How Bad Are They? Part 4
False teachers are outwardly impressive, but inwardly evil
2 Peter 2:18-22
You know this story from history–I learned it from Grace to You, August 15 of 2003. On July 16, 1945, a handful of scientists and military officials gathered in New Mexico to witness the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb–an event that heralded the end of World War II and seemed to usher in an era of American military superiority that would last decades. But not everything was as it appeared to be–meaning, not everyone attending the detonation was who they appeared to be.
Nestled among the inner circle of experts who spearheaded the “Manhattan Project” was Klaus Fuchs, a German-born, British physicist who was in fact a Soviet spy. As U.S. military commanders congratulated themselves on their new super weapon, Fuchs rejoiced for a different reason. He had already given the blueprints for that same bomb to the Russians. British intelligence caught up with Klaus Fuchs five years later and his confession revealed a devastating Soviet spy ring that had been stealing U.S. military secrets for a decade. His cohorts, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were arrested and ultimately executed. Fuchs spent nine years in prison, but the damage was already done.
Years sooner than anyone expected, the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. The Cold War escalated to dangerous new heights as the United States, caught unaware, engaged the Soviets in a nuclear arms race that would keep the world fearful of nuclear annihilation for the next fifty years. It is amazing the kind of damage a well-placed enemy operative can inflict. Years of research, layers of security, all undone because Fuchs and his cohorts slipped past the defenses by wearing the mask of friendship.
This is how God’s enemies go after His Church. Throughout history, Satan has launched innumerable overt attacks on the Church–everything from persecution to false religion. But the most damaging attacks by far have come from within. Inside operators, pretenders, infiltrate the Church. False teachers within the Church can take many forms. Some teach a Sunday school class or lead worship. Others become elders or deacons. Worst of all, some spiritual double agents actually teach or preach God’s Word to youth or to the entire church.
Whatever form they take, all false teachers will claim to love the Church, yet work behind the scenes to hinder its effectiveness. Pretending to speak truth, they twist Scripture for personal gain and shipwreck the faith of some along the way. Like Klaus Fuchs, false teachers appear to be on your side. They appear to profess the right Gospel. They seem to proclaim the right doctrine. On the surface at least, they seem to live biblically–but beneath the surface, they practice deceit.
They breed disunity, they sow confusion, with the goal of creating division. They mix cultural thinking to the Scripture, which diminishes its power to change lives. They usually live unholy, causing the name of Christ to be diminished in the world. And they ultimately destroy the clarity of and communication of the Gospel. They do it by diluting or distorting the good news or they turn the church’s focus–getting a church so preoccupied with itself, they stop sharing the salvation message.
Given the kind of damage false teachers can cause the Church, it’s no wonder Peter takes an entire chapter to aggressively warn us about them. You say, “Chris, this is really not a concern of mine.” It should be–Paul, Jude and Peter wrote about false teachers, and Jesus Himself cautioned His disciples about them. And God’s Word provides more than just warnings–the Bible tells us how you can spot false teachers. The Scripture paints a disturbing portrait of how false teachers operate so you can recognize them before they destroy the Gospel, undermine the Word and your church.
Come on students, friends, brothers and sisters–it is happening all around us. You are surrounded by a bogus Christianity, promoting false ways to be saved. Many believe, “If I pray a prayer once, I’m secure in salvation,” even though there’s no fruit. Others think believing the right doctrine makes you saved. Students often think since they come from a Christian home, they’re born again. Some believe if they had a camp experience with Jesus, they can live anyway they like. A few believe they’re saved because they go to a Bible church. Some believe if you feel guilty about your sin, think Christ is the Savior, you’re saved.
Listen friends, you must be born again—transformed. Memorize John 3:3, “Jesus…said …’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” First Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” True Christianity is historical fact and a supernatural transformation by God’s Spirit.
So Peter writes in chapter 2 to sharpen your discernment so you can determine who is true and who is false . . . to convict your heart if you reflect the thinking or lifestyle of the false . . . to cause you to grow in your love for our Savior who is truth and loves the truth . . . to motivate you to share the Gospel with those who do not believe an accurate Gospel . . . to warn of you of the deception of the false so as to help others who are confused.
God spent the early verses of chapter 2 instructing His readers and you, He will certainly judge false teachers. And now in verses 10 to 22 He teaches you how to recognize the false by exposing their Beliefs and Behaviors, Personality and Practices, Character and Conduct. Peter is exposing their true nature and just how bad they are. Peter was not fooled by their Glamour or their Gimmicks. Long ago we look at . . .
