Denying Christ in a Facebook Status: The New Testament’s Two Meanings of Denial
Hey, everyone! How many friends of mine love Jesus? If you REALLY love Jesus, share this on your Facebook page! As Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 10:32-33).
We’ve all seen Facebook statuses like the above, and how many of us have felt a little awkward after reading a status like that? You know the status is illogical, but you also don’t want to risk denying Jesus because, after all, that statement really is in the Bible! If you’re like me, you usually ignore these things, and sometimes you actually hide the people who post such statuses from your News Feed because you don’t like feeling as if your salvation is being questioned. (Of course, we all know that people who post such statuses aren’t questioning others’ salvation and are just publicly professing their faith in Jesus, which in and of itself is a good thing to do.)
But like I said, the quote from Matthew 10:32-33 in such Facebook statuses really is from Matthew 10:32-33. So there is a serious question that this quote from Jesus raises: Does denying Jesus make a person lose his or her salvation? Complicating matters is Paul’s reference to this verse:
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. (2 Tim. 2:11-13)
So if we, Christians, deny Jesus, he also will deny us, but if we are faithless, he remains faithful? Am I the only one who’s confused by this pairing? In order for Paul to make sense in these verses, there must be degrees of denial and faithlessness. As William D. Mounce explains, “Arneisthai, ‘to deny,’ has a range of meanings from a refussal to do something, to a temporary denial such as Peter’s, to full-blown apostasy” (517). Furthermore, “most see line 4 as a promise of assurance to believers who have failed to endure (line 2) but not to the point of apostasy (line 3)” (518).
As Mounce notes, Peter’s denial of Christ is illustrative of the failure to endure that is short of apostasy. After Jesus’ arrest,
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:15-18)
As Annas, the high priest’s father-in-law, was interrogating Jesus,
Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27)
As Ceslas Spicq notes, Peter’s denial of Jesus the night before the crucifixion “seems to fulfill perfectly the prediction recorded in Matt 10:32-33” (203). Why then does Jesus not deny Peter before God the Father? Why does Jesus instead reinstate Peter (John 21:15-19)? “Peter denied Jesus with his lips, but in his heart he remained constantly faithful to his Lord and Master” (ibid.). Thus, there are two kinds of denial. There is denial that can be forgiven, and there is denial that cannot be forgiven. Forgivable denial is a temporary, verbal denial that contradicts abiding inner faith; unforgivable denial, by contrast, “officially renounces Jesus” (ibid.)
The reference [in Matt. 10:32-33] is to a disciple who publicly professes that he knows Jesus as Savior and God, adheres to his teaching, and submits to his Master’s will. If this “Christian” later says no to this Amen, that is, if he officially renounces Jesus, declaring before other people that he is freeing himself from his dependence on the Lord, then the Lord in turn will abandon him and will not exercise his role as advocate and paraclete on his behalf (1 John 2:1). (ibid., 202-203)
So to return to the original question that Matthew 10:32-33 poses: Does denying Jesus make a person lose his or her salvation? No. A Christian who denies Jesus temporarily in word but not in heart has an experience not unlike that which Paul describes in Rom. 7:18, 22-23. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. … For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” A person who denies Christ and goes to hell, however, does not lose his or her salvation because he or she never possessed salvation. As we read in Hebrews 10:35-39,
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
According to the writer of Hebrews, then, true believers have faith and preserve their souls. Humanly speaking, a true believer may apostatize, may shrink back, but divinely speaking, God preserves true believers’ faith and enables them to endure to the end. As Thomas Schreiner explains,
The admonitions [such as in Heb. 10:35-39] are the means God uses to keep believers on the path of faith. Believers are even more assured of their salvation as they heed the warnings, because their response to the warnings demonstrates that they truly belong to God. And the argument of this book is that the elect and those in the new covenant always heed the warnings. God loses none of those who belong to them. (113)
Jesus’ parable of the sower demonstrates this well (Mark 4:14-20). There are three varieties of unbelievers: those who never believe, those who seem to believe but fall away quickly, and those who seem to believe but fall away eventually. There is but one course of action for the believer, however: all true believers believe and never finally fall away, even though they may, at times, like Peter, verbally deny Jesus.
But a vital caveat is needed. Who are you to know if your denial is temporary or final? Who are you to know if your denial is the kind that can be forgiven, or the kind that cannot be forgiven because it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31-32)? Don’t risk denying Jesus with your mouth: you may, in fact, be denying him in your heart. Don’t presume upon the Lord’s mercies.
I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God … for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. (2 Tim. 1:6-9)
If you trust Jesus for salvation, keep trusting him, and serve him boldly! Not posting a Facebook status about Jesus won’t make you lose your salvation (nothing will), but if you deny Jesus consistently in your words and actions, you probably were never saved to begin with, and you need to trust him now to be saved.
Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary 46. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000.
Schreiner, Thomas. Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.
Spicq, Ceslas. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol. 1, trans. and ed. James D. Ernest. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 1994.