2 Timothy - Combat Guide

Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Error (2 Timothy 3:13-15)

Sermon Manuscript . . .

Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Error

The importance of developing convictions–2 Timothy 3:13-15

To this day, river guides still need to check the speed, shape, and direction of white water rapids prior to running them. GPS can’t tell you how big they are, how deep they are, and how fast the water is running. So hands-on, visual navigation is crucial. And some rapids that are more deadly than others.

Take the river we ran which contained a broken dam. During a big winter runoff, the dam gave way and was never repaired. What remained was two-thirds dam, and one-third crumbled cement flowing down 200 yards of steep angle to the continuation of the river. On either side of this giant water slide from the dam to the river below were jagged cement chunks and body-slicing, raft-tearing rebar sticking out everywhere, like quills on a porcupine.

The trick was, in order to keep your raft in the safe track down the terror-filled, 200-yard water slide, you actually had to row your raft at super speed so you could bounce off the edge of the standing dam above with your raft, before you started down the slide. Only hitting the standing dam edge above and bouncing back off would place your raft in the right spot down the slide so that you were not torn to shreds. It was the only path–literally, the only way to survive.

Needless to say, everyone rowed like they’d never rowed before, to beat the current of the river, race across the river as it turned left and down the slide, and hit the side of the dam in order to travel safely down this giant, deadly gutter. The tricky navigation was over in seconds, the trip terrifying, along with an adrenaline rush–it was an unforgettable memory.

Sometimes the correct navigation is a lifesaver—and it’s the same with our spiritual lives. Paul gives Timothy specific directions to navigate correctly. In order to navigate the dangerous waters of error, in 2 Timothy 3:13 to 15, Paul gives Timothy three crucial steps to pursue so he doesn’t get shredded by deceiving teachers nor smashed by heavy doctrinal error.

Open your Bibles to 2 Timothy 3:13 to 15, as Paul summarizes what he’s been teaching all chapter long. Here are three keys to swimming safely with the sharks, three principles to navigating the waters of error, three islands of solid truth in the midst of the stormy seas of relativity. Today’s passage is a crucial response to error.

Today, you’ll learn how important it is to prepare for an angry sea of error filled with rogue waves of deception, bent on sinking your ship of truth. This morning you will see the necessity of building unbreakable convictions about the Word of God into everyday life. This passage will call you to pursue building loyalties to solid teachers and staying true to your sound, biblical roots. Today is what God expects you to do as you float on the increasing pollution of error.

Look at verse 12 from last week. Paul just told Timothy that persecution is expected for every godly believer, persecution will continue, and persecution will get worse. But the reason persecution continues is now found in verse 13. The wicked never stop, and their attacks will grow worse. So Paul gives Timothy the keys to navigating the difficult waters of error, giving summary steps for students, seniors, and everyone in between.

Read verse 13 to 15, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Three major steps to live and lessons of truth in the midst of a river of error.

#1  Be PREPARED for the growing danger of subtle deceivers  Verse 13

Persecution of the godly will continue until the Lord returns, because . . . verse 13, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” These evil men and impostors are the ones described in verses 1 to 9 of this chapter. Their character described in verses 1 to 5, and their conduct described in verses 6 to 9. But don’t think of evil men and impostors as two mutually exclusive groups (like, there was one group consisting of nothing but evil men, and the other all impostors). Paul is referring to one and the same group.

But by using two different descriptions, Paul is reminding Timothy that these church-attackers are packaged differently. Some are more evil, others are sneaky impostors–different wolves in sheep’s clothing do not all look the same, and they certainly do not act the same. But all of them are a danger to the church’s health and an eternal danger to the tare, the goat, and the make-believer.

Plus, as time marches on, these subtle serpents will improve at deceiving others. In fact, they will become so good at deception, they will even deceive themselves–which makes them even more poisonous. They’ll come off super sincere, because they believe the very lies they tell. People are persuaded with sincerity and passion, and these men will smother you with their genuine belief in their new error. And, since they’re very convinced, they become very convincing.

So Paul refers to these liars by using two descriptive terms–evil men and impostors. The word evil means full of labors and pains. Toward wickedness, evil conveys the idea of poisonous, cancerous and diseased. These are men whose attitudes, desires, words, and actions are not only against the Bible, they are for wickedness–because their only master is the evil one.

