2 Peter #11
The Enslavement of Sin
2 Peter 2:17-22
April 1, 2020
Dr. Andy Woods
Everybody, I want to welcome you to our Wednesday night midweek service here at Sugar Land Bible Church. We’re continuing our study this evening through the Book of 2 Peter. So, open your Bible to 2 Peter 2:17. I usually try to come up with a message title for every study we do, and this one we’ve entitled, “The Enslavement of Sin.”
Looking at our second slide, you remember what the Book of 2 Peter is about. This is our 11th lesson in the Book of 2 Peter. It’s basically a book about a warning that Peter gave from Babylon to the Hebrew Christians in the Asia minor area, warning them of false teaching that they were about to be hit with, a particular false teaching known as incipient Gnosticism.
Second Peter has three chapters to it, and each chapter has a part to it. Chapter 1 was a call to spiritual growth. At first glance that seems misplaced, “Why would you have a call to growth in a book about false teachers?” You can see here the outline of Chapter 1. But the answer to that question is, essentially, if you’re a maturing Christian, it’s harder to be deceived. Christians in a state of immaturity are also in a state of deception. Peter, in chapter 1, urges his audience to mature, and that’s the overriding theme of chapter 1.
From there we moved into chapter 2. We spent the last few weeks in chapter 2, which really is a description of the characteristics of these coming false teachers. Peter tells his audience exactly what these false teachers are going to be like. Consequently, what you have in chapter 2, I believe, is one of the greatest treatments of what false teachers are like found anywhere in God’s Word. This, I think, may be one of the reasons God preserved this letter for us, because no where do we find a description of false teachers (in terms of their characteristics) like we do here in chapter 2. Of course, we can take what’s described here and apply it to the false teachers in our day as well, in any generation.
You’ll notice in this next slide, “2 Peter 2 Outline,” we’ve seen the predicted arrival of false teachers (first part of verse 1), the devices of false teachers (midway through verse 1 through verse 3). We’ve seen the doom of these false teachers described in verses 4-9. And last week (number four) we were describing the depravity of false teachers.
Here is a quick outline that we looked at of verses 10-16. We saw that these false teachers are going to be licentious, lawless, animalistic, shameless pleasure seekers, eyes full of adultery, enticing the unstable, and greedy. We’re now leaving verse 16 and moving into verses 17-19 tonight. Then, most likely, verses 20-22 after that. And I think, Lord willing, we’ll finish the chapter tonight.
But here Peter is describing the emptiness of false teachers. When someone comes under the sway of a false teacher, there’s always a pull to get involved with their false doctrine. But what is the end result? What does it really produce in terms of the spiritual life? Essentially what it does is it leaves a person thirsty, dry, empty, hungry—any metaphor you come up with. In other words, false teaching is never able to deliver on the abiding, fulfilling spiritual life.
Take a look, if you could, at verses 17-19. We’ll start here with verse 17. Peter says, concerning these false teachers, “These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.” Look at all these metaphors here.
First of all, they are “springs without water.” It’s like being in a desert. If you’re stuck in a desert what you see, many times, is a mirage. You see something that looks like water, and it’s not until you get right up next to it that it wasn’t a lake, it wasn’t a spring, it was just a mirage. And, consequently, your thirst is left unquenched. That’s a powerful metaphor describing the emptiness of these false teachers.
“Without water” reminds me very much of what Jesus said in John 4:13-14 when He was speaking to the woman at the well. “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.’ ” And you’ll recall how that woman at the well was trying to fulfill the God-shaped vacuum inside of her with, basically, a promiscuous lifestyle. If I remember right, she had had five husbands, and the man that she was currently with she wasn’t even married to.
She was doing like so many of us do; we have an ache in our soul for meaning, and we try to fill that with something. People typically try power, or they try pleasure. And it’s interesting how the more you try to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside of us… By the way, we have that God-shaped vacuum because we’re designed to have a relationship with the Lord. And if you don’t have that relationship, you’re just kind of left with this gnawing sense of emptiness.
