What does Paul mean in 2 Timothy 2:13 when he says, “If we believe not, yet he abides faithful.”
Thanks for the incisive question. Years ago this was brought to my attention. In fact, another young preacher and I strongly disagreed over the verse. But if you take the verse for what it says, it need not be controversial.
The first phrase carries the idea of being faithless and by implication, unfaithful, because it contrasts with the second phrase that God remains faithful. Every believer has moments of faithlessness which produces unfaithfulness. Paul uses the term we and so includes himself. Thankfully, God is always faithful and, therefore, faithful to His promises.
Salvation is given to those who place their dependence on Christ. They have eternal life. You cannot have eternal life for a short period of time. Because God is faithful, everyone who has trusted Christ is eternally secure—even if they have moments of doubt. This truth is emphasized by the final phrase of 2 Timothy 2:13, “he [God] cannot deny himself.” He gives eternal life to those who trust in Christ and will never deny Himself by denying His promise. He remains faithful even when we are not.
The emphasis of the verse is not a license to sin, but a salve for a violated conscience. We are to walk by faith, but sadly, there are times when we do not. This will affect our potential in the kingdom made manifest at the judgment seat. However, our salvation itself is not dependent on perfectly continuing to walk by faith (or no one would be secure in their salvation). When we stumble God remains faithful! What a blessing!
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