It is a statement so commonly repeated that we often overlook the wisdom in it: “Those who do not learn from history, are destined to repeat it.” A similar statement could be: those who do not learn from their mistakes will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
In 2 Peter, the apostle Peter has been exhorting the church to beware of false teaching. He has described, and Rick has point out the characteristics of false teachers (and Peter will elaborate further in the verses that follow). I’m sure people in the early church responded to false teaching the way people seem to respond to false teaching today:
- Some recognize it but ignore it thinking it is merely a “fad”
- Some are troubled but wring their hands and say “What can one person do?”
- Some embrace it as “innovation”
- And some stand their ground and hold fast to the truth.
Peter is not calling us to be narrow-minded, mean or antagonistic . . . just faithful. He wants us to hold to the truth of the Gospel as divine, unchanging, God-delivered truth rather than as a matter of public opinion or a passing fad.
In the passage before in 2 Peter 2:4-9 Peter motivates us to take truth seriously.
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 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; 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; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 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)—
The Lessons of History
Peter draws attention to three examples of what happened to those who spurned the truth in the Bible. They are all from the earliest days of civilization. Why does he pick these three examples? I suspect these were among the first that came to mind. They are not however, the only examples of the principles he lays out here.
The Example of the Angels. Peter first mentions the angels who sinned. He may be referring to one of two accounts. He may either be referring to Genesis six where some believe the text teaches fallen angels (or “sons of god”) lusted for women (“daughters of men”) and then took possessed some men to mate with these women. The children that resulted from this union were desperately wicked and some believe the worldwide flood was a direct result of this perversion. (There are other interpretations of that text).
The other possibility is that Peter is referring to the original fall of the angels. The Bible indicates that 1/3 of the angelic army chose to follow Satan rather than the Lord. As a result, they were cast out of Heaven.
It really doesn’t matter which incident Peter was referring to. The point is that when the angels sinned God punished them. The words seem to mean God “chained them” or limited their ability. He limited them in the present while holding them for a future and final judgment. The argument is this: if the angels who are spirit were punished for their rejection of what is right and true, how much more will God punish physical beings who abandon the truth?
- The second example is Noah. You know the story, God saw that the earth was completely wicked except for one man who found grace in the eyes of the Lord: Noah. God told Noah to build a huge ship, gather the animals, and then God sent a devastating flood that killed (and buried) everyone. The only people who were spared were Noah’s wife, three sons, and their wives. When things finally dried out, God started over with Noah’s family.
Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 19 we read the sordid story about Sodom and Gomorrah. Two men (who were really angels) came to town to see how things were in Sodom. They planned to stay in the town square (not uncommon). Abraham’s nephew, Lot, insisted that the men come home with him because he knew it was not safe for these men in the square.
That night the men of the town came to Lots house and wanted to rape and ravage these men. The rampant homosexuality revealed the depravity of the town. In the story, Lot unbelievably, offers the mob his Virgin daughters instead of the angels (some suggest he did this knowing the men were not interested in normal relations with women or it could just be one more sign of the radical perversion of the town). The men (or angels) however rescued Lot (and the daughters) from the mob and sent them away. The next day the land was destroyed by “fire and brimstone” (which is where we get the phrase that often is applied to messages about the judgment of God).
This example is interesting because Lot is referred to as “righteous” three times! This is odd because as we read his life story in Genesis Lot does not seem righteous to us.
- He and Abraham (his uncle) parted company because their holdings were too numerous. Lot chose Sodom because it looked the best.
- Lot lived in the perverse and godless city
- He offered his daughters to the men of the city
- He seemed reluctant to leave Sodom
- Later he had incestuous sex (though he was drunk) with both his daughters and fathered their children.
Peter calls Lot righteous not because he always did the right thing or because he lived a sinless life. He was a righteous man because he
was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 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)—
Lot was troubled by the sin he saw and the impact it was having on the lives around him. Lot lived in a sinful place, but maintained his values. God wants us to be like Lot in this regard. We live in a world where behaviors that would have been recognized as clearly wrong 50 years ago are now being protected by law and celebrated by the media. We live at a time when the common fare on television would have been seen as pornographic and profane 20 years ago. We live at a time when Christians who hold to God’s standards of right and wrong are not respected. They are instead charged with being narrow-minded, bigoted, and as people who dispense hate.