#1 Their PRIMARIES Verse 10a
Peter wraps up the certainty of their coming judgment, and focuses on the two major characteristics of false teachers.
First They function by FEELINGS, and
Second They reject all AUTHORITY Verse 10, “and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.” Their teaching is feelings-driven and their lifestyle is anti-authority.
#2 Their PRIDE Verses 10b-11
Read verses 10b to 11
“Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.” False teachers are audacious and defiant with an obstinate determination to do their own thing. False teachers are so arrogant, they will do what the holy angels will not do.
#3 Their PREDISPOSITION Verses 12 to 14a
Read verses 12 to 14, “But these, like unreasoning animals, … 14having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children.” False teachers are not merely fallen men and women who are lost in their sins. They are not merely defiant sinners who are corrupted in nature. They are not only headed for never ending torment later. But they are dangerous.
They are men and women who pretend to be Christians and pretend to instruct others in the Word. They present themselves as those who will help your walk with God, but they harm your walk with God. They are predisposed to oppose the Work of God, malign the person of Christ and distort the only true Gospel. Watch out for their predisposition. Last week we studied . . .
#4 Their PASSION Verses 14b to 16
GREED–verses 14b to 15, “having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15forsaking the right way, they have gone astray having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Peter says in verse 15, these messengers of error have abandoned “the right way”–they have departed from (Acts 13:10) the straight ways of the Lord.
How, but pursuing wealth over worship. False teachers have become skilled, trained like an athlete at greed–which is so disgusting, Peter shouts at the end of verse 14, “accursed children”. They are headed toward Hell’s eternal curse. Because they act just like the Old Testament compromising prophet Balaam, verse 15, “They have gone astray having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.”
Balaam foolishly preferred wealth over worship and it was so mad, so foolish, God caused his own donkey to rebuke him. In verse 16, “But he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.” Balaam is a classic example of a spiritual leader motivated by greed, making him an illustration of false teachers and their greedy practices.
The passion of the false teacher and the mission of most of the messages in this world is greed and lust. Balaam loved money and he led Israel into lustful sin. And how will God react? Balaam deliberately forsook Scripture, and like him, when the false teachers reject the Bible, they will suffer.
#5 Their PENALTY Verse 17
“These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.” These false teachers give nothing of substance, because they have nothing to give. They’re like a dry well or clouds without water. Peter describes the false teachers as those who promise what they cannot deliver.
The result is in verse 17, “for whom the black darkness has been reserved.” Because they live for fame, money, lust and only make empty promises, they will suffer the consequence of the worst punishment anyone can ever experience–the blackness of Hell. Matthew 8:12, “will be cast out into the outer darkness.” The tense tells us this blackness has been reserved for them in the past and is now awaiting them forever. Peter never hesitated to remind all of the terrible penalty that awaits false teachers, and to remind all who are without Christ that eternal darkness awaits them forever. Now today Peter describes . . .
#6 Their PERSUASION Verses 18 to 19
How do they think? How do they justify their error? How do they manipulate genuine believers and capture the make-believer or almost believer? Read verses 18 and 19–see if you can figure it out. “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,19promising them freedom while they themselves are [existing as] slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.”
Did you catch the one word that summarizes their persuasion–what word was it? “Freedom”–personal freedom. They teach that under grace you’re free to live in sin. False teachers brag about how Christ has freed them from any and all condemnation–and it does. But they take it a step further. They teach God’s grace in salvation means you are released from the constrains of God’s Word, making it possible for you to sin as much as you want.
False teachers, back then and today, have twisted Christian freedom into something it is not. They teach freedom is the license to do whatever you desire. But Christian freedom as Christ intended it is the ability, the freedom, to do what is right based on God’s Word. It is the freedom to obey the Word of God.
The false view teaches Christian freedom means God is happy, loving, and pleased when you live with your boyfriend. But the Bible teaches Christian freedom actually means for the first time you can actually obey God’s Word from a heart that wants to. The false view teaches that the Christian freedom which comes from being in Christ results in a freedom from all authority and all moral demands presented in the Word. But the Bible teaches that salvation results in a freedom from sin for the first time, so now you can live a life that pleases God by obeying the Word of God through the power of the Spirit.
Today, the false view teaches you’re free not to spank your kids as parents, since they’re not saved yet and they can’t obey you. When the Bible teaches, parents spank your kids, since they need to know how bad sin is and how desperately they need a Savior. And false teachers are great at enticing new believers, who’ve just been freed from the clutches of sexual sin practiced in their culture. They would teach it’s okay to keep fornicating or commit adultery, because you are free to do what you want in Christ.
