The True Condition of False Teachers
Text: 2 Peter 2:17–22
Main Idea: False teachers may seem like they have discovered a path to freedom but they have not.
I. They Are Fast-Bound Slaves to Corruption (2 Peter 2:17–19)
II. They Are Facing a Stricter Judgment (2 Peter 2:20–21)
III. They Were Never Christians to Begin With (2 Peter 2:22)
Good morning. As we turn to our third and final section on false teachers in 2 Peter chapter two, it’s important to highlight the fact that there is a colossal difference between false teaching and the doctrinal disagreements that divide countless Christ-exalting, gospel-loving churches.
False teaching is false for the clearest reasons, in that, it proclaims a false view of God, the gospel, or the Christian life. Whereas, doctrinal disagreements between gospel-preaching churches are very, very different. In that, even though they disagree over 2nd and 3rd level doctrinal issues like:
Reformed vs Arminian theology.
Infant vs Believer’s baptism.
The relationship between the Church and Israel.
When Jesus will return in glory.
They treasure and tenaciously defend the 1st level doctrines that define the essential and unmovable boundaries of Christian orthodoxy: the Trinity, the true deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, justification by faith alone, the gospel’s call to sanctification, the bodily return of Jesus Christ, and the final judgement.
I am raising this distinction, because almost every internet search for a well-known pastor or theologian today seems to include accusations of heresy over 2nd and 3rd level doctrines! Doctrines which are important but do not undermine or destroy the gospel itself.
See, the spiritual danger in these intermural attacks is this: they obscure the line between false teachers who are actively perverting the gospel AND acceptable disagreements between faithful teachers who are passionately proclaiming and defending the gospel. And this is a tragedy of the highest order because false teachers always find a way to use this confusion to lead even more people into error.
In fact, as we turn to our passage today, Peter is going pull back the “spiritual curtain” so that we can clearly see the true condition of those who pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ into a personal license to sin. And in this he wants us to see three important truths:
They Are Fast-Bound Slaves to Corruption (2 Peter 2:17–19)
They Are Facing a Stricter Judgment (2 Peter 2:20–21)
They Were Never Christians to Begin With (2 Peter 2:22)
They Are Fast-Bound Slaves to Corruption (2 Peter 2:17–19)
Their Empty Teaching
The first thing we see in these verses is that Peter wants us to grasp an important connection between their teaching and their true condition. And the connection is this: Just as a desert spring held out the promise of life-giving water, and a rain storm held out the promise of much needed rain to a farmer in the dry and arid lands of the ancient east. So also, these false teachers were holding out life-giving, joy-inducing, satisfaction-attaining promises.
Yet, the similarity in this picture is not simply what they have to offer. No. The similarity between waterless springs, wind driven fog, and false teachers is that each of these things are utterly incapable of delivering what they promise. They are empty! Just like waterless springs cannot quench your thirst and wind driven mist cannot water your crops. So also these teachers’ loud boasts of folly (loud empty boasting) cannot provide a God-ordained path to joy, happiness, and satisfaction.
- Jeremiah 2:12–13 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
But, this leads us to a question that we have not addressed yet: “how were these teachers enticing unstable Christians into sexual sin when the gospel so clearly condemns it?” Well, theologians tell us that they were probably teaching one of two different errors:
The first is that salvation is expressly concerned with a person’s soul not their body. And while this might not seem like an important distinction to us, the implications are massive! It means that a Christian is, in fact, free to do anything they want to do with their body because their soul is the only thing that matters to Christ.
The second likely error is this, that God’s grace and love are so amazing, unconditional, and free that he does not constrain a Christian’s ethical conduct. Or to put it more crassly, Christians are free to indulge in every manner of sin because God is so loving, gracious, and accepting.
Sounds a little familiar to some teaching in our day and age doesn’t it?
Yet, we know both of these to be patently false because Paul openly attacks these errors in his epistles and Jesus himself attacks them in book of Revelation.
- 1 Corinthians 6:13–15 Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!
- Romans 6:1–4 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
- Revelation 2:18–22 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works.
Let me be clear. God is not a prude. He does not hate sexual intimacy. No, he designed it and gave it to mankind for our joy in the life-long covenant of marriage between a biological male and a biological female. This is why he calls us to protect it and expressly forbids any other expression or pursuit of it.
