How Bad Are They? Part 5 (2 Peter 2:20-22)

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How Bad Are They? Part 5

Who are they? Part 5–2 Peter 2:20-22

False teachers are evil and false teaching is destructive, to the Church and to Christians. The true Church hangs by a thread today because of false teaching. This is why Peter has been warning all believers and churches of the deadly danger of false teaching, in chapter 2 of his final letter. Peter describes the DOCTRINE of the heretics in verses 1 to 3, then the DOOM of the heretics in verses 4 to 10a, and now the DEEDS of the heretics in verses 10b to 22.

They never announce themselves, “I am a false teacher”–no, it requires discernment. They are often people you trust. They are usually zealous, engaging communicators with impressive, external godliness and compelling arguments. But in verses 10b to 22, Peter informs us of their Beliefs and Behaviors, Personality and Practices, Character and Conduct–exposing the true nature of false teachers.

It almost seems today that these treacherous teachers have won most of the battles, but my precious brothers and sisters, the false teachers have not won the war. The Lord is still on His throne and His true Church still prevails. The truth of God’s Word is not lost today, but it is much harder to find. And the attacks of the enemy are not letting up. How do we see it lately?

You have the subjective teaching of feelings. You have social justice and its victim status–where sinners are excused from their sin because of race, or sex, or background. You have social issues trumping biblical issues. You have the indifference to exposition leading to doctrinal indifference. You have no proper hermeneutic leading to every possible viewpoint but the right one. And those leading the Church into error are the false teachers.

The term false teacher doesn’t quite help you embrace the danger you face. No–you will own the danger when you realize the danger is personal and imminent. Peter is describing men you read, listen to–those who are influencing family and friends. These false teachers are the poisonous pastors, the treacherous teachers, perjuring professors, bogus book writers, humble heretics, fleshly fraudulent followers who tell you they are genuine, sincere Christians, but are sown into the Church by the enemy to confuse true believers and to destroy so-called, Christian make-believers.

God knows how destructive they are, so Peter uses verses 10 to 22 to teach you how to identify false teachers–and you can (if you pay attention and learn this chapter). How do you recognize false teachers and their false teaching? Peter gives you over 20 clues to help you spot the false teacher in a crowd of Christians. Look at chapter 2 and recall some of what Peter has been exposing to the churches in Asia and us today.

Verse 1, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” They sneak up on you with doctrines containing some truth cleverly blended with error. They create disunity among Christians and destroy the non-Christian.

Verse 1, “even denying the Master who bought them.” A Christian or a church that denies Jesus is Lord is false teaching.

Verse 3, “and in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” They use God’s sheep as merchandise–they exploit God’s redeemed like numbers on a spreadsheet.

Verse 10, “and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires.” False teachers do not walk in the Spirit–they live according to the lusts of the flesh.

Verse 10, “and despise authority.” They do not follow Christ as Lord, but they establish themselves as the final authority.

Verse 10, “self-willed”–they always want their own way.

Verse 10, “they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties.” They are so arrogant they disdain past voices (Calvin, Luther) and current voices (Piper, Mohler and MacArthur) and truly believe they are better than others, even angels.

Verse 12, “reviling where they have no knowledge.” They speak evil of the things they do not understand.

Verse 13, “They are stains and blemishes.” They live unholy because they are unholy.

Verse 13, “reveling in their deceptions,” they believe their own lies.

Verse 14, “having eyes full of adultery”–they treat women as conquests and only look at women as objects of lust. Again, they use all people for their own gratification.

Verse 14, “enticing unstable souls”–they pursue entrapping the almost Christian and corrupting the true believer.

Verse 14, “having a heart trained in greed,” false teachers are athletes trained in the sport of greed. They’re in the gym of sin every day, working out ways to get more from God’s people.

Verse 15, “forsaking the right way, they have gone astray.” They remain on the broad road to destruction.

Verse 17, “These are springs without water.” They do not quench the spiritual thirst of their hearers–though they may move you emotionally, you will not be spiritually nourished.

Verse 18, “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity”–they speak great swelling words of emptiness. They can impress you with their earthly, practical wisdom,  extensive knowledge, beautiful vocabulary and amazing fluency. But they are bags of wind–full of hot air. They will give you helpful tips on how to parent, love your spouse, and improve your sex life–but they will not be God’s life-transforming words, but earthly wisdom.

Verse 18, “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality.” False teachers will attempt to allure you with the lusts and emotions, rather than impact you by the Spirit with God’s Word, found in the author’s intended meaning.

Verse 19, “promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption.” Peter teaches a person is a slave of whomever or whatever controls him. You’re either slaves of sin, or willing slaves of Christ. Authentic freedom can only be yours when you are possessed by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ with a transformed heart, which desires to obey His Word.

