2 Peter 2:17-22 ~ 20100214 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
02/14 2 Peter 2:17-22 The True Nature of False Teachers
Peter has written this short but fiery letter to warn believers that there are false teachers on the loose who have chosen a path to hell and are enticing everyone they can to join them on it. He has prayed for us that God's grace and peace would be multiplied to us in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. He has encouraged us that God's sovereign power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us. He has pointed us to the promises of God, to our participation in God's holy character, and our escape from sinful desires that would destroy us. He has encouraged us in the path of godliness and virtue which testifies to our transformed character and new identity. Peter writes to establish us in the truth so that we will not be shaken when the false teachers come. In chapter 2, he lays in to the false teachers with all the vengeance of a loving father whose innocent daughter is being seduced by a sexual predator. He rips the disguise off their true motivation; greed, out of control lust, and a total disregard for proper authority. He lays out the biblical historical examples of angels who sinned, the ancient world destroyed by the flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah, to demonstrate that
9 ...the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,
He compares these false teachers to irrational animals so out of control that they must be destroyed. He describes them as blots and blemishes, like contagious leprosy that destroys whatever it comes in contact with, with eyes that can't stop lusting after everyone they look at. They have an insatiable appetite for sin, they are experts in greed and manipulation. They prey on weak believers who are not well established in the truth and entice them to go astray to their own destruction. He compares them to Balaam from the Old Testament, who for money told the enemies of God's people how to seduce them into immorality and idolatry. Balaam was rebuked by his own donkey but didn't even listen. He ended up being killed along with the enemies of God's people.
Peter is a good shepherd, lovingly feeding and caring for the needs of the sheep, but fierce and merciless when protecting them from the wolves. He goes on in the rest of the chapter to demonstrate the emptiness of their promises, the method of their madness, and the true character of these false teachers.
17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 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. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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.”
Peter reveals the empty nature of their promises. Imagine hiking in the arid desert, your water has run out, you are becoming dehydrated, and you see a sign that says 'fresh water spring - 2 miles'. You take the detour and with every step anticipate the refreshment that the fresh cool water will bring. The anticipation motivates you to push on toward the spring. Your thirst drives you to keep going even when you feel like you can't take another step. You round the final bend, and there you see the decomposing carcasses of the other travelers who took the same detour. The spring that promised hope has no water. The empty promise leads to death. Proverbs says:
Proverbs 13:13 Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded. 14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
The teaching of the wise is said to be a fountain of life. This is teaching that honors God's word and pays attention to his commandment. Teaching that gives life is teaching that points people to the true source of life. Jeremiah said:
Jeremiah 2:13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
The first and greatest sin is abandoning God as the all satisfying source of everything we need. The Psalmist knew God is the only one that can quench our soul's deepest thirst.
Psalms 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Jesus said to the woman at the well
John 4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
In John 6 he said:
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
In John 7 he said
John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Jesus promised that those who come to him to be satisfied in him will have their deepest thirst quenched, will be indwelt by his Holy Spirit, and will overflow with living water for those around. Are we water for the thirsty? Do our words point people to Jesus and give life to those around us? Or are we waterless springs?
He calls the false teachers waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. The image is a cloud that promises rain for a parched land but turns out to be only a haze that brings hot weather. Mist has no stability and comes and goes with the changing breezes of fashion and popular opinion. These false teachers are not neutral; they are not harmless, and they will be held accountable for their actions. He says 'for them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.' Their judgment is firmly fixed. They have reserved seats in the blackest darkness. This destiny of the false teachers stands in stark contrast to the future that is reserved for us:
1 Peter 1:3 ... he has caused us to be born again to a living hope ...4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded though faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
There is an inheritance reserved in heaven for all genuine believers. The gloom of utter darkness has been reserved for false teachers who lead sheep away from the Shepherd. Peter goes on to describe how they do what they do, so we will be on guard.
18 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 were waterless in that their words did not bring life, but they were by no means silent. Just the opposite. They would talk anybody under the table with their volume, their forcefulness, and their arrogance. They would look down on anyone who disagreed as ignorant, uneducated, or uninformed. They speak loud boasts of folly. The word here speaks of inflated arrogant high sounding speech. They were impressive to listen to. They were able to use big words and convincing arguments. They made great promises for those who would attend their seminars and follow their advice, but their teaching was full of truth that was distorted and would lead to destruction.
Their impressive sounding speech was the PR campaign for their real agenda: they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. Sex sells. Lust and greed and appetite are powerful tools, and sensual passions are intensely difficult to resist. The drives for food and drink and sex and escape from pain are all necessary God given drives that are not sinful. But when these drives become the controlling principle in life, they become destructive.
The false teachers go after those who are not established in the faith. That's why Peter is writing this letter! He wants us all to be established, with our feet firmly planted on the solid rock of the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ, our mind informed by reliable biblical truth, and our heart transformed to love God more than anything else. There is no excuse for someone who has been a believer for many years to not be established in the truth. But growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does take time, and those who have only recently been introduced to Jesus are by nature more vulnerable. We all need to be on our guard, and watching out for one another. We all have a common enemy who constantly seeks to steal, kill and destroy. The devil is after those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. When someone comes to Christ, there must be a break with the old lifestyle. That is an especially vulnerable time for a new believer who will be barraged with temptation to return to what is familiar. We need to help each other, to confront each other, to pray with each other, to encourage each other to stay in the path of righteousness.
