It is a trustworthy statement: For if we 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)
Occasionally, a student of Scripture will encounter a passage that is challenging to interpret. An understanding of the author’s language, as well as his historical and cultural background, can shed light on his writings. And maintaining a consistent literal approach to the text is always best. This means preferring a plain reading of Scripture, which protects the reader from fanciful interpretations. According to Charles Ryrie, “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.” David Cooper writes, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.”
2 Timothy 2:11-13 – A Difficult Passage
In 2 Timothy 2:11-13, Paul provided Timothy a short theological statement that seems to reflect a doctrinal creed in the early church. The words may have been set to music as a hymn. Paul’s statement can be broken into four parts, each beginning with a conditional clause (εἰ). The four parts are: “if we died with Him”, “if we endure”, “if we deny Him”, and “if we are faithless.” Paul introduces these four parts with the phrase, It is a trustworthy statement (πιστὸς ὁ λόγος). The phrase is common to Paul, as he employs the exact wording elsewhere (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; Tit 3:8). The phrase is intended to emphasize the trustworthiness of what follows. The NASB changes the typeset in verses 11-13 to show the saying is poetic or hymnic in nature. According to Thomas Constable, “It may have been part of a baptismal ceremony, a hymn, or a catechism. It consists of four couplets: two positive and two negative. Each couplet represents a condition that Paul assumed to be real, not hypothetical, since each is a first-class condition in the Greek text.” Paul’s four couplets are as follows:
First, “For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him” (2 Tim 2:11b). This phrase parallels Paul’s words in Romans, where he states, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rom 6:8; cf. Col 3:3). The phrase, For if we died with Him (εἰ γὰρ συναπεθάνομεν) refers to our being united with Christ in His death on the cross. In a very real sense, we were with Jesus on the cross. His death is our death. Death means separation. Spiritual death is separation from God in time. The Second Death is separation from God in eternity (Rev 20:14). Those who died with Christ will never experience the Second Death in the Lake of Fire. As Christians, we died with Christ when He died on the cross (Rom 6:8-11). He bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Though Christ’s death is sufficient for all (Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2), it is effective to those who believe in Him as Savior (John 3:16; Eph 1:7). The blessed benefit for us who have trusted Christ as Savior is that we will live with Him (καὶ συζήσομεν). The phrase, we will live, translates the future active indicative of συζάω suzao. The future tense points to a reality yet to come for the Christian, and the indicative mood is declarative for a statement of fact. This seems to refer to the future resurrection life that is ours in Christ (1 Cor 15:20-23).
Second, “if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12a). The phrase if we endure (εἰ ὑπομένομεν) refers to phase two of the Christian life; that is, our sanctification, in which we advance to spiritual maturity, which glorifies God and edifies others. Biblically, there are three aspects to our salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Put differently, it means we are saved from the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 8:1, 34; Gal 2:16), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately from the presence of sin (1 John 3:2-3, 5; cf. Rom 8:17). The first and third aspects of our salvation are entirely the work of God. However, our sanctification requires us to exercise our minds and wills in conformity with the mind and will of God. As Christians, we must endure the hardships of life and advance spiritually. To endure (ὑπομένω hupomeno), according to BDAG, means “to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition, stand one’s ground, hold out, endure.” It means we don’t back down or give up in the face of pressure or opposition. This requires reinforcement in one’s soul, a doctrinal fortress in one’s thinking that enables the Christian to remain strong when circumstances get tough. This statement was intended to encourage Timothy to face difficulties with the certainty that there will be a future reward for obedience; namely, the blessing and honor that we will also reign with Him (καὶ συμβασιλεύσομεν).
There are two major aspects of God’s reign over His creation. First is His ongoing universal rule. According to Scripture, “God is the King of all the earth…He reigns over the nations; He sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47:7-8). The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a), and the “LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b). God is supreme over all His creation, for “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6). It is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17), and “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).
Second is the future time when God will rule through His Son, Jesus, who is the ideal theocratic administrator over His creation. God promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of this world, saying, “I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psa 2:8). In the future, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan 2:44). This refers to the future earthly kingdom of Christ, when Jesus will be given “dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14). The establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom will occur after the seven-year Tribulation; at which time it will be said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15; cf. 20:4). Jesus’ kingdom and reign is prophesied all throughout Scripture and will come to pass, because God will make it happen (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 35-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Luke 1:31-33; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 11:15; 20:4-6). And, for believers who are obedient-to-the-Word in this life, we will reign with Christ in the eschaton (Rev 5:10; 20:4-6). Our reigning with Christ in His millennial kingdom is what Paul is referring to in 2 Timothy 2:12.