You say, “They don’t teach that!” Yes they do–Jude 4, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” True Christian freedom is the ability to do what is right, based on God’s Word. The false teachers taught these new Christians that religious freedom was a release from living under authority and all biblical morality. The irony of their boastful religious rhetoric is that every time these liars raised the flag of personal freedom, they were currently slaves to their own sexual habits and addictions.
They’re bold about Christian freedom, but their example and exhortations are wrong. Verses 18 and 19, “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19promising them freedom while they themselves are [existing as] slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” The false teachers can’t deliver the freedom they promise, because they themselves are enslaved to the very corruption which people are trying to escape.
As they push a false freedom, Peter wants to tell us how they do it as well. Peter focuses on the noisy, elaborate, but empty words of these false teachers. See verse 18, “arrogant words of vanity”–which means haughty, pompous, bombastic. They speak great swelling words of vanity–they speak high-sounding nonsense. These guys are literally “intoxicated by the exuberance of their own verbosity.” The false teachers deceive the weak with high-sounding words that masquerade as scholarship or pose as profound spiritual insight. They’re posers.
If you have kids or grandkids, you know what it means to blow bubbles. Bubble wands, bubble guns, giant bubbles, bubble machines–bubbles are awesome. They are impressive, amazing, seemingly miraculous circles of soapy water and air. Then in a moment, they pop and they are gone, except for one tiny, messy, drop. All false teachers do is blow verbal bubbles. Peter says what they teach is noise–without substance. What they say is worthless, because they are devoid of truth. They are impressive, but empty air–good for nothing except for a temporary show.
Peter adds in verse18, “they entice,” meaning entrap. They lure like a bated animal trap. Just like some worldly philosophy, false religions, and errant Christianity at times has an emotional wow or even a logical appeal. But in the end, because it is contrary to God’s Word, it is worthless–like a bubble. Job’s three friends were logical, convincing, zealous–and wrong in every way. So are the false teachers. They expound with great knowledge, sometimes impressive zeal, but their boastful words are contrary to the Scriptures, making them errant on every front.
Peter also mentions their talk and teaching is lascivious. Verse 18, “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality.” These heretics are bold and daring, which appeals to the fleshly, emotional person. The false teachers direct their talk and teaching to appeal directly to your lower nature. Rather than proclaim the Word as written leading to Christlikeness, they offer listeners a type of belief where they can still hold on to their fleshly, lustful lifestyle. They’d say, “No need to repent of your desires or lusts, you are under grace.”
Then Peter adds in verse 18, “those who barely escape from the ones who live in error.” Some think this phrase describes those who barely get away from those who live in error. Or it refers to those who are close to the truth but do not escape from those in error. It is probably the latter–those who are close to truth, but do not escape the error. The Bible talks of such people.
Felix, who trembled at the preaching of Paul in Acts 24:25. Felix might have escaped his bondage to sin and found deliverance in Christ, except he was enamored with Drusilla. She was a daughter of King Herod, currently married to the King of Edessa, but left her husband in favor of Felix. This adulteress sat right next to Felix when he trembled at Paul’s preaching. Unwilling to repent and turn to Christ, he remained lost.
The context points to verse 18 describing the lost–not a description of the saved, but of people who are vulnerable, who go to church but don’t know Christ, make-believers and almost-believers. Some of them are very sincere. Many church attenders have high levels of guilt and great anxieties. They are people with marriage trouble or broken marriages, they’re lonely, or weary of the consequences of sin and are looking for a new start. They come to church looking for help from God. And they become the people false teachers exploit–people who are worn out by sin and looking for a do-over.
The false teachers manipulate these types of hurting people. But here is the danger. Temporary reformation without true repentance and rebirth only leads to greater sin and judgment. Reformation cleans up the outside, but regeneration changes the inside. Sinful tendencies don’t disappear when a person reforms himself on the outside–they merely hibernate and get stronger. Holiness is not simply refusing to do evil things–even unsaved people can practice self-control.
True holiness is more than conquering temptation. It is conquering even the desire to disobey God. You can expect nothing but false freedom from false teachers who offer false promises. Born again Christians are freed from the penalty and the power of sin. And genuine believers can resist the deception of the false teacher. Occasionally, baby Christians get caught in their net–but because all true believers are secure in Christ, the Lord will rescue them in time from false doctrine.
How do you know you are truly born again? First, you WANT to obey (Romans 6:17). Second, You are WILLING to anything for Christ (Luke 14)–no matter what. Not perfectly, but you are willing. Third, WORSHIP–all in (Romans 12:1-2) because you see Him as worthy. He is your first love.
