(2 Peter 2:18-22)
Series: You’d Better Know the Truth (2 Peter)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
- Take your Bibles and join me in 2 Peter, chapter 2 (page 818; YouVersion).
If you’re visiting with us we are making our way, verse-by-verse, through this short letter of Peter’s. Having made our way through chapter 1, a delightfully encouraging chapter largely about the gift of salvation and the promises of God’s Word, we have in recent weeks been studying a not-so-encouraging chapter about false teaching.
Peter minces no words in his descriptions of these false teachers. He refers to them as unjust, presumptuous, and self-willed. He calls them brute beasts, spots and blemishes, having eyes full of adultery, and wells without water.
In our age of near obsession with various forms of so-called “hate speech,” one might consider Peter’s name-calling as rather uncharitable if not even, “un-Christian.” But all we really need to do is think as parents of children we love dearly and we understand Peter’s strident vocabulary.
How would you refer to an ungodly troublemaker who got into your child’s way or your grandchild’s way? This evil person seeks to pull your child into harmful behavior, and into sin and destruction. Think as a parent and you will appreciate Peter’s harsh words. He speaks as a pastor who cares for his sheep.
So we look at the last five verses of chapter 2 where Peter puts his finishing touches on his description of these false teachers. We’ll study verses 18-22.
- Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.
19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.
22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
I feel sure I’ve told you before about the small country pastor who heard the same thing from one of his parishioners every Sunday after preaching. Meaning to encourage the pastor, the man would refer to the message as though it were meant for anyone but himself. And so the man would come up to the pastor after the sermon and say to him, “Great preaching, pastor. You really told ‘em, today.” And it bothered the pastor because this man could never seem to see his own need for the message. It was always, “You really told ‘em today.”
This was a small country church and one day, as providence would have it, the only fellow present was this man. And so the pastor preached his message and this man was the only one present to hear it. And after the sermon, he came up to the pastor as in times before. The pastor thought surely since this man was the only one present that Sunday morning that he must have seen his own need for the message. The man came up to the pastor, took him by the hand and said very solemnly, “Pastor, that was one of the best messages I have heard you preach…and if they had been here you would have really told ‘em!”
It’s easy enough to rail against false teachers in our day and receive one “Amen” after another. “You tell ‘em, preacher!” Most of you are familiar enough with the obvious heresies contrary to Scripture. One of the reasons we take care to preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible is because doing so yields a solid, theological framework of truth. And so we often recognize error not because we study the error, but because we know the truth.
Yet we must always ask, “Now, then. Having understood the meaning of this passage, how then does it apply to me?” Where do I see myself in this passage? Lord, show me myself, show me my sin, and show me my Savior.”
Preaching is not just about “everybody else.” Their errors. Their sins. We must open ourselves to the soul-searching light of God’s Word. We must allow the light of God’s Word to examine us as we bow to its authority. And in listening to preaching we say, “It’s not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
The Holy Spirit moved Peter in his last letter to the church, to spend 1/3 of the letter on false teaching. And the same Holy Spirit preserved this letter for 2,000 years so that we would study it this morning at Henderson’s First Baptist Church. God did this so that we would learn today the meaning of this passage and the significance of the passage for each and every one of us.
I believe the primary application of Chapter 2 is not so much about pointing out the obvious errors in our day, as much as it is about answering one fundamental question. It is a question upon which is predicated all of Peter’s statements about these false teachers and their teachings. I want to ask you that question at the end of the very end of our study.
First, let’s take a few minutes and make our way through verses 18-22. Peter continues to describe the nature of false teaching. If you want a helpful descriptive outline, you can write down Roman Numeral I and write down first:
I. False Teaching is Enticing (18)
Peter writes in verse 18, “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh…” They “allure.” The word means to entice. To bait. Allure is like “a lure,” something a fisherman uses to hook an unsuspecting fish. Peter says these false teachers frame their teachings in alluring and enticing words. They make it attractive.
By speaking–verse 18– “great swelling words of emptiness” they make their false teaching attractive. So it’s empty preaching. The Phillips translation has, “High-Sounding Nonsense.” I like that! High-Sounding Nonsense. It’s empty of power. There’s no power in it because it has been robbed of truth. But it is enticing, why? Because–verse 18– “they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness.”