Third, “if we deny Him, He also will deny us” (2 Tim 2:12b). To deny (ἀρνέομαι arneomai), according to BDAG, means “to disclaim association with a person or event, deny, repudiate, disown.” Though this word is used of unbelievers in several NT passages (Acts 3:13-14; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 2:22-23), it is also used of born-again Christians who fail to live as they should (1 Tim 5:8). The apostle Peter publicly denied (ἀρνέομαι arneomai) Jesus three times (Matt 26:70-74; John 18:25-27), yet did so as a believer, not an unbeliever. In the context of Paul’s words to Timothy, the phrase if we deny Him (εἰ ἀρνησόμεθα) refers to the potential reality that we, as Christians, may fail in our calling to walk with the Lord and advance to spiritual maturity. That is, we may choose to walk according to the flesh and Satan’s world-system, which is a very real possibility and danger (1 John 2:15). Some Bible teachers, mainly Arminians, take this verse as a prooftext that we can forfeit our salvation. However, John Piper, a Strict-Calvinist, uses this verse to argue that a person who denies Jesus proves he was never saved. Piper states, “The ‘we’ here includes Paul. If Paul denies Christ, Christ will deny him. The salvation of the elect depends on their not denying Christ and on their enduring in faith and obedience.” But is that Paul’s meaning? Is Paul writing about Christian salvation? The Arminian and Calvinist would say “yes.” However, if we look at the statement in its context, we see where Paul had just said, “if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12a). To change the subject from reigning with Christ—a reward for faithfulness—to salvation, is to switch horses midstream, which breaks the logical flow of Paul’s statement, and is hermeneutically inconsistent. It is better to take this statement as referring to Christian rewards, not as a prooftext that one can lose his salvation, or as evidence he was never saved from the outset. According to Geisler:
There is a better way, though, to understand Paul’s teaching. The immediate context reveals that he is speaking about a denial of reward, not of eternal life [bold mine]. The preceding phrase says, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” Reigning is part of a believer’s reward (cf. Rev 20:6; 22:12), and he has already received eternal life, whether he is rewarded or not (cf. 1 Cor 3:15).
The phrase, He also will deny us (κἀκεῖνος ἀρνήσεται ἡμᾶς), does not mean Jesus reverses our salvation with the result that we will be cast into the Lake of Fire with unbelievers, or as proof that we were never saved. Paul is not talking about salvation. He’s talking about rewards. It means Jesus will deny us the right to reign with Him in His millennial kingdom. Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). It is a serious and shameful thing if a Christian succumbs to pressures of a fallen world and denies Christ in this life. Such a one may even be subject to divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11), and forfeit rewards in the future (1 Cor 3:15). The apostle John wrote, “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8). Rewards are the blessings promised to Christians who, by faith, overcome trials (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12; 21).
Fourth, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). Some Bible scholars believe Paul shifts here to talk about unbelievers who are faithless (i.e., MacDonald, Farstad). However, Paul’s use of we—which would include himself and Timothy—rules out that possibility. To be faithless (ἀπιστέω apisteo), according to BDAG, refers to “one lacking a sense of obligation (of disloyal soldiers) of relation of humans to God or Jesus.” It speaks of the potential disloyalty that Christians can display when they turn away from the Lord and fail to think and walk as they should. The active voice means the Christian produces the action of being unfaithful to the Lord. The present tense implies ongoing action, which means this is not the occasional failure, but continuing failure. The action means the Christian fails in regard to his sanctification, or life as a disciple.
Though Christians belong to the kingdom of Christ (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13), it is possible for a believer to live carnally (1 Cor 3:1-3) and help Satan advance his agenda by loving his world-system (Jam 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Christians who abandon their walk with the Lord are in real danger of divine discipline if they choose a path of faithlessness (Heb 12:5-11). Failure to advance spiritually means loss of reward (1 Cor 3:15), not loss of eternal life, which cannot happen (John 10:28; Rom 8:1; 33-39).
The phrase, He remains faithful (ἐκεῖνος πιστὸς μένει), means God honors His Word to reward us for faithfulness, or deny us reward for unfaithfulness. God has integrity and always keeps His Word. If we are faithless, God remains faithful, as Paul stated, for He cannot deny Himself (ἀρνήσασθαι γὰρ ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται). We are not always our best selves, but what God is, He always is, and cannot be otherwise! When God makes a promise, He always keeps His Word. We must realize that “God is not a man, that He should lie” (Num 23:19a), and “the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind” (1 Sam 15:29a), for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). The faithfulness of God is proclaimed elsewhere in Scripture (Deut 7:9; Rom 3:3-4; 1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18; 1 Th 5:24; 2 Th 3:3; Heb 10:23; 13:5). If we can’t trust God at His Word, who can we trust? Failure to trust God at His Word leaves us on a sea of uncertainty that results in great cognitive instability, where fear dominates our souls and steals our confidence and joy. But God is faithful to His Word, and when we’re living by faith, it produces stability within us.
Because we have trusted Christ as our Savior, we are positionally united with Him in His death at the cross and will enjoy a future resurrection in the eternal state; however, not all will receive the same reward. If we learn and live God’s Word and advance to spiritual maturity, we will be rewarded with the right to reign with Jesus in His earthly millennial kingdom. Discipleship can be tough, but God will honor His faithful children in the millennial kingdom and the eternal state. But if we turn to a life of carnality and deny Jesus’ authority over our lives, marginalizing His Word and failing to walk with Him, then He will deny us future rewards, which also includes the reward of reigning with Him. Though we may be unfaithful—and may suffer divine discipline in this life—we are never in fear of losing our salvation, for God promised us eternal life, and He always keeps His Word. But, though we cannot forfeit our salvation, we can forfeit future rewards, which God is faithful to deny us if we fail to advance spiritually. In all this, we can say with Paul, “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:11-13).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
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 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.
 David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 2 Tim 2:11.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1039.
 Ibid., 132.
 John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 107.
 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 330–331.
 William Arndt et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 103.