Don’t expand the category of false teachers unnecessarily and empty the category of false teachers uncritically. False teachers are deceptive, destructive, and need transformation because they are enslaved to the pleasures of this world. As Christians, we should flee from false teachers. In this message on 2 Peter 2:1–22, Pastor Bart Box warns us of the danger of listening to false teachers.
- We learn the value of biblical community.
- We learn the danger of superficial reformation.
- We learn the power of gospel transformation.
Godliness and the Denial of Christ
2 Peter 2:1–22
Let me invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to 2 Peter 2. We’re going to look this morning at verses 1–22, the entire chapter. Last week, or two weeks ago, rather, we began this series looking at godliness in the book of 2 Peter. We talked about Godliness and the Kingdom of Christ a couple of weeks ago that… See there in chapter one that the godly… Now this is what we’ve repeated and I want to make sure that we are clear on this—that the godly life is not the earning of salvation. Rather, a godly life is, by His grace, the evidence that salvation truly belongs to us. And so we talked about how it is necessary that we be godly to enter the Kingdom of God, but again, not as we earn it, but because that’s what God has already done in our life.
And last week we looked at kind of what begins I think in this book…sort of avenues toward godliness. So Peter is spurring us on in this book to godliness and last week he uses the promise of His return to encourage us as the Day approaches. And so, he talks about that image of the lantern or the light of the promise of His return that’s held out in front of us. And so, that is to drive us on in godliness as we anticipate the Day of the Lord.
And now he’s going to turn to maybe a kind of a different way to look at it, more of a kind of a bad example for us to look to—the idea of false teachers and how they spur us on to godliness. Let’s look if you would in 2 Peter 2:1–22. He writes,
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and willful [and here he goes to the false teachers], they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:1–22)
When I was about six years old, I contracted some sort of really serious stomach virus and I missed like a couple of weeks of school. And I was, quite a few times, taken to the doctor and just couldn’t quite find a remedy. And so, it just went on and on. I was losing weight and they just couldn’t quite figure out what to do. And right before they were kind of ready to think, “Okay, let’s admit him to the hospital” and things along those lines… And we had an elderly neighbor, lived across the street from us and she recommended a cure: Wildcat Whiskey. Now, I kind of lived out in the country and thankfully a number of my neighbors made their own, so it was near at hand. And so, we didn’t have to go out and purchase it. And so, I remember my mother—she’s right here if you want to ask her about it—I remember my mother boiling it. And they held me down and they poured it down my throat. And I just remember…one of the few things I remember right is just this burning sensation from the entrance all the way down. And I got better. It cost me the lining of my esophagus but I did get better over time.
And so it’s a fairly simple reminder that not all medicine tastes good. In fact, most medicine doesn’t taste good. And I think what we have in 2 Peter 2 is some strong medicine. I mean, there are…first of all, it’s kind of, it’s not strong, it’s kind of strange…I mean, there’s a lot of things in here. There’s Balaam, there’s…you know, angels that are consigned to darkness. I mean, there’s a lot of things that just quite, you know, they’re not typical in some of your other passages. But they really are one of the strongest, I think, condemnations of false teachers that we find in all of the Bible. And even though they are strong words, I am confident, not only just what we find in this passage, but just based on the fact that all Scripture is God-breathed… It’s given to us for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” I’m confident that these are not only strong words; these are good words for us this morning.
And so, what I want to do…we’re not going to be able to look at the entire passage—22 verses at least—line by line. We’ll refer to some here and there. What I want to kind of alert you to, even from the top, is, if you have a Bible, particularly if you have one that is maybe set off in paragraphs, you’ll notice maybe that verses one through three are kind of a unit. And so, what you find if you study this passage—I would encourage you to do so throughout the week—is, as you look at this passage, really everything is contained in verses one through three. And so all the main ideas, all the things that Peter, I think, is trying…the big ideas that Peter is trying to communicate are contained there in verses one through three and then the rest of it, from verses 4–22 are really just an amplification, illustration, kind of supporting what he has already said. And so, we’re going to then concentrate this morning on verses one through three and then we’ll look at the rest of the verses along the way.
Cautions Concerning False Teachers in 2 Peter 2:1–22
But before we do that—before we talk about what we learned from them, or what we learned about them, or what we learned from them, I want to just provide just a couple of what I’d say are just some initial cautions about this idea of false teachers. Because it’s not something that we talk about all the time and I want to make sure that when we say false teachers we understand exactly what we are talking about, particularly in the context of 2 Peter. So, I want to start with two initial cautions about false teachers.
