August 23, 2020
Deconversion stories are all the rage. What is a deconversion story? Michael Kruger, President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, writes, “De-conversion stories are designed not to reach non-Christians but to reach Christians. And their purpose is to convince them that their outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their assent. A person simply shares his testimony of how he once thought like you did but has now seen the light.” That is, they no longer believe.
In other words, deconversion stories are “testimonies” of those who were perhaps raised in Christian homes, made professions of faith, were involved in the church, many even leaders in the Christian church, but after years of “following” Christ, they’ve decided it is not for them. They no longer believe. They desert.
But know this, now it is no longer enough to just leave the faith – you’ve got to take as many with you as you can. If only others could have the freedom you now have. It’s almost as if there is a validation of disbelief if you can get others to disbelieve, deconvert, desert with you. There’s comfort in numbers, I guess.
Many of you can remember the reverberations that made their way through the evangelical community when Joshua Harris, a prominent evangelical pastor and author of the book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, deconverted. Abandoned the Christian faith. Publicly said, I no longer believe. He posted this message on his Instagram page, just last year:
“The information that was left out of our announcement [our, by the way, was he and his wife, and the announcement was that they were divorcing] is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”
It’s a big list – a growing list of those deconverting. Megachurch pastor Dave Gass; Hillsong United songwriter, Marty Sampson; popular Christian band lead singer Joe Steingard; popular Christian comedians Rhett and Link. Now, some don’t say they are deconverting from or leaving the Christian faith – that is, they still call themselves Christians – they have just started abandoning key or biblical teachings of the Christian faith. Those which are out of lockstep with culture. Rob Bell, former pastor and author, who denies pretty much everything Christian, still considers himself spiritual. Jen Hatmaker, popular author and women’s speaker, has fully embraced the LGBTQ movement.
It’s interesting to note the number of these former evangelical Christians who have left the faith or the central tenets of the faith because they or someone they love want to change their Christian behaviors to behaviors inconsistent with Scripture. Again, Joshua Harris divorcing his wife, Jen Hatmaker’s daughter coming out as lesbian, Rob Bell denying the teaching of a literal hell – that in the end, everyone is saved, and Love Wins.
Why do I bring this up? Because today, it’s not enough to just walk away from the Christian faith. No – as many leaders leave, they somehow feel the necessity to take as many with them as they can. And so, in that sense, they become false teachers. Those within the church, targeting the church. Typically promoting a moral ethic at odds with the Bible. And perhaps they don’t leave the Christian faith, per se, but they do leave behind some of its inconvenient truths.
I want to warn you, as Peter does in his second letter – you cannot leave the Christian faith without eternal peril. To desert brings severe consequences, especially if you seek to ruin the faith of others. In Mark 9, Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” Peter will later say in this second letter, “For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed to them.” You say, is that just a fear tactic, Scott? Call it whatever you want – I warn you, having heard, do not desert.
Further, you cannot subvert the truth of Scripture to satisfy sinful longings – yours or someone else’s. Michael and I were talking about that, this week. The Christian faith in our country has been in the mainstream so long, we don’t know what it’s like to not be mainstream. To not be the norm. We long to be accepted, cultural – to fit in. But the truth is, it’s always been intended that Christianity live on the margins – it is supposed to be counter-cultural – to not be accepted – to not fit in. We live in a fallen world, and if we are accepted by that fallen world, if there is no difference between us, our values, behaviors and beliefs – then something is amiss.
Again, having been mainstream, when our so-called Christian society is taking a left turn, we are lost. We don’t know how to respond. Here’s how we respond – it’s the way we were always intended to respond: we build our lives – our values, our beliefs, our behaviors on the truth of God’s Word. Regardless of what culture says. And that will cost us. It will cost us acceptance – it may even bring ridicule and shame. Maybe more.
Well, all that was extra. Peter – and I following Peter – are sounding a warning. In a world of social media and electronic communication and information and podcasts at your fingertips in your pockets, we are in danger of being exposed to false teachers. You see, they don’t even have to be in a church to have a voice. They can spew their falsehoods, and many will listen, especially if it tickles their ears and fits their fancies.
And in this time of fearful pandemic, where the church has been seemingly sidelined, in our hunger for connection, we are at greater risk than ever before. You can tune in to anybody you want – anyone who will tell you what you want to hear. It’s incredible to think that Peter’s words of warning are as relevant today as they’ve ever been. Read the text with me – II Peter 2:1-3.
Peter had a very specific purpose for writing this letter. The churches to which he wrote had been subverted by false teachers. We have seen their teaching went like this: Jesus is not coming back. And since Jesus is not coming back, there will be no judgment. And since there will be no judgment, we can live however we want – giving into every illicit and sensual, sinful desire of the flesh. You see, when you are told that we have finally reached freedom of sexual expression – that through the sexual revolution of the 50s and 60s, and the sexual revolution of our current culture, we’ve finally freed ourselves from outdated puritanical controls – don’t believe it. What do I mean? The desire for illicit, sensual, sexual expression is as old as time. Peter addressed the problem two thousand years ago. Sexual sin has always been with us – and will continue to be until Jesus comes back – don’t believe that He’s not returning – and makes all things right through judgment – don’t believe there will no judgment.
