Where do I find Paul’s answer to those who believe that Matthew 10:33 applies to believers today?
32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
While there are several issues that need to be addressed in reply to your question, the first thing to establish is the fact that the entire book of Matthew is not written to or about us, the body of Christ, today. While God wants us to know and understand his prophetic program found in Genesis—Acts 7 and Hebrews—Revelation, these books are addressed to the nation of Israel specifically. It is in our Apostle Paul’s epistles that we find the marching orders for the Body of Christ today. Most Christians today believe that Mt-Jn and Hebrews-Revelation is written to us but they are inconsistent in deciding which commandments to follow and which to reject.
God has not told you and I to “sell that ye have, and give alms” (Lk.12:33). We learn, through our epistles (Romans thru Philemon) that God has interrupted his prophetic plans and purposes for the repossession of the earth through the nation of Israel. We are introduced to this doctrine in Romans 9-11, so that after studying those chapters we should understand that God is doing something different today than he was in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We also learn that we are a unique entity, the church, the body of Christ. We also learn through our epistles that God is carrying out a plan that he kept secret but now revealed through the Apostle Paul (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3; Col. 1:24-27). This plan involves the heavenly places rather than the earth. This subject, of course, requires a much larger study and if you are interested in learning more about this, then I would suggest a couple of good books—Satan and His Plan of Evil by Keith Blades or Properly Handling the Word of Truth by Keith Blades).
So, having established that the doctrines dealt with in the book of Matthew are not specifically addressed to you and I today living in the “Dispensation of the Grace of God” toward us Gentiles (Eph.3:1-3), the question becomes somewhat of a moot point. But, since you asked, I will give you my understanding of what Jesus means when he states, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Mt.10:33).
The issue of denying him and being denied certain things is not only true in God’s program with the nation of Israel but also in our program today. Paul states in 2 Tim.2:12 “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him,
he also will deny us”. The question that must be asked is, “What is being denied?” Is it our justified status before God in which we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life? It can’t be that, since that was a free gift given to us when we placed our faith in Christ. This doctrine was expounded in Romans 1-5. Then what is being denied in Mt.10 and 2 Timothy 2? It is the issue of rewards in glory. Both, in Paul’s epistles, and Mt-Jn/Heb-Revelation, there is a copious amount of material dealing with the issue of rewards in glory. Rewards are based on faithfulness, enduring, bearing fruit, etc. Many problems in Christian theology can be traced to a failure to maintain this distinction. Our position in Christ (our justified/sanctified status) is a free gift, the rewards in glory are not. They can be gained or lost.
This issue of confessing Christ, and suffering the consequences of it, and denying Christ (as Peter did) to avoid suffering for his name’s sake, are big issues in Israel program. They have major consequence both temporally and eternally. For a member of the remnant of Israel (which is who Mt-Jn/Heb-Rev is written to), the two results of faithfully following Christ are: physically surviving through the Lord’s Day of Wrath (Lk.21:36), and rewards in the kingdom (which would include entrance into the wedding feast, positions of authority and rulership over cities, a dwelling place in the temple, being counted as part of Christ’s royal house, etc)
Mt.16:24-27 — “24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”
In Mt. 16:24-27, you see that losing you life for his sake in v.25, is tied to the issue of rewards when Christ returns in v.27. Verse 26 is dealing with the issue of dying in the Lord’s day of wrath. Those that don’t follow Jesus’s commandments in that day will die and will not be able to live through that time, which is another benefit of remaining faithful to Christ in that day. (Lk.21:36). Unfortunately, many Christian teachers would expound this passage as a justification passage. They would teach that if you don’t submit your life to Christ then you aren’t justified. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Justification unto eternal life is a free gift. That’s why God will only except faith as the proper response to receive justification because faith (taking God at His word) is a non-meritorious response. It is not a work. (Romans 4:4-5).
Paul, our apostle, has much to say about laboring and being faithful to receive a reward, which is tied to the issue of reigning with Christ. (Romans 8:17; Romans14:10-12; 1Cor. 3: 5-15; 1Cor. 9:14-27; 2Cor. 5: 9-10; 2Cor. 9:6-7; Phil. 3:10-14; Phil.4:15-17; Col. 2:4,8,18; Col.3:23-25; 2Tim.2:10-15; 2Tim.2:19-21;Titus 3:8).
This is by no means exhaustive nor meant to be, but I hope it gives some clarity to you and others that are wrestling with the meaning of the passage in question and other similar passages. Don’t forget, that God has always justified man by grace through faith.
Your brother in Christ,