Peter is rather blunt
in describing the problem:
2 Peter 2:1-3 NIV
were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false
teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even
denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on
themselves. (2) Many will follow their
shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. (3) In their greed these teachers will exploit you
with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over
them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
The surprise to most
Christians here is that false teachers will be among us. Since most Christians
think that theology is for theologians, and it really doesn’t matter what you
believe as long as you’re sincere, why the fuss? Christ states this as well.
We will have false teachers (and, by implication, preachers.)
How can this happen?
Peter tells us here that they will smuggle in their false doctrine. In short,
they will look like real teachers of the Scripture, but in their ego driven
minds they have their own doctrine, which they see as superior to the faith as
How do they get away
with it? Peter tells us that many will
follow them. In America, this is almost too easy to get away with. Being
firmly of the vox populi, vox Dei train
of thought, we assume that a preacher who has great success numerically must
automatically be blessed by God. After all, if God wasn’t with him, how could
we have all those baptisms? One must ask: do butts in seats really equal souls
in heaven? Is it OK to tell people what they want to hear and build a crowd
that way? Paul tells us this:
2 Timothy 4:3-4 NIV For the time will come when men
will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they
will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching
ears want to hear. (4) They will turn their
ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
More than that, what
these men will teach are called “destructive heresies.” Such men tend to
destroy the church. Curiously, this is often accompanied by a plea from them
for unity in the church – heresies first and foremost divide the church. To
prevent them from being recognized as such you must persuade the sheep to be
good sheep and follow blindly along. That’s why Peter tells us that the first
real defense of the church is the Christian’s knowledge of Christ – if you
know him, you will follow him, and not some heretic.
So then, how do we
know who the heretic is? There is more on this later, but I’d point out three
characteristics Peter gives us:
- Greed. It may not
be the primary motive (for some it is), but it’s usually there. The faith
teaches us to love the things of Christ; the heresy, the things of this
- They bring the way
of truth into disrepute. People look at them from the outside of the
church and wonder how we could be so blind. Unfortunately, this also
prevents those outside from seeing the truth about Christ.
- They will even deny
the Lord. Almost all heresies revolve around a distortion of the nature of
Christ or his work. (Examples to follow.)
So what possible
difference could this make? Let me give you three examples:
1. Arianism. Arianism is the belief that God
and Christ are, at root, two different essences. That somehow Jesus is
the result of God playing around with Mary, resulting in a child who is
godlike – but definitely inferior to, and distinct from, God. You can
see how, if you pick and choose among Scriptures, this view could come
about. But you probably can’t see why it would make a difference.
But it does. If Christ is not really God, why appeal to him in prayer? So you
should only talk to God – who cannot really sympathize with us. How could he?
He’s not human! So we’re left with following the rules and appeasing the
frowning God. Want an example? Jehovah’s Witnesses.
2. Eutychianism – the opposite heresy. Jesus
is God but not really human. So all that business on the Cross was
play-acting, and thus not effective at atonement. We don’t really have the
salvation promised, just some nice teaching. Now what are you going to do?
3. Pelagianism and its offshoot,
semi-Pelagianism. Pelagius taught that original sin doesn’t exist. Therefore,
atonement for the whole human race is ineffective; man (via his free will)
cooperates with God to achieve salvation. Semi-Pelagianism affirms original
sin, but retains the idea that salvation is the joint venture of man and God.
The usual result is that Christianity dissolves into a series of self-help
sermons; after all, man doesn’t need salvation (he can get that by seeking God
himself) but does need improvement of his sinful nature.
Rescues the Righteous
2 Peter 2:4-9 NIV 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)-- (9) 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.
nature of the righteous
This section of
Scripture contains some disturbing implications about the righteous:
- It implies that
when such heresy invades the church, the righteous are few. If you’ve ever
had the feeling that it’s impossible to persuade everyone else that things
are going horribly wrong, you might just be right.
