By Ken Yates
What does it mean to “deny the faith” (1 Tim 5:8)? This question brings up a couple of issues. First, is it possible for a Christian to verbally deny the Christian faith or to renounce Christ?
Even though many today would say a Christian could never do such a thing, and if he did, it only showed he wasn’t really a Christian, the NT teaches us that it is possible.
Apostasy in Hebrews
Hebrews 10:38-39 clearly states that a believer, a “righteous one” can commit apostasy. Jody Dillow in his book The Reign of the Servant Kings (pp. 336-37), as well as GES’s The Grace New Testament Commentary (p. 1078), both have good discussions on this.
In addition, we see examples of believers who renounce basic doctrines of the Christian faith in the NT (1 Tim 1:19-20; 2 Tim 2:17-18).
History and experience also tell us that if a Christian is faced with persecution for his faith, it is certainly possible for that Christian to deny his faith. Of course, such a Christian does not lose his salvation, but will invite the discipline of God in his life as well as lose eternal rewards.
Another issue that this question raises is whether a Christian can deny the Christian faith in other ways. The NT tells us that we can.
In fact, that is what 1 Tim 5:8 is about. Paul is not talking about a Christian who verbally renounces his faith in Christ or any foundational doctrine. He is talking about Christians taking care of their aging parents.
Part of the Christian faith—the teaching of Christianity—is to honor your parents. To neglect one’s widowed mother by not taking care of her would be to deny what Christianity teaches. Paul’s point in 1 Tim 5:8 is that such action by a believer would mean that his life does not match what he believes.
Some would say Paul has to mean that such a person cannot be a Christian because Paul goes on to say that such a person is “worse than an unbeliever.” How can a Christian, who is going to be in the Kingdom, be worse than an unbeliever?
Paul’s point is that even unbelievers generally take care of their parents who are in need. This is something that even the unbelieving world acknowledges should be done. The Christian who does not take care of a parent in need is acting in a way that even unbelievers usually don’t do. His actions are worse than the actions of the common unbeliever.
What we see here is that a believer can live a life that is outwardly as immoral as the world in which we live. In fact, a believer can do things that even most unbelievers would not do.
We have a clear example of that in 1 Corinthians 5. In that chapter, Paul speaks of a “brother,” a believer who has eternal life, who is having a sexual relationship with his stepmother.
Paul specifically says that even unbelievers don’t do that! (1 Cor 5:1). Even the unbelievers in immoral Corinth don’t do that!
Like the believer who does not take care of the physical needs of his aging parents, the sexually immoral believer is one who metaphorically carries a sign that says, “My actions do not match who I am.” He, by his actions, denies what he claims to believe.
Paul teaches the same thing to Titus in Titus 1:16. He wants Titus to rebuke Christians who are not living like they should (Titus 1:13). By their actions they deny the Lord, even though they claim to “know” God. (See Zane Hodges’s book The Gospel Under Siege, p. 105).
Christians can deny the faith. They can do it verbally or they can do it by their actions. While they cannot lose eternal life by such denials, each of the verses discussed here teaches us that there are consequences for denying the Christian faith, both in this life and at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Ken Yates is Editor of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society and GES’s East Coast and International speaker.