So the woman at the well was trying to fill that gap inside of her with this promiscuous lifestyle. And Jesus uses water at the well to teach her this lesson, “You keep drinking from that well—the well of pleasure or promiscuity—you’re going to be thirsty again. But if I come into your life, the Holy Spirit enters you and you begin to walk with Me, that gnawing ache of lack of meaning and purpose will be fulfilled by Me.”
These false teachers, you’ll notice, are springs without water; they can’t deliver on the water of life—because only God can. He goes on and he describes them here in verse 17 as “mists driven by a storm.” Think of a mist. I think, quite frequently, of my latest trip to one of our big, well-known amusement parks here in the United States and how you get to stand in line in the heat. And there’s this mist they put over you as you’re standing in line. The mist feels good for a few moments, but once you get beyond the mist, you’re back to the same old heat that you were experiencing before the mist came.
And that’s sort of what false teaching is like. You have this thirst, and then the mist comes and it seems like it temporarily satisfies it. But then the mist is quickly gone, and the false teaching never permanently satisfies.
It is interesting that the book that parallels 2 Peter’s thoughts on this is the Book of Jude. In fact, the Book of Jude was written roughly six years later after 2 Peter by the Lord’s half-brother Jude to explain how Peter’s prophecies of coming false teachers were actually fulfilled. Peter says, “They’re coming,” 2 Peter 2:1; Jude says, “The false teachers are here.” So, you have to take Jude and 2 Peter together to really get the complete picture.
But Jude, in verse 12 (only one chapter in Jude) calls these false teachers, “clouds without water—clouds without rain.” Now, we are recording here from the state of Texas; we understand that imagery really well, particularly in August. It’s very hot here, and suddenly a cloud comes. It looks dark and, “Oh, my goodness, we’re going to get some relief from the heat! We’re going to get some rain!”
It’s so discouraging when that dark storm cloud—that looks like it’s going to rain—just kind of passes right over your head. And it doesn’t deliver the relief that you thought it would. That’s what false teachers are like; they promise all of these things in terms of bringing significance, fulfillment, meaning, forgiveness, redemption into your life. But they never really are able to deliver on their promises because only God can deliver on those promises. A false teacher can’t because they’re not teaching correct truth.
He’s using these very, very powerful images to describe what these false teachers are like in terms of their emptiness, “These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm…” Then you’ll notice this also in verse 17, “…for whom the black darkness has been reserved.”
Now, I’ll make the case a little bit later that I think these false teachers are unbelievers. There’s a debate, “Are they believers or unbelievers?” I’ll show you little bit later that I think that actually is a powerful metaphor for the fact that they are unbelievers. It’s hard for me to believe that a believer can be described this way, “darkness has been reserved for them.”
So, I think Peter’s audience is saved—the original audience. But the false teachers coming in, I think, most likely, are unregenerate, unsaved people. We’ll talk more about that a little bit later this evening. From there we move into verse 18, “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.”
You’ll notice this first descriptor here in verse at 18, “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity.” One of the things that is interesting about studying false teachers is how there’s an emphasis on their words—their false words. Jude describes that. Jude describes the Lord coming back in Jude verses 14 and 15, and Jude describes the reason God is bringing judgment on false teachers and unbelievers.
Jude, in verse 15 towards the end of the verse, speaks of the judgment coming on false teachers because of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. He doesn’t mention what they did against Him; he mentions the things that they have spoken against Him. In other words, God seems to keep a record of the words of unbelievers and false teachers. And because they are unbelievers, that will be part of His wrath that will be kindled against them when He returns.
Jesus, when he was interacting with the Pharisees—the legalists that He was dealing with—spoke frequently of their words. In Matthew 12:34, Jesus says of the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” As the late Adrian Rogers used to say, “What comes up in the bucket was down in the well.” The reason corrupt words come out of their mouths is that their hearts are corrupt.
