As we have studied 2 Peter 2 we have been led to look at the issue of false teaching from a number of different angles. False teaching consists of statements that distort or deny what is true. Peter was probably concerned about false teachers who were in the church, but false teaching can also come from philosophers, well-respected teachers, scientists, celebrities, media commentators, or powerful business people.
Some who twist the truth do so intentionally. They want to lead people down a different path. They want to make their own truth. Most people however teach falsehood because they are merely repeating what someone else has said or taught. They are not malicious but they are certainly just as dangerous.
Jesus said it would be better for a false teacher to be captured by the mob, given cement shoes, and dropped in the river (I’m paraphrasing!) than to lead someone astray (Matthew 18).
It may seem like Peter has sufficiently instructed us on false teaching. There is a part of me that is ready to “move on”. However, this is such an important issue that he is going to shine the light on false teachers from one final direction. Peter shows us some of the tactics of false teachers.
They Make Promises But Cannot Deliver
17 These men 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 sinful human nature…
Being a farm community, we know what it is like to go through a dry and parched time. The ground gets hard. The streams dry up. The grass burns and the harvest is in danger. We know what it is like to be disappointed when rain is predicted but does not come.
This is the picture that Peter paints of the people who twist the truth. They make great promises. They are like a infomercial pitchman. They smile broadly. They assure us that they have the key that will unlock happiness for our life. Their product will make food taste better, make home repair easier, will make us more successful or will melt the fat away. And these people are really good at what they do. If you watch one of those infomercials long enough you will find yourself desiring the product. Unfortunately, when the product arrives you often wonder what in the world you were thinking when you made the purchase.
Many of the most dangerous false teachers are slick. They know how to turn a phrase, misuse Scripture, and get you to buy their product.
Peter tells us that the false-teachers use words in a way that appeal to the sinful nature that is part of each of us. Let me give you some examples of what some promise,
- You will become a god (appealing to our desire to call the shots)
- You will get 70 virgins if you give your life for Allah (appealing to our lust)
- You can earn salvation by being good (appealing to our desire to be self-sufficient)
- God will give you health and wealth if you follow our formula (and send money to our ministry). (An appeal to our deepest longings).
- You will learn the hidden “secrets” (appealing to our desire for superiority)
- You will be reincarnated (appealing to our desire to be eternal without having to submit to God)
False Teachers find something that is “marketable” and proclaim it loudly. If you listen to them on television or the radio for several weeks it will seem like they repeat the same message week after week; like a political stump speech. They are selling their product rather than teaching the truth.
They Prey on Weak or New Believers
Peter says another tactic of the truth-twisters is that
they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.
There is a reason infomercials run on Saturdays and in the middle of the night. It is a time when people are bored, tired, and vulnerable!
Truth-twisters are smart! They look for weakness and exploit it. They prey on people who are uninformed, vulnerable (because of the circumstances of life), and needy. They are like those who attack the wounded in battle.
This is why it is important that we follow up with new believers. It is not enough to get someone to “say a prayer” and then conclude that we have done our jobs. Jesus did not tell us to make converts, get decisions of get people to join the church. He told us to make disciples. For that to happen we need to help new believers understand the Scriptures. We need to provide resources, counsel, and help them become grounded in the faith. A grounded believer will more easily survive the blasts of error.
They Promise Freedom but Actually Enslave
19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.
The teachers in Peter’s day (and often in our own day) proclaimed a message that said “you can be right with God yet still live like everyone else in the world.“ These people open their arms to gay marriage, abortion rights, sexual immorality, and encourage greed and indulgence. They proclaim that God would “never send anyone to Hell” (i.e. you don’t have to worry about eternal consequences for your actions). They offer the benefits of Christianity without repentance. The cross becomes merely an illustration of God’s affection for us rather than of Christ enduring the wrath of God on our behalf.
Truth-twisters are like peddling drugs. They tell you that if you try a certain drug you will experience a wonderful high. Colors will be brighter. Senses will be enhanced. You will feel good about yourself. You may even be more productive.
From what I understand, that may happen at first. However, what they don’t tell you is that before long you will be enslaved to the drug. You will do crazy things. You may not be able to hold a job. You will have to steal from family and friends to support your habit. You will physically need the drug. You will live a double life. And you will begin to use people to get your “high”.
False teachers promise us a “new freedom” that will be fantastic. Let’s not kid ourselves: if sin wasn’t fun, no one would be truly tempted. If error did not look attractive no one would embrace it. False teachers invite us to negotiate truth so we can be “free” to enjoy life. But their invitation is just as destructive as drugs. You may experience a temporary “high”, but that high will give way to emptiness, guilt, and a need to have more and more to make you feel the same “thrill”. You need to work harder and harder to convince yourself that what you are doing is “OK”. Your will find that more and more of your “friends” care nothing for the things of God. You conscience will die a little bit at a time. In the end you are left to face life without God and without and real hope.
They Sound Like Christians But Are Not
20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and 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 goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”
Peter diagnoses false teachers (probably the malicious kind) as those who were in the church for awhile and then returned to the life they used to live. They are like the seed in the parable Jesus told, They
“hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful”. [Mark 4:18-19 ESV]
Peter boldly says, it would have been better in many ways if these people had never come close to the faith. Why? Because they think they understand the gospel message (and don’t) and now they will tell you “it didn’t “work” for them”. They are like a child who is given just enough of a disease (in an inoculation) so they can make antibodies which make them immune to the full blown disease. These people have been inoculated with enough of the truth to make them immune to the real thing. They have turned away from the only means of salvation.
