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Second Peter (old series)

False Teachers

2nd Peter 2

The simple truth of the matter is that most Christians today have no use for dogma, for anything labeled theology. So when they encounter a denunciation of false teaching, it appears to be something archaic – someone else’s problem, probably that of the elders, right? We shall see.

 

1But there 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. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In 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.

2 Peter 2:1 through 2 Peter 2:3 (NIV)

 

 

This is as clear a condemnation as you might like, though it will be amplified later on. Let’s look at his key points:

  • First, this teaching will be smuggled in. These people will look like those who teach the truth; therefore we must be able to tell who’s who.
  • The surest way to know: who do they say Jesus is?
  • The second surest way to know: what is the fruit of their lives? Dissension, or unity?
  • Despite all best efforts, many people will be led astray by these teachers.
  • The driving motivation for many starts with greed; it is driven by fictions they think up and it ends with them exploiting you.

 

Peter’s focus is on the false teachers. But we may also see what false teaching does to the listener as well. Most of us don’t believe heresy exists; and if it does, it’s no concern of mine. That’s for theologians.

 

Not really. Virtually all heresies are thought up originally by someone with a rather ordinary mind. It takes a learned man to turn this into false doctrine, but the reason so many are misled is just because it sounds nice, neat and probable. So I wish to establish two points with you today:

  • Heresy is not nearly so remote, ancient or distant as you think.
  • It is extremely damaging to the Christian life.

To that end, I offer you three examples – with the assurance that there are plenty more where these came from.[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 consider:

  • If this is true, there is no sense appealing to Christ in prayer. You’ll need to talk to God instead. Don’t talk to the kid, talk to the dad.
  • But – if God is not incarnate among us – how can he possibly sympathize with us?
  • Therefore we must treat him quite differently. A policy of appeasement seems called for. What kind of sacrifices does he like, and what can I get in return for them?

Does this change the way you would live your life?

 

Eutychianism

This particular one holds that Christ really was God in the flesh. To the point that he wasn’t really human. After all, being human would be beneath the dignity of God. He just posed as being human so we would understand him better. Being God, he didn’t really suffer on the cross, it just looked that way.

  • But if so, then the example we see in Christ is not really human. How, then, could human beings be commanded to imitate Christ?
  • In short, we can praise God for the teaching – but his sacrifice on the cross didn’t really mean anything.
  • And we, of course, now no longer need to imitate his behavior – because that’s impossible.

Does this change the way you would live your life?

 

Apollinarianism

This one centers around the humanity of Jesus: in particular, whether or not he had any possibility of sin. It holds that, since he’s God in the flesh, those temptations are not real to him. After all, he’s God, how could he be affected by such things?

And therefore there is no sense in asking him for forgiveness. He doesn’t really understand what it is to be tempted. So all I can do is brace myself for the vengeance that’s coming.

Does this change the way you would live your life?

 

Heresy does matter.

 

God Rescues the Righteous

 

4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5if 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; 6if 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; 7and 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)—9if 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. 10This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.

2 Peter 2:4 through 2 Peter 2:10 (NIV)

 

This is a most necessary diversion. Taken to extremes, one might conclude that after being sucked in by some false teacher’s heresy, there would be no hope. Neither of escape nor of rescue. But there is.

First, there is hope in that God condemns the guilty. It is the simple, short method. Like pulling the televangelist’s plug.

Next, even if this teaching takes hold throughout your society, God will provide an escape hatch for the righteous. It is interesting that Peter uses Lot as an example. If you go back into the Old Testament[2], you will find the sin for which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. It has been called “sodomy” in our language, after the town of Sodom. It is homosexuality, particularly male. Of course, in our day we know that sodomy is righteousness and light; one wonders how God could be so insensitive. Oh yes, it does seem out of place. And I do wish that the English language, as written, had a word for my facial expression right now. Politically incorrect, again.

 

Recognizing the Heretic

 

If you need to diagnose the disease, you need to know the symptoms:

 

10This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; 11yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. 12But 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.

13They 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. 14With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16But 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.

17These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18For 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. 19They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 20If 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. 21It 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. 22Of 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.”

2 Peter 2:10 through 2 Peter 2:22 (NIV)

 

Bold and Arrogant

This is the first real clue. These people are ready to shoot their mouths off quite quickly – usually without bothering to take the trouble to understand the other guy’s point of view. Slander is their stock in trade. Anyone who disagrees with them – and heaven forfend, even oppose them – will soon be receiving the slander. The only reason you oppose my teaching is that you are evil, right?

 

Pleasure seekers

There is a marvelous example for us here. God made televangelists, I think, so Bible teachers would have bad examples. Preaching and teaching builds their ego; but there is no limit to their desire.

  • Peter tells us that they would carouse in broad daylight. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. These people don’t care who watches – they can justify their actions with their own doctrine.
  • More specifically – does this ever ring home with the televangelists – they are masters of adultery. Anyone posing as teacher (or preacher) will have opportunities for adultery. Usually men, they will grab the opportunity to “counsel” the more unstable women in the congregation.
  • Most commonly, they are experts at greed. There is a reason for the ornate palace of a church, the high spending lifestyle: they’re greedy.

 

Their appeal to us: desire

So how do such teachers appeal to us? They start with our desires. But you can tell who is who:

  • Start with the fruit of their lives – is it something that’s always “almost there?” If you can’t see real fruit in their lives, they have no business teaching – and they have made teaching their business.
  • They entice the Christian very simply: “the easy way.” No obedience, no work – just bring money and receive blessings. Forgiveness? For a price. Often disguised, but always there.
  • They promise you freedom – freedom from and freedom to. But as they are slaves to their own desires, so shall you be.

 

Note to Teachers

I’ve rather held off giving the warning to teachers, as this lesson is prepared for those who, by and large, are not teachers. But there is one warning I cannot forego. If you are one such as Peter has described, then it would have been better for you that you never heard the Gospel. If you have the faith, and twist it for your own desires, you are committing sacrilege against what God has called holy. Indeed, against the Holy One. Who is master: your desires, or your Lord Jesus Christ?


[1] I am indebted to Dorothy Sayers for making this clear.

[2] Genesis 19

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