So these false teachers entice by appealing to the sensual passions of our sinful natures. They are going after those who have recently entered into the church and are benefiting from the teaching of the Gospel. Peter says at the end of verse 18 that these false teachers are going after “the ones who have [recently] escaped from those who live in error.” They have just come out of the clutches of the world and these false teachers have enticed them “through the lusts of the flesh.”
And their message is largely a twisting of biblical truth with Greek philosophy. The teaching was that one could do whatever he wished sexually with his body and still be okay in God’s sight. You believed in the Lord with your mind, and you could do whatever you wished with your body. They preached that no harm would come to those who did whatever they wished with their bodies.
But remember from verse 17 that Peter describes these false teachers as, “wells without water.” In other words, they don’t deliver on what they promise. It’s like you’re in a dry, desert and your mouth is parched and you see a well you think is full of water, you run up to it and find it bone dry. That’s the way of these false teachers. They promised so much. But rather than giving the water of life, they delivered a glass of dirt.
False teaching is enticing. Secondly:
II. False Teaching is Enslaving (19)
Peter writes in verse 19, “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.”
These false teachers preached a message of freedom, but it was actually a message of enslavement. They enticed people to become what they were: slaves of corruption.
They preached a radical message of freedom with little to no regard for the moral law. They likely referred to the law as a noose around one’s neck from which he had to free himself. These false teachers probably took verses out of context, verses like Galatians 5:1, where Paul says, “Stand fast…in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
And maybe they said, “The law is such a yoke of bondage. Free yourself from it! Do what you wish. Enjoy your life! God must approve of such lustful lifestyles because He’s not judging anyone for it.”
That seems to be the idea behind 2 Peter 3:3-4, “…Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?” In other words, God must approve of such lustful living else He would judge you for it. He’s doing nothing so do whatever you want!
And so they preached Galatians 5, but ignored Romans 8. Paul says, “if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).”
But you see, these false teachers, enticed unstable and uninformed persons in the church and taught them how to justify sexual freedom. But they are not really free at all. They are enslaved, Peter says in verse 19, to corruption. They are slaves to sin.
False teaching is enticing. False teaching is enslaving. Thirdly:
III. False Teaching is Ensnaring (20-22)
In verse 20 Peter says, “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.”
Who is Peter talking about here? Is he talking about the false teachers or the people they are leading astray? On one hand it really does not matter as what Peter says here applies to both the false teachers and those whom they have seduced by their teaching.
Those seduced by false teaching are ensnared, “again entangled” by the pollutions of the world, the very things from which they were to be freed by the Gospel.
So Peter says in verse 21, “For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
It’s really quite a statement! Peter says, false teachers and those swayed by false teachings, would have been better off having never heard and known the way of righteousness.
These are people who were not truly converted, but people who had heard the way, but then later “turned from the holy commandment.” That is, they did not persevere in their faith. They were like seed sown among rocks and thorns. They were exposed to the truth, but then they were misled by these false teachers and never brought forth any fruit of conversion.
A true believer doesn’t abandon the faith. True believers are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation to be revealed at the last time (1 Peter 1:5).” Perseverance is the test of authentic faith. Those who truly believe will continue believing.
Peter is describing those who merely appeared to be Christians. Peter is describing those who made a profession of faith, outwardly confessing Christ, and perhaps even were baptized, but were never truly saved. Walking an aisle or joining a church does not in itself save a person from sin.
John writes of this very real possibility in his first epistle. He says there were some in the church who abandoned the church because they were never really saved to begin with. He writes in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
That’s who Peter has in mind here in verse 21. He is describing those who were exposed to the truth, but were misled by false teachers and were never actually saved.
And Peter adds that for them, It really would have been better had they never heard the truth, than having heard it to turn from it.” Why?
One reason why is because a person who has merely dabbled in the truth and turned away is less inclined to consider Christ again.
It’s like a friend I had in High School. He became part of a Christian club of students that was really kind of cult-like. And many of us noted his rather odd behavior and had even questioned him about it. But he was really in deep in this experience and it just seemed so over-the-top that he became a sort of odd person. After a year or two of this, he just abandoned the group altogether and as far as I know is still not following the Lord today. From his perspective, I feel sure he would say, “Well, I tried Christianity, but it just wasn’t for me.”