- It implies that the
wicked are powerful in those circumstances. You are not hunting out the
occasional heretic; you are fighting against the odds.
- It implies that the
righteous are tormented by what they see. One of the frustrations of the
righteous in these circumstances is that the evil around you is very clear
and agonizing; others just can’t see what the fuss is about.
punishment of the wicked
It might seem that
God is doing nothing about it. Indeed, that’s one of the sources of doubt for
the righteous – why isn’t God dealing with these people? But notice the
- The wicked may be
the spiritually powerful of their day, but God eventually will deal with
- Even if whole
cities (or cultures) go this way, God will deal with them. As Lot’s story
makes clear, God wants to be merciful, but at some point his patience
- Even, as with Noah,
it involves the whole world. (Even so, Lord Jesus, come.)
How is this?
- First, God rescues
the righteous. Throughout the Bible runs the theme of the remnant.
Ultimately, those who persevere in righteousness will be kept by God.
- God condemns the
wicked; they will not escape. It’s just that he may still be patient with
them, hoping for their repentance. He was patient with you, wasn’t he?
Some scholars will
bring forth the doctrine of “indefectibility” – the idea that the Holy Spirit
will not allow the church to remain in
error. It’s just that the correction may be catastrophic in nature.
the False Teacher
I told you we weren’t
done with this.
2 Peter 2:10-22 NIV This is especially true of those
who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature
and despise authority.
arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; (11) yet even angels, although they are stronger and
more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the
presence of the Lord. (12) But these men
blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts,
creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts
they too will perish. (13) They will be paid
back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to
carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their
pleasures while they feast with you.
(14) With eyes full of adultery, they never stop
sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed--an accursed
brood! (15) They have left the straight way
and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages
of wickedness. (16) But he was rebuked for his
wrongdoing by a donkey--a beast without speech--who spoke with a man's voice
and restrained the prophet's madness. (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, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in
error. (19) They promise them freedom, while
they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has
mastered him. (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."
So just how do I
recognize these false teachers?
May I point out three
elements of character you should look for?
- Daring – these are
the people who tell you that if the church is to survive, she must be
willing to strike out in bold new directions. Watch this: the survival of
the church depends not on its faithfulness, nor on the strength of God,
but our willingness to accept these “new” doctrines.
- Arrogance – these
are people who are curtly dismissive of the opposite view. It often
happens that those who oppose them are experienced Christians – meaning,
old. Their views are dismissed out of hand; after all, they’re just old
fogies. (It’s not old vs. young; it’s the arrogance to look out for.)
- Slaves of depravity
– something has a grip on their lives – something other than Jesus Christ.
Often enough their secret sin is their common accusation of others.
There are many
possible actions which might identify such; Peter gives us these three:
- Carousing in broad
daylight. In the plain sight of the world they party hearty. There is
eventually no sense of shame; it’s not drunkenness, it’s being a regular
guy to show the world that Christians are not hypocrites.
- Adultery. Sexual
Puritanism is denounced – and “love” becomes the new standard of the
- Greed. Someone is
always looking to profit from his service to the church.
bad is it?
I have left until the
last the warning to the teachers who are like this.
- As Peter tells you,
you’d be better off if you’d never heard of Christ. To know the truth and
then turn your back on it – what will you expect of God?
- He explicitly tells
you that you will be paid back – “harm for harm.”
- AND after that, the
gloomy darkness of the dungeons of hell.
People, the Lord is
serious about this.
May I leave you with
a brief summary of what you need to know?
- You will have false teachers, like it or
- You can recognize
them (by their fruits you will know them).
- God may not let you
triumph over them, but he will provide for your rescue.
- If you are one of
these false teachers, you have been warned.
 Matthew 7:15-20
 I am, of course,
utterly simplifying things in all three of these instances. Those with
theological training will understand the difficulty of explaining both the
correct nature of these heresies and the difficulty in getting the average,
untrained Christian to understand them, let alone know why it makes a