This coming Sunday morning, I will resume teaching through the gospel of Matthew after taking a brief excursion into Romans this past Easter Sunday. The text we will be examining deals with Peter’s denial of Christ. As I study and prepare for this Sunday’s message, I have been asking myself the question, “What could cause a professed believer to deny Christ?” There are many reasons; here are three.
(1) The professed believer may truly be unregenerate. We see ample evidence of this in Scripture. Those who ultimately fall away prove that they never knew Christ. I John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” Judas is the clearest example of this truth. He spent three years with Christ, living with Him and learning from Him as a disciple, yet He denied and betrayed Christ in the end. Thus, some may deny Christ because they never truly belonged to Him in the first place. In fact, this is the most common reason that men deny Christ.
(2) The professed believer, or their family, may be threatened with great bodily harm or even death. Throughout the history of the church, there have been periods of great persecution where Christians have been tortured and put to death for confessing Christ. We are in one of those periods now as Christians living in Asia and the Middle East live daily under the threat of great harm. However, though we may face such adversity, denying Christ is never justified, even when threatened with death. Romans 8:16-17 says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” A mark of true faith is the willingness to bear the reproach of Christ, to suffer with Him outside the gate. (Heb 13:12-13)
(3) The professed believer may be weighing the denial against what they perceive to be greater ends. For example, a person might keep their Christian faith secret and even deny Christ verbally in order to advance to a position of power in a government that is otherwise hostile to Christianity. They justify their denial on the basis that they will be able to bring about change and accomplish more freedom for Christians if they are able to advance themselves.
This was Peter’s line of thinking. Once Christ was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane and arrested by the temple guard, Peter’s goal was to not fall away, to stay close to Christ. That is why he followed the religious leaders’ entourage into the courtyard of the High Priest where Jesus would be put on trial. When he was confronted by the others gathered in the courtyard, he no doubt justified denying Christ on the basis that it would protect his own life as well as allowing him to stay close to Christ. We know that Peter was wrong.
Thankfully, he was a true believer and he responded with great brokenness and repentance.
There are many problems with this kind of “ends justifies the means” thinking. First, it leads such persons to directly disobey the clear teaching of Scripture (Matt 10:33). Second, it also reflects a serious lack of faith in the sovereignty of God. Suffering is often God’s ordained means to display the ultimate worth of Christ, to strengthen His church, and to spread the gospel. (Phil1:29) Third, it fails to rightly embrace the truth of the resurrection. Because Christ is risen and our life in eternity is secured in Him, we should view ourselves as “freed” from fear of earthly consequences. (Phil1:21)
In closing, I ask that we all consider again Christ’s words in Matthew 10:32-39: “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.”