All these chapter 2 truths show us false teachers sow confusion with the goal of creating division. They mix cultural thinking into the Scripture, diminishing its power to change lives. They love lust and greed and use people to get what they want. Ultimately, they destroy the clarity of the Gospel–they do it by diluting or distorting or redefining the good news. And most often they hurt a church family so much, the church becomes so preoccupied with itself and its problems they stop sharing the Gospel and loving each other.

For five weeks, as we have studied 2 Peter:10 to 22, all these clues fell under seven major headings–why? To . . .

sharpen your DISCERNMENT, so you can determine who is true and who is false

convict your HEART, so you don’t LOVE the lifestyle of the false

cause you to grow in your LOVE for your SAVIOR who is TRUTH

motivate you to SHARE the Gospel with those who do not believe an accurate salvation

warn of you of the DECEPTION of the false in order to help others who are confused

We’ve studied . . .

#1  Their PRIMARY sins  Verse 10a

Infiltrating instructors function by feelings and reject authority

#2  Their PRIDE  Verses 10b to 11

Bogus book writers are audacious, defiant and arrogant

#3  Their PREDISPOSITION  Verses 12 to 14a

Poisonous pastors are predisposed to oppose the work of God, malign the person of Christ and distort the only true Gospel

#4  Their PASSION Verses 14b to 16

GREED over godliness and WEALTH over worship

#5  Their PENALTY  Verse 17

The torment of BLACKNESS found in eternal HELL

#6  Their PERSUASION  Verses 18 to 19

To promise you FREEDOM but deliver ENSLAVEMENT to sin

And to wrap this discussion up, Peter gives a final warning to Christians and churches

#7  Their PRISON  Verses 20 to 22

All false teachers would say they’re free, but they’re in a living prison. And Peter adds some graphic warnings to all who claim Christ who are in danger of embracing their error–they too will become enslaved and potentially doomed eternally.

Read verse 20ff, “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. 21For 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 on to them. 22It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.’”

Wow–what does Peter mean in verse 20, “after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ . . . the last state is worse than the first”? “Defilements of the world” is the idea of pollutions found in this world–literally it describes poisonous vapors. Our very nature is sinful and defiant before God, and we live on a world which is rotten and in rebellion to God. With the word defilements, meaning noxious vapors, Peter is saying sin is so bad in us and around us, it’s like it is in the very air we breathe. We breathe in poisonous vapors of sin all the time.

Peter is not calling you to be an environmentalist, but declaring this world to be saturated with sin. Morally, the world gives off a deadly, putrid influence. These treacherous teachers at some point in their lives escaped, they avoided, and successfully ran away from these unholy influences found in the world. For a time, these hypocrites appeared holy. Peter is describing their past situation. At some point in time, these false teachers and their followers wanted to escape the moral contamination of the world system and sought religion–the religion of Christianity, the religion that focuses on Jesus Christ.

But remember, you cannot separate verse 20 here from verse 1, right? Look at verse 1, “They deny the master.” In their false faith, with their corrupt Christianity, Jesus is not in charge as Lord. His Word is not the authoritative truth and they are not submitting to the Lord in salvation His way, the only way. These deceiving disciples wanted a Christian faith on their terms, not on Christ’s. They wanted a form of Christianity not found in the Bible. They wanted the forgiveness and freedom of salvation, but not according to the truth of God’s Word.

These false teachers were never genuinely converted to Christ. Once you’re born again, you cannot be unborn. Once you’re secure in Christ, you can never become un-secured. Once you are held by the Savior, He cannot let you go. John 10:28, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” But these false followers heard the true Gospel and joined the Church, but they rejected the true Christ. They were professors, but not possessors. They knew about Christ, but did not know Him personally, intimately, converted-ly.

The New Testament clearly distinguishes between people who are in the church and people in Christ who’re true followers. They are not always the same people. This distinction is clearly seen with these false teachers. They were not born again. They have not been internally transformed. They may appear like Christians, but it is only skin deep. They’ve not been made new, regenerated or converted.

Peter is giving a sweet reminder of true salvation, and a severe warning to all in the Church. The sweet reminder is, the only way to escape sin with its pollutions in this world is through verse 20, “the (intimate, personal) knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The false teacher’s knowledge of Jesus is simply a head knowledge, not a knowledge of the heart. They knew all about Christ, but did not know him as God.

When salvation is genuine, you know Christ personally through the indwelling Spirit. And only through that same Holy Spirit can you truly overcome the lusts of the flesh, and any entanglement with sinful defilements. Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

So here is Peter’s warning to all in the Church, verse 20b, “They are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” What Peter? A person who has seemingly come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and with it temporarily and externally escaped the pollution of the world, is in serious trouble when he or she becomes entangled again in those sins and is overcome by those sins.

