“Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim 1:18-20)
What does it mean to shipwreck your faith? Paul said this had happened to at least two people so I guess it can happen to you. But how does it happen and what are the consequences? Most people have no idea but fear the worst: “Shipwrecked faith means you’ve lost your salvation. It means you’re going to hell.”
As we will see in this note, it means no such thing.
What causes faith to become shipwrecked?
Look again at the passage above and note how Paul defines fighting the good fight as “holding on to faith and a good conscience.” These two things are connected. If you reject or cast away a good conscience your faith will be shipwrecked:
Holding fast to faith (that leaning of the entire human personality on God in absolute trust and confidence) and having a good (clear) conscience. By rejecting and thrusting from them [their conscience], some individuals have made shipwreck of their faith. (1 Tim 1:19, AMP)
This is not about ignoring your conscience; it’s about thrusting away your good and clear conscience. In other words, if your conscience condemns you, you will have trouble believing what God says is true about you.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask… (1 John 3:21-22)
Condemnation is a faith-killer. Condemnation will cause you to be timid before God making it hard for you to receive from the abundance of his grace. If your conscience is constantly telling you that you’re unworthy, you’re a hopeless Christian, and you don’t deserve to be in the kingdom, you will be in danger of shipwrecking your faith.
What is shipwrecked faith?
Paul spent a fair bit of time at sea and he liked nautical metaphors. He described spiritual infants as those “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Eph 4:14). If you are not secure in your Father’s love – which you won’t be if your conscience condemns you – you’ll make a wreck of your faith. Like a ship that fails to reach its destination, you’ll fall short of all that God has in store for you.
And no, that doesn’t mean you’ll lose your salvation and go to hell. It means you won’t mature in the faith (Lk 8:14). It means you’ll lose the freedom that is yours in Christ (Gal 5:1), you’ll become unstable (2 Pet 3:17), and you’ll fear punishment that isn’t coming (1 John 4:18). The New Testament writers list many bad things that can happen when we fail to trust God in our daily lives, but the thing many Christians fear most – Christ writing them off – is the one thing that absolutely cannot happen.
What does it mean to shipwreck your faith? It means moving from the secure foundation of Jesus Christ. It means diluting your faith in God with faith in self, faith in effort, faith in your ability to perform. It’s trying instead of trusting. It’s striving instead of resting.
What Paul never said
“If you shipwreck your faith, you’ll lose your salvation.” Preachers of insecurity love to quote this verse as support for their evil idea that we can undo what we never wrought – as though we could unfuse the Holy Spirit from our spirits and tear ourselves from God’s mighty grip. Don’t you think if that could actually happen, Paul would’ve mentioned it? Yet he says nothing of the kind.
What Paul does say is that a group of “certain men” had shipwrecked their faith and of that group two men had been handed over to Satan so that they might be taught not to blaspheme. I don’t exactly know what Paul had in mind with this handing over business but note that (a) he did it, not Jesus, (b) he did it with the intention of teaching them, not condemning them.
I know it is common to hear the New Testament preached in such a way to instill fear and insecurity among the children of God. To settle this issue in my own heart, I spent the summer examining nearly 200 scriptures that are used by some for this nefarious purpose. And do you know how many scriptures I found that said those who are saved might yet become unsaved? None. Not one.
In the coming weeks I plan to look at some of the scriptures that have been misused to preach insecurity to the secure, but for now I hope you will agree that there is nothing in 1 Timothy 1 that hints at eternal condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Agreed? Got your boat back in the water? Good. Let’s press on.Hymenaeus and Alexander
Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Tim 1:20)
What do we know about these two guys Paul handed over to Satan? We know they were part of a group of false teachers (i) who were promoting controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith (v.4) and (ii) they saw themselves as teachers of the law (v.7).
Ask the right questions and you will begin to understand what happened.
- How do we preach law? By telling people they need to work for salvation/sanctification, etc.
- What is the purpose of the law? Its purpose is to condemn us.
- What had happened to these law-teachers? Their consciences became condemned.
- What was the result of their ministry? God’s finished work was not being preached and faith was being shipwrecked.
Here’s the story as I see it. After Paul, the apostle of grace, left Ephesus, false teachers arose from among their own number and began preaching law. They might have been Judaizers with circumcision knives or they might’ve preached the Ten Commandments or they might even have preached the commands of Jesus.
The point is not what sort of law they were preaching, but their improper application of it. Paul said “the law is good if one uses it properly (but) they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (vv.7-8).
In any case, the outcome was they were distracting themselves and their hearers from “God’s work – which is by faith” (v.4).
Paul said Hymenaeus and Alexander were blasphemers. To blaspheme is to slander or speak falsely of someone. It’s saying, “The blood of Jesus doesn’t avail for me.” (It does!) It’s saying, “Jesus needs my help.” (He doesn’t!) “The Holy Spirit is convicting me of sin.” (He isn’t!) “God will not finish what he begun.” (He will!) “I can sin my way out of his grace.” (You can’t.) This sort of teaching promotes controversy and distracts people from trusting in God’s finished work.
Fight the good fight
I hope you understand that when it comes to saving you and making you acceptable to God, Jesus did it all and his perfect work cannot be improved upon. This is the gospel truth and it is worth fighting for! I am not talking about fighting people but demolishing arguments and taking captive every thought that is opposed to Christ. Usually this is a battle waged inside our own minds.
Here, then, is how you fight the good fight.
If your conscience condemns you as a sinner (Christ died for sinners!) or unworthy of grace (grace is for the unworthy!), the remedy is not to try and clean yourself and make yourself acceptable. That way lies disaster and shipwreck. The only cure for a guilty conscience is the cleansing blood of Jesus (Heb 10:22). So look to Jesus, see the cross and the empty tomb, and believe the good news. Jesus has done it all!
If someone uses the mirror of the law to point out your imperfections, don’t cast off your good conscience but fix your eyes on Jesus and his glorious perfections. You are one with the Lord and as he is so are you in this world (1 Jn 4:17)!
And the next time someone says, “You’re not good enough for God and you need to work to improve yourself,” tell them, “I am one with Christ and he is good enough for God, his work is finished, and in him I have found my eternal rest!”