Don’t Expand the Category of False Teachers Unnecessarily
First of all, we need to be sure that we don’t expand the category of false teachers unnecessarily. We need to be careful that we don’t expand the category of false teachers unnecessarily. In other words, not everyone with whom we have any doctrinal disagreement merits the label of false teacher.
I mean, to give you some examples, you know… If your small group leader or maybe someone that you hear the Word from regularly… If your small group leader, for example, doesn’t believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, there’s probably no need to really report them to the Brook Hills authorities. I mean, they’re probably not a false teacher in the sense that we see here in 2 Peter. Or if someone has really strong convictions or they don’t, about homeschooling, you know, they haven’t necessarily denied the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They just have a different opinion about things. And we can multiply that example in really a thousand different ways from baptism to church government, all sorts of issues.
And so, what we need to then as you see it in your notes—we need to distinguish between false teachers and misguided ones. Part of really Christian maturity is to be able to distinguish between false teachers and misguided ones. We don’t want to be unnecessarily divisive, unnecessarily isolationist that, “Hey, we’re the only ones…” either this church, or my small group, or whatever the context is…that, “Hey, we’re the only ones that really teach the Bible and everybody else is in error.” That’s not the road that we want to go down. The way that we avoid this then, is simply we remember that not every doctrine is of first importance. We must remember that not every doctrine is of first importance. You say, “What do you mean by ‘of first importance?’ I mean, all the Bible’s important, isn’t it?” Well, certainly, all the Bible’s important and all doctrine in important. But the way I typically think about it is there are certain kind of tiers…if you want to…if you will, tiers of doctrine or levels of doctrine. And so, there are certain things that are maybe on that first tier, that first level of doctrine that we want to hold to. And we want to hold fast to and hold them with great conviction.
And so, we uphold the humanity and the divinity of Christ. We uphold the inerrancy and the inspiration of the Word. We uphold the fact that Jesus came and lived a perfect life and He died for our sins on the cross. Salvation by grace through faith. There are certain things that we believe and we have conviction about them because to deny them would be in essence to deny the faith. And so, there are some things that we hold in that top level.
But then there are other things that we understand that hey, they’re important. They may be important to us but they aren’t things that we necessarily divide over. And they certainly aren’t things that we label others as “false teachers” about. So, we want to be careful not to expand the category unnecessarily, but having said that, we want to…we don’t want to make the opposite error.
Don’t Empty the Category of False Teachers Uncritically
We don’t want to…we want to make sure that we don’t empty the category of false teachers uncritically. We don’t want to expand it unnecessarily but we don’t empty it altogether, as well. The tendency is…I think for us, perhaps for some of us at least is…to kind of relax on this passage. “No, I don’t see any false teachers around. I mean, I’m not really exposed to any false teachers and so… After all, we have David and so we don’t have to worry about that.” And praise God for a pastor who teaches and preaches the Word of God.
And our tendency, though, I think, is to sometimes see that and say, “Well okay, well, I kind of got a pass this week. Or I got a pass when I come to a passage like that.” I think that would be a mistake for a couple of reasons. One, we may not always have David. None of us are promised today. None of us are promised anything in this life, so we don’t necessarily hang everything on that. And beyond that, even today, the truth is that we have all kinds of influence into our life and we have access to all sorts of teaching. When you think about internet and radio and TV—all sorts of media that combine to allow us to have all sorts of access to all kinds of teaching… And so it’s incumbent upon us then to listen to what the Bible says, to recognize the Bible’s attention to false teachers. Think about—we can see it actually in verse one.
Look if you would in 2 Peter 2:1, “But false prophets also arose among the people…” Now here he’s talking, I think, about the Old Testament and saying, “So, in the same way that in the Old Testament there were false prophets that arose… just as there will be false teachers among you…”
You notice, actually, he uses the future tense here. He says there will be false teachers. He does it again in verse two, “…many will follow…” He does it again in verse three. He says, “…they will exploit you with false words.” Just by reading the tense, it sounds like the false teachers are kind of out in the future. But I think what Peter is doing is he’s kind of situating himself almost in the Old Testament and saying with certainty, “In the same way that there arose false prophets in the Old Testament, there will be false teachers in our day.” And so obviously, they were already there in Peter’s day and they will always be around. Think about 1 Timothy 4:1—maybe a text that you want to jot down. 1 Timothy 4:1, “Now the Spirit expressly says [this is Paul writing; he says] that in later times [I take that to mean after Jesus has died and risen again—until He returns—says] some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teaching of demons.”
