“What if we deny Jesus, but we know in our hearts we don’t really mean it? Won’t God forgive us?”

My daughter asked this question recently when a random car discussion turned to current events in the Middle East. We found ourselves wondering at the horror of Christians being murdered in Iraq, dying for their faith in Jesus, or watching their children beheaded because they refuse to deny Him.

I didn’t have an answer for her, and I just couldn’t let it go with an “I don’t know, honey.” Our kids are going to face enough opposition to their faith in their lives. If at all possible, I want to point mine to the exact place where scripture answers their doubts about God’s word or His character 1) so they know His absolute truth, and 2) so they know that His word holds every answer they need. And so I know, too.

Long after our conversation that day, I pondered my daughter’s question. When I thought about Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:32-33, the answer seemed pretty cut-and-dried:

Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. but whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

But the question her question left me with is this: what about Peter?

He denies Jesus THREE TIMES, and yet, Jesus doesn’t deny him. In fact, Peter is the one to whom Jesus says in Matthew 16:18-19:

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Before Peter ever denies Him, Jesus already knows 1) he will, and 2) he will use Peter to build His church!

How does Peter get away with denying Jesus? God doesn’t contradict Himself, so what does the Bible tell us that will help interpret and reconcile these two scriptures?

First, let’s learn something about Peter. Peter doesn’t have a casual encounter with Jesus and then decide He isn’t worth it. He leaves all for Him, becoming a passionate and devout follower of Jesus. He personally witnesses and participates in countless miracles, including walking on water. He is Jesus’ companion and friend, sitting directly under His teaching. In fact, Peter is part of Jesus’ inner, inner circle. The Lord reveals Jesus and truth to him, and Jesus prophesies specifically to him. If anyone is in position to stand firm for Jesus, it is Peter. So what happened?

This is one of those times I didn’t find a specific scripture to answer, but I discovered a number of interesting insights and lessons from Peter’s life that are applicable to us today as we strengthen our faith and stand firm in the face of opposition.

In the process, I ran across 2 Timothy 2:11-13:

This is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him,
We shall also live with Him.
If we endure,
We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He also will deny us.
If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.

What is the difference between denying Jesus and being faithless?

The word deny in the Greek is arneomai, which is “to reject, to refuse something offered.” It is the deny of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 10:33, that if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before His Father in heaven. It is receiving the truth of the gospel, knowing Jesus is Savior, and outright refusing Him with finality. It is permanently rejecting God’s free gift of salvation.

The word faithless in the Greek is apisteō, which means “to betray a trust, be unfaithful; to have no belief, disbelieve.” It literally means believed not. It’s unbelief, not refusal.

If we permanently refuse salvation through faith in Jesus, Jesus will refuse us. If we have saving faith yet struggle with unbelief, He is still faithful. Some would say this describes Peter: temporarily stumbling in faithlessness, but not ultimately denying Jesus.

While this may explain what happened with Peter, it isn’t permission to say one thing with our mouths while trying to hold to the opposite in our hearts because we fear man. At the same time, it exposes the character of God toward His people: when we are hidden in Christ, and Christ is in us, we belong to the Father, and the Father cannot deny Himself. This is critical, because it is God’s faithfulness to us as His children that makes it possible to be among those who endure to the end – those who “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). Tweet this!

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” While we cannot see God with our eyes, His word contains substantial evidence on which we can stake our faith in His faithfulness! Below are eleven assurances that God will ensure our endurance. Notice in each one Who it is that is doing the doing.

Ten Scriptures that Prove God’s Faithfulness to Ensure Our Endurance Tweet this!

  1. God calls us into fellowship with Jesus in the first place, and He is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9).
  2. God authors and finishes our faith – He is the Source and Sustainer (Hebrews 12:1-2).
  3. God keeps us by His power through faith for salvation (1 Peter 1:3-5).
  4. God will not turn away from doing us good, but will put His fear in our hearts so we won’t depart from Him (Jeremiah 32:40).
  5. God confirms the testimony of Christ in us, and He “will also confirm [us] to the end, that [we] may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:4-8).
  6. God is “able to keep [us] from stumbling, and to present [us] faultless before the presence of His glory” (Jude 1:24).
  7. God will finish the good work He began in us until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
  8. God will make us complete in every good work to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight (Hebrews 13:20-21).
  9. God will not allow anyone or anything to snatch us from His hand (John 10:28-29) or separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).
  10. God keeps His promises (Hebrews 10:23).

It is precisely because of God’s faithfulness that we can do our part:

“Building [ourselves] up on [our] most holy faith,
“Praying in the Holy Spirit,
“[Keeping ourselves] in the love of God,
“Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21), and
“[Holding] fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

It is on this foundation we will look next at some interesting insights from Peter’s denial of Jesus. If you’d like the convenience of having the last two blogs in this series and all future posts come straight to your email inbox, please SUBSCRIBE here. When you do, you’ll receive advance copy of the eBook I’ll publish containing this entire series. Not only that, when you subscribe, you’ll receive a free download of the electronic version of my book, Holy His: Hope for a Life and a Nation Wholly His, the perfect companion to this series. In six weeks of scripture-packed study, you’ll learn to experience the fullness of God’s promises through obedience to His word, and find hope that is an anchor for our souls, sure and steadfast, no matter what. The result? Lives that are powerful platforms for preaching the gospel – the only true and eternal answer to our personal and national crises. Every Christian needs to read this book! Be sure to get yours, and then spread the word!
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To see all the posts in our Unshakable Hope in the Face of Persecution series, click here.

Lord, You are so good to be so good to us, that when You save us, You also sustain us. Without Your faithfulness, there is no hope for us to remain faithful. Thank you for keeping us to the very end and giving us everything we’ll need to endure. We love You, Lord, and look forward to the glorious day when we behold Your face. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION:
1. “What if we deny Jesus, but we know in our hearts we don’t really mean it? Won’t God forgive us?” What does scripture have to say about this? What about Peter who denies Jesus three times and is the rock on which Jesus builds the church (Matthew 16:18-19). How is this possible?
2. Second Timothy 2:11-13 says, “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” What is the difference between denial and faithlessness?
3. When we belong to the Father, and the Father cannot deny Himself. This is critical, because it is God’s faithfulness to us as His children that makes it possible to be among those who endure to the end – those who “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). What does God’s faithfulness mean to you?
4. Faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb.11:1). All the evidence we need is in God’s word. What is your favorite verse about the faithfulness of God?