These evil educationalists and their corrupt cohorts are lost and still enslaved to sin. But by joining the Church, they begin to learn who Christ is and what He’s done on the cross. They start to imitate the behavior of the born again and seek to live in holiness. Through personal self-discipline and external imitation, it looks as if they’ve escaped the contamination of this world and its many binding sins.

They no longer go to bad movies or get drunk. They seem to stop living immoral, and speak as if they are no longer proud. They speak only in whispers. They find a safe shelter in the midst of God’s true, loving, and giving people and are personally comforted by their false conversion to Christ. But all of their phony, external, impressive lifestyle is temporary. Peter says it’s obvious, they are counterfeit Christians when they, verse 20b, “again are entangled in the world’s defilements and are overcome.”

The apostle John taught in 1 John and Revelation that real believers are not overcome, but they are overcomers. First John 5:4 and 5, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Catch this–real believers struggle with their sin, make-believers are buried by their sin. True saints fight with their sin, phony church-attenders accommodate their sin. Those born twice confess their sin, those born only once cover their sin. Christians battle with sin, non-Christians are overcome with sin. Christians are not personally overcome by sin.

Without genuine salvation, they don’t have the grace to overcome the power of sin (Ephesians 1:7), to walk by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8 to 10), or to persevere in the faith (Philippians 2:12 to 13). Therefore, they eventually sink back into the pollution of the world and reject the true Gospel. So Peter says in verse 20, “The last state has become worse for them than the first.” Jesus repeatedly taught that those who understand the truth and still turn away will face far greater judgment than those who have never heard.

Matthew 10:14 and 15, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” In God’s economy, it’s better for people not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, then to turn away from Christ and His Word as written. That’s how Peter helps you face the danger in verse 21, “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 on to them.”

This verse describes the defection of false teachers and their informed followers. They claim to be living for Christ, Peter calls it in verse 21, “the way of righteousness.” They even had access to accurate teachings of Scripture. But by their lives, they demonstrate they ultimately reject Christ. And false teachers are not made outside Christianity–they’re are always bred in the Church, half in and half out. But eventually they reject sound truth for an inaccurate, lesser, heretical view–and as they do, they always try to seduce others to justify their sinful choices.

Like when you were a kid, you always tried to get others to sin with you. Peter says, “having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them” (verse 21). They rejected Christ as the only way, rejected His death for the forgiveness of sins, turned away from the new birth, forsook Heaven and confirmed their fate by choosing Hell. They are the weedy or rocky soil that never produced true Christlike fruit. They’re the tares that look like the wheat. They’re the goats that look like the sheep. They are the lukewarm who are neither hot nor cold. They are the Judas amongst the other eleven–close to Christ but never converted.

The Lord Jesus taught the same thing. When He sent the twelve disciples to proclaim to the cities of Israel that the Messiah had come, Jesus told them to shake off the dust of their feet against any city that would not receive them. Matthew 10:15, “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” It is a very serious thing to be exposed to the light of the Gospel and then reject it. The judge you will face in the future says it is far more serious to reject the truth than to reject a human theory, evolution, humanism or some philosophy–why? Because the Lord, the Bible and the Gospel are the only truth (John 14:6).

On Judgement day, the poor pagan will receive a lighter sentence than you students who turn away from a Christian upbringing, or the spouse that rejects their mate’s godly example, or the churchgoer who rejects a profession of faith. The pagan will be able to say to God, “I never knew You had a Son. Nobody ever told me that Christ died for my sins”–though he will be without excuse. But the outright Christ-rejecter will find his mouth stopped and heart failing when confronted by the Lord in glory. Better never born than never born again–especially after having been brought to true belief, than aborted by your own unbelief.

Because they face a greater condemnation, fake teachers and their students would be better off not learning Scripture and perceiving doctrine, than having understood it, to reject it. Anyone who continually spurns the only true way of salvation will eventually at some point be left without any hope of eternal life.

The writer of Hebrews gives a similar warning–Hebrews 6:4 to 6, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”

You say, “That’s harsh.” No, it’s not. You forget what chapter 2 already taught. These poison pastors deny the Lord, introduce destructive heresies, are experts in greed, indulge their flesh, despise all authority, and are continually deceptive. God does not offer an eternal life insurance policy which allows you to “accept” Christ, then not follow Him. Nor to be “born again”, then to lust after the flesh as a lifestyle. Nor to “commit” our lives to Christ, then live for the devil. That is not Christianity–that’s pure hypocrisy. And that is the false teaching Peter is exposing in chapter 2.

Wait–Peter wraps it up in verse 22, “It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.’” To illustrate what Peter is teaching here, he shares two vivid examples–one from Proverbs 26:11, and the other from an ancient, secular adage, to punctuate his point.