He says they will devote themselves to the teaching of demons. So what do we do? Well, I think we need to remember the Bible’s advice on false teaching…remember the Bible’s advice on false teaching. And I think we could kind of collapse this in to two—you see them there in your notes.
Number one: We must flee from false teachers. Listen to Romans 16:17. Romans 16:17. Paul says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught…” And then listen to Paul’s advice: “avoid them.” I mean, it’s just simple and plain. We avoid the influence of false teachers. We run from them. We shun them, right?
But not only do we flee from them, we also—as you see there in your notes—we learn from them. You say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense. Why would we learn from false teachers? I mean, aren’t they teaching things that are contrary to the gospel?” Well, certainly, but I think it’s instructive for us to just think about for just a moment. You know, God is sovereign. Utterly sovereign over every person, every false teacher; God is sovereign over them as well. And so it begs the question, I think, “Why is it, if God is sovereign, why would He even allow this?” I mean, have you ever wondered about that? Why would God allow people to propagate error in His name? I mean, why wouldn’t He just strike them dead?
Well, I think one of the reasons—this is not necessarily the only reason—but I think one of the reasons that God does that is God intends for us to see the false teachers and for that to incite in us a prayer and a desire and a longing that says, “May we never be that. May we run from that. May everything that we see in them…everything that they teach and everything that they model and everything that they do be the absolute opposite, the antithesis of what we see in our life.” And I think that’s what Peter is doing here for us this morning. There is not a single command in 2 Peter 2. Not one. I think that is a reminder that God intends for us to read this, to see it and then to learn from it in a negative sense. For that to spur us on to godliness. May that not be the case in our life. And that’s my prayer this morning as we look very briefly at what we see in 2 Peter 2 and as you read it throughout the week, may that be our prayer. “May this never be said of us. God, give us the grace to uphold the gospel in life and in doctrine.”
What We Learn About False Teachers in 2 Peter 2:1–22
So let’s look at, if you would, what we learn about false teachers before we move on to what we learn from them. First of all, what we learn about false teachers. We’re going to kind of boil it down to three simple statements.
Their Way is Deception
First of all, we learn that their way is deception. We learn that their way is deception. Look if you would back again in verse one. He says it’s going to happen. There will come false teachers among you and notice what they will do. He says they will “secretly bring in destructive heresies.” Notice the word secretly. You can kind of see that theme running all throughout 2 Peter 2. There’s not going to be a false prophet who comes to the pulpit and says, “Next week we’re going to start a new series: Christianity is False.” It’s not going be what they’re going to do, right? It’s going to be secretive. It’s going to be kind of under the radar. It’s going to be subtle.
And so, we see that their way is deception and really in two ways, I think, that we see in this passage. First of all, that their manner is deceptive. You see that their manner is deceptive. Notice what he says. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, and then he kind of…he expands on that here. And I think this is probably one of the most important phrases, important parts to understand in this particular passage. He says they “bring in destructive heresies” and he says they even “deny the Master who bought them.” They deny the Master who bought them.
Now, this particular part of this verse—and obviously the whole passage as well—has been understood in a variety of ways. And some have looked at this “they deny the Master who bought them” and… The word for bought is the word that you see, for example, redeemed over and over in Scripture. It is that slavery idea of someone buying someone out of slavery. It’s used in salvation context over and over and over in the New Testament. But some have understood that and said, “they deny” and we know that it’s not just a casual denial. These people are going to hell (verses 4–10). They are going to hell and some have said, “Okay, they deny the Master who has saved them and they’re going to go to hell. Therefore, it must be that Peter is teaching that some can really be saved and fall away from the truth. They can be lost again.”
