Second Order Faith

It happens often enough in sports: you are so tired you can't go on - but somehow, you do go on. Your "faith" in your own strength is gone, but you find a way to persist. 

Now imagine that it is not your physical strength that has failed you but your heart, your emotion, your will itself. 

I think this is what Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:11-13.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself.

Following promises of life and honor comes a chilling statement: Christ's denial of those who deny him. How can this idea and the next, a reminder of Christ's faithfulness, fit together?

The first statement, "if we deny him" strikes me (and NT Wright in his Paul for Everyone series) as a proactive, cold-blooded decision against Jesus. The next is an accurate picture of the limits of our own will: yes, sometimes under pressure or simply out of weakness, we will "wobble," stumble, make exceedingly poor decisions. But as Wright points out, "there is a world of difference between being blown off the ship's deck by a hurricane and voluntarily diving into the sea to avoid having to stay at the helm."

When we fail, we need to learn a second lesson of faith: that it is not our faith in God that matters but God's absolute faithfulness and strength that count. Even when we fail him completely, even when we fail to believe, somehow, we keep believing.

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