In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:19, Jesus used the word evil to describe Satan–“the evil one who comes and snatches the gospel seed away.” The goal of the evil one is to steal the good seed of the Word that is sown in the heart of a hearer. The goal of these men in verse 13 is to steal the truth and replace it with error.

They don’t announce it, but that’s their aim. They appear to be real teachers, but they’re impostors–this description is used only here in the New Testament. These false teachers are shrewd and crafty. Impostors literally describes one who wails or howls. You’ve seen it–sorcerers, wizards or magicians commonly sound off with wails in their incantations–that’s the imagery here.

In classical Greek (before the New Testament), impostor referred to a juggler, a cheat, an enchanter or a professional mourner–referring to a phony, a trickster, or a conman. Modern impostors know all the tricks of the trade in order to manipulate believers. Primarily, Paul is describing those who claim to be believers–false teachers, phony believers who are justifying evil under the name of Christ. They are imposters.

This is because they seek to deceive and are deceived about the truth themselves. Like a woman in labor, these evil men agonize in order to give birth to evil. But they want to do it so that they appear biblical, and appear to be pleasing to Christ.

In verse 13, Paul teaches Timothy this deception will not get better. Paul says these snakes will proceed from bad to worse. Some translators say their evil shall wax worse and worse. Evil will reach its highest intensity. Paul doesn’t clarify if their evil is in external behavior or in internal character. Bad to worse could mean they’re internally rotting, or their external actions grow wicked.

Look at the context in verse 9–they’ll make no more progress. Yet here they make lots of progress. Paul is affirming God’s sovereign control in verse 9. But Paul is also saying their evil will get worse (verse 13). Evil becomes intensively worse as time goes on. So the evil teaching does not necessarily capture a wider audience, but it does become more intense.

Their false teaching will not necessarily become more extensive, but it will become more intensive. The elect will not be drawn in, since the folly of these false teachers will become obvious. But their teaching will lead to deeper evil in those who can be seduced–the make-believer.

Recently I was talking to a couple and learned of a 65-year-old man who left his wife of 45 years, redefined his Christianity he held for 50 years, so he could sleep with another woman. Both the adulterer and his adulteress each claim to be Christians. You ask, “Why don’t they just deny Christ and live in adultery?”

Because the Holy Spirit reminds all of coming judgment, so in their warped heart, they want their sin and they want a Savior. But biblically, you can’t have both. Sadly, there are false teachers who errantly claim you can have both—both your sin and a Savior, your will and God’s will, your rebellion and a redeemer. But to claim that is a deceptive lie.

That is why error will get harder to recognize. Error will get tougher to identify–why? This error will be taught by super sincere men who are passionate about their teaching. They believe their folly. They embrace their own error. They drink the poison they sell. Paul warns Timothy, they will be (verse 13) “deceiving and being deceived.”

The implication is, while they’re engaged in deceiving others, they themselves are being deceived. There are two participles from the root word deceive here. The first one is an active voice, meaning an ongoing deception. The second is middle or passive voice, meaning they are deceiving themselves or being deceived by their own evil instruction.

Again, this makes them extremely dangerous, because they believe their own press, they are sincere, they are committed, they are passionate about their heresy–which makes them all the more compelling. But their deluding ministry also becomes their punishment for deluding others. Delusion is their weapon–yet by delusion, they are also slain, judged.

They believe the falsehoods they peddle will give them worth and their teachings acceptance, but they will be enslaved and ultimately destroyed by their own lies–they are eternally judged by their own deceptions. While some will fall for this deception, Paul tells Timothy to be on guard. Stand firm on the truth, rely on the Word, trust in God’s revelation alone.

The message of verse 13 is to be prepared–you can’t just float in this world. You are under attack. You need to be spiritually sharp. This life and this world are not a boot camp—it’s a war. The bullets are real and people are dying. Your rubber life raft of truth in this world is floating among hungry sharks of error and they want to tear your raft to shreds. You must prepare for the increasing danger.

If you knew you had to take some medicine in order to live, you’d take your medicine. Paul is telling Timothy, “You must take your meds, Tim.” What is your spiritual medicine needed to navigate the truth in an ocean of error?