Well, I don’t think that’s what Peter is teaching. I think there are lots of verses throughout the New Testament to indicate that God keeps us; that we’re saved once for all, forever. There’s no being saved and lost again, saved and lost again. If you’re saved, you’re saved. There’s no undoing that. But you know, I don’t think you have to even go outside this particular passage to get that. Look if you would in verse nine. I want to call your attention to that because I want to make sure that, you see… I’m not just pitting one Scripture against the next. I want you to see verse nine. After he has said all these…after he’s described all these ways of judgment, notice what he says in verse nine, the conclusion of it, “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”
Two things: He knows how to keep the ungodly under judgment and He knows—and this is a good verse for us to hang our hats on, this is a good verse for us to remember—He knows how to keep us. In other words, God doesn’t just say, “I saved you. Now I hope it turns out well and I hope I see you in heaven.” Rather, He knows how to keep us. How to bring us to the Last Day. And so, I don’t think that Peter is teaching that someone can be saved and then be lost again.
So what is he teaching? Well, I think—and there are other explanations—but I think the best explanation of “denying the Master who bought them” is that Peter is simply talking about their appearance. In other words, what they say. What they claim. He’s in a sense giving them the benefit of the doubt and saying… You can imagine these people; I mean, if they are teaching the Word, you can imagine just…they are teaching the Word in the church. What else is true of them? In other words, we know that they have confessed Jesus as Lord. They have made a confession of faith. They have been baptized. They are participating in the Lord’s Supper (verse 13). They are wholly integrated into the church. More than likely—I mean, we don’t know this for sure—but more than likely these are elders in the congregation. I mean, they had the responsibility of teaching the Word of God and what Peter is saying, I think, in these verses is “They simply are not what they appear to be.” They say, “Jesus is Lord,” but they deny Him by their life. They say that Jesus is Lord but they deny Him by their life. And so the result, then, is verse two, that “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed”. And we see that their manner is deceptive. And we’ll talk about this just a little bit further as we look at verse 22 in a moment.
We see their manner is deceptive and we also see that their message is deceptive. So, their way of life…remember we talked about it a little bit ago. Their life and their doctrine. Their life and their doctrine. Their life is deceptive and their doctrine is deceptive. Their message is deceptive. Peter says they will secretly bring in destructive heresies.
The word that is used for heresy there is the same word that is used for like the Sadducees or the Pharisees; in other words, a sect, a group of people. And so, it came to be associated with a body of teaching or a body of doctrine. And later on, particularly as the church grew and advanced and faced false teaching, it came to have an association of anything that is contrary to the gospel. And so, Peter is saying they have secretly brought in things that are contrary to the gospel.
And what is…what is the…what is the heresy that they are bringing in? Well, we’ve talked about it the last few weeks. They are denying the second coming of Christ. They are denying the Day of the Lord and with that everything that that entails. They are denying the fact that Jesus is coming again. Denying the fact that there will be a judgment. Denying sin. Denying holiness of God. All of these things follow in its train. And I think it’s here when we see what they are denying that there is such a lesson for us when it comes to what we hear and to what we believe. I want you to listen to Jeremiah 14.
You may want to write that down: Jeremiah 14:13–16 and then Jeremiah 6:14. And what I want you to listen for the remarkable continuity there is between false prophets in the Old Testament and false prophets in the New Testament. Here in the New Testament they are denying the judgment of God. Let’s see what they are doing in the Old Testament. Jeremiah 14:13–16, “Then I said: “Ah, Lord GOD, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, [Jeremiah had promised that there would be judgment to come, did he not?] nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.'” And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.”
Jeremiah 6:14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
In the Old Testament they deny the judgment of God, the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man. In the New Testament they deny the judgment of God, the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man. What about in our own day? Listen to some of these descriptions of…listen to some of these descriptions of church services that…and this is from an outsider in our own day. Listen to how some church services are described:
In one church, the sermons are “relevant, upbeat and best of all, short.” (Not, clearly, about Brook Hills. We could be on other lists, I assume, but this is clearly not us.) “You won’t hear a lot of preaching about sin or damnation or hellfire. Preaching here doesn’t sound like preaching; it’s sophisticated and friendly talk.”
Another church: “It’s a salvationist message but the idea is not so much being saved from the fires of hell, rather, it’s being saved from meaninglessness and aimlessness in this life. It’s more of a…more of a soft sell.”
Another church, the last one: “As with all clergymen, his answer is God (speaking about the preacher). But he slips them in at the end and even there he doesn’t get too heavy. No ranting. No raving. No fire. No brimstone. He doesn’t even use the h-word. Call it ‘gospel-light.’ It has the same salvation as the old time religion but with a third less guilt.”