Their True State
So, turning back to our passage in Peter, does the gospel promise freedom? The answer is yes! But, it’s not is the freedom to do whatever you want! No. It’s a promise of real and lasting freedom from our hopeless and never ending slavery to sin. It’s a promise that by God’s power we will finally be able to freely serve God and one another. It’s the promise of a freedom that enables us to joyfully live in obedience to God’s word, because we have become new creations in Christ.
- Romans 6:17–18 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Notice, what is the fundamental difference between someone who has truly come to faith in Jesus Christ? It’s “what” they are a slave to: are they a slave to righteousness or sin? And in verse 19 what does Peter want his readers to see about these freedom-promising teachers in their midst? He wants his readers to see that these teachers have nothing to offer (no freedom, no life, no happiness) because they are, in fact, fast-bound slaves of sin and corruption.
Now, Peter could have stopped here but he didn’t because the ultimate danger is not merely that false teachers cannot provide the freedom they so confidently proclaim. No, the ultimate danger is that ifsomeone abandons the gospel for a life of sin, their “last state has become worse for them than the first.”
To put it plainly, Peter is warning church attenders of every age about the clear and present danger of apostasy.
They Are Facing a Stricter Judgment (2 Peter 2:20–21)
Now I know that Christians tend to get uncomfortable when they hear the word apostasy. On the one hand there are those who don’t know what to do with it because it seems to be in direct conflict with all of the passages that celebrate the Christian’s security in Christ. Yet, on the other hand, there are those who live in constant fear that they could lose their salvation.
Well, let’s begin by asking, “what does Peter want us to understand about this thing we call apostasy?” He is pointing us to the very real possibility that: someone may hear the gospel, start pursuing the Christian life, and start attending a local church. And by all outward appearances, they seem to be escaping from the defilements of the world, in that, they are ordering their life according to God’s commands and seem to be growing in righteousness… For everything we see and hear, we have every reason to think that they have been born again.
But, then something completely unexpected happens. They turn their back on the gospel. They abandon their pursuit of righteousness. And they give themselves over to every manner sin. (An instant over-night change or a slow fade)
And when this happens, Peter does not comfort his readers with the thought that these people are simply “backsliding” or have become “carnal Christians” who are still going to enjoy everlasting life with Jesus. No! He warns them of wrath and judgment!
The True Nature of Apostasy
Christian this is a very real warning! But, if we are going to grasp it’s true application we need to highlight two complimentary truths that flow from this warning.
First of all, Peter is pointing his readers to a principle: the more you know about Christ and the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet still turn away from Christ, the more severe your judgment will be. Notice, in verse 21 he goes on to tell us that “it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21).
And while this might seem unimaginable, Peter is simply repeating the teaching of Jesus himself.
- Matthew 11:20–24 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Notice, what is Jesus saying in these verses. He is saying, the more knowledge that you have of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the character of God, the more severe your judgment will be if you still prefer your sin to the gospel of Jesus Christ… And in the case of Bethsaida and Chorazin, their judgment will be even worse than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah!
Now, does this mean that God will excuse a person’s sin because they were ignorant of the gospel. No. Jesus’ point is not that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah will escape judgment, his point is that their judgment will be in some way “less” than those who knew better but never responded.
See, Peter’s larger theological point is this: God’s judgment on people like these false teachers will be even more severe than the judgment on those who have never heard the gospel… Even more, it’s a warning that those who claim to believe the gospel but then reject the gospel and return to a habitual pattern of unrepentant sin will be facing the most horrific punishment when Jesus returns.
But, if this is the case, how does it square with Jesus’ promise in the gospel?
John 6:39–40 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Well, this question leads us to the second point. I do not believe that Peter is telling us that God’s elect (2 Peter 1:10) can somehow lose their salvation in Christ. Rather, he is warning us of the spiritual reality that not everyone who claims to have faith in Christ is a true, born again Christian. He is warning us that our fellow Church members can be utterly lost, even though they seem to have made an outward profession of faith and undertaken great efforts to clean up their lives. (After all that is what Peter is addressing in these churches)
In fact, Jesus warned his disciples about this very thing. In the parable of the weeds (Mathew 13:36–43) He warned his disciples that the church would always contain a mixture of true and false Christians (grain and weeds in the same field). In the parable of the soils (Mark 4:3–20) he warned them that a positive response to the gospel does not always mean that someone has truly come to faith in the gospel. Only one soil produces a harvest of grain.
