I came across an article in Christianity Today a while ago & have been mulling the question over in my head: can a person who denies Christ still be a genuine believer?
There are several Bible verses that shed some light on this. Matthew 10:28-33 relates Christ saying that persecution will come & the context says if we deny Christ, he will deny us. 1 John has several references, e.g. 1JN 4:15, about denying Christ, but it looks more like a Christological confession than anything else, i.e., denying the unique Incarnation of the God-Man. Demas forsook Paul & Christ (2TIM 4:10). And there are some references about Christian martyrs, e.g., REV 2:13.
Now on the surface, it's an easy question. I'm sure we've all heard the pious proclamations of I'll never deny Christ. And the trite I'm gonna do what God tells me to do no matter what. And the ever pious & clear I'm not gonna bow to any other god unless it is to offer my head for Jesus. Wow. Bet you've heard all those, right?
OK. I'm sure those folk mean well. And I'm sure they know Christ.
I'm just not so sure they know themselves all that well.
It is an old question, one even Peter struggled with. You know the story. Peter promised to never deny Jesus but did so not just once, but 3 times before breakfast (JN 18).
Now I'm not talking about casual stuff here. I'm talking the really big stuff. Life, limb & death ... or worse.
The early church struggled with the question as Christians were, off & on, persecuted. Pliny of Bithynia even wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan & detailed how he would threaten Christians to denounce their faith & offer sacrifice to other gods in order to spare their life, whereby Pliny said real Christians wouldn't make the sacrifice but would sacrifice themselves instead.
Really? Pliny knew what every one's breaking point is? We all know that the overwhelming majority of people will say anything to stop torture: does that include renouncing Christ?
The Middle Ages was a cruel time. Crusaders invaded the Middle East to reclaim the "Holy Land" & forcibly converted the Muslim to Christianity. The Muslims would then capture some Christians & force their conversion to Islam. All through the Middle Ages various wars were fought & persecutions raged on who was a real Christian. Forced denouncements of faith were made all the time.
How about a modern example: Indian Hindus. The gov't gives assistance to Hindus but not Christians. So radical Hindu groups are giving the Christians an offer they can't refuse: sign the paper, go through the Hindu conversion ritual, & you & your family can live, even get gov't assistance. Don't convert, & you lose it all, maybe even have your family killed while you get to live. Some choice, eh?
The radical Hindu groups see the Christian missionary groups as a revitalized East India Company trying to recolonize the nation --- this time, they fear, the West comes with a religion instead of guns, something just as powerful. These radical Hindu groups want to change India from a secular nation to a theocratic one. Ridding the nation of Christians is, of course, the first step.
While it is easy to make such bold --- reckless & pious? --- statements about one's devotion to Christ, I have to wonder how strong that confession would be in light of torture. Or watching your family killed. Or knowing your kids will starve to death.
Or really coming face to face with one's own self.