#2  WORK to build convictions on God’s Word alone  Verse 14

This verse lays out the challenge—“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them.” Paul challenges Timothy to focus on God’s Word in three particular ways.

First  CONTINUE in the Word

Paul’s challenge to Timothy is the Holy Spirit’s challenge to you, found in verse 14. “You, however, continue in the things you have learned.” In contrast to evil men and impostors, in contrast to bad and worst, in contrast to deception and being deceived—“You, Timothy [emphatic, emphasized, first in sentence], you, Tim, cause I want to emphasize the point, Timothy—you continue in the truth!” Hold fast to your Bible. Stick with the Word. The Bible is the anchor for the storm of error. The Bible is the rock to grab a hold of in order to survive the tsunami of heresy.

One commentator writes, “The world’s signposts will blow down in the storm. Human psychology, philosophy, science, subjective thinking are full of uncertainties. Only God’s Word is authoritative, eternal and changeless.” When Paul commands in verse 14, “continue”, he’s telling Timothy to abide, dwell and remain in the Word.” (The Greek word continue occurs more than one hundred times in the New Testament.)

Timothy was to never stop making himself at home in the Word of God. The Scriptures are the only safe refuge from hurricane heresies. The Word is the only firm foundation in the midst of the quicksand of false teaching. “Timothy, you must pursue a course which is the very opposite of that which was followed by the false teachers and those who are buying into their lies.”

“Timothy, I admonish you to abide in (verse 14) ‘the things’–the doctrines derived from apostolic teaching, the doctrines drawn out of the exposition of Scripture.” Verses 16 and 17, the doctrines derived from the God-breathed Scripture given to you by His chosen apostles. Be at home with them, depend on them, abide in them, since you learned them from your mentors.

Continue in all those truths you learned. The verb tense is general–all the learning you did, all the accurate sermons you heard from me and other men of God, all the Scriptures you have available from the Old Testament and all the yet-to-be-completed, but already in circulation New Testament canon. Continue in all those truths you learned.

Have learned is from a Greek word, mantanō, which is related to mathētēs (disciple). Learned carries the connotation of intentional learning by inquiry and observation. You are learning from mentors, disciplers, men of God, from their lessons and their lives. Timothy, continue in what you know to be true–continue with what you have learned.

Never forget, you and I are to be dogmatically committed to the original truth–not new truth, but old truth. Truth which has passed the test of 2,000 years of in-depth study and normal interpretation. Stick with the author’s intended message–not the latest blog or newest author, or the program that draws a crowd.

“Timothy, the historical fact is, you have learned God’s Word over a long period of time.” Paul reminds Timothy in the next verse (verse 15) that Tim has been learning the Scriptures since childhood. Paul already told Timothy in 1:6 that he had learned the Word from his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice–since childhood. And now through decades of mutual ministry.

“You didn’t learn God’s Word through false teachers or make-believers,” described in verses 1 to 9, “but through godly men (verses 10 to 12). Remain faithful to the truth you’ve learned.” But learning is not enough–grow in . . .

Second  CONFIDENCE in the Word

Paul adds in verse 14, become convinced of. “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of.” Don’t just learn the truth of God’s Word, but “become convinced”. Build convictions, develop convictions, live by convictions from God’s Word. Timothy was to pursue abiding in the truth in order for that truth to own him, guide him, protect him, direct him, be Christ-loving him, so he grows convinced of the truths of Scripture.

They’re the fixed, permanent, unbending truths which never become subject to compromise or dilution. Convictions cause mature Christians to stand when everyone else falls. You believers must stand for something, or you will fall for anything. To win against the war with error, learning the Bible is not enough. What is learned must be applied to the heart by the Spirit, so you become convinced, with a conviction that transforms your thinking and life.

There is a huge difference between a belief and a conviction. Jerry Bridges compares a belief and a conviction when he says, “A belief is what you hold, a conviction is what holds you.” Do you have any convictions? Because if you do, you’re the exception.

How do genuine Christian singles compromise physically? No conviction. How do believers cheat on taxes or on official forms—no convictions. How do true disciples rarely read the Bible, not pray or worship with a focused heart? How do saints justify attending church occasionally, barely give and never serve? How do Christians rationalize listening to impure music or watching nasty shows? No convictions.

A belief is a truth you hold, but a conviction is a truth that holds you. How do I know if I have any convictions? Here is the five-question test . . .