Friends, this is what makes the question of apostasy so hard. Some of us have watched a friend, a family member, or a spiritual mentor that we have worshiped with for years, abandon the gospel for a life of sin. And we are all left wondering, what in the world happened? Are the still “saved?” Did they lose their salvation?
Well, Peter tells us in verse 22, that in the case of these false teachers, they were never really Christians to begin with.
They Were Never Christians to Begin With (2 Peter 2:22)
The Spiritual Truth
Notice, the proverb’s simple point is this: no matter what happens, a dog or a pig will inevitably behave according to its true nature. And when we apply this proverb to these false teachers and their followers in this chapter, Peter’s point sounds something this:
Just like dogs: the false teachers and their followers have returned to the corruption they once rejected.
Just like pigs: the false teachers and their followers have returned to wallow in the filth from which they were “cleansed.”
And notice, according to this parable why did these teachers and their followers do this? They did it because they were behaving according to their true nature. It’s not that they have not lost something they once had. No. They are revealing the truth that they were never saved to begin with.
The Broader Witness of the NT
To put it more directly, anyone who abandons the gospel of Jesus Christ and their pursuit of godly living —and never returns in repentance— is simply revealing the truth that their inner nature was never changed to begin with. They never experienced what it really means to be a new creation in Christ, the old is remains, the new has never come. They never experience the sin-conquering power that comes from a Christians union with Christ. They were never slaves to Christ and his righteousness. No. They were still slaves to their sinful nature and their unholy affections, grind out the Christian life in their own will power.
See, this was Peter’s way of saying:
What John says 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 it might be plain that they are all not of us.
Or as Jesus said, in Matthew 10:22 He who endures to the end will be saved
Or as the writer of Hebrews exclaims in Hebrews 3:14 “We share in Christ if we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
Or as Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 15:1–2 I preached to you the gospel which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast.
See, the unified witness of the entire New Testament is this: Persevering faith is the mark of true saving faith. And this persevering faith (even though it may waver and stumble into sin) will always works itself out over time in a life of heart-felt repentance and gospel-powered change. While those who do not persevere, reveal the truth that they were never saved to begin with. And if this is the case, as we will see this next week, they still have a God-given opportunity to repent and believe.
So as we close, I want you to see that 2 Peter chapter 2 was written to help us us confirm our election by warning us of the catastrophic consequences of abandoning the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But, the goal in this warning is not to make Christians live their life in constant worry, fear, and guilt. Not on the least bit! Peter’s goal is that these warnings will expose the false teachers for what they are AND protect true believers from their empty promises. Yet, I realize that this message might be leaving some of you with a sense of unsettled guilt this morning. And if that describes you, I want to give you two simple tools to process it:
- The Devil uses your sin and your past to burden you with guilt, condemn you as a failure, and cut you off from your life-giving, faith sustaining, hope-empowering pursuit of Jesus.
- The Holy Spirit uses your guilt and sin to lead you to repentance and a renewed joy in Jesus Christ.
See, when it comes down to it, the Christian that is truly concerned about losing their salvation or worried that they have somehow lost their salvation after a season of sinfulness is demonstrating in their very concern that they are not like the false teachers in this text.
Just as a pig will always return to the mire; a true child of God will eventually turn back from the pig pen of sin and rebellion to the open arms of their father.
 “For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the proper principles of religion. Such are: God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God’s mercy; and the like. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith;” (Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2011], IV, i, 12).
 Michael P. Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 139.
 “They twist Paul’s teaching on freedom and use it to encourage moral laxity (3:15–16);” (Dieudonne Tamfu, 2 Peter and Jude, ed. Samuel Ngewa, Africa Bible Commentary [HippoBooks, 2018], 62).
 John 8:35–36; Galatians 2:4; 5:1, 13.
 Tamfu, 2 Peter and Jude, 62.
 “These verbs (“overcomes” and “enslaved”) are both in the perfect tense, stressing that this is the state/condition of the person described. ;” (Matthew S. Harmon, “2 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, ESV Expository Commentary, ed. Iain M Duguid, James M Hamilton, and Jay Sklar [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018], 396).
 Adapted from: John Piper, “Better Never to Have Known the Way,” Sermons From John Piper (1980–1989) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
 Matthew S. Harmon, “2 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, ESV Expository Commentary, ed. Iain M Duguid, James M Hamilton, and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 397.