By Ken Yates
One of the many strange things we hear Christians say is that a true Christian will never deny the Lord. Of course, when this is said the hearer almost always thinks of Peter. Peter clearly denied the Lord three times. What about him?
The answer that is often given is that Peter only temporarily denied the Lord. Plus, after he did it, he felt bad about it. He repented of his sin. So, we are told, we need to modify our position on this issue. A real Christian will feel bad if he denies the Lord, and he will soon repent and return to Him. We are never told how quickly a fallen Christian will repent, only that his denial will certainly not go on forever.
The NT, however, teaches that we can deny the Lord in ways other than Peter did by simply saying we don’t know Him. For example, Paul says that if a person does not provide for his family, he has denied the faith. This is in the context of providing for elderly parents/widows (1 Tim 5:8). Perhaps we all have known Christians who have done this for a long period of time and have never repented of this sin.
Paul also says that we deny the Lord if we do not remain faithful to Him by enduring trials in His name (2 Tim 2:10-12). Surely many Christians have denied Him in this way even if they did not verbally deny the faith. They simply avoided trials and persecutions to make life easier for themselves.
Paul also says we can deny the Lord by living sinful lives (Titus 1:16). Once again, there have been Christians who have denied Him in this way for decades.
The fact is that “true” Christians can indeed deny the Lord. They can do it and never repent of that denial. They are still saved from hell, but they do invite the discipline of God in their lives, and they will lose eternal rewards.
Since it is possible to deny the Lord, we can probably look at what Peter did and learn some lessons in order to avoid doing so. Jesus tells Peter he will fall away. He quotes the prophet Zechariah in this regard. He says that God will strike the Shepherd (Jesus) and the sheep will be scattered (Mark 14:27). In other words, God the Father, Jesus, and the prophets say that God’s people can deny the Lord. To know that the Scriptures teach that “true” believers can fall is the first step in avoiding it.
But Peter says that others might fall, but he would never (Mark 14:29). Pride goes before the fall. Believers who think they will never fall are particularly prone to do so. Of course, Peter does deny the Lord. The Lord even points out that he will be worse than the ones he thought he would be better than. He would deny Him three times. They wouldn’t do that.
But there is good news. The Lord says that later, after Peter’s denials, the Lord will once again shepherd Peter and the others (Mark 14:28). How encouraging to know that when we deny the Lord by our words or deeds, we can always return to our gracious Lord to serve Him.
Peter teaches us some valuable lessons through his fall. The Scriptures tell us that as Christians we can deny the Lord. We should avoid the prideful attitude that leads us to think that others might do it, but we never would. And finally, when we deny the Lord, we can take comfort in knowing that we have a gracious Shepherd. Peter learned all these lessons. We can learn from his mistakes.
Ken Yates is the pastor of Little River Baptist Church in Jenkinsville, SC. He teaches at Bible institutes all over the world on behalf of GES and has written a commentary on Hebrews: Partners with Christ.