“This saying is trustworthy: 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 will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the things we find spread throughout the New Testament are creeds. In a day long before the printing press made books something at first relatively and then exceedingly easy for average folks to have, when the most of the Scriptures most churches had access to was perhaps a fragment of one of Paul’s letters, the creeds were how the average Jesus follower learned the deep truths of the faith. Let’s talk about why that matters and why this one is really good.
We really can’t even imagine what it was like to try and live and grow as a follower of Jesus in the early church. The abundance of resources at our fingertips is several orders of magnitude greater than was available in the whole of the ancient world. The average church member then would look at the average church member now and be utterly baffled how we are not all scholars of the faith of the highest order. Our familiarity with the resources available to us (at least by report if not by experience) has bred contempt and laziness. That is perhaps a sermon for another time.
Imagine if all we had to learn about Jesus, though, were a few phrases and sayings. We would hold on to those with a great deal more tenacity than we do the Scriptures as a whole. We have these of a kind in some common children’s songs. Think about songs like Jesus Loves Me and Jesus Lives the Little Children. The lyrics and music are simple—they are children’s songs after all—but the theology they plant in the hearts and minds of the kids who learn them well is profound.
Here’s the thing about creeds like this: They have to be formulated before they can be taught. Someone has to make them up (based on sound theology), and then they have to catch on such that they get passed around as teaching tools.
Stay with me here. What Paul cites here is one of these creeds, these teaching tools. He was writing this letter late in his life—perhaps in 64 or 65 AD. If he was able to cite it without any kind of a reference like this, that indicates it was something Timothy already knew and was using with his church. Paul was giving him the confidence that it really was theologically sound and worth continuing to use for this purpose.
But, if Paul was giving all of this advice to Timothy, then Timothy was likely already using the creed. That means it had already reached him by the time Paul was writing. And, Timothy was pastoring in Ephesus. That’s a long ways from Jerusalem. It would have taken time for something like this to travel all the way there. That means it was first constructed even further back.
In other words, someone was thinking this kind of stuff really early on in the history of the church. This wasn’t something that was invented several years—possibly even decades—after the resurrection in order to make some kind of a theological power play on some unsuspecting dupes. This was a bit of sound theology intended to teach Gospel truths to a people who didn’t have much of anything to go on except for sayings like this. And the fact that they had so very little meant that the people who were creating little resources like this one had to make sure they were not only incredibly theologically sound, but were packed with as much theological truth as they could squeeze into them.
Do you see it yet? Creeds like this one in the New Testament point us to what Jesus followers believed about Him really early on in the history of the church; much too early to allow for the idea that anything legendary had worked its way into the confessions of faith.
That all brings us to what this one actually says. It starts with the promise of death through life. Our sin demands death. Death is what sin gets. God didn’t want for us to have to die, though, so He died in our place, for our sins, on the cross. When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are symbolically participating in His death for sins; our sins. We are saying that we accept His death as covering our sins.
But, if we die with Him, if we participate in the death He died, then we will also get to participate in the life He lives. And, if we persist in the lifestyle that accompanies this new life, then we will be demonstrated faithful and able to reign at His side when His kingdom comes.
The next part is a warning. If we deny Him—that is, if we refuse to claim Him as our Lord—He will deny us. Okay, but what does it look like to deny Jesus? Is that just a verbal thing, or is there more to it? The short answer is the latter. We can deny Him with our words, yes, but we can also deny Him with our behavior. When our behavior does not match our confession, we send the message that Jesus isn’t really the Lord of our lives.
Make that personal. If someone only claimed you when it was convenient or otherwise to their advantage, are you going to be willing to claim them? No way, right? Jesus isn’t someone we can just treat as a mere convenience. Either we are fully His or we aren’t. He’s the Lord of all creation. He’s not worthy of our half-hearted efforts.
Once we are His, though, He’s going to stick with us no matter what. This is the other side of the warning. Some people will hear that and then immediately start obsessing over all the ways they might be denying Jesus with their lives. The last part of this creed reminds us of our God’s great faithfulness. Even when we do blow it (because we’re going to), He never gives up on us.
Why? I love this: Because He can’t deny Himself. Once we are His, we are part of His body. He’s not going to turn His back on us anymore than we are going to turn our back on our leg just because it’s hurting us. Even if we are faithless on occasion (and it is important to note that the creed is talking about individual acts of unfaithfulness, not a persistent pattern), He’s not going to throw in the towel on us.
This is powerful stuff: Eternal life that can be ours in Christ and which never goes away even if we occasionally blow living the lifestyle this new life demands of us. All from a bit of teaching so simple that even a little child could take it, live it, and teach it to someone else. It’s almost like it was designed that way. Oh wait, it was.
So then, what do you need to do with all of this? Live it. Live it consciously and loudly. Live it boldly and with full faith in the goodness of our God. But, in order to do that, you have to know it. So, memorize these three verses. Make them a part of your worldview framework. Your life will be better off than when you started. Get to work.