Tragically, it is so in congregation after congregation. God loves you. And He does. But never a full understanding. Never, never a word about our sin and our need for a Savior and ultimately—because there is no holiness, no sin, no judgment—ultimately there is no gospel. Listen to what Jeremiah concludes. He says in Jeremiah 5:30, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; [This is what God says] my people love to have it so, [And here’s the bottom line] but what will you do when the end comes?”
Oh, we love to hear the lies but what will we do when the end comes?
Their End is Destruction
Well, Peter describes the end of the false prophets. He says that their end is destruction. He says that their end is destruction. We don’t have time to look at all these verses. I wish we did but, but notice the word destruction appears repeatedly, particularly in verses one through three and then throughout the passage. I want you…I want to kind of trace the path of destruction that we see in this particular passage.
First of all, there is destruction for themselves. This is the most…this is the most evident in the passage. This is the primary point, I think, that Peter is trying to make for us. There is destruction for themselves. He gives comparisons in verses four through eight. He talks about the fallen angels that God has kept in gloomy darkness. He talks about the ancient world consumed by the flood, everyone destroyed save eight people. He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah reduced to ashes. And so it will be with every false teacher. You ever wonder how it is that God allows the false teacher of thousands to prosper? And at the same time…at the same time there is a faithful pastor of ten, fifteen, thirty, who is struggling. How can that be? How can we reconcile that with what we know of God? We reconcile it with verse nine, which is “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:9). Someone has said, “Though the wheels of God’s justice grind slowly, they grind exceedingly fine.” God will have vengeance on those who lead others astray.
But it is not only…the warning is not only for those who would be classified as false teachers. It is that. But it also is…there is destruction for their followers. Look if you would in verse—we can see it throughout the passage—but look at verse 2: “And many will follow their sensuality…” Skip down to verse 14: “They entice unsteady souls.” Verse 18: “…speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.” I think the most frightening and the most disheartening when I read this passage are verses 20–21. Notice what Peter says. He says: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world…”
Now, there’s a question here of who is Peter talking about when he says if when they have escaped. Is Peter talking about the false teachers or is he talking about those who follow after them? Well, I won’t go into all the argument but I think when you see the fact that enslaved is in verse 18 and it’s talking about those who are following and the same word enslaved is used again in verse 20, that it indicates that yes, the false teachers are included in this but I think he is also including those that would follow after them. And so, he says in verse 20–21: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:20–21).
I think Peter is describing what many of us have seen and perhaps some of you have experienced. Someone who has made some kind of start in the church. They have joined a church, been baptized or something along those lines. They’ve made some kind of external commitment. And then, six months, a year, two years, ten years, maybe…someone comes along and—false teacher perhaps—and they follow after them. I think what Peter is suggesting…or what Peter is saying here is what we know…is that how difficult it is to reach those who have once been involved, who have once heard the gospel, who have once heard the truth but have then walked away. Because, you say, “Well, I want to tell you about Jesus. I want to tell you about the gospel.” And they say, “You know what, I’ve already heard that. I’ve already tried that. I’ve already seen all the fraud and I’ve already seen all of the hypocrisy.” And if that’s you this morning, I would just urge you to hear the gospel afresh one more time this morning. Hear of God’s love in Christ for us and I would beg you, do not follow an imposter into hell.
Destruction for themselves. Destruction for their followers. And last, destruction for the church. We won’t spend much time here; we’ll come back to this actually in a moment. Look at verse 2: “…because of them [because of the false teachers] the way of truth will be blasphemed.” Really simple: they will drag the church away from the truth and in so doing, they will drag the world away from Christ. They will dishonor the Savior. They will discredit the gospel. They will destroy the witness of the church. They leave an absolute path of destruction for themselves, for their hearers and for the church. Their way is deception. Their end is destruction.
2 Peter 2:1–22 Reminds us their Need is Transformation
And last, their need is transformation. Look at, if you would, their need is transformation. There is a tendency, I think, when we hear the word “teacher” we think in such academic terms. We think in terms of a classroom. And so, I think, there is a tendency when we hear about false teachers to think the problem is purely in terms of their doctrine. And no doubt, there is a problem with their doctrine. They bring in destructive heresies. They teach contrary to the gospel. But the primary emphasis, overwhelmingly, in 2 Peter 2 is not on the doctrine they teach but upon the life that they live. It is life and doctrine. And so, when we look at the false teachers here in 2 Peter 2, it’s a reminder that the main problem is not ignorance in their mind, it is rebellion in their heart. That they are simply, in this particular case—and it is with all false teachers—they are simply looking for something to justify the way that they live. And so, look at the picture that Peter paints. We’ll take these together, just for the sake of time, but the picture that Peter paints of the false teachers.