And so, he is less inclined to consider Christ again. He might even say, “I went through that phase when I was younger. It’s not for me.” He is again ensnared by the pollutions of the world and less inclined to consider Christ again.
So Peter makes this colorful statement about those whose nature has not been changed by the power of the Gospel. He says in verse 22, “But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
That’s pretty picturesque, isn’t it?! When a person merely dabbles in the truth and learns a bit of the Bible, but is not changed inwardly, he or she is like, “a sow, having washed,” returning “to her wallowing in the mire.”
A person who merely dabbles in the truth and learns a bit of the Bible, but is not changed inwardly, is like a dog who vomits and then returns back to that vomit.
Now I know this is gross. And if you are repulsed by this imagery, that’s just the effect Peter is seeking. It’s gross to watch a dog throw up his dog food and then go back to that vomit, and smell it, and even eat it again.
But that’s what we do apart from the power of the Gospel. We may outwardly reform our behavior. We “clean ourselves up” and try to “do right,” but without the inward change to our nature wrought by the power of the Gospel, without inward change, we have only outward change. And so, like a pig whose nature it is to wallow in the mud; when such a pig is washed on the outside, give it just a minute or two and it will return to wallowing in the mud. Why? Because that’s its nature. And a dog returns to its vomit because that’s its nature.
And apart from real Gospel change, real inward change to our nature, we too will return to our sin. We will be either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ. We can “clean ourselves up on the outside” by reforming our behavior or by “being good people,” endeavoring to keep the 10 Commandments, but if we are not saved by the power of the Gospel, saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, then we have not changed and we will return to our sin. Our sin nature remains unchanged. We remain slaves to sin.
Now I know some of you may say, “Well, I know I am a Christian, yet I often find myself like the dog returning to its vomit.” What is wrong with me? Will I ever be free?
And I would say to you, “Remember chapter one!” Remember what Peter writes in the opening verses. Through His divine power God “has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3).” He’s given us everything we need to live a godly life. And it comes through growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
We’ve got to go on learning about Christ, seeking satisfaction in Christ. Coming not to the false teachers and their “wells without water,” but we must drink from the Living Water of the Lord Jesus Christ. Learn of Christ. Satisfy your thirst in Christ and you will turn from the corruption of the world.
Now I said at outset of this message that I believe the application of Chapter 2 is not so much about pointing out the obvious heresies in our day, as much as it is about answering a fundamental question. And this question is at the very heart of chapter 2.
In order to really understand the error of these false teachers in chapter 2 we need to read on what Peter says in chapter 3. The false teachers taught what they did for failing to rightly understand the Gospel. It is the perversion of the Gospel message that is at the heart of the false teaching.
Turn with me to the end of the letter, Chapter 3, verses 15 and 16. Here Peter refers to the Apostle Paul’s teaching about salvation. In verse 16, Peter even says Paul’s letters contain, “some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction.” The false teachers were themselves “untaught and unstable.” They took the biblical Gospel and “twisted it to their own destruction.”
So Peter warns in verse 17, “You therefore…beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked.”
These false teachers went wrong at the point of the Gospel. They read Paul’s writings about Gospel freedom. They likely read about, for example, the freedom Paul writes about in his letter to the Galatians, and rather than really studying the Gospel of freedom and understanding it correctly, they “twisted” his writings “to their own destruction.” Then, they “led away” others in “the error of the wicked.”
So the fundamental question is, “Do I know the true Gospel?” Do I understand that apart from Christ I have a nature inclined to sin, a nature that needs to be changed?
It is not that we become sinners when we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Sinning is our nature. Sin is part of our fallen, DNA. Apart from a changed nature, we will go on sinning like a pig goes on wallowing in the mud, or a dog goes on returning to its vomit.
The only way I can be free from sin, no longer enslaved by sin is by being enslaved to Christ. That’s how Peter opened his letter you’ll remember in chapter 1, verse 1, “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ.”
Freedom is found not in doing what my sinful nature enjoys, but rather in having my sinful nature changed by the power of the Gospel through faith in Jesus Christ. Do you know the true Gospel message?
- Stand for prayer.
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