of truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the “he,” the “him” who is mentioned in every line.

Living by Faith

The first part of this trustworthy saying speaks about the reward of faith: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” Paul is not talking here about literal death; this isn’t a promise of some sort of special reward for Christian martyrs. Notice he doesn’t say that those who die for Christ will live, but those who die with Christ. Paul is referring to a core Christian experience, perhaps I should say to the core Christian experience, namely, having faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

When you come to the point where you really do believe in Jesus, and when you commit yourself, all that you have and all that you are to him, then you are united to Christ through that faith. And this union is so profound, the identification between Christ and the believer is so complete, that we can be said to share in everything Christ has done for us including his death.

The New Testament doesn’t just say that Christ died for us; it also says that we died with him. Real faith is more than just an intellectual exercise. It isn’t merely accepting a set of doctrines or agreeing with a series of propositions.

Real faith in Jesus Christ, saving faith, is relational; it is a bond that establishes a permanent personal connection between Jesus and the believer. And real faith is existential, experiential. The faith that joins us to Jesus Christ in life and in death isn’t a casual or superficial attachment. It is a deep-rooted commitment springing from the core of our being that affects every part of our lives during every moment we live.

So if you have been joined to Christ and made one with him by faith, in other words, if you have died with him, then here’s the promise: you will also live with him. This is how Paul puts it in Romans 6:3-5:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

When I as a Christian identify with Christ in his death I also know that I share in the power of his new life here and now. And one day I will share fully in the glory of Christ’s resurrection, when he calls me from the grave to be united with him in a resurrection like his.

I was watching a television interview with a journalist who had terminal cancer. The interviewer asked a startling question of this dying man. He asked him about his own expectation of his immediate future: “What do you think will happen to you after you die?” I waited eagerly to hear the answer, and it came like this, “Nothing,” the man replied. “The worms get you.”

That’s not what a Christian says. We know that “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” If you are trusting in Jesus Christ, be certain of this: Death is not the end for you; it is merely the entrance into real life.

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God.

Job 19:25-26

Living Faithfully

And so because of this hope we seek to live faithfully each day knowing that:

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.

What this second part of the trustworthy saying teaches us is that we need to hold our ground spiritually speaking. We have to hang in there, stand firm, be faithful. It’s not only just a matter of having faith but of exhibiting faithfulness or loyalty to Jesus Christ. All those hope-filled Bible promises are not made to those who begin the Christian journey, but only to those who complete it.

It isn’t starting out to walk by faith that saves you; it’s continuing that walk daily, and eventually finishing it. Jesus said that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, 24:13). I love the motto of the United States Marine Corps, Semper Fidelis, “Always Faithful.” That makes a pretty good rule for Christians too.

And don’t forget the darker side of this trustworthy saying. Listen to the warning that it holds out to us: “If we deny him, he will deny us.” Jesus himself cautioned his disciples more than once that if they denied him on earth, he would deny them in heaven (see Matthew 10:33, Luke 12:9). But don’t despair. Remember Peter. Three times he denied even knowing the Lord Jesus, the last time emphasizing it with an oath and a curse. But when the rooster crowed Peter’s conscience was awakened, and he repented with tears. And the Lord restored him. Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful to himself, to his own gracious and merciful nature. So we never lose hope. If we stumble or fall, we can always get back up and start walking by faith again, start following Jesus again.

He will receive us. He will restore us to his love. He is faithful for he cannot deny himself.