One, they are enslaved to the pleasures of this world. And two, they are lacking in the fruit of the gospel. They are enslaved to the pleasures of this world and they are lacking in the fruit of the gospel. We can see this throughout the passage. Look if you would in verse…oh, we’ll begin in verse ten. Look at it if you would there, “especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2 Pet. 2:10). The word that is used for authority there is the same word group that we get Lord from. And so, no doubt they are denying the Lord but they are also denying the right—the responsibility—for anybody else to speak into their life. They claim, they desire, absolute authority. Not only that, look in verse 14, “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin” (2 Pet. 2:14).
The word—or the expression—there, “eyes full of adultery”, is kind of unusual. It really, literally, could be translated “their eyes are full of an adulteress.” Their eyes are full of an adulteress. In other words, every woman that they look at, they view as someone with whom they can engage. Their eyes are full of adultery. Notice what it says. Not only are they consumed with power and consumed with sex, they are also consumed with money. Look at the end of that verse…verse 14 again: “They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed…” (2 Pet. 2:14). The word that is used for train—there is the word that we get our word gymnasium from. In other words, they work out in greed. They train themselves for greed. They are consumed with money.
Put those three together: money, sex and power. Suddenly, when you put those three together, it doesn’t seem like Peter was writing this all that long ago, does it? The very same things that trap the prophets of old in the Old Testament; the same thing that trapped the prophets in the New Testament; the very same thing that traps the prophets in our day. Money, sex, power, you name it, the pleasures of this world.
So how can that happen? Well, look at the end of the passage: “What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:22). I think this verse is really the proof that we need to remind ourselves that Peter is not teaching in any sense that someone can be saved and then they can be lost again. He is, from the very outset, saying that they are dogs and the reason they return to their vomit it because they are a still a dog. They are sows and so the reason that they return to the mire is because that is what they are. They are doing what is true to their nature.
I love the way that John Piper illustrates it. I think it’s powerful. How can this be, from people who have seemed to be so committed? Piper illustrates it this way: he said,
“If, over the next ten or twenty years, John Piper begins to cool off spiritually and lose interest in spiritual things, and becomes more fascinated with making money and writing Christ-less books, and I buy the lie that a new wife would be exhilarating if the children can fend for themselves, and if the church of Christ is a drag and that the Incarnation is a myth, and that there is only one life to live so let us eat, drink and be merry, if that happens, then know that the truth is this: John Piper was mightily deceived in his first 50 years of life. His fidelity, his faithfulness to his wife, was a temporary passion in compliance with social pressure. His fatherhood, the outworking of natural instincts. His preaching was driven by a love of words and a love of crowds. His writing was a love affair with fame and his praying was the deepest delusion of all—an attempt to get God to supply the resources of his vanity.”
To put it plainly, if we have truly come to know Christ by the grace of God, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope, a living hope, there will be gospel fruit that endures and that is contrary to the passions of the world. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” By God’s grace, he is a new creation. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And so, what do we learn? We learn about them. What do we learn from them? I would encourage you, take this passage and turn it over in your mind—read it over the course of the week—because there’s far more than we’re going to outline here. But I just want to highlight three ways or three avenues by which we might apply this particular text.
What We Learn from False Teachers
We Learn the Value of Biblical Community
Notice first, we learn the value of biblical community. We learn the value of biblical community. And I think this plays out in a couple of ways and kind of what I call a reciprocal way between the congregation and those that are teaching the Word.
First of all, to the congregation: Satan would love nothing more than for this particular church, the Church at Brook Hills, which at this moment loves the Word of God and by the grace of God teaches the Word of God… Satan would love nothing more for this church and for any other church that preaches the gospel to be dragged away from the truth by false teachers and to shame the gospel and to shame Christ. And if that is so, is it not great incentive, then, for all of us, then, to pray for those in authority. To pray for those who are teaching the Word. Whether that’s in a small group or to a larger setting. Pray for those that are teaching the Word. Pray along the lines of life and doctrine. Not just that they get it right, but they live consistent with the grace that they have been shown in Christ. Pray that they would be life and doctrine that would adorn the gospel of God.