We face the same choice as Lot! We can embrace the culture or we can honor God and rick becoming a target. We can hold to God’s standards and define right and wrong as God does . . . or we can embrace the mentality that “everyone should live as they want.”
Today we (as a Christian community) seem to suffer from two problems:
- We lack of true respect and passion for the things of God. We fear men more than we fear our Holy God! We crave the approval of men more than the “Well-done” of the Father. We do not trust God to protect us, deliver us, or to prepare a place for us that is better than anything this world has to offer.
- We haven’t grasped what is at stake. The Bible tells us, Jesus tells us, and even common sense tells us that evil will be punished. The Bible says clearly that those who refuse to embrace Christ as Savior will spend eternity in Hell. Those who truly embrace and follow Christ will show it in the way they live their lives!
Each of us struggles with these things to some degree. One of the applications of the text is that we need to develop a deeper relationship with God so that we will love what He loves and stand firm against that which He hates. We must remind ourselves to see the big picture and what is truly at stake.
The Principle: God will Judge and God Can Rescue
if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.
Throughout the passage Peter has used the if….then argument. If God punished the angels; if God sent a flood; if God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; he will punish those who teach wrong. Likewise, if he rescued Noah and Lot then God can and will rescue those who hold and live by the truth (2:3).
We can learn several things from this conclusion.
It may feel like it is impossible to stand in a corrupt world, but God can rescue us. With all the false teaching and superficial followers around don’t you sometimes look around and want to just throw up your hands and surrender? After all, what can one person really do? It is tempting to just “go with the flow” of contemporary life and embrace the culture and its values. It is easier, but it is not better! The other option is to trust God to rescue us.
Peter is not saying God will keep us from having difficulty. In his first letter Peter made the point that trials are a part of being a disciple of Christ. Think about it, Noah and Lot were certainly ridiculed and treated as if they were crazy “wackos” because of their beliefs. They were not spared struggle. God did however give them the resources to endure, and when all was said and done, they were indeed rescued by the Lord.
Notice something else: Peter does not say that if we remain faithful in proclaiming the truth, others are going to listen to us. Noah preached, but only his family was saved. Lot likely talked about God and preached by the way he lived his life and he couldn’t even get his sons-in-laws to join him! As you read through the prophets in the Old Testament the one thing that becomes clear: these men often were forced to stand alone. Our job is to be faithful whether anyone listens or not. Our job is to proclaim God’s love and God’s truth regardless of whether it is enthusiastically embraced or rejected.
The Second part of the principle is that Judgment Delayed is Not Judgment Abandoned. No one wants to hear about the Judgment of God. It is distasteful and uncomfortable. We prefer conversations about the “love of God.” Yet, Jesus taught more about Hell than He did Heaven! It is impossible to truly believe in and trust Christ and not believe in Judgment and Hell!
At the core, people resist the idea of the Judgment of God because: they don’t want to have to submit to His authority. We simply do not want to face the fact that there are eternal consequences for our choices. People ignore God’s standards because they hate the idea of a Holy God
Here’s what we fail to understand: God is wonderfully loving! But He is also holy and He is just. Our message to the world is simple: God loves people. He loves all people! Because he loves us He hates that which diminishes us, that which compromises who He made us to be, and that which moves us away from Him. Sin is not an arbitrary standard set by God to show us who is boss. Sin is that which stains us and erects a barrier between us and the Lord. We do not stand against perversions of truth (such as false teaching, immorality, and ethical compromise) out of hatred, but out of love.
False teaching destroys people. You are not free to fashion truth however you see fit. It doesn’t matter who applauds you! If you engage in false teaching you are leading people to eternal punishment. In God’s eyes that is no different than premeditated murder! False teachers will face God’s judgment.
Let’s draw some conclusions. We are living in times of testing. It wasn’t that many years ago that it was popular to be a Christian. Because we live in a small town it is still seen as appropriate and good to attend places of worship. But the tide is changing! It used to be that being a Christian might help you get a job because it spoke to your character and values. Now, being a Christian may actually keep you from getting a job because of your “judgmental attitude”. Even in families you may be viewed as the “religious freak” simply because you stand by the convictions of Scripture. Those who live by Christian truth in school may be ostracized by classmates because you do not indulge in the reckless behaviors of the crowd.