They’re unsaved people, and consequently they’re going to be held accountable for their words. That’s why Jesus, a verse or two later in Matthew 12:36-37, says this, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” I think of media, and I think of the blatant sitcoms, late-night comedians, and the brazen, blatant attacks on Christians, Christian leaders, and Christianity. And part of me thinks, “Well, are they getting away with anything?” You read verses like this and you discover they’re not getting away with anything. God is going to hold them accountable in the Day of Judgment when He returns—right down to their very words.
In fact, here we are in the self-quarantine because of the coronavirus, and I’m thinking of a major newspaper article that came out blaming the coronavirus on evangelical Christians. Can you believe that? And you wonder, “Are these liberal media outlets going to get away with that?” They’re not going to get away with anything; God is going to hold them accountable for those wicked words.
Peter here makes a reference to their words. And he talks about their arrogant words. In other words, these words come out of their arrogance; they come out of their pride. That’s why they speak the way they do.
He talks here about (verse 18) words of vanity. You think of what vanity is—self-centeredness, narcissism, being a primadonna, focused on oneself, being vain. And that, in essence, is what’s motivating these false teachers. Paul the apostle tells us that they would come into the flock and they would teach perverse things (Acts 20:28-31) for the purpose of drawing away disciples after themselves.
They are not interested in service. They’re interested in popularity. They’re interested in power. They’re interested in prosperity. They’re interested in prestige. And that’s why they get into the ministry “business.” Of course, I put “business” in quotation marks because the ministry is not a business, but they treat it that way. Much the way the moneychangers took the temple of God and turned it into a place of commerce.
And you see how upset the Lord got there where He drove the moneychangers out. I believe not once—but twice. Once at the beginning of His ministry (John 2), and He did it another time at the end of His ministry. It shows you the attitude of Christ towards those that speak these vain words and turn His ministry into something that profiteers certain individuals.
Peter continues on here in verse 18 and he says, “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality…” In other words, these are people who, in essence, are appealing to the sin nature. And that’s exactly what Gnostics did. We’ve explained many times that Gnostics believed that the spiritual world is good in the physical world is bad. And if the physical world is bad, then you could dismiss your sin as just “matter.” “It’s not me gossiping; it’s just the tongue, which is physical.” So, this teaching that they would bring in would remove moral responsibility, moral accountability for sin, negating the fact that when we sin it’s actually a choice. But if you want to sin and you don’t want to be held morally accountable, you just say, “The devil made me do it,” or “This physical, evil world did it— not me.”
So, this is a tremendous description here of everything we know about Gnosticism. Of course, we have the slide here from Mark 7:20-23, speaking of the flesh (or the sin nature). Jesus speaks in Mark 7:20-23, and this is in a context where the Pharisees were upset at Christ because He was allowing His disciples to eat on the Sabbath. And, of course, that shouldn’t be a problem at all because the Sabbath is made for man. What’s the problem of nourishment on the Sabbath?
But Jesus, in the process of correcting these Pharisees, gives this tremendous truth about the sin nature. He says, Mark 7:20-23, “…‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.’ ”
It’s not what he takes in by way of receiving something from the outside (like food) that corrupts him; it’s what comes out of his heart. So, a false teacher will encourage people to go into that sin nature, and that’s what Peter here is describing when he talks about sensuality, fleshly desires; that’s how they’re going to captivate audiences.
You know, if you give people permission to sin, Dr. Toussaint put it this way in class one time when he was my professor. He said, “If you have a doctrine that gives people permission to sin, you’ll never lack a following. In fact, you’ll have quite a massive following!”
A parallel passage to that would be Galatians 5:19-21 where Paul says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
You see, what people need is not to go back to the sin nature; what they need is a new nature. We need to learn to live according to the desires of that new nature that we receive at the point of faith alone in Christ alone through the miracle of regeneration. And we need to disciple people so that we live according to that new nature and not go back to the old nature—reckon that old nature dead.
But, you see, the false teachers won’t do that. They’ll say, “Go ahead and return to that sin nature.” Of course, anybody that tells you to go back to the sin nature is contradicting a plethora Bible verses. Not the least of which is Romans 6:12-13 which says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
At the end of that book, Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” So, Peter here is describing how these false teachers will come and appeal to that sin nature.