Do you see the connection? We cannot be mainstream, because mainstream has given itself over to sinful proclivities. And in our incessant desire to be accepted, many are abandoning the way of truth, and believing lies. It’s as old as creation itself, when the tempter said to Eve, did God really say?
In chapter 1, Peter started by encouraging holy living. Through God’s great and precious promises, we are pursuing the very godly life the false teachers were denying. God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Christ – who called us by His own glory and excellence or moral virtue. I said then, you cannot call yourself a follower of Jesus if you do not follow Jesus. Therefore, apply all diligence – make every effort, expend every energy – in pursuing these Christian virtues (we don’t pursue them to be saved – we pursue them because we have been saved):
- Moral Excellence
- Brotherly (affection) Kindness
- (Self-sacrificing) Love
Some of these were the very virtues the false teachers were denying – that many false teachers today are denying. Some deny by deserting the faith; some deny by assaulting the tenets of the faith. Dismissing the Scripture as culturally irrelevant. Redefining morality. Suggesting that love is the highest virtue – and indeed, it is – but it’s not biblical love they espouse. It is a love devoid of truth and holiness. It’s as if you can skip moral excellence and self-control and godliness. We just need to love and accept everyone, regardless of behaviors and beliefs.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Having encouraged pursuit of godly virtues, having told them he will continue to remind them to do so until he dies, Peter began his argument – the main body of the letter. But even then, he doesn’t get to his main thrust until today. He started with two invaluable witnesses to this truth he is holding out:
- The first witness was, he and the apostles, James and John, were eyewitnesses of the majesty of Christ at the Transfiguration on the holy mountain, which pictured and promised His second coming – which the false teachers were denying.
- We therefore have the second witness of Scripture made even more sure. That is this, the inspired, inerrant Word of God is trustworthy, because no prophecy of Scripture was just made up – cleverly devised myths. No – writers of Scripture were carried along by the Holy Spirit – and therefore, they spoke from God. So God’s word, with its promises, are altogether true and trustworthy.
Bringing us to the main thrust, the main point, of the letter. But even as we jump into chapter 2, there is a significant, intentional connection made with those two witnesses. But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. This is his train of thought:
- We apostles were eyewitnesses, and therefore true teachers.
- The Word of God came by true prophets.
- But, there were also false prophets among the Israelites.
- Just as there will be false teachers among you.
And having turned his guns on the false teachers, he begins describing them – annihilating them through chapter 2. John Piper writes of this very passage:
“And now comes chapter 2, and a very significant change in Peter’s approach. I say a change in his approach, not his goal. His goal is still to make us firm and stable and unshakable in our faith. But his approach is very different. Chapter 1 is mainly an encouragement to avail ourselves of God’s power to lead lives of godliness and love. Chapter 2 is mainly a warning against the destruction that will befall those who don’t avail themselves of this power. If chapter 1 is the carrot, chapter 2 is the crack of the whip over our heads. There are no commands, no admonitions, no imperatives in chapter 2; just pure, terrifying description of what will happen to those who fall prey to the false teachers in the church.”
The chapter is 22 verses long, but I’ll try to cover it in three weeks with this outline:
- The Impact of False Teachers (1-3)
- The Certain Judgment of False Teachers (4-10)
- The Character of False Teachers (11-22)
It will be quite the task to finish in three weeks, but I don’t want to linger on this condemnation for too long – you’ll quit coming. By the way, we’ll get to their core teaching in chapter 3 – where is this coming He promised?
So today, it’s simply the impact of the false teachers – with some character sprinkled in. Here’s the simple outline of the text:
- [There were] False Prophets in Israel [there will be] False Teachers in the Church (1a)
- The Works of the False Teachers (1b-3)
So again, Peter has just said, there are two trustworthy witnesses to the coming of Christ – we apostles, who were eyewitnesses of His majesty, and the inspired, prophetic word of God. But, even though the Scripture was written by true prophets moved by God, there were also false prophets among the people of Israel. Of course, they were warned about by Moses, and appeared all over the OT. (Jer 23 – Jeremiah was warning of the coming destruction, the false prophets were saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.) Typically, you could determine whether they were false prophets by whether what they prophesied was true or happened, and whether the prophet turned the hearts of the people to God, rather than away from Him. One commentator suggests there are three prominent characteristics of false prophets in the OT:
- Unlike true prophets, they did not speak with divine authority.
- Frequently their message was one of peace and security in contrast to the prophecies of future judgments uttered by true prophets.
- False prophets were condemned to punishment by God.
All three of these characteristics will be found true of these false teachers in the verses to come. Now, it’s interesting to note these false teachers will be among them. They’ll come right from the ranks of the church, which is why I began with those examples in the evangelical world today. Just because someone has a Christian title or says some Christian words, or even holds the Bible on occasion does not mean they can be trusted. False teachers will and have arisen from among the ranks of the church. And what do they do?
