September 13, 2020
Just last week, The Gospel Coalition shared the results of a recent survey of Americans, particularly evangelicals. The 2020 Ligonier Ministries’ State of Theology survey is a biennial survey conducted by LifeWay Research that “takes the theological temperature of the United States and reveals what Americans believe about God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, sin, worship, and ethics.” By the way, the survey defined evangelicals as people who strongly agreed with the following four statements:
- The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
- It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
- Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
- Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
Seems clear enough. I think most, if not all of us, would agree with those statements, that definition of evangelicals. And yet, in the words of The Gospel Coalition article, the results of the survey were not encouraging. To say it again, this survey was taken of Americans, but focused on those who call themselves evangelicals – who agree with those four statements. The survey revealed the following results. The statements are followed by the percentage of evangelicals who agreed with the statement.
- Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God. (30%) – almost one in three.
- The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being. (46%) – half of those surveyed.
- The Holy Spirit can tell me to do something which is forbidden in the Bible. (18%)
- Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. (65%)
- Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation. (51% agreed, which means, 49% disagreed)
- Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. (46%)
- God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. (42%)
- Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth. (23%)
- Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. (39%)
The author of the article was correct – the results are not encouraging. Why do I bring this up today? Because while some of those statements may be the result of spiritual or biblical immaturity, some of them are clear heresy. I would go so far to say, you cannot, in fact, be an evangelical if you affirm some of those statements.
The state of the so-called evangelical church is one reason we study verse-by-verse through the Scripture – to include II Peter. These kinds of statements – not only believed but even taught by false teachers in the church today – is cause for great concern – for the life and health of the church of Jesus Christ. You see, as we read through Peter’s letter and especially chapter 2, we see that he is clearly upset. He’s mad. After all, we are talking about Jesus Christ, His Gospel, His church, His return, and His coming judgment.
Now listen, I can at times get passionate from this pulpit. But if Peter were standing before us today, reading this chapter, I believe you’d see a fair degree of passion, angst, concern – even vitriol. His eyes would be blazing, his fist would be pounding, his words would come with terrifying force. He’s like a flamethrower today. Because, the church of Jesus Christ and His people were at stake. He spares no words. Read the text with me – II Peter 2:10b-22.
As we know well by now, Peter is writing to a church besieged with false teachers. I Peter was written because attacks against the church came from without. II Peter was written because attacks came from within – from their own number – wolves in sheep’s clothing. And Peter’s attitude is markedly different in these two letters. In the first letter, he actually says, keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles – unbelievers is the idea – so that the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God. Christ is our example – who suffered, not for doing evil, but doing good. Live godly lives – like Christ – and maybe through your testimony, others will become believers. You see, persecutors from without don’t know any better. They are sinners, acting like sinners.
But II Peter is a different story. Again, Peter is clearly angry – he has no room for false teachers in the church, attacking the church with false, unbiblical teaching from within. It is a difficult letter, but one most appropriate for today. Because, you see, Christianity is a faith built on objective truth. Despite what Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities say, there is no such thing as your truth, and my truth. You see, such thinking is purely subjective, and is formed by experiences and interpretations of those experiences. However, truth is not owned by such subjective criteria – it is not even owned by the majority. There is simply truth – and God is the author of all that is true and right and good. We must look to His self-revelation in His Word, ultimately in His Son, to know Him – and to know what is true and right and good.
And it is His Word that is the standard by which we judge teachers – to include this teacher. It is not right or wrong because I say it – what matters is what God says. I don’t have my truth – other than that which is contained herein.
So, Peter has some scathing things to say about these false teachers who were denying God’s truth. You also know well by now what they were saying: Jesus is not coming back, so there will be no judgment, so you can live however you want. And that, they did. So, in this chapter, Peter issues a strong condemnation of them. We outlined the chapter like this:
- The Impact of False Teachers (1-3)
- The Certain Judgment of False Teachers (4-10a)
- The Character of False Teachers (10b-22)
It is a stunning, startling condemnation – a well-articulated argument. In those first three verses, he told us – just as there were false prophets in Israel, so also there will false teachers in the church. And these false teachers will introduce destructive heresies, deny the Master who bought them, follow their own sensuality – a word which speaks of sexual sin, and greedily exploit you. But know this, Peter said. While they deny any present or future judgment, their judgment is not idle; their destruction is not asleep. It is coming.
Which brought us to the second point where Peter declared their certain judgment to come. He reminded us of God’s judgment in the past against an obstinate, rebellious and sinful creation. Peter started with angelic beings who sinned, and were therefore cast into hell, awaiting future judgment. He reminded us of God’s worldwide judgment in the flood of Noah’s day – when all the imaginations and inclinations of the hearts of people were wicked continually. He talked about the Sodom and Gomorrah, where God judged by fire the five cities of the plain for their gross sexual immorality.
But don’t miss, in the midst of those judgments, God knew how to preserve His people. He rescued Noah and his family – eight in all – through the ark. He rescued Lot and his daughters, telling us that Lot’s righteous soul was tormented by the sin around him. Then, Peter reminded us, while rescuing His people, God will keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, especially those who indulge the flesh and its corrupt desires and despise God’s ultimate authority.
