How should people choose which church to belong to? I have been reflecting on this question as we prepare to move to a different area. What should matter as we choose the church we will make our home in? Some people look for lively worship or lots of exciting activities. Some people are looking for nice people to be friends with. These things are good to find, but they are not the most important thing. Because lively worship and exciting activities and even nice people are not essential for salvation.
We will be looking instead for a church which believes what it preaches and preaches what it believes. Because, as Jesus said, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” We will be looking for a church which believes the Bible and preaches the Bible, a church which is faithful to the truth of Scripture. That is the most important thing for any church because lies and false teaching don’t bring anybody to Jesus and to salvation.
2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.
The New Testament talks about false prophets and false teachers more than 20 times and those warnings are just as relevant for the church today as they were for the Christians who heard them in the first century.
PUNISHMENT FOR FALSE TEACHERS
Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
The warning from the fallen angels
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment;
The fallen angels are the demons who rebelled along with the devil and were thrown out of heaven. This draws on the Book of Enoch, a Hebrew text probably written around 300 to 200 BC. We referred to this when we looked at the passage about the “harrowing of hell” in 1 Peter chapter 3. Jude verse 6 also talks about the punishment of these fallen angels.
Jude 6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
Peter is saying that if God is certain to punish the fallen angels, he will certainly also punish false teachers.
A second warning comes from the flood
5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others;
The flood was God’s punishment on the corruption and pollution of the earth due to violence and sin. God will punish false teachers the same way.
Another example of God’s judgment from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah:-
6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were sexual immorality. Jude verse 7 gives the same warning.
Jude 7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of lawlessness. Peter continues
7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.
These stories from the book of Genesis assure us that God is more than able to rescue his people from sin. The experiences of Noah and of Lot demonstrate God’s salvation. But at the same time these four warnings point to the certainty of God’s judgment on all lawlessness and in this context especially on false teachers. This is especially important in these days. Every Christian needs to be on their guard against false teaching.
2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.
HOW TO RECOGNISE FALSE TEACHERS
In this one chapter Peter gives us at least 11 warning signs of false teachers.
We recognize false teachers by their wrong teaching
They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.
False teaching is destructive. Ultimately it is a denial of the Lordship of Christ.
We also recognize false teachers by their wrong behaviour.
2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.
False teachers are exposed by their evil actions. They destroy themselves, drag others down and damage the reputation of the church. Jesus himself was warning about false teachers when he taught about false prophets, ferocious wolves in sheep’s clothing. “By their fruit you will recognize them.” We need to look just as closely at the character of preachers and teachers as we do at their messages.
3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.
We can see so much greed and exploitation by false teachers today, particularly in the false gospel of health, wealth and prosperity where leaders live in luxury at the expense of their followers who remain trapped in poverty. They tell people the made up stories they want to hear, rather than teaching the truth.
10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.
In these days there are false teachers who are condoning immorality. There are those who despise authority, rejecting the teaching of the church over the centuries and rejecting the authority of the Bible in this world of post-modern relativism and post-truth. All Christians should be on guard against such false teachers.
Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings;
Boldness and arrogance are not Christ-like qualities. They should cause us to be on our guard.
12 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.
Blaspheming in matters they do not understand, the root of much false teaching is simple ignorance. People are swayed by instincts and emotions instead of pursuing truth. They will perish. But more than that,
13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done.
Some kinds of behaviour of false teachers are obviously wrong.
Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, revelling in their pleasures while they feast with you.
Revelling in pleasures. What a contrast to the behaviour God expects from all believers as Peter explained it in chapter 1, which we thought about last week.
2 Peter 1 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
We have everything we need for life and godliness. We have God’s great and precious promises. We are supposed to have escaped corruption and evil desires and be sharing God’s divine nature. False teachers just revel in their pleasures.
14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!
Eyes full of adultery – always looking for opportunities for sexual immorality. Jude contains the same warning.