We see several things. First, they will secretly introduce destructive heresies. The word destructive is used three times in these verses. It has an eschatological flavor, which means it is usually referring to future destruction. So, they are secretly introducing destructive heresies – that is, false teachings which will result in future judgment and destruction of those who are sucked in – who listen and follow. This isn’t just a matter of differences of interpretation on minor points – these are destructive teachings with egregious consequences. So right away, Peter is saying, there is future judgment – and what they are teaching, if you follow, will result in future judgment. This is not a game.
Next, we see they are even denying the Master who bought them. This is a challenging verse for those of us who believe that a true believer cannot lose their salvation. Here, Peter says, these false teachers were in some way bought or purchased or redeemed by the Master. The word Master is the word from which we get our word despot – it speaks of an absolute ruler. In fact, the word was often used of slave owners, who purchased slaves from the slave market. Of course, we understand, by His death and resurrection, Jesus, our sovereign master, has purchased us from the slave market of sin. We are no longer slaves to sin, Romans 6 says, but slaves to righteousness. So, in what way were these false teachers bought by the Master – bought by Christ? Did they lose their salvation?
Well, as one who believes the Scripture is abundantly clear that true believers cannot and will not lose their salvation, we have to look for a different explanation than that they have lost their salvation. I would simply say it like this – I believe Christ’s death on the cross was sufficient for all people – that whoever wants to be saved can be saved. But Christ’s death was only efficient for the elect – those chosen for salvation that Peter talked about in his first letter. If you say Christ’s death was efficient for everyone, well then, everyone’s sins have been atoned, and everyone is saved. Of course, the Bible does not teach that.
But since His death was efficient and purchased the salvation for those who would truly believe, their sins are forgiven, and they will never perish eternally. But, there are those among humanity – for whom Christ’s death was sufficient, who were never truly saved. They gave the appearance of some good things – maybe even for awhile. Remember Matthew 7? In the judgment, there are those who said and did some good things, but Jesus says to them, depart from Me – I never knew you. Not, I knew you and forgot you. I knew you, and you walked away. No, I never knew you. They were never dead to sin, and alive to Christ.
So here, the Master Jesus bought them in that His death was for sinners – sufficient for their sin, but they would never believe. Therefore, they will say things like, Christ is not coming back. There will be no judgment. We can live in our sin, which we enjoy. There is no way such people have truly been saved. It’s what is called a phenomenological approach – they appeared to be saved, they appeared to follow – but they never truly did. (I John 2)
So, they secretly introduce destructive heresies. They in some way deny the Master who bought them. That is, by their lifestyles, they deny His call to salvation and sanctification. And through that, they bring swift destruction on themselves. Their destructive heresies will result in their own destruction. You see, Peter is saying, Jesus is coming back, and there will be judgment. And your sinful lifestyles will be condemned.
Verse 2 says, sadly, many will follow their sensuality. The word sensuality speaks of sensual, sexual sin. People will give into their own thoughts, contrary to the Scripture, regarding sexual purity. Why not? It doesn’t matter. My sins are forgiven anyway, right? I can live how I want – everyone else is doing it. We were never intended to be in the mainstream.
And as a result, the way of the truth – the truth of the Christian faith, will be maligned. Blasphemed among outsiders. They will look at us and say, there is no difference between us – what kind of God do they worship?
Verse 3, and in their greed, they will exploit you with false words. The very thing the false teachers implied – from verse 16 – that Peter and the apostles had followed cleverly-devised myths – is the very thing the false teachers themselves were doing. They were exploiting their listeners with false words. It literally speaks of made-up stories – made-up words. They make things up, inconsistent with Scripture, to exploit you. Greed is the motive, exploitation is the method, and made-up stories are the means. Put those two things together – sexual sin and greed – and you have the description of the false teachers then – and today.
You’ve heard me condemn the prosperity gospel many times from this pulpit. Not only is it unbiblical, it is a false means by which its false teachers exploit listeners – followers – to enrich themselves. Their favorite method is – give us money if you expect healing to happen – give us money, sow a seed of faith, if you expect to get rich yourselves. And they end up getting rich – living in mansions, riding in jets, bankrolling the money. They exploit seduced followers for personal gain.
But know this. While they deny the second coming of Christ, while they deny future judgment, while they live how they want – their judgment is coming. The very judgment the false teachers denied was coming for them. It is not idle, it is coming at the proper time. And their destruction – the third time the word is used in these three verses – is not asleep. Don’t be seduced.
I quoted from John Piper’s sermon on this text earlier. I close with his further words:
“2 Peter 2 is aimed at keeping me from being a heartless pastor. It aims to keep me from playing games in this pulpit. It aims to keep my sermons from dissolving into pep-talks about the power of positive thinking. It aims to make me earnest about my calling and angry about false teaching and grieved over the destruction of the ungodly. This chapter is no accident in Holy Scripture. It is the Word of God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, that all of us might become very, very zealous to confirm our call and election.” To not fall away through the false teaching of those who wish to pursue their sinful desires. Do not presume on grace. This is not a game.