Notice what also he says here at the end of 2 Peter 2:18, “…those who barely escape from the ones who live in error.” You see, they’re going to try to pick off certain people; they’re going to try to pick off “those who have barely escaped.” I would understand that as newly saved people.
In fact, back in verse 14 (you might recall from last week) it says that these false teachers “entice the unstable.” And then you understand, looking here at our structure, why Peter spent a whole chapter before he got into the subject of false teachers encouraging his audience to grow. It’s a tremendous chapter showing us what spiritual growth looks like, the resources for spiritual growth, and it dovetails nicely into the rest of this book because the false teachers will prey on the unstable.
The last time we were together we looked at Ephesians 4:11-16, which explains why the local church exists. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”
In other words, all these people are being swayed, seduced, picked off by false teachers because they are not growing in the Christian life. And to prevent this, God has given this world the church of Jesus Christ; in addition to glorifying God and accomplishing world evangelization, the church also has the mission of edifying its own members and bringing them to a place of maturity. And if the local church won’t do that, then what you have is a whole bunch of people in a spiritual nursery—or spiritual crib. And they’re just sitting ducks for the next false teaching that comes along.
“…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Tremendous description of what maturity looks like as people come under the influence of the local church and the various spiritual gifts that God has put in the local church to bring the saints to maturity.
Of course, we have 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which makes it very, very clear. It says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” That’s the promise of the Scripture: to bring us to maturity.
And now Paul exhorts Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus, to focus on his main task which is given in 2 Timothy 4:2, “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
I always focus on that expression, “in season and out of season.” Do it when it’s wanted and when it’s not wanted. Do it when it’s popular; do it when it’s not popular. And we’re in a time period today where it’s sort of “out of season” to preach and teach God’s Word. But here we are coming at you once again—this time through technology. The coronavirus may be able to shut down a lot of the economy of the United States but isn’t it interesting how God has not allowed the virus to shut down the capacity to at least preach and teach God’s Word via technology. So that’s why we do what we do.
Peter continues on with the emptiness of false teachers there in verse 19, “…promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” You’ll notice that these false teachers promise freedom. I remember watching a movie. Andy Garcia starred in a movie called For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story, and it was about a Cuban jazz musician who was able to come to the United States of America. He didn’t want to go back to Cuba, and he was trying to convince our immigration officials that if he were sent back to Cuba he would be sent back to a life of slavery. A lot of them didn’t believe him, and he kept explaining this to them.
The movie was really about the toppling of Batista in the late 50s and the coming to power of Fidel Castro, how all of that worked, and how the Cuban people were regretting what they had done by getting behind Castro. Because he sounded so good! In fact, one of the women in the movie talks about how as a young woman she actually fell in love with the oratorical description that Castro gave of what he was going to turn the country into.
Castro made all of these promises; he sounded really good. But what is the end result? The end result is today what we have; it’s essentially Cuba, an island prison. And you can clearly see that the way the Cubans get on these little rickety boats—in fact, not even boats. Sometimes they’re floating on a plank of wood; they’re trying to make that 90 mile journey from Havana to Miami with the hope of touching American shores so they can be free! And yet none of that was told to them on the front end.
They were told of the wonders of communism, the wonders of socialism—a worker’s paradise. Everybody’s going to have universal healthcare. We’re going to raise the literacy rates—etc. And Castro promised all of these things. Yet, what was the end result? The end result was enslavement! And that’s a powerful image, when you think about it, of what these false teachers are like. They promise all these wonderful things—yet the end result is actual enslavement.
They’re great talkers! When you study the doctrine of the antichrist, you see that there’s a lot of emphasis on his mouth in Revelation 13:5. Daniel 7 talks about it—the little horn making great boasts. You know, “uttering great things.” Yet, what is the antichrist going to do to this world? Revelation 13:16-18 talks about a total subjugation of planet Earth. And he certainly won’t tell people that on the front end—what his intentions are—but that’s the end result.
