Shipwrecked Faith

sinking ship“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 the dangers of 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.

Stand_firm_smIf you are one with the Lord be at peace, for the one who took hold of you will never let you go. If the Holy Spirit dwells in you rest assured he will never leave (John 14:16).

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.gondolier_smHymenaeus 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!”



  1. preach it brother! preach it!

  2. Cindy Wittstock says:

    Truth Truth Truth!!! Love it! Thanks Paul.

  3. Good stuff Paul. Since i discovered your blog(which coincidentally happened when i bought my 2 Bibles last september) i’ve never had a boring moment.

  4. As someone once said to me, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less than he does right now.” That blows works-based salvation right out of the water. In Christianity, there is no place for using effort, except to just get out of the way of the Holy Spirit and become a clear channel for God – then God will do the work, we just have to be willing and obedient…

  5. Excellent. My only additional thought would be that God was never afraid to release people to satan. Satan asked to sift Job, God said “go ahead.” God’s confidentance is in who HE MADE JOB TO BE, Job’s Identity. Job had the authority to utterly destroy satans plans. Instead initially Job was fearful. God corrected him using just about all of creation, clearly stating that eagles, horses, leviathans – none experienced fear – they KNEW WHO THEY WERE. Eventually, so did Job. Hymenaeus and Alexander would discover who they were or they would suffer the consequences, pretty much where many of us spent many years, not really believing the work was finished, striving to do our part. Funny though, When we tire of the exhausting effort, stop, quit – we discover PapaGod was there all the time.

    • Amazing. I never thought of it like that. I am struggling with ocd/anxiety over this issue. It has pretty well destroyed my life for the past 3 1/2 weeks.

  6. Amen for this word! I am truly being blessed by your ministry! There are not many places where the truth of the Gospel is taught with simplicity. Thanks

  7. I battled with this for some thirty odd years,I was raised a catholic and this mind set is there,now i love the catholics,and i know the Lord loves the catholics,but I think they rob themselves, and get robbed of security,.when i first accepted the Lord and was baptised in the holy spirit with speaking in tongues I never used the gift much but it was evidence of security, I didnt see, for it never left me nor forsook me.I grew up personally under some well known teachers at that time [70s, 80s.] and one thing my elder used to say to me sometimes was there is something missing in your foundation. One day i stumbled on Joesph Prince,and thinking he was related to Derek Prince,I started to watch him. Bingo I counldnt believe what i was hearing,and like the lady said , {you know the truth when you hear it.] well after my launch to freedom, I said to the Lord, what can i do to grow more? he said use the gift I gave you. {Never underestimate praying in the spirit]. so now i do it ever chance I get,talk about your revelation,anyway long story short……… at last, thank God almighty, Im free at last.

  8. Mike Ollis says:

    Great Post!!! I remember one time the church I was going to kept accusing me of “falling from Grace” because I didn’t agree with their “works” mentality. And they used that verse to say I had “Lost my salvation” It’s amazing how we “”inject” words into scripture that aren’t there. And they had no idea that they were the ones guilty of what they were accusing me off. Not loosing their salvation, but had fallen from Grace. I’m learning, sometimes what a passage doesn’t say, says alot also. Thanks again for those words of truth. Mike

  9. Gilly Stott says:

    A really helpful post, Paul, thank you. Already looking forward to your upcoming posts on other scriptures that can appear to indicate that believers can lose their salvation – or worse! Thanks for revealing the true relief and rest of the Good News!
    Gilly Stott UK

  10. Great stuff! I’m looking forward to the next few instalments in this series. As ever, you have handled this with grace and clarity.

  11. Thanks for the assuring message. I long for the day when I can embrace grace and it will wash me from inside out. The ‘performance’ mentality has such a firm grip on me that the doubts overcome the assurances every time. Some use Scriptures to preach grace. Some use them to preach a ‘walk the line, or else’ message. Both ideas seem to be represented. Sure makes me confused.

    • I think you have to ask yourself ‘what is setting me free – the Performance’ message or the Grace message?”
      When I first heard the Grace message, my spirit just soared ! So much so that,It was so great, after years of ‘Performance’ messages that it felt too-good- to-

      Don’t get confused. We’ve been so mired in ‘performance, that we tend to feel guilty if we’re not performing.. It’s the ‘old man’ talking and rebelling. So have patience and put your trust in the Holy spirit.. Your heart will jump for joy(spontaneously) when you hear the Grace Gospel It certainly NEVER will when it hears the law speaking.
      Once you start believing in Grace, the whole Bible is going to be turned around and becomes so much simpler.The WORD literally comes alive.

