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Denial under Torture

Q. I'm not sure I could hold up under severe torture like some Christians living in Islamic regimes. What if I truly believe Jesus is Lord but give in to torturers to avoid pain? Am I still saved and will I go to heaven?


Thanks for your sincere question. I think all of us have thought about this but don't verbalize it very often.

Maybe we should.

The Question of Apostates

The problem of what to do with church apostates has haunted the church since its inception. In the first four centuries of church history it became such a problem that debates arose over whether or not to readmit into the church believers who had denied the faith under duress and threat of death.

Temptation or Trials

1 Corinthians 10:13 suggests that temptations or trials happen to everyone and we don't experience things that others don't.

"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man - and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (NASB).

Proof God Controls our Circumstances

This passage firmly reminds us that God is in control and does not allow things we can't handle. We see this clearly in the life of the Old Testament prophet Job. Satan asked permission to hurt Job to the point that Job might deny God. But, God told Satan, "Behold, all that he has in in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him" (Job 1:12).

Here the most evil, cruel, sadistic creature on earth still had limitations placed upon him. He could only do what God allows. He could take away Job's children and possessions. But, he was not permitted to take Job's life.

Way of Escape is through a Trial

1 Corinthians 10:13 also says that God will provide the way of escape from the temptation, too. However, this verse does not mean that we can get out of a painful trial. Rather, it means that "the way out is 'through'" the temptation…"The way out is to take it as a test and a trial and not internalize it so that it begins to solicit sin." (MacArthur 1992, 5).

Yet, it is still true that sometimes Christians "break" under hostile, life-threatening conditions and feel terribly guilty for it. The question remains: can apostates be reinstated into the church after denying their faith?

Peter's Example

A good example for us is the story of Peter's denial of the Lord. In fear Peter denied Christ when he saw Jesus dragged off by the Romans to His eventual death on the cross. It wasn't that he quit believing in His Master. Rather, Peter temporarily lost courage and tried to avoid the pain Jesus had to endure.

Let's look at this passage:

"But Peter said to Him, 'Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.'
Jesus said to him, 'Truly I say to you that this very night before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.'
Peter said to Him, 'Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.'"
(Matthew 26:33-35).

Satan Sifts you like Wheat

Prior to Peter's bold assertion of never-ending faith Jesus already knew he would fail. Amazingly, a discussion of which disciples would be greatest arose right after the Lord's Supper. So Jesus said to Simon Peter:

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32).

To this revelation Peter proclaimed, "Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!" (Luke 22:33).

About Face

So can we even begin to imagine Peter's sense of guilt and shame when he denied even knowing Jesus just as soon as he felt threatened? Here is a brief summary of this account:

"Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, 'You too were with Jesus the Galilean.'
But he denied it before them all, saying, 'I do not know what you are talking about.'
When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, 'This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.'
And again he denied it with an oath, 'I do not know the man.'
A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, 'Surely you too are one of them - for even the way you talk gives you away.'
Then he began to curse and swear, 'I do not know the man!'"
(Matthew 26:69-74).

Peter was so devastated by giving in to his own weakness that "he went out and wept bitterly" (Matthew 26:75).

Grateful for Peter's Story

Aren't you glad the Lord saw fit to include this in the New Testament? How lonely, pathetic, and devastated we would feel had this example not been included. When Jesus told Peter "when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32) we are given an incalculable gift. I know the Lord will forgive me because He forgave Peter and used Peter's weakness to help me and you. In countless ways Peter did strengthen his brothers!

The church has gone through many pious debates and arguments over whether or not Christians who have denied their faith under torture should be reinstated back into fellowship. Yet, our Lord already gave us an example and the answer.

Total Commitment

Furthermore, after the Lord's resurrection and Peter's failings, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Peter must respond three times. Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him with total commitment. Then Jesus asks Peter again and again if he loves Him even as a friend. These include the words for love, "agapao" and "phileo." Peter's answers meant, Yes, I "love" you (but not with total commitment). Peter knew he had failed the Lord. Yet, Jesus asks total commitment from all of us (see John 21:15-17). That is why the Lord poked and prodded to elicit the correct response from Peter, "Yes, Lord, I love you" (with total commitment, with all my heart).

Crown of Life

This is not to underestimate or downplay a Christian's willingness to die for his faith in the Lord. Remember that Jesus promised a crown of life to those who would be faithful to death:

"Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

We can do Nothing on our Own

Still, the Apostle Paul also reminds us that we can do nothing to earn our own salvation:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith - and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In other words, even our faith is from God - that which gets us into heaven and that which keeps us saved for eternity. It is not something we do from our own efforts.

No Expiration Dates or Limits

Finally, I don't see any expiration dates or limits on, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Do you?


Let's each do what we can to think about this painful subject and to prepare for what we would do in similar circumstances. To that end we recommend several things:

1. Read your Bibles and memorize Scripture verses. "Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee" (Ps 119:11, KJV).

2. Study the theology of pain and suffering and learn what the Old and New Testament say about it.

Glenn M. Penner, In the Shadow of the Cross (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Books, 2004). A biblical theology of persecution&discipleship.

3. Read and study how Christians worldwide handle torture and martyrdom.

Free subscription: The Voice of the Martyrs
P.O. Box 443
Bartlesville, OK 74005-0443
(918) 337-8015 or (800) 337-0302

Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book Company, 1998).


Life Application Study Bible, NLT. 2004. Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale.

MacArthur, John. Triumphing over temptation. Available from: http://www.biblebb.com/files/mac/80-108.htm.

Spurgeon, C.H. Comfort for tried believers. 1 Corinthians 10:13. Available from: http://www.biblebb.com/brefindex/1co.htm.

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