if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul, knowing that his time of martyrdom is near, writes at length to his beloved son Timothy, in order to encourage the younger man to walk in the correct path as a leader and as a preacher. He especially quotes a ‘trustworthy saying’, out of which we are looking at the last of the 3 verses today. This verse speaks equally about the weakness of mankind and the greatness of the Lord – but we shall afford as little time as possible to discuss mankind, and instead focus our efforts on extolling the greatness of the Lord, which in this verse is manifested in one of his qualities – his faithfulness and his inability to disown himself.
Let me begin with a reference verse:
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? [Numbers 23:19]
for he cannot disown himself – What does it mean to disown yourself? Can you disown yourself? Have you ever disowned yourself? In most translations the term is rendered, ‘deny’. God cannot deny himself. We get what it means, certainly – that God cannot deny his own qualities, his own personality, his own identity which makes him faithful even if we are faithless. He will not lie, because it is not his personality; he will not break a promise, because it is his quality to honor his words. But I prefer the word ‘disown’. It sounds more absolute to my inexperienced ears. “I cannot deny myself” sounds a tad arrogant and obnoxious, no? Like some little spoilt prince from a faraway country who always gets what he wants.
God cannot disown himself – but we can. Have you ever betrayed your own principles? Have you ever gone against the morals which you believed in? Have you ever felt the pangs of your own guilty conscience? Have you ever done anything that would displease God? I have – surely you have too? We are faithless at times, we are capable of being faithless, because we are able to disown ourselves. And whether we are faithful or faithless, we do not change the fact that God remains faithful. What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar [Rom 3:3-4].
What exactly does this faithlessness of ours – or this faithfulness of God refer to? It is important to note that the preceding verse had just said that if we disown him, he will also disown us [2 Tim 2:12] – Is that a contradiction? If we disown him, he will disown us, but if we are faithless, he will remain faithful? It is important here to note that while to disown God is a sign of our faithlessness, God disowning us who are unfaithful is not a sign of his faithlessness, but instead a sign of his faithfulness to his words.
There is often a lot of confusion on this as there is so much evidence of God’s mercy and compassion for us in the Bible. If we find ourselves turning against God, or if we have trekked a path away from God, we are assured by the Bible that if we would only return to him, he too will return to us [Zech 1:3|Article]. Even as the prophets spoke at length about judgement and destruction, they also reminded us that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning [Lam 3:22-23].But as we continue to extol the Lord for his mercies, we often forget that the result of continued disobedience and persistent rejection of the Lord is destruction – The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest [Psalm 5:5-6]. We are all sinners, we all do wrong at some point or another – it is not wrong to assume that God will forgive us if we repent of our sins – but it is terribly wrong to assume that God’s forgiveness is reserved as well for us if we repent not and continue to dwell in sin, which he abhors. If we reject him, if we refuse to repent, if we deny him, if we disown him and continue to sin, God will keep to his word, he will still be faithful to his word, and he will, in accordance to his justice, disown us.
If we are faithless, and if we disown God – i.e. we do not repent – there is only one way we can expect God to act, and that is to disown us. Do not expect any remaining mercy if you do not repent, for God is faithful to himself, to his own word, and the wrath that he has promised, he will exact.
God’s faithfulness is absolute. His words are absolute. As mortals our faithfulness to our vows our promises and our own words are often dependent on the faithfulness of others. For example, in marriage. I’m neither married nor about to marry, and I do not even attempt to pretend I understand the complications and the pains involved in any marriage, just as I do not pretend to understand the joys and the satisfaction that many profess to possess in marriage. But often, all it takes to break one’s resolve to stand by his or her marriage vows, is the unfaithfulness of his or her spouse. All that it takes to break a ceasefire treaty, is to have a reckless soldier kill another in a drunken fit by the border. All that it takes to break a business partnership, is the signing of a second partnership of one party.
It’s is absolutely practical. It was harsh of me to use these as analogies. It is certainly, by all standards of ours, absolutely insane if you still keep holding on the promise in these cases. Such is this sinful world. But our God is above and beyond all these. Above and beyond faithlessness.