And that’s how these false teachers operate. They are like springs without water. They are like mist. They are like clouds without rain: making great promises but never able to deliver on dealing with the emptiness in the human heart. He explains why they can’t deliver anybody, because he says in verse 19, “…promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption…”
Now, how can you liberate anybody when you yourself are a slave? One of the great truths of life is: you can’t help people unless you’re in a position to help people. So, how can you deliver someone from spiritual bondage when you yourself are in spiritual bondage? It reminds me very much of 2 Timothy 3:13 where Paul says (concerning the last days), “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Why are these people deceiving others in the last days? Because they themselves are in a state of deception! How do you lead someone into spiritual truth when you’re living in deception yourself? That’s the identical imagery that you’re catching there in verse 19 where it talks about, “…while they themselves are slaves of corruption…”
What else does he say here, completing verse 19? He says, “…for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” That why I titled this brief study that we’re doing tonight, “The Enslavement of Sin.”
One of the things to understand about sin is it promises liberation, it promises freedom, it promises emancipation, it promises enjoyment, it promises excitement, but there’s always a payoff. The payoff is: you find yourself a slave to that particular sin. You don’t have to get far in the Bible to see that! In Romans 6:6 Paul says, “…knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin…”
Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
One of the most powerful verses on the enslaving capacity of sin is what Jesus said in John 8:34. “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.’ ” God doesn’t want us as Christians to be slaves to sin; He wants us to be His slaves. That’s why He says, “The instruments of your body that you used to offer up to sin, offer those things up to the Lord.”
At a recent conference a guy came up to me, and I could see the tears in his eyes he was so oppressed. He disclosed to me that he was just struggling with pornography; he could not stop looking at pornography on his phone. And I thought to myself, “I wonder how that pornography advertised itself when he first got involved with it?”
I mean, did the advertisement tell him that he would suffer this kind of guilt to the point where he would want to come up and confess this to a perfect stranger? Did the pornography tell him it would torment him the way it did? I mean, it probably seemed so liberating, exciting, interesting. And yet, what did it do? It was a ball and chain! And that’s the nature of sin.
And that’s why Peter is upset, under the Spirit here, as he is warning his audience of the false teachers who are going to come in. They’re going to get you to go back to your sin nature, and it’s going to turn you into a slave all over again. And they themselves who are advocating these doctrines are slaves to sin themselves—they don’t have the ability to liberate or free anybody.
I don’t know if you’ve looked at, recently, Genesis 4:7. It’s dealing with Cain as he is contemplating murdering his brother, Abel. He hadn’t done the deed yet, but he was thinking about it. God says something very interesting to Cain as Cain was considering doing this sin of murder—the first murder in human history.
Genesis 4:7, God says to Cain, “…sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” It’s a figure of speech called personification, speaking of the power of sin—its enslaving qualities. It is like “crouching at the door.” And its desire, in this case “power,” it wants to overpower you. But you’d better overpower it before it overpowers you, or you’re going to end up murdering your brother (which is what’s going on in your mind). And then you’re going to be in a world of trouble!
Cain, as you know, was a vagabond because of that sin. He spent the rest of his life with this mark on him—which at least protected him, but he was a wanderer and a vagabond. He lived his whole life as a slave because he yielded to the enslaving temptation of sin. And he probably felt he could just deal with the problem of jealousy with his brother and everything would go back to normal. And God says (you know the story), “The blood of your brother is personified as crying out to Me from the ground. I have to deal with this.” So God dealt with the sin, and Cain spends the rest of his life enslaved. That’s what sin does! And this is why Peter is warning against doctrines that are going to come into the church in the last days—in this case Asia minor—causing people to return to the sin nature and making them slaves all over again.
That ends verses 17-19 where we looked at the emptiness of false teachers. Their ultimate message is empty. But as we move on, look at the last three verses, 20-22. Here we get a description of the regression of these false teachers.
So we have the return from where they came (verse 20), their accountability to God (verse 21), and then two illustrations to communicate the point. Notice the return—in this case to their former state. Look at verse 20, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” You’ll notice that they have escaped (these false teachers) the defilements of the world (more on that in a minute).