Peter says these people (either the teachers or those who follow them) will never (apart from a sovereign work of God’s grace) change. They are like a dog who throws up on the carpet and then a few minutes later eats his own vomit. Or like a pig that you can wash and get all clean but as soon as the flies start he is going to look for his familiar mud. This is their nature!
False teachers (and many of their followers) may have made bold professions of faith. However, when it comes to real sacrifice or having to deny themselves of what they want, they run back to the mud. They retreat to what is “comfortable” rather than trust the One who is faithful!
Let’s wrap this up with some applications.
First, Truth Matters to God. We have spent a lot of time on false teaching. It isn’t popular to declare that others have drifted from the truth. It may sound mean, or intolerant, but it is neither; it is just true. Truth is not defined by each individual, it is defined by the One who IS Truth. Any departure from God’s revealed truth is error, no matter what you may have been taught in school.
Our view of truth is the foundation of all rational thought. What we believe to be true dictates what we conclude about the nature and origin of life, the value of human beings, the purpose of life, what is moral and immoral, and the nature of what lies beyond the grave.
False teachers are not simply annoying; they are dangerous. They are teaching people to think wrong thoughts. Wrong thoughts lead to wrong actions. Eventually such teaching leads to separation from God. It will lead to a dangerous, “every man for himself” society. Ultimately, it will lead to Hell.
The content of our message is of highest importance. We have spent so much time debating methods of “doing church” or “styles” of worship (trying to figure out what “works”) that we have lost sight of what is true! It does not matter how you package food if what is inside the package contains salmonella. It doesn’t matter how you “do” church if you are not worshipping the true God!
Second, God is Protective of His People. False teachers are warned that they face the judgment of God if they lead others astray. There is no greater violence we can do to someone than to lead them in the wrong direction when it comes to eternity. If you give someone wrong directions to a location, it may mean the trip will take longer. If you give someone the wrong recipe for a favorite dish it may mean you have to eat take-out. But if you lead someone astray when it comes to eternity . . . they spend forever in Hell!
Companies stress that how their employees behave while on the job, or while wearing a company uniform, or driving a company vehicle, reflects on the company. If your behavior is poor in these situations, you may be fired! We need to be careful in what we say about God. When we claim to be His followers we become His representative. We teach people about God by the words we say and the things we do. We are either teaching people the truth or we are teaching falsehood. God will hold us accountable.
How do you feel if someone attacks your child (either verbally or physically)? You react stronger than perhaps in any other situation, right? Do you understand then why God reacts so strongly when we lead those He created astray? God loves those whom He has created, He is protective of His people.
We Are Reminded of the Importance of Deep Roots. False teaching abounds. The only way we can navigate through the maze of words and philosophies is to be excellent students. I found a great list from Chuck Swindoll that I have adapted.
Know the Bible. This is different than knowing about the Bible. Books about the Bible are helpful, but they are no substitute for actually reading God’s Word. It is great to use a devotional aid every day, but understand: the most important part of your reading is not the great story or powerful illustration! It is God’s Word. Read it every chance you get. Memorize it. Wrestle with It. Make it a central part of your mind and heart.
Be Discerning. We need to interact and ask questions and maybe even be a bit skeptical of the things we hear. This is especially true when it comes to teaching that is “new”. Sometimes new teaching is just a re-packaging of old heresies. Weigh things carefully. Guard against gullibility.
Stay Balanced. If you start becoming fanatical, put on the brakes. If you begin to alienate other strong Christians; if other believers tell you that you are engaging in strange behavior, or if you become fixated on one particular aspect of teaching, be careful! You are getting out of balance. If you begin to feel that there are less and less people you can associate with, it is a sign you are losing balance. People who are out of balance eventually fall.
Continue your education in the things of God. One of my favorite stories is about a young child who started to cry in the middle of the night. Mom got out of bed to check on their child and found the child lying on the floor. The child had fallen out of bed. Mom asked what happened and the child said, “I fell asleep too near the place where I got in.”
It seems to me that this is exactly what happens to many who call on Jesus as their Savior: they fall asleep too near the place where they got in. This makes them vulnerable to false teaching.
Keep learning. Find teachers who teach the “whole counsel of God” rather than preaching the same general message over and over again. Find someone who is seeking to teach the truth rather than market their particular point of view (I hope that is what is happening here). Read books, watch videos, and be part of Sunday School and Bible Study classes.
Seek the Counsel of Believers You Admire. Look for believers who seem to have a good grasp on the truth and reflect the character of Christ in their everyday living. Learn from them. Ask questions. Then really listen to the answers.
Keep your eyes open. Some of the most dangerous false teachers are the ones who don’t mean any harm. They have twisted the truth not out of malice but because they themselves have been led astray. Always, always, always check out and think through what other people are teaching, singing or writing. Even the best teachers may unknowingly twist truth.
Pursue Unity. Jesus prayed that we might be one. Our goal is not to pick at each other. Instead we must develop a spirit of humility and graciousness. We must be willing to listen and to discuss without rancor. We must learn to desire to know the truth more than we desire to be “right” or to defend “what we have always believed”. God wants us to be one. We do not get there by negotiating truth to its lowest common denominator; we get there by loving truth more than we love our opinions and perhaps even our traditions. We must keep praying and searching for that truth that alone can set us free.
Does this sound like a lot of work? It is. But it is so important that it is worth the work. We build our lives, we influence others, and we anchor our hope in the present and in eternity to what we believe is true. So, it’s important that we work hard to get it right.