      You’re absolutely right when you point out, that, each camp can prove, through Scripture. in whatever truth they believe. That’s always going to be the case as long as we’re in this world.

      “If you seek Me , you will find Me.You are a genuine seeker of the Truth. You will find it.

      • One shot that people used to use on me was [ You just want something tickle your ears and make you feel good.}

      • Jaygoday, I have been struggling for so long to really ‘get’ grace when pure grace messages are few and far between. The moment I feel assured, someone will come along with a seemingly watertight (or Scripture-tight) argument to discount what I was so wanting to believe. Or I read something scary in the Bible about God’s discipline or punishment (NT passages, even) that I get scared off again. I pray that I will believe in grace–truly embrace it–some day so that the Word will come alive and be something I crave instead of something that I try to avoid. God bless you for your words of wisdom. I am soaking them in.

      • Earl–yes!! Exactly! That is one of the shots (straight from Scripture) that throw me into doubt. That one and the one about rationalizing. That is, if I am seeking to cease wearing myself out with a performance mentality, I am not trying as hard as I should be. If I say grace is the reason, then I am rationalizing my failure to be as good as I should be.

    • Hi Laura, you said:’some use Scriptures to preach Grace; some use Scriptures to preach the law(‘walk the line….). Those preaching the Law as still valid, are still living under the Old Covenant(OT). Either they cannot or will not step out from under the bondage of the Law. Obviously, they know ONLY the Law,; therefore they know how to quote only Law Scriptures.

      Nothing wrong with the law in itself.It is good, true, just. BUT IT CANNOT SAVE YOU! It was never meant to. It merely keeps telling you, you’re a sinner. It also shows us that we can never keep ALL the law . We are always breaking some part of it. Only Jesus could and only Jesus did. He fulfilled ALL the law on our behalf , because WE NEVER CAN.

      Law=man’s works.=a curse=death
      Grace=Jesus’ works on the cross.=blessings=Life

      Because we’ve been living under the Law (or at least listening to law preachers) for so many years (at least I have), it’s difficult for some to let go their dependance on their strengths – intellectually, physical strength, money, earning capacity, physical assets, etc, etc. That’s why many continue to preach law as a ‘doing’ gospel.. They want to continue ‘doing’ to please God.BUT, the Law IS NO LONGER OUR MASTER! God’s Grace is!

      Grace is about the finished Work of Christ. No more’ doing by’ us. It’s done, done, done- IT IS FINISHED We just sit back and Rest. We just Believe and Receive..This honours Him more than all the works that we ‘do’ for him.Just swimming in the sea of Grace.

      Law preachers cannot deny that we live in the Age of Grace. But since they cannot let go of their ‘works’, they decided to MIX both Law and Grace.!This is impossible. It’s one or the other.If we mIx -, God sees us as still being under the law.

      Why is God angry with those who propagate this mixture? Because He wants to pour out His BLESSINGS on us as the co-heirs of Jesus Christ. He cannot do so if we go back under the Law.Cannot pour new wine into old bottles.i.e cannot mix Old and New Covenants. Hope my comment may help to defuse the confusion in a small way.

      Law = death
      Grace = Life.

      God asks us to choose blessings or curses,Life or death. Therefore choose Blessings, choose Life. (Deut. 30:19)

      • Hi Jaygoday, I appreciate the further enlightenment. The logic of the ideas you express is hard to discount. It sounds like you have truly been set free. God bless you as you minister to others still in chains.

    • Speaking of ears tickled…. it always seems to me that people generally love a good “fire and brimstone” message. It seems like those messages make people so happy. I would suspect that they are always thinking the fire and brimstone is on someone else!

  12. I Am In HIM says:

    WOW. Thiiiiiiis. Amen, Mr. Ellis!

  13. Paul – Best wishes on your birthday! Looking forward to many more years of reading your inspiring blogs!

  14. Derick Manilong says:

    God continue to blessed you Paul, thank you for this revelation, I love Jesus more and more,

  15. That’s really good. My college text book says that these two men were false teachers who had snuck into the church, which I believe was suggesting that they weren’t christians at all. They are the same two mentioned in acts, and at that time also were unbelievers who opposed Paul. In those days the term “to hand over to satan” meant something different than it would seem to us today. Paul viewed the world as under the control of the enemy. That expression meant to kick someone out of the fellowship of the church and into the world. Basically Paul was saying, I’m kicking this false prophet out of the church so he does not lead many astray. The church was under God’s power.