1  Do other’s need to stand for this belief before I will stand for it? (Do you need someone else?)

2  Would I be willing to sit down with someone and negotiate my belief? (Acts 4:l9 to 20)

3  Must I be assured of victory before I accept this belief? (If it goes well, then I will believe it)

4  Can this belief be seen in my lifestyle? (Will your family and friends witness on your behalf?)

5  Is this belief consistent in my life? (Do I actually live what I believe?)

Then it is a conviction. Do you have any unbreakable convictions? Singles, do you have any unbending convictions about physical purity? Believers, do you have any unbreakable convictions about how you talk about others? Do you families have any convictions about being faithful to attend worship, give and serve?

Do you have any convictions? You can start by learning the Word, then in everyday life, relying on the Word, depending on God’s Word, taking Scripture with you throughout each day. Then choosing to respond to trials with joy–seeking to honor God’s truthful character by never lying, determining to give thanks in the midst of difficult relationships, looking for God’s providential will in all your circumstances, continually learning the Word, then daily relying on the Word. A conviction is like . . .

GRAVITY–it keeps you grounded firmly on the Rock

GUARDRAIL–it keeps you from driving off a cliff

A CORRAL–it fences in your activity

A LIGHTHOUSE–it points the way in the darkness

A COMPASS–it will never let you get lost

Paul tells Timothy to build convictions about God’s Word–how? Look carefully at verse 14, “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of.” To build convictions,

1  continually LEARN the Word—“you have learned

2  RELY on the Word—“become convinced of

3 FOLLOW the EXAMPLE of the WORD through godly lives—“knowing from whom you have learned them

Third  CONNECTION in the Word

Knowing from whom you have learned them.” Remembering the godly people who taught him is a source of great strength to Timothy, in order to build strong convictions against error. Paul isn’t merely describing himself as Timothy’s teacher–the plural pronoun whom, “knowing from whom you have learned them,” points to several teachers and examples.

To build convictions, you must be continually learning the Word, and then building confidence in the Word by daily relying, depending, and trusting the Scriptures. And finally, build convictions by remembering who taught you biblical truths. For Timothy, it was Paul, grandmother Lois and mother Eunice, the apostles, amazingly gifted prophets and early Bible teachers. All invested God’s Word into Timothy.

Timothy had learned God’s Word from the best Bible teachers. Just having a casual conversation with a man like Paul would be spiritually edifying. I am looking forward (along with many others) to being able to talk with Paul. To develop spiritual convictions from God’s Word and hold them as your own, it is not only necessary to hear them taught clearly, but see them consistently lived out.

One of the means of grace, one of the ways believers build convictions, is to continually learn the Bible deeply, to hear the Bible taught accurately, and to see the Bible lived out faithfully–building unbreakable convictions in the life of the believer. A belief is a truth you hold, but a conviction is a truth that holds you. To navigate the waters of error, you must build unshakable convictions.

Paul expands on the last phrase of verse 14, and reinforces the power of the Bible live out in people’s lives. The Word is powerful, when it is taught–pastors, elders, community group leaders, student staff, children teachers, God’s word is powerful. But the Bible is even more powerful when it’s taught correctly and lived out practically.

Paul continues to give Timothy direction on how to sail straight in truth in the midst of an ocean of error. So Paul now appeals for Timothy to . . .

#3  RECALL those who taught you God’s Word  Verse 15

Paul now draws Timothy’s attention to his Bible and his boyhood. In verse 15, “and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

In Acts 16:1, Luke teaches us that Timothy’s father was a Greek. He likely told his little boy stories about the greatness of Greece, and how Mount Olympus was the home of the gods. Maybe Dad described Zeus the father of the gods, Hermes the messenger of the gods, and Neptune the god of the sea.

In contrast, Timothy’s mother told him that the lawless, lustful gods of the Greeks were just imaginary gods–made in the image of fallen man. While his father may have described the imaginary Mount Olympus, his mother would describe the reality of Heaven. While dad described the strength of Hercules, his mother would talk about God’s strength through Samson.

His father had no hope to offer his son, but Timothy’s mother would point to the promise of the Old Testament prophets with the hope of a coming Messiah. Why? Because Scripture alone provides the needed eternal instruction. Only the Bible will give you the wisdom needed for Timothy and each of you to find genuine salvation.