He was building a case through those verses. You can see the hammer of God’s judgment rising higher and higher through the passage. Now, Peter unloads on these false teachers – and again, he spares no words. Having just suggested God is especially irritable with sexually sinful people as well as those who despise authority – in other words, arrogant people – Peter now illustrates how these false teachers fit those descriptions (in reverse order). Oh, and by the way, he points out how they were greedy. And he ends the chapter with some very sobering words. So, let’s look at that following this outline:
- The Arrogance of the False Teachers (10b-12)
- The Hedonism of the False Teachers (13-14a)
- The Greed of the False Teachers (14b-16)
- The Teaching of the False Teachers (17-19)
- The Final End of the False Teachers (20-22)
Yes, that’s a lot of points, but we’ll move quickly. Peter starts by telling us they are daring and self-willed – another translation has it bold and arrogant. Let me say this – an indispensable quality or characteristic of believers is humility – and that trait ought to be clearly seen in Christian leaders. Anytime a leader or teacher becomes self-promoting, arrogant, proud, and unteachable, there is a problem. That’s what these guys were.
Peter illustrates it by their treatment of angelic majesties – literally, glories or glorious ones. It’s challenging and has led to various interpretations. I won’t go into all those. It seems these guys were so full of themselves they didn’t even have a respect for angelic beings – fallen in the form of demons, or unfallen angels. They thought so highly of themselves. We can compare with Jude to see what Peter seems to be referring:
8 Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.
9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
The idea seems to be that these false teachers were so arrogant, so full of themselves, that they reviled demons – when even Michael, the very archangel – a leader of the angels – would not do that, but would entrust their judgment to God. Peter says, these guys revile fallen angels, whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them. We’re not exactly sure how they demonstrated this arrogance, but these guys thought themselves mightier than angels.
We’ll talk about this more when we get to Jude, but every once in a while, you’ll see guys on TV challenging Satan to some kind of duel – bring it on, Satan, because greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world. Listen – don’t do that. First of all, Satan is not omnipresent, and so he’s probably not hanging out in Boone – and I’d like to keep it that way. Don’t be so arrogant that you think you could take on angelic majesties, glorious ones.
Peter goes on to describe them further in verse 12, where he compares them to unreasoning, wild animals – simply born as creatures of instinct. They do what comes natural to them. Unfortunately, given that we are born in sin, to do what seems natural is ungodly. This is an incredibly important point. Those who want to justify sexual immorality, saying, I’m just being true to myself, are wrong. We don’t want to be true to ourselves – because our true selves are terribly sinful. As a result, Peter says, these were worthy of nothing except to be captured and destroyed like wild animals. You see, they will suffer wrong as the wages of doing wrong.
Which brings us to the hedonism of false teachers in verses 13 and 14. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure at all costs. Here, this speaks of their sinful, sexual pleasures. Again, as I said last week, given the mixed audience with children present, I won’t go into great detail, although frankly, Peter does. When you think of sexual sin, you normally think of what is done under the cover of darkness. These were so committed to their sinful pleasures the did so in the daytime. So Peter calls them stains and blemishes. Please notices, he is using strong, even harsh language to condemn them. These words were specifically chosen, because they are opposite of what he calls us, as followers of Christ, to be, in chapter 3, where he says (14), “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things [that is, the return of Christ and the coming judgment], be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless…” While these false teachers could be found day and night in sinful rebellion, covered with stains and blemishes, we are to be found when He returns, spotless and blameless. We don’t do that on our own, by the way, but by the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Now remember, back in chapter 1, Peter’s primary desire for us is that we will be diligent to make certain of His calling and choosing us. Be diligent to make your calling and election sure. This does not mean we earn our salvation – it means we make every effort, having been called by Him, to persevere, and prove the reality of our faith when He returns.
These false teachers – whether Jesus returns day or night – will be found steeped in sin. Verse 14 says they have eyes full of adultery. That’s a sordid picture – it’s literally, having eyes full of adulteresses. It means they look at every woman with the potential for adultery. They see women as sex objects to be exploited – married or not. They never cease from sinning – they sin with their eyes – and act on it during the day and night. And by the way, this is a clear condemnation of lust and pornography.
Next, we see the greed of the false teachers at the end of verse 14 through verse 16. They had hearts trained in greed – accursed children that they are. They were only in it for the money. You only have to look at the prosperity gospel preachers and see their lavish lifestyles – they are clearly in it to fleece the flock, wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Then, very interestingly, Peter compares them to Balaam, whose story is found in Numbers 22-24. The Israelites were camped at the outskirts of Moab, to the east of the land of promise. Balak, the king of Moab, had seen what the Israelites were doing to all in their way. So, he called for Balaam, a local prophet, to come put a curse on Israel. When you read the story, it seems a bit challenging. It seems Balaam is a good prophet. He shows up, and four times, he doesn’t curse Israel – he blesses them. So, what does Peter mean when he says, they forsook the right way – the way of righteousness – and have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam? It seems Balaam did what was right.