You’ll notice that the world is very defiled. The world is controlled by Satan, so it’s in a state of defilement. Paul calls it “this present evil age,” Galatians 1:4. James says that the world is seeking to stain us (or contaminate us), James 1:27.
Of course, the world (1 John 2:15-17) is characterized by the things that aren’t related to the love of the Father—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. You’ll notice that these false teachers have seemed to escape temporarily the defilements of the world through knowledge.
And I think a little bit about Judas. You know, Judas saw the miracles. He heard Christ’s teaching. He looked the part. I think, for a temporary season, he had a moral reformation. He probably cleaned himself up a little bit. The reality of the situation, though, is we know that Judas was never saved. So, whatever moral reformation he went through by being exposed to Jesus Christ was just temporary. And I think that’s the kind of knowledge that’s being described here as we get a description of the retrogression of these false teachers.
It’s very interesting. It mentions in verse 20, “by the knowledge of the Lord [it does not say “their Lord”] and Savior Jesus Christ.” Those are two designations of Christ that are very important. Number one is: He’s the Savior. You have to come to Him as your Savior to be justified. Then how do you grow as a Christian? That’s where Lordship comes in, where you begin to now submit to Jesus. You don’t have the power to do that as an unbeliever, because you don’t have the new nature (or the Holy Spirit) inside of you.
But once you see Him as your Savior and you trust in His provision, then His resources come inside of you. And now you have the capacity to submit to him as Lord. That’s where you put Lordship! A lot of people are putting Lordship on the front end, and that’s not where it belongs. Jesus is the Savior is on the front end. Lordship is in your walk with Him.
I think Peter makes this very clear in his first letter. Because in 1 Peter 3:15 Peter says, “but sanctify [that’s your growth in Christ] Christ as Lord in your hearts…” Lordship relates to sanctification—progressive sanctification—middle tense of your salvation (and my salvation)—growth in Christ. Jesus as Savior relates to our justification before God by faith alone. So, Jesus wants to be both. He wants to be our Savior. Then, after we get saved, He doesn’t want us to go back to the sin nature; He wants us to make Him Lord as we grow in Him.
These false teachers have experienced a superficial knowledge, but “they are again entangled.” Why are they again entangled? Because that’s the nature of sin: it’s a ball and chain and it will put us right back into bondage when we go back to it.
“…they are again entangled in them and are overcome…” Notice what it says here: “they are overcome.” I’ll make the case in just a little bit that these fast teachers are unbelievers. A lot of people falsely assume that a Christian can never be overcome by sin. Let me tell you something: a Christian can be overcome by sin. How do I know that? Because Paul the apostle, in Romans 12:21, in a context where he’s clearly talking to believers, says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Now, if a Christian can never be overcome by sin, why would Paul say, “Do not be overcome by evil”? Obviously, the command would not make any sense if a Christian didn’t have the ability to leave the desires of the new nature, go back to the old nature, and consequently become a slave to sin. And he says here, concerning these false teachers, “…the last state has become worse for them than the first.” They go back from which they came, and their final condition is worse than before. They even made a moral reformation. Now, that right there pushes me very strongly in the direction that these are unbelievers. It’s hard for me to imagine that statement being said of a believer.
But notice verse 21 as we see not just their return to their former state, but we see their accountability unto God. Look at 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.” You’ll notice that he says here, “If that’s what they’re going to do…” If Judas, for example, is going to have a moral reformation but never actually believe and never actually be internally changed through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit, it would be better for him if he had never known Christ at all.”
Why is that? Because the Bible teaches something very, very clearly. It says in Luke 12:48, “…to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Paraphrase: “to whom much is given…” Much is what? “Much is required.”) The greater the light, the greater the understanding, the greater the opportunity—the more God expects a response. And if a person won’t respond to the truth, the only thing that light has done is it’s increased their degree of accountability on the Day of Judgment.
