At a time when Christians all over the world are openly and unapologetically making it clear that they accept Jesus as their saviour, we're also reminded of how one of Jesus' followers denied him just before his death. During yesterday's Palm Sunday Masses and church services, congregations would have been retold the story of the Passion, which includes Jesus foretelling that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed (Luke 22:36).
For Christians who are committed to their faith and actively taking part in Holy Week, at this moment, the thought of denying Christ would likely result in a reaction very similar to Peter's initial response to Jesus – a firm disbelief that they would ever do it (Matthew 26:35). But the reality is, even if we feel we have a strong faith, there can be times when we indirectly deny Jesus.
Last week, I was in a bar and the topic of Christianity came up and I was asked if I was a Christian. I answered yes without hesitation. There's a high probability that we'll respond in the same way when questions about our faith are asked this directly. But denying Christ can be a lot more complex than Peter's example, and the circumstances of the denial can occur in a much more veiled way than mine.
Not talking about your faith
We talk about the things we love, that excite us and that mean a lot to us – our faith should be no different. Jesus told his disciples, "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). Just because we might have never vocally renounced our beliefs, doesn't mean that we've never denied Jesus. Not speaking out can be just as much a form of denial.
Not defending or believing elements of your faith because you're afraid of people's reactions
When we're put in a position where we have to defend certain controversial elements of our faith, a refusal to do so can be a form of indirect denial. Peter denied Jesus because he was afraid to be associated with him at a time when Jesus was in danger and close to death. He was afraid of what people might have said about him or done to him if he admitted that he was one of Jesus' disciples. Just like Peter, we can also avoid associating ourselves with particular aspects of our faith in situations where we're faced with unfavourable consequences. Do you really believe in the Holy Spirit? Do you really believe in the virgin birth? It's a lot easier to refute particular elements but doing so leads us to deny Christ.
Denying Christ through our acts
Our lives should reflect the impact Jesus has had on them. This doesn't mean that everything is perfect or that we need to be, but it does mean that our actions should imitate his. Essentially, we need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. "They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good," (Titus 1:16). Do your actions match up with Jesus' teaching? Do you love your neighbour? If our outward behaviour is the complete polar opposite to how Jesus lived and how he taught his followers to live, then we're denying him through our behaviour.
Our faith can recover from the instances in which we fail to acknowledge Christ, just as Peter's did. But we need to identify what constitutes indirect denial if we have any hope of avoiding it in future.