Now read verse 19, “Promising them freedom while they themselves are [existing as] slaves of corruption.” You can’t set someone free if you’re in bondage yourself–and these false teachers are in bondage to sin–they have not been freed by Christ. Peter makes it clear, these men had temporarily disentangled themselves from the pollutions of the world. They had reformed, but then they went right back into bondage again. They professed to be saved, but they were not possessors of Christ. They had not been redeemed. They had not been set free at all. In pursuing religion, specifically an external Christianity, they escaped the defilements of the world on the outside, but they were not transformed by God on the inside–reformed but not regenerated.
The tenses of the verbs in 2 Peter 2:19 are present, “Promising them freedom [liberty] while they themselves are [existing as, present tense] slaves of corruption.” They continually promise freedom while they are continually slaves of sin themselves. They claim to be the servants of God, but they are only the servants of sin. It is bad enough to be a slave, but when sin is your master, you are in the worst possible condition a person can experience (see verse 19, “slaves of corruption”).
Corruption is the worst kind of sinfulness–it is the sickening immorality and the ruination of people who give themselves over to deception, defiance, and disorder. This is CHOP–it’s what we’re seeing today. That is corruption. They are promising freedom, when it’s actually the worst kind of sickening, enslaving sin. This is the kind of freedom continually promised by the false teachers. When Peter uses corruption, he’s saying their false religion is a debauched system–like a poisonous vapor, infectious disease, and lethal pollution infecting every area of life.
Peter has already informed us about the kinds of sins that enslave these false teachers. First, they were in bondage to money. Their covetousness moved them to use every kind of deceptive technique to exploit innocent people to get money. Second, they’re also in bondage to fleshly lust. They focused on weak women, possibly even weak men or boys in light of Sodom and Gomorrah, to express their lust.
Peter told us third, they were also enslaved to pride. They thought nothing of speaking evil of authority, even over the angels or God! They promote themselves and deride everybody else. It’s sad to say, there are folks who admire arrogance–they follow and support proud men. It’s also interesting to compare the three men Peter named in this chapter–Noah, Lot, and Balaam. Noah kept himself completely separated from the apostasy of the world of his day. He boldly preached God’s righteousness and was faithful in his walk and witness, even though no one but his family followed the Lord.
Lot knew the truth and kept himself pure, but he did not keep himself separate. As a result, he lost his family. Lot hated the wickedness of Sodom, yet he lived in the midst of it, and by doing so, exposed his daughters and wife to godless influences. Balaam not only followed the ways of sin, but he encouraged other people to sin–no separation internally or externally. He taught King Balak how to seduce the nation of Israel and his plan almost succeeded. Lot lost his family, but Balaam lost his life.
Peter warns you, Christian–like Hebrews 3:13, beware of “the deceitfulness of sin.” Sin promises freedom, but in the end only brings bondage. Sin promises life, but instead, only brings death.
Sin has a way of gradually binding a person until there is no way of escape, apart from the gracious intervention of the Lord. Even the bondage sin creates is deceitful, for the people who are bound actually think they’re free. Too late, they discover they’re prisoners of their own appetites and habits. You think you are free to have premarital sex, but it destroys trust and respect, creates paralyzing guilt, robs you of joy and will ruin the relationship. You think you are free to take those pills or smoke that pot or get drunk–but quickly you’re in bondage, addicted and can’t stop, leading to all kinds of sorrow.
You follow your freedoms and steal from work, then you’re caught and fired. You think you can treat your spouse with attitude, deception, yelling or indifference. You think no one knows, you think it won’t make any difference. But God says He will shut off from you, will give consequence and your children will be scarred. Sin is deceitful in every way.
So what is the false teacher persuasion? What is one of their main manipulations? False teachers twist the concept of Christian freedom into something it is not. They teach that freedom is the license to do whatever a so-called believer desires. God says that is evil. Romans 6:1 and 2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! [The strongest negative in the Greek language] How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Jesus Christ came to bring freedom. You died to sin. You’re no longer a slave to sin. In the Bible, freedom does not mean doing your own thing or having it your way. That attitude is the very essence of sin.
The freedom Jesus Christ offers means enjoying fulfillment in the will of God. It means achieving your greatest potential to the glory of God. Jesus Christ frees us to become our very best in this life and our best is to be like Christ. The false teachers lead their followers into bondage by means of lies, but our Lord brings us into freedom by means of truth. John 8:32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The truth of the Word of God will make you free. And the Word of God is designed to accomplish two main paths of freedom which alone bring God glory. You can take one of these two paths today. To please God, you must do one of these . . .
1) COME to Christ in salvation
Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
2) BECOME like Christ in sanctification
John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”