Faith and Creed (Two views on Enduring Faith)


In his book, Eternal Security, Charles Stanley seeks to defend the idea that enduring faith is not necessary for salvation.

God does not require a constant attitude of faith in order to be saved – only an act of faith.

In chapter 10 he asks and answers in the affirmative the question: Does the Scripture actually teach that regardless of the consistency of our faith, our salvation is secure? In seeking to provide a basis for his answer of yes, Dr. Stanley says:

The clearest statement on this subject is issued in Paul’s second letter to Timothy (2:11-13). …

The apostle’s meaning is evident. Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy. Christ will remain faithful.

This passage captures, what most scholars consider, an existing creed (or hymn) used by the early church.

If we died with him, we will also live with him.
If we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we deny him, he will also deny us.
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself.

If this passage is the clearest teaching that we don’t need enduring faith to be saved then it is this position that is in jeopardy. Not because this passage cannot be construed in the way Stanley and others in the Free Grace movement propose. But, because this passage is not explicit and thus open to other (and in my opinion better) interpretations. In this post we examine how some tackle this creed in light of the context and literary form.

Context: Encouraged to have Enduring Faith

The context of the creed, and really the whole letter, is Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to endure hardship and remain faithful.

  • So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel.(1:8)
  • Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2:3)
  • Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David; such is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship (2:8-9)
  • Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (3:12)
  • I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. (4:7-8)

Not many would argue that the context of the letter is to encourage Timothy to have enduring faith. The question is how is Paul motivating Timothy.

Is Paul encouraging Timothy to endure so that he will receive rewards (along with eternal life)? Or is Paul telling Timothy to endure because true saving faith is one that endures to the end?

Literary Form: Enduring Faith

The creed is written using parallelism, a common literary feature of Hebrew poetry. Some see the creed organized into two groups of two lines each. In each group, the two lines each express the same idea (synonymous). Examining the creed in its entirety group A is also seen as being antithetic to group B, since they present contrasting ideas.

group   lines possible meaning
A If we died with him, we will also live with him.
If we endure, we will also reign with him.
believers will have eternal life
B If we deny him, he will also deny us.
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself.
unbelievers will perish

Organized in this manner, “died with him” and “endure” (in group A) are taken to mean the same thing: believers that have enduring faith. And “live with him” and “reign with him” are also understood as having the same meaning: eternal life.

In group B, “deny him” and “we are unfaithful” are both used to describe people who do not have enduring faith. These people are denied eternal life because God is faithful to His promise as expressed in John 3:36. Only those who possess faith will be saved. Or stated another way, enduring faith is a characteristic of saving faith.

Literary Form: An Act of Faith

Others see the two line pairings as synthetic. In this case, the second line in the group adds information to the first line rather than repeats the same idea as in the synonymous expression. In addition the creed is understood to be organized into a chiastic structure. The inner lines of the creed are seen as being related to each other, expressing the same idea (rewards). The outer lines of the creed are related to each other in the same way (in this case the idea is eternal life).

group Chiasmus   lines possible meaning
A A If we died with him, we will also live with him. believers will have eternal life
A B If we endure, we will also reign with him. and faithful believers will be rewarded
B B If we deny him, he will also deny us. unfaithful believers will not be rewarded
B A If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself. but all those who believed at one point will still have eternal life

If this is the correct way to interpret the literary form, then “live” and “reign” (group A) do not express the same idea (eternal life). The idea of “reign” would augment the idea of receiving eternal life with the giving of rewards for faithful service.

In the second group (B), those who believed at one point in time (an act of faith), but later denied Christ would not be denied eternal life. They would only be denied rewards. These people will still receive eternal life because God is faithful to His promise. The promise is understood as anyone who expressed an act faith has received the irrevocable gift of eternal life. Or stated another way, enduring faith is not a characteristic of saving faith.

The context of the letter and literary form of the creed do not help us definitively interpret this passage. In the next post we look at possible allusions to Jesus and Pauline teachings within the creed.


[all passages from the NET Bible]

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