Recently actor Kirk Cameron was interviewed on a talk show. The interviewer, knowing that Kirk is a Christian asked Him if God was against same-sex marriage. He asked if homosexuality was sin and if abortion was wrong. Cameron didn’t flinch. He said these things were wrong because they went against God’s love for and design for those He created. He added that he did not say these things in a judgmental manner but as one who is also a sinful person and has found grace and healing through Christ.
Cameron was not angry, he did not poke his finger or raise his voice; He didn’t pick single verses out of the Bible and build a theology upon those verses. He simply, lovingly, and accurately, shared what God says in His Word. Yet Cameron was vilified by Hollywood and the media. People who stand on the truth will be tested.
The True Believer Stands Out in Hostile Times. Think about being a soldier in a time of war. You are captured by the enemy and your captors want you to share information that will help them defeat you. They tell you that if you do not cooperate they will torture and kill you. It would be a horrible situation to be in yet many heroically choose to protect the cause of freedom rather than preserve their own lives. The choice facing us has even more at stake.
When a family or an individual faces a crisis you find out a person’s true character. You discover whether they will step up or step away. You find out whether they will be a hero or a coward. Every one of us wonders what we would do in those times. What would you do.
- If you were threatened with being jailed for “hate speech” for holding to a Biblical morality?
- If the government threatened to revoke our tax-exempt status if we did not conduct same-sex marriages or if we refused to cease talk of Hell and Judgment.
- If your employer told you that you would be fired if you were not willing to engage in the companies illegal accounting practices.
- If your friends said they no longer wanted to be your friends if you would not engage in the same sinful practices as them.
- If your family said they would have you committed if you did not stop all the “religious nonsense”?
- If you were threatened with death if you did not stop sharing the gospel with others.
Things have not gone to this extent yet, but it does not take much imagination to see it happening. Lloyd-Jones wrote several decades ago words that are even more true today that they were then,
Is it not one of the greatest tragedies today that it is almost impossible to tell who is a Christian? Is it not one of the greatest tragedies that we Christians are so amazingly like the men who have never made such a claim – like them in appearance, like them in conversation, like them in interests, like them in habits, like them in our reactions to events? (151-152)
Peter gives us a serious warning. It is a warning to false teachers, but it also a warning to believers who refuse to truly follow Christ. It is a warning to those who want to negotiate the truth and live like everyone else and still expect to spend eternity in Heaven. The message is clear: God will judge those who turn away from Him. He will rescue those who hold to the truth (as He defines is) and continue to trust Him.
To survive we must be people who
- Define truth by what the Bible says rather than interpreting the Bible by what the world says is true. The Bible is the standard of truth – not science, public opinion, the courts, or the universities. We must guard against twisting Scripture to suit agree with our opinions and passions rather than the other way around.
- Look for the truth claims being made in television shows, movies, radio commentaries, books, magazines, and from our friends. Ask yourselves: what value system, what standard of truth is being promoted? What is being said about the ultimate values of life?
- Continually remind yourself of the big picture. If we live for the moment, then we will tend to negotiate truth just to get along. We must live with the sense that the choices we make now matter for the long haul. We must remind ourselves daily (and hourly) that Heaven and Hell hang in the balance. The choices we make, and the truth we embrace, are leading us in one direction or the other.
- Recognize that when we call ourselves a “Christian” we are saying we represent God. We make a statement about Him by the way we live our lives. We are either proclaiming the truth or we are perpetuating a lie with the way we live. God will hold us accountable if our actions and our words discredit His character and lead others to Hell. Let us represent Him well.
This is serious stuff. So serious that many ignore the subject entirely. It doesn’t “sell”. It isn’t “feel good” teaching. However, it is the truth. And when all is said and done, it is God’s truth alone that will set us free. And if we don’t believe that, we should take a another look at the angels, Noah and Lot. We can make the same mistakes that they point to and face a Judgment that is more horrible than anything our eyes have seen or minds can imagine, or we can learn from their mistakes, turn from our sin, stand on His truth, and discover what it really means to be loved, forgiven, and truly free.