You see this here in Matthew 11:20-24. It says, “Then He [that’s Jesus] began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.’ And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom [now that was a bad place!] which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
Jesus compares three New Testament cities to three Old Testament cities. And He says, “On the Day of Judgment all of them are going to be judged. But these New Testament cities (the three that He mentions here—Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum) are going to be judged right alongside Tyre and Sidon and Sodom. Yet, the three New Testament cities will receive a stronger judgment on the Day of Judgment.” (paraphrase)
All are judged, but the New Testament cities are going to be judged more severely. Why is that? Because the New Testament cities saw something that the three Old Testament cities didn’t see. They saw the incarnate Son of God, they saw His miracles, they heard His teaching, and they still turned it down. Now the Old Testament cities (Sodom, Tyre, Sidon, etc.) never saw those things, but the New Testament cities did. And it demonstrates this principal: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
What did Jesus say of Judas, whom Jesus called a friend? I mean, Judas got very close to Christ but never converted—never believed. You see that there at the end of John 6. Do you know what Jesus said of Judas in Matthew 26:24? “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Wow! More light—more accountability. And if a person is not going to respond to the light, then, quite frankly, on the Day of Judgment it would be better for him if he never had that light, whatsoever.
So, it’s a description here of how these false teachers are unsaved. It would be better for them if they had never been exposed to light at all—never had a moral reformation—because to whom much is given, much is required.
The regression of these false teachers ends with two illustrations there in verse 22. He says, “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.’” A sow is a pig, right?
“ ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.’ ” So, we have two illustrations of the regression of these false teachers. The first one is a dog returning to its own vomit. You notice it says, “the proverb” here? I think it’s probably Proverbs 26:11 which says, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly.”
I know it’s mealtime, and I don’t want to gross everybody out, but I’ve got this image in my mind. We had a dog when I was growing up. I don’t know how this dog did this, but it timed it perfectly. Right when we were getting ready to eat as a family, he would throw up in the backyard and start to lick up his vomit. I’m sorry for sharing that with you, but every time I look at this verse that’s what it reminds me of. Great dog, by the way; his name was Baron, if you’re interested. But don’t worry; he’s long gone.
So, that’s the first image of these false teachers returning to their former state; it’s like a dog licking up its own vomit. Then we have a sow, after washing, returning to wallowing in the mire. I think of a pig. You take the pig out of the mud; you wash the pig. Do you comb a pig’s hair? Does a pig have a lot of hair? Maybe not.
You take the pig, you put it in your trailer, and you take it to the county fair. The pig wins first prize in the fair, and a great big ribbon is put around that pig. Then you put the pig back in the trailer, and the trailer gets back home to the farm or whatever. You open up the back of the trailer, and what does that pig do? It goes right back into the mud because that’s what a pig does. And that’s a description of a false teacher who has a moral reformation but never actually gets saved; it’s described as a retrogression—going backward—a dog returning to its own vomit and a sow returning to wallowing in the mire.
Let me conclude with this. You’ll see a chart here: “Believer or Unbeliever.” Because there is a debate, “Are these false teachers saved or unsaved?” The audience in Asia minor is saved; we dealt with that in our first couple of lessons. But what about the false teachers?
A lot of people will say these false teachers are saved, because verse 1 says they were purchased through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Also, they have a knowledge of Christ, 2:20. We know (2 Peter 1:8-10) that a believer can sin, because we’ve studied how a believer can actually go back into sin and forget that they’ve been purified from their sins.
We have examples of sinning believers. Lot is an example, right in this chapter. Lot was saved. He is called a “righteous man” three times, but he was involved in a lifestyle of sin. We had Balaam as an example last week. Many people argue that Balaam was saved in the Numbers story. But, to me, those arguments are not that strong because “purchased” there (verse 1) could refer to the universal atonement of Christ (in other words, Christ’s death was for the whole world). Everybody’s pardon has been purchased whether they receive it by faith or not. So, even if you’re unsaved, in that sense because of the universal atoning work of Christ, you’ve been purchased.
And the big argument is, “Well, it says they have a knowledge of Christ.” But “knowledge” could be kind of like the knowledge that Judas had. He knew Who Jesus was, and he never allowed that knowledge to transfer into saving faith. So, on the right-hand side of this chart, I think there is a much stronger argument that the fast teachers are unsaved.