How does Paul say it? Verse 15, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings.” Since childhood, Timothy was grounded in God’s Word. The Greek word translated child means newly born babe. So Timothy was saturated with verses since birth. Mom’s lullabies must have been Psalms. She taught Timothy to read the Bible and to respect it on all matters as the final authority.

When his mother wasn’t teaching him, his grandmother was. Lois and Eunice taught Timothy from the earliest possible age the substance of the Old Testament—verse 15, “the sacred writings”. What would this lead to? Verse 15b, “the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith.”

By “sacred writings”, the apostle means the Old Testament. Scripture is the source of saving truth. In John 5:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” The truth of the Word, when mixed with faith in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, leads to spiritual life.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul asks rhetorically in Romans 10:14, “How shall they [unbelievers] hear without a preacher?” And later in verse 17 explains that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” God’s Word taught by human witnesses is God’s plan for reaching people with the Gospel.

In Acts 16:14 Luke tells readers, “A certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; [to God’s Word] and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” God has chosen believers to be His spokesmen to bring His saving truth to others.

Timothy had the privilege of hearing the Word in the most marvelous manner, through his family since infancy. It was at the knees of his grandmother and mother, with Paul, that Timothy was led to saving faith. And it was in their lives that he first saw genuine godliness.

Don’t miss the point. Exposure to the Word exposes your sin. As you see God’s perfection, His holiness, His righteous character, you will see your own sin. And if God wills, you will accept the fact you are doomed by your own guilt. Exposure to God’s Word will prove to you that you are a person under God’s judgment.

You’ll become overwhelmed you can’t earn your salvation. You can’t be made right by keeping the Law, you won’t be saved by religious externals or by any kind of good deeds. You’ll embrace your desperate need for God to be merciful and gracious to you. You will cry out for God’s forgiveness. And when God opens your heart, you’ll see Christ as the only way to receive God’s help.

You will realize Christ is God who became a man and died in your place, taking the punishment you deserve for your sins upon Himself as your substitute–that He rose from the dead and can now give you mercy, grace and forgiveness. If you turn from your sin in repentance and depend upon Him in faith, then you can be saved now and given a home in Heaven forever with God.

So Paul reminds Timothy, it is God’s Word that exposes your sin, helps you see your need, giving you the wisdom that can lead to salvation. Not works, but verse 15, “through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Are you ready to respond—see yourself as a vial sinner correctly? Not merely have you taken things that don’t belong to you, or said things which were harsh, or had thoughts that were hateful, or lustfully desired someone or something. But you see yourself as sin corrupted, sick and vial before a holy, perfect God.

You know you deserve eternal punishment in Hell. Your only hope is to surrender to Christ–to exchange all that you are for all that He is. To give Him your life. The Word of God shows you your sin and the Word of God shows you Christ alone is your only hope. Seek to build convictions.


1  continually LEARN the Word—“you have learned

2  RELY on the Word—“become convinced of

3  FOLLOW the EXAMPLE of the WORD LIVED through godly lives—“knowing from whom you have learned them.”

Work at it–pursue it—live by truth alone.


The heart of effective evangelism is the faithful teaching of the truth as it is revealed in Scripture. That is the only seed the Lord will use to bring about true salvation and biblical sanctification. In Luke 10, a lawyer put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord asked, “What is written in the Law?”

How does the Law read to you? Why? The source of truth regarding salvation is Scripture and only Scripture. Romans 10:17, the truth of Scripture alone brings a genuine, Spirit-prompted salvation. This salvation is not by works, but through faith in Christ Jesus. Verse 15, “through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” You exchange all that you are for all that He is. He rules your life, He is the one in charge, He is Lord. You surrender to Him, follow Him, obey Him.


In these verses, Paul continued to strengthen Timothy’s resolve by reminding him of his deep roots in God’s Word. Timothy is called upon to be faithful to all the teaching and training He has received. And that is the challenge for you this morning. Will you be faithful to all the teaching and training you have received?

Are you making a difference for Christ through the ministry of your gift in the church? And are you making a difference for Christ through the ministry of the Gospel in the world? Friends, “to whom much is given, much will be required.” Are you being faithful to what you have been given? Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

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

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