Peter uses two contemptable animals in ancient times–dogs and pigs. Dogs were rarely kept as the obvious, preferred pet in the first century. For the Jews back then, dogs were half-wild, dirty, diseased and dangerous mongrels who lived off garbage and refuse and were even willing to eat their own vomit. Pigs represented filth, being synonymous with uncleanness–always returning to the muck. Peter is saying false teachers–those poisonous pastors and bogus book writers will always return to their filth. Why? Because it’s in their nature. They’ve not been born again, they don’t have a new nature. Therefore, they will act according to their old, fallen, sinful, corrupt nature, which is unclean and smutty.

Peter tells his readers and you, don’t be shocked by what a false teacher does–they are just behaving according to their sick nature, like a dog that eats vomit or a pig that returns to its mire. And Christian, stay away from a false teacher like you would stay away from a disgusting, vile creature–like I would stay away from a car in Hemet.

Don’t argue with a false teacher. Don’t try to convince them. Don’t debate them. You can’t change their nature–only Christ can convert their inner person. Only the Gospel can transform a nature. Only true salvation will make a person new. Plead with them to turn to Christ who loves them. Don’t engage them in their error–just share the Gospel. They need Christ to transform them. False teachers need to be changed from pigs to sheep.

And the only way for you to be made right with God, go to Heaven, be transformed is for you to despise your sin, by faith rely on Christ who died for your sin, rose from the dead and now covers you with His righteousness so you can stand in God’s presence. Christ must cause you to be born again for you to have a new nature, so you can escape the slavery of the old nature–to not live like a sinful pig and become a child of God, you must turn to Christ. You only have one nature–an old pig nature, or a new desire to please Christ nature. False teachers will always return to the disgusting pig or dog living because they only have a fallen nature, and can only live according to their old disgusting nature.

My friends, sadly today in contemporary Christianity, there are many false teachers very similar to the ones Peter describes in chapter 2. These poison pastors at first sought to morally reform and spiritually get close to God. Many become teachers in the Church or theologians in seminaries or Christian authors. Tragically, like dirty dogs or unclean pigs, they eventually return to their old lifestyles, rejecting the only One who can truly reform them.

In the 1st century, these fakes called themselves prophets and apostles. Peter says, “Don’t listen to them.” Who should we listen to? Chapter 3:1 and 2, the true apostles and prophets–the ones God used to record His written Word. How can we tell who is who? Come back next week for chapter 3 and the return of Christ.


#1  Don’t play with SIN

There are only two kinds of so-called Christians who live in continual rebellious sin.

FIRST  Those who are genuine believers—they are disobedient, awaiting discipline

SECOND  Those who are make-believers—they are deceived, awaiting damnation

Continual, ongoing, rebellious, intentional sin requires repentance. For believers, this means confession and seeking help from other believers because you want to please Christ and you don’t want to be spanked or taken home shamefully. For unbelievers, repentance is turning to Christ

in dependent faith for salvation. Christian, God promises to spank children He loves who remain in sin. Non-Christian, God says He will condemn those forever in Hell who remain in sin.

#2  Live under the reality of HELL

False teachers, their followers and all those without Christ will be judged and it will be eternally awful. Peter continually reminded his readers in chapter 2 of the reality of Hell. Look at verse 1, “Bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” Hell is coming quickly. Verse 3, “Their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Their judgement and torment is at hand. Verses 4 to 8, their judgement is as certain as the fallen angels, the pre-flood world and Sodom and Gomorrah. Verse 9, “Then the Lord knows how …to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” Verse 17, “for whom the black darkness has been reserved.”

Your rebellion to God, your choices to smear his character, your defiance to do your own thing, your disobedience, your lies, complaining, un-thankfulness, harshness, lack of love, fear and lusting result in eternal torment forever. Unless your sin is judged upon Christ and His righteousness covers you, you will be awake in torment and blackness forever. And today, we learned it will be more severe for the phony Christian student who was raised with Christian parents . . . more severe for the phony Christian who attends a Bible-teaching church . . . more severe for the phony Christian who understands but rejects the Gospel.

#3  Pursue INTIMACY with Christ

The greatest source of joy and delight in the heart of a Christian is the intimate knowledge of Christ. Growing in greater intimacy with Christ will come from knowledge of the Word, understanding of doctrine, seasons of prayer, the testing of trials, living with an awareness of His constant providence, searching out and learning His amazing attributes, and more. That’s easy to say, but difficult to do. It will require discipline, hard choices, accountability, selective reading, rejection of good things in order to pursue the best things, choose to study and learn God’s attributes, surrounding yourself with those who intimately know Christ, and more.

The greatest source for being able to identify that which is false is to be intimate with and know the one who is true. Philippians 3:8, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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