First of all, they are called “dogs” and “pigs.” I know of no example where a Christian, or believer, is referred to as such. You’ll notice that they are overcome by sin (verse 20). As I mentioned before, that argument is not dispositive in and of itself because according to Romans 12:21 a Christian can be overcome by sin.
Beyond that, other unbelievers are used in this chapter: the world that perished in Noah’s day, the angels that rebelled in Noah’s day, the city of Sodom and Gomorrah which was destroyed by God’s judgment. And there are a couple of other things in here that really pushed me in the direction that these false teachers coming in are unsaved. It says in verse 20 that their last state is worse than the first. That, to me, is a very impossible description of a Christian; it’s always better to be a saved person than an unsaved person.
Then it says (verse 17), “black darkness has been reserved.” Is that true of a Christian? Is that what we have look forward to? No! Absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better…”
So, when you look at all the arguments, my own conclusion on it is these false teachers coming in, in this particular case, are unbelievers. Now, can a believer ever teach false doctrine? Yes, they can. Peter himself taught false doctrine when he was involved in legalism. He had to be rebuked by Paul face-to-face, Galatians 2.
Peter himself taught false doctrine. He tried to convince Jesus to stay away from the cross, and Jesus had to say, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Certainly, a Christian, in a moment of weakness or fleshliness, can teach false doctrine. But in this particular instance here, dealing with the immediate situation that Peter is dealing with, I think the original audience is saved and the false teachers coming in are unsaved. So, that ends our study tonight.
It ends chapter 2 where we’ve just had a marvelous description of the characteristics of false teachers. We’ve looked at their arrival, their devices, their doom, their depravity. Tonight we focused on their emptiness and we also focused on their regression.
Next week we’re going to be moving into chapter 3 where Peter is no longer giving generic characteristics of false teachers. What he’s going to do is he is going to focus in like a laser beam on the specific doctrine that they will teach. And it’s a doctrine that’s very, very interesting because it’s the dominant doctrine that we face in the 20th century and the 21st century. It’s a doctrine called uniformitarianism.
It what all your kids and grandkids—and you yourself—were taught, particularly as you moved through the educational system. And Peter is going to describe that. He describes it, beginning in verse 3, and how to refute it. That’s what’s interesting. Peter won’t just describe it, but he shows us how to refute it before the doctrine even emerged, as the Holy Spirit was giving him wisdom.
Before he starts to do that, beginning in verse 3, he’s going to give his second purpose statement. He’s already given us his first purpose statement—why he wrote the book in 1:12 -15; now he’s going to give us a second purpose statement (3:1-2). After that he’ll get into a description of not the characteristics of false teachers, but the specific uniformitarian doctrine that they will introduce and how to refute it. So, that’s the direction we’re going.
Thank you for joining us this evening here on the SLBC Wednesday night live stream. I hope you’ll join us this Sunday. We’re starting a brand-new series. I had announced I was going to teach bibliology in Sunday school, but I just haven’t had enough time to prepare for that. So, I thought I would go to a subject I have studied, which is the Rapture.
Is the Rapture a true doctrine? We’re going to be starting that in Sunday school this week beginning at 9:45 AM Central Time. Then we’ll be continuing on in our second lesson in the Book of Philippians during our main service beginning at 11:30 AM Central. Then, we’ll be back here Wednesday at the exact same time continuing our study on 2 Peter.
I hope you’ll join us for Pastor’s Point of View this Friday. We’re going to be dealing with part two in a series that we started last week on World Transformation and Covid-19: How the one worlders and the globalists are strategically using Covid-19 to usher in profound changes in our country and our world. Most of these changes from our perspective are negative. So we’ll stop there, and we’ll see you next time. Let me close us in a word of prayer.
“Father, we thank You for this brief time of study this evening in Your Word. Help these words to get into our minds and hearts so that we can obey You and grow thereby. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name.” And God’s people said? “Amen.”