And then, I think it also highlights—and this is something that I was thinking about as I was turning this text over in my mind all week—there is a great responsibility also upon those that teach the Word, certainly not just to get it right or to live in the right way, but I think there’s also a responsibility for those who teach the Word—and again, whatever setting that is—there’s a great responsibility for those that teach the Word to make sure that they are known by the people to whom they are teaching. Now, that’s going to look different in a lot of different contexts. Obviously, in a church this size, we’re not going to…everybody’s not going to know David in the same way that other people will, right? Or, you know, you can imagine different scenarios.
But I think it is absolutely critical that everyone who teaches the Word be known by someone…be known by someone. How would you know otherwise? How would you know if someone is a false teacher? How would you know if I am? Because somebody needs to be watching my life and somebody needs to be watching my doctrine. And so it is for everyone who teaches the Word. We learn the value of biblical community.
We Learn the Danger of Superficial Reformation
And we learn the danger of superficial reformation. We learn the danger of superficial reformation. Many of us are familiar with the story of the Jonestown massacre. Under the leadership of Jim Jones, on November 18th, 1978, 918 people perished in the jungles of South America…918 people perished. This is what John MacArthur said about the tragedy of Jonestown. He said,
“The tragedy of Jonestown is not just that a thousand people died. That’s not the ultimate tragedy. Everybody dies anyway. The tragedy is not that they died. The tragedy is that many died and went to hell, thinking that they were serving God and on their way to heaven. That’s a tragedy. The tragedy is not ultimately an untimely death. The tragedy is ultimately a timeless eternity. The tragedy of Jim Jones is that he duped people into thinking that he represented God and Christ, and many of them actually believed they were serving the Kingdom of God, only to wake up in hell.”
Recurring theme throughout 2 Peter 2 is the truth that there is no power in an external reformation. We don’t need to change merely our habits or change merely our associations; who we congregate with. We don’t need to merely change our schedule (i.e. come to church once a week). I think those things will follow. But what we ultimately need is for God to change us. We need for God to change us by Jesus Christ.
And so, this morning, if you’re here and you don’t know…if you came here this morning… It doesn’t matter if you’ve been baptized or joined the church or not. The question is, is there a change in your life? Has God acted on you? Not have you made some kind of change for God, but has God in Christ caused you (to use our language)…has He caused you to be born again? Has He, as Jesus said, as the “Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed”? Are you free in Jesus this morning? Have you ever repented of your sin and placed your faith in Jesus? If you’ve never done that then there isn’t fruit of the gospel in your life. That is fruit of the gospel. The fruit of the gospel is a repentant heart and complete trust in Jesus. And so, if you’re here this morning, I would urge you…never trusted in Christ…I would urge you this morning, with everything in me, to believe upon the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved. Not merely saved from the penalty of your sin—praise God for that as well—but also saved from the power of sin. The Son shall set you free.
2 Peter 2:1–22 Reminds Us of the Power of Gospel Transformation
We learned the danger of superficial reformation. We learned the value of biblical community. And then last, we learned the power of gospel transformation. I think this is one of the most gripping things for me is verse two. Look if you would…just glance up there for just a second. Verse two, “ And many will follow their sensuality, [and notice, you may want to underline this part] and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:2).
One way or another—by what we teach and by how we live—we are going to say something about Jesus. One way or another—by how we live and by what we teach—we are going to communicate something about Jesus and something about the gospel. And so, to me, it raises the question personally and even as a church, but personally, what do people see? Ask yourself this question, what do people see, church member, those that have trusted in Christ? What do people see when they look at your life? Do they see bondage to the world, slavery to the world, slavery to the pleasures of the world—money, sex, power, you name it? Or by the grace of God and the power of the gospel, do they see in your life, do they see the glory of God? Do they see the truth of Jesus? Do they see the power of the gospel on display? I pray that that would be the case for me, I pray that would be the case for you, and I pray that would be the case for our church.
That’s why I’ve included at the bottom these two prayers and we’re not going to read them aloud but you can read—you can read along as I read them. This is what I pray that God would make be the case day by day and in the days going forward:
Father, by your grace, may we never be a community adrift from your Word, denying the supremacy of Christ, lacking the fruit of the gospel, blaspheming the way of righteousness, enslaved to the pleasures of the world, awaiting the condemnation of our souls. Rather, Father, by your grace, may we always be a community anchored to your Word, exalting the supremacy of Christ, exhibiting the fruit of the gospel, adorning the way of righteousness, free from the pleasures of this world, awaiting the salvation of our souls.