Accountability. That is a popular term today. It is a buzzword in many churches. People need to be accountable to someone. We all need someone to care about us and to pay attention to what we’re doing.
Accountability is not merely horizontal, person to person. It is also vertical, person to God. While eternal life is an absolutely free gift which is received simply by faith alone in Christ alone, God holds every believer accountable for our words, motives, and deeds. Second Timothy 2:11-13 is a passage which stresses both the freeness of eternal salvation and the costliness of eternal rewards.
Eternal Life Is Absolutely Free
Like the four-inch newspaper headlines that proclaimed victory in Europe on VE day, verses 11 and 13 clearly and forcefully proclaim news of great victory. By virtue of their union with Christ, every Christian is secure forever. It’s a done deal which can’t be reversed, even by faithlessness on the part of the believer.
Verse 11 says,
“If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.”
This is another way of saying that every believer has eternal life and can never lose it. If you have believed in Christ for eternal life, then you have died with Him in a positional sense (Rom 6:5, 8; Gal 2:20; 5:24). And, if you’ve died with Him, you will live with Him, forever. Notice that there is no escape clause here. There is no such thing as one who has died with Christ who later loses his salvation.
Verse 13 says,
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”
Note that even if you or I are faithless, Christ remains faithful. Why? Because He can’t deny Himself. He promises to give eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. Our faithfulness is not part of the equation. It is His faithfulness that determines whether we stay saved or not. Since He will always be faithful to that which He promised, all believers, including faithless ones, will live with Christ forever.
The verse which is between these two, v 12, deals with what will happen if believers are faithful or faithless. First let’s consider what will happen if believers are faithful.
Christians Who Endure in the Faith Will Reign with Christ
Even a casual reading of v 11-13 shows that v 12 is discussing something different than verses 11 or 13. Verses 11 and 13 are extremely comforting and encouraging to all believers. Verse 12 is only comforting and encouraging to those believers who are currently walking in fellowship with God.
Verse 12a reads,
“If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.”
Paul had spoken of his own endurance, using the same Greek verb, in v 10. There it clearly refers to persevering in the faith in spite of persecution and suffering (v 9). If other Christians follow his example and endure in the faith in spite of persecution and suffering, then they will rule with Christ.
Some mistakenly think that reigning with Christ is synonymous with being a Christian. However, Paul makes it clear in this passage that only Christians who endure will reign. While all Christians have life, even faithless ones (v 11, 13), only persevering Christians will rule with Christ.
The Lord Jesus also made it clear that only overcoming Christians will rule with Him. Compare Luke 19:11-26; Rev 2:26; 3:21. While all Christians will be in His kingdom, only Christians who endured in this life will be a part of His kingdom administration. Since serving Christ is what we will do in eternity (Rev 22:3), increased opportunity to serve Him is something which is extremely desirable.
Christians Who Deny Christ Won’t Reign
Verse 12b reads,
“If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”
Some think that Paul is threatening believers who deny Christ with eternal damnation. That, however, is completely contrary to the first half of v 12 and to the context of vv 11 and 13.
The second half of verse 12 is antithetically opposite of the first half. After the words “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him,” we expect, “If we don’t endure, we shall not reign with Him.” That is precisely what verse 12b is saying. To deny Christ is to fail to endure in the faith. To be denied by Him is to be refused the privilege of ruling with Him.
At the Judgment Seat of Christ some believers will be confessed by Christ (Matt 10:33). He will acknowledge overcoming believers before God the Father and the angels as those who will rule with Him (Luke 19:17, 19). However, some believers at the Judgment Seat will be denied by Christ (Matt 10:33). He won’t deny that they are saved. Remember, even if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He can’t deny Himself. He will deny them in the sense that He will deny that they are worthy to reign with Him (compare Luke 19:22-26; Heb 11:38; Rev 3:4, 21).
Secure Yet Scrutinized
In the very first issue of our journal, Autumn 1988, Brad McCoy wrote an excellent article on 2 Tim 2:11-13 entitled, “Secure Yet Scrutinized.” That is a superb title. Verses 11 and 13 loudly proclaim the security of the believer. Verse 12 declares the fact that the works of all believers will be scrutinized.
The absolute freeness of eternal life is not a license to sin. How we live now as Christians will have an impact on the quality of our eternal experience. While all believers will be in the kingdom, only those who endure in the faith will reign with Christ.
Jesus is coming again. It could be today or this week. Are you ready? Are you enduring in the faith? Are you doing what God says even if others make fun of you because you won’t get drunk with them, won’t laugh at their dirty jokes, won’t lie for them, won’t dress the way they dress, won’t skip church to go party with them? Hang in there. It won’t be long. If you endure, you will also reign with Christ.
Bob Wilkin is the founder and executive director of Grace Evangelical Society.