Here's what the false teachers promise: They promise them freedom. Freedom is the glorious message of the cross. Jesus said "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). Paul taught that "the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2); "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). These false teachers would take up the cry "Freedom! - Christ set us free for freedom! stand firm in your freedom and do not submit to the legalism of those who impose their rigid puritanical morals on you to restrict your freedom in Christ. Christ died to set us free from the law! We are free! We can live any way we choose because we are free!" Freedom is a powerful word. FREEDOM! The cry of freedom can rally the troops. The idea of freedom can bring us to tears. It is an emotionally charged word. But what does it mean? What is freedom? What kind of freedom are we talking about? Peter has already addressed this danger head on in his first letter:
1 Peter 2:16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
We are free! That is true. Peter encourages us to embrace our freedom. Live as people who are free. But the danger is that we would use freedom as a cover-up for evil. We are free, but we are freed to be the glad servants of God. Here's how Paul describes our freedom:
Romans 6:7 For one who has died has been set free from sin... 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. ... 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
Freedom in Christ is not freedom to live any way we please. The blood-bought freedom that we are given is freedom to live a life free from slavery to sin. Our freedom in Christ can be described as slavery to God or slavery to righteousness. This is slavery to a master who loves us so much that he paid with his own blood to free us from the consequences of our own sin - death, hell, an eternity of the righteous wrath of God; and to promise us sanctification, cleansing that leads to eternal life and joy in his presence. Jesus said
Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
The loud boastful word 'freedom' for the false teachers really means that they are still enslaved to their own corruption. They are overcome by their own passions. They are not master of their desires, they are ruled by their desires. Their cry of freedom rings empty when we look at their slavish existence that eats away at the very flesh they worship. The next thing Peter says is downright scary.
20 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. 21 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. 22 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.”
Peter tells us that it is possible to escape the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and be re-entangled and overcome. Peter doesn't talk like many Christians in our day talk. "Well, I know he's gone back to his old ways, but at least he prayed the sinner's prayer when he was in jail. What she's doing right now isn't right, but she asked Jesus into her heart when she was young. They were baptized and went to church regularly for a while. They've returned to their old lifestyle, but at least they made a decision for Christ at that concert.” Sometimes our evangelism reflects this; if we can get someone to pray to receive Christ we can rejoice with the angels and go on our merry way. Peter does not think or talk like this. He says "it would have been better for them never to have know the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment". Better never to have known, than to know and walk away. Better to never hear the gospel, than to hear, understand, and reject it. This echoes what Jesus said
Matthew 11:24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.
“If...they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” This is almost an exact quote from the words of Jesus:
Luke 11:24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (cf. Matthew 12:43-45)
According to Peter, it would be better if someone had never heard of Jesus than for them to understand clearly the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for our sins, to embrace him for a time, and then to walk away.
Jesus did not tell us to go get as many people as you can to pray a prayer. Jesus told us to
Matthew 28:19-20 Go ...and make disciples... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you
Salvation is described in verse 21 as "the way of righteousness"; it is not the way of self-gratification. Righteousness is to define the character and way of life of a Christian. He describes it as "the holy commandment delivered to them". The gospel is not a recommendation. It is not a suggestion or an offer. The good news is a holy commandment. The gospel makes demands on me.
Acts 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Paul reminds us of the gospel in 1 Corinthians
1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.
We must turn from our dead works, embrace Christ as our only hope, and abide in him.
I do not believe this passage teaches that a true believer can lose his salvation. The final phrase makes this clear. "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire." Dogs and pigs were both unclean animals according to the Old Testament, and they were both considered filthy and despised. Dogs have a habit of vomiting and then eating what they have vomited up. People for a time can seem to purge themselves of the sin inside, but if their nature is not changed, they will go swallow it back down. Pigs wallow in mud. You can give a pig a bath, but it is still a pig and it will wallow in the mud as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Washing the outside does nothing to effect change on the inside. A dog is still a dog and a pig is still a pig. They are not sheep. Their true nature will become evident with time. This is what John tells us :
1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
People can be very convincing. We have a tendency to want to clean the outside of the cup and whitewash the outside of the tomb. But the new birth results in new life - transformed life - sheep that follow the shepherd. Those that turn from the shepherd to eat their own vomit or wallow in their own filth are not sheep but pigs and dogs.
Jesus illustrated this truth in the parable of the soils:
Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
False teachers, and those who follow them, are thorny ground; choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life. The do not hold fast to the word of truth but forsake it.
Peter is writing to warn those whom he believes to be true believers. These are strong words of warning from the loving heart of a protective father. Understand the method of the false teachers; they use bold sophisticated sounding language to persuade. Understand the bait of the false teachers; they seduce unsteady souls with indulgence of the flesh. Understand the theology of the false teachers - they preach a freedom from biblical moral restraints by distorting the meaning of Christian freedom. Understand the end of the false teachers; they are slaves to their own corruption, they are worse off than someone who has never heard the good news, and the gloom of utter darkness is reserved for them.
2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.