    • Yeah, I have a book like that. It says Hymeneus denied the faith – which is found nowhere in the Bible. There’s a lot of extra-Biblical stuff attached to these two men. I think they’re Christians because they shipwrecked their faith. You can’t shipwreck what you don’t have. And what sort of unbeliever goes around preaching God’s law? And why would Paul hand an unbeliever over to Satan? Satan already has him (Eph 2:2). Finally, Paul warned the Ephesians that false teachers would arise “from among yourselves” (Acts 20:30).

  16. 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.

    I don’t know how to demolish arguments, I will just share it.

  17. Marc Abraham says:

    About the handing-off to Satan business – it’s fairly simple, if one takes time to think it through. Please note that it happened in 2 recorded cases in Paul’s ministry.

    One with a Corinthian believer who slept with him stepmother and was proud of it. Paul himself says regarding the incident that to do that is to “sin (miss the mark) against his own body”. The guy was missing the mark against his own body, yet apparently was not getting the cause-effect connection through in his head because he wasn’t reaping the consequences ** in his own body** – most probably because other church folks were standing in faith for him.

    Another incident is here – it is with a legalist who was preaching law and putting self (and leading those who listen) under the curse. Unfortunately, as Paul said in the first verses in Galatians – those who preach any other Gospel (which is a non-gospel) – let them be cursed (note “May God curse them” – God is not in the cursing business) – but let (allow) them be cursed. Meaning – let them reap the consequences of believing in law, which justifies no one, which of necessity involves curses for non-compliance, and which according to Col. 2 was the very weapon that Satan was stripped of when Jesus triumphed over him. In this case as well, the person by their beliefs and actions set themselves up for condemnation and subsequently a curse, and chose to re-arm Satan in their lives, Paul simply decided to let those people experience the direct consequences of their beliefs and corresponding actions.

    It’s very simple, if you think about it. The best method is instruction – listen to God, and obey out of the place of trust in his wisdom and good intentions toward you. The second method is school of hard knocks, learning by cause and effect, it works by stepping out of boundaries proscribed by God and experiencing the negative consequences, which can bruise you pretty bad since now it’s not God you are dealing with. That’s called “the fool’s way of learning” in Proverbs, in a number of places. Here, these folks chose the hard road – and Paul simply leaves them to their own devices. One side is God, another side Satan – like ying-yang without the dots. They crossed over to the dark side, and Paul affirmed their freedom of choice. Yet what’s remarkable about all that – in both cases he still wants them to learn, not to be punished!! E.g., “… that they may LEARN not to blaspheme” in 2nd case.

    I personally am a big fan of the 1st way of instruction – trust in God’s good intentions toward me (grace), and live accordingly.

    (Sorry about the length of the post, I am still working on this whole brevity thing :-) )

  18. Michael Jenkins says:

    This is very encouraging, Paul you are a tremendous blessing!

  19. george madeja says:

    Thanks for the post. What great logic. I was saved many years ago but always continued in my sins. I am glad to know that because i took Jesus as saviour i can be free from the law and continue in how i feel i was born to live.Im glad somebody else sees that once you get Jesus on board you dont have that nagging feeling you are sinning anymore. Thanks

  20. Hebrews chapter 6 seems a good candidate for a chapter that would be used for teaching not eternal security. If you have commented on this passage

  21. Paul Ellis, excellent post. Another view of this passage that I have seen (which in no way contradicts yours, as they are actually similar) is shipwrecked faith occurs when we put our hope and trust in a lie or illusion of truth. For example, in the “Charismatic, Faith camp” (which I still consider myself a little bit of) the prosperity gospel of everyone is going to be a millionaire and if you don’t have a million dollars yet it’s because youre “uncommitted” or not “believing” enough or giving enough. Or you have resentments and strife built up against someone else. Or youre living in sin. I believe following this style of prosperity teaching only produces condemnation and introspection as to where youre always coming up short or lacking.To me this is shipwrecked faith. Your faith is disappointed and not growing due to unfulfilled “promises”. In other words when we follow an illusion of truth like prosperity gospels that arent based in Scripture we shipwreck our faith or “Stal” it out due to disappointment.

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