But a careful reading reveals several things. First, Balaam was in it for the money. Sure, he wasn’t allowed to curse Israel, but he wanted to – to make little money on the side. You see, it didn’t matter to him what he said or who he cursed, as long as he got paid. This is where we read the story about Balaam and the donkey. As Balaam was going to Balak to give a prophecy, an angel of the Lord met him to slay him. The donkey turned to the side several times – each time earning the wrath of Balaam. Finally, the donkey turned back to Balaam and said basically, I’ve always served you faithfully – and if I didn’t do that now, you’d be dead.
Then God opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel with the sword drawn. Go ahead, Balaam – go make a buck. That’s all you’re in it for anyway. He loved the wages of unrighteousness. Very interesting, the next chapter, Numbers 25, we see some Israelite men started bringing Moabite women into the camp. The idea was to turn the hearts of the men away from God, to follow the Moabite god. We find later in Numbers 31 and Revelation 2, that was Balaam’s idea.
Which brings us, quickly, to our fourth point – the teaching of the false teachers. Now, I’ve been saying, given what Peter corrects through this book, what the false teachers were saying: Jesus is not coming back, there will be no judgment, therefore, live however you want. In verses 17-19, we don’t clearly have these points spelled out, or even what they taught specifically. But we find their teaching empty – making vain promises of freedom. We find they went after those who had just recently become Christians, and enticed them to indulge in sinful, sensual fleshly desires.
Look at the verses. Verse 17, they are springs without water, mists driven by the storm. Both springs and storms promise water – but these springs and storms brought none. Just like the false teachers, they made empty promises – for which black darkness, or judgment is reserved.
Verse 18, they speak arrogant words of vanity – empty, arrogant words, enticing young believers to give into fleshly desires through sensual sin. Who are these young believers? The end of the verse says they have just barely escaped from the world and its lifestyle of error. They are new Christians. They are trying to draw them back in – for their own sensual, sinful desires.
Verse 19 – all the while promising freedom. If that is not the message of today, I don’t know what is. Not just outside of the church – but inside – from those who claim to be Christ followers – specifically as it relates to sexual sin. It is time, they say, to do away with restrictive, puritanical morality. What is this one man for one woman for life? Lust through pornography is rampant – and not condemned. Premarital sex is fine – not that big a deal – everyone does it. Surveys of professing Christian young adults reveal they are sexually active. Extra marital sex is right in the church. Divorce, no big deal. And then there’s homosexuality – clearly condemned in Scripture – as was seen in this chapter with Sodom and Gomorrah, which I chose, then, not to address. Church after church, denomination after denomination, is losing its commitment to sexual purity – and approving that which the Bible clearly condemns.
And so, they promise freedom, sexual freedom – but themselves are slaves of corruption, and Peter states a proverb – for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. They promise freedom, but they are slaves of the sin they promote.
Bringing us to our last point – and where I really want to focus today anyway. I know I’m out of time, but please listen carefully. In verses 20-22, like the author of Hebrews, Peter warns severely against turning from the way of righteousness.
Verse 20, for if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. If you give into the enticements to sin – especially sensual sin – and turn from Christ and become entangled again with the world’s defilements, your final state is worse than the first.
In fact, verse 21 says, it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. Meaning, it would have been better never to have heard the gospel, professed a false belief in the gospel, and then turn from it. Without doubt, you, like me, can think of many you know and love who have made professions of faith – only to deny those professions and turn to the world’s sin and its entanglements.
Verse 22, it happened to them according to the true proverb (singular – meaning both these proverbs communicate the same truth, “A dog returns to its own vomit, and a pig, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mud.”
These are challenging verses of severe warning. Don’t make a profession of faith, then turn from it. The consequences are eternally disastrous. Now, one of the challenges of these verses is it seems that true believers can themselves turn back to sin, forsake the Gospel, and be lost. I believe the overall teaching of Scripture is that, once God saves you, you are saved eternally. So, what do these verses teach – if we are trying to be consistent with the rest of Scripture?
To be fair, it is a challenging text. You see, Peter addresses these people with redemptive language. After all, they had escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. They are then entangled again and overcome. They had known the way of righteousness and turned from it. Very challenging. But again, comparing Scripture with Scripture, it seems God’s salvation is eternal. So, what other possibilities do we have here?
I would simply say two things. First, the church is full of professing, but not genuine believers. Those who have heard the gospel, perhaps even made a spurious commitment to the gospel, but are not truly saved. These false teachers are a case in point. They had the trappings of faith, but were truly not saved.
And second, the very last verse of the chapter indicates that very thing. How so? Notice, the dog returns to its vomit, the pig to its mire. The dog was still a dog, the pig was still a pig – and they did what dogs and pigs do. There was no true change of nature. You can put a bow on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You can call a dog your baby, but it’s still a dog. In no sense does it actually become your son or daughter. The same here. I John says it this way, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” And we remember one of the main purposes of the letter – brothers and sisters, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure – follow faithfully to the end.