Jude 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
Immorality and again greed. Indeed they are under God’s curse.
15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
Balaam’s sin was prophesying for King Balak and cursing his enemies when that was not God’s will. He was trapped by a love of money – the classic example of telling people what they want to hear. Balaam gained his reward and popularity for telling people that God’s standards can be lowered, like so many false teachers still today.
17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.
Blackest darkness – the terrible punishment for leading God’s people astray with empty promises and feeding lustful desires. Worse, they target new Christians who are only just escaping from sin and drag them back down again.
19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.’
False teachers are offering people a false freedom, the wrong idea that people can live however they like once they are saved. God does not give Christians freedom to do whatever we like. We are set free to serve God doing what pleases Him. We are not free to commit sin like we used to – that would just be a licence to lawlessness. God has forgiven us so that we can become more like Jesus. We said that last week too from 2 Peter 1. We should continually be growing in faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love.
2 Peter 1 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is short-sighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.
What we believe must be expressed in how we live and in the Christ-like character we are developing. But instead of growing to be more like Jesus, false teachers are just slaves of depravity, trapped in sin. Read the chapter again at home and you will count no less than ELEVEN ways we can recognize false teachers and false teaching. Peter has warned about the dreadful punishments which false teachers will face for leading others astray. He ends this section with a solemn warning about.
THE DANGERS OF FALSE TEACHING
20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.’
Who is this warning for? Who is Peter talking about here?
20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome,
“They” certainly includes the false teachers themselves. But the warning also extends to anybody who is led astray by false teachers. “They” means anybody who has been saved through knowing Jesus as Saviour but who then is “entangled in the world and overcome”. For a person like that they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
This is one of those few tricky passages which suggests that there is a danger that Christians can lose their salvation. It gives a warning which is similar to parts of Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10. It is a very solemn warning to Christians not to abandon their faith.
21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.
Christians are warned never to turn their backs on God’s wonderful salvation and go back to the life of sin they lived before. But can this actually happen? Can a true Christian be saved and then lost again? This is such an important question that I am going to come back to it in a couple of weeks. We will look at the thorny topic of predestination and free will and ask “Who chose who?” In that sermon I will attempt to reassure you of what I am convinced of, that Christians are indeed “once saved, always saved”.
For tonight in 2 Peter 2, we only have time to point out that this is the language of warnings. Sometimes we give warnings by pointing out the extreme consequences of disregarding the danger. We say to a child, “don’t go too near to the fire or you will get burned.” “Don’t go into the road or you will be knocked over.” “Don’t go too near the riverbank or you will drown.” “Don’t go too near the edge of the cliff or you will plummet to certain death.” The purpose of this warning language is to encourage children not to put themselves in danger. But then, two more things. Firstly, if the warning works then the child never takes the particular risk we have warned against. The danger is in that sense only ever hypothetical. But secondly, even after giving the warning, no loving parent stands back and allows their child to come to harm because they have ignored the warning. We hold their hands or leap to their aid when we see any actual risk to their safely. The warning helps keep the child safe, but their real safety lies in the hands of their loving parents. Christians are once saved, always saved, because their eternal safety lies in the God who will never let them go.
I will explain what I mean by this more fully in a couple of weeks time. For now let me reassure you with the words of Jesus. Jesus warned his disciples to be ready for the days of distress which were to come and said,
Mark 13 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
That little phrase “if possible” says to me, “if it were possible” but Jesus is saying it is not possible. Those who are truly God’s chosen people will not be deceived by any of the false messiahs and false prophets who will arise, in those days or in any times to come. But we still need to listen to the warnings! Because the dangers are very real.
We find passages warning about false teachers and false teaching in most of the letters of the Bible. We have seen them most recently in the letters to Timothy and Titus and now again here in 2 Peter chapter 2. We should listen to them. Because false teachers are dangerous and false teaching leads to death and destruction. Truth matters because only God’s truth can save us. Danger – false teachers!