The “trustworthy saying” (v.11) that Paul quotes here is a quatrain (a series of four statements) that was probably taken from an early Christian hymn. These statements say something about the nature of the Christian life, the reality of suffering, the danger of apostasy, and the ultimate triumph of Christ.
The first statement (“If we died with him, we will also live with him”; v.11) refers to our conversion and baptismal experience (cf. Romans 6:8). We entrust ourselves to Christ by dying to the self and finding new life in Him. This is the secret of the victorious Christian life. For Paul, this truth would have had additional significance. He was about to die for Christ and experience eternal life with his Lord.
The second sentence (“if we endure, we will also reign with him”; v.12) points to the suffering that is often a part of the Christian life. But such suffering is nothing compared to the glory of reigning with Christ. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Cross bearers on earth will become crown wearers in heaven (2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 2:10).
The third statement (“If we disown him, he will also disown us”; v.12) is a warning against apostasy—of not enduring faithfully. We must resist all such temptations by remembering the words of Jesus (Matthew 10:33). We disown the Lord when His lordship is not declared and demonstrated in our lives. This can easily happen when Christians living in a hostile social environment are focused on saving their own skins.
The fourth statement (“if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself”; v.13) is more difficult to interpret. It could mean that God (being faithful to His character) will punish unfaithfulness. It could also mean that human unfaithfulness cannot thwart God’s purposes. Our ultimate hope is God’s faithfulness. The knowledge that God is faithful will help us to remain loyal to Him.
We should not become presumptuous of God’s grace. Instead, we should be willing to follow Christ by denying ourselves, enduring the suffering associated with it, and, by God’s grace and power, remaining faithful to Him in all situations.
Reflect on baptism as dying with Christ and rising with Him to new life (Romans 6:5). Why is the death of the self necessary to live the new life?
What are some ways by which Christians disown Jesus and become unfaithful to Him? What can we do to ensure that we do not fall into such temptations and fatal habits?