“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 10:32-33
It is always important to take the teaching of scripture as a whole the best we can. The verse above is true. Jesus said it. However, merely taking this one verse and running with it could lead to some incomplete or even flat out wrong applications.
If we combine the statement above with the story of Peter’s denial of Christ we get a fuller idea.
As Jesus was being tried before the high priest, Peter followed at a distance and waited outside.
“And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him.’
But he denied it. ‘Woman, I don’t know him,’ he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’
‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’
Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.” – Luke 22:55-62
Peter clearly disowned Jesus three times–just as Jesus told him he would–and then “wept bitterly”.
Later, during one of the encounters the disciples had with Jesus after He rose from the dead, Jesus restored Peter. Three times Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me?”
“The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!” – John 21:17-19
Peter disowned Jesus out of fear. He saw that Jesus was arrested, abused, and being put on trial for His life and Peter tried to avoid a similar fate by saying he did not even know Jesus. The very act that Peter denied Jesus to avoid, paid the penalty for his sins and bought the forgiveness he received. Here, when Jesus restores Peter, He couples it with telling Peter that he will eventually die a similar death to the one Jesus so recently experienced.
Peter denied Jesus and then instead of being disowned by Jesus he is restored. Not only is he restored, he is used to build and lead the early church in Acts. Jesus’s resurrection, Peter’s restoration with Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit enables Peter to be a powerful witness for Christ, even unto death.
Matthew 10:32-33 clearly shows that Jesus is the only way to the Father. There is no way to get to God without Jesus. The rest of scripture attests to this (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). If you deny Jesus, there is no road to salvation.
However, it’s important to realize that Matthew 10:32-33 does not mean that if you are with a group of friends talking about Christians and you fail to mention that you are a Christian or even deny being a Christian, that you are automatically condemned to hell. You will feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit afterward and may even weep as Peter wept, but Christ’s forgiveness covers a multitude of sins. He will restore you and–like Peter–still use you as a witness for Him.
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:37-40