Spiritual Error Is Rampant

Explore the Bible Series

May 20, 2007

 

Lesson Passage: II Peter 2:1-22

 

Introduction: Chapter Two introduces the main theme of II Peter, the danger of heresy in the church.  Christians must avoid two extremes in response to doctrinal concerns.

 

First, Christians of very generation face challenges related to theological integrity, and sometimes these issues are very serious.  The New Testament gives ample warning about the dangers of exposure to false doctrine, and believers must remain alert and practice wise discernment.  I marvel at the theological naivety and biblical illiteracy of many Christians, and this backwardness takes, no doubt, a terrible toll on American evangelical churches.

 

Second, Christians must avoid being more narrow than the gospel.  Christ calls us to a genuine love and openness to all of his true children, and much damage has resulted from unnecessary theological prickliness.  I support theological precision, but I do not understand the narrowness and separatism of many evangelicals.  Some men relish too much the reputation as self-appointed guardians of truth, and they take excessive glee in drawing their circle of fellowship in more and more restricted ways.  A Christian’s holiness is not measured by how many other believers he can exclude.  The issues that Peter raised were serious matters, not peripheral concerns.  Believers must strive to strike a balance between these two “ditches” (embracing false doctrine or excluding genuine believers).

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   The Threat of False Teachers (2:1-3)

A.    The example of the Old Testament (v. 1): False teachers troubled the Lord’s people during the time of the prophets.  Peter referred to the Old Testament here to demonstrate that the problematic appearance of errant teachers is a common occurrence among God’s people.  The apostle’s readers would have to ward off such seductions just as their forefathers did.  Peter predicted that these men would stealthfully infiltrate the church and bring destructive heresies in their wake, denying even the Lord who bought them.  The term “bought them” creates some problems for Bible students (See note below).   

B.     Three aspects of the false teaching (vv. 2-3)

1.      the seduction of sensuality: The ESV translates this Greek word as “sensuality.”  In all probability the term refers to sexual sins.  The false prophets used sexual misconduct as a way to gain entrance into the hearts of the people.  Errant doctrine often fosters serious defects in conduct.

2.      blasphemy concerning the way:  Both their misconduct and their false doctrine brought disgrace upon the gospel. 

3.      the exploitation of greed: In addition to their unbridled lusts, these false men were motivated by greed.

 

II.                The Coming Judgment of False Prophets (vv. 4-10a): Peter grounded his arguments in the Old Testament; then, he borrowed three ancient examples of God’s judgment on the blasphemous.

A.    Fallen angels (v. 4): Commentators believe this verse refers to the first paragraph of Genesis Six.  The ancients thought that the story in Genesis depicts sinful sexual interaction between angels and humans, and these wicked, rebellious angels provoked God to bind them in hell (Greek word is not “gehenna” but “Tartarus”). 

B.     Noah’s generation (v. 5): Peter referred to Noah’s generation as “the world of the ungodly”, and he pointed out God’s gracious preservation of righteous Noah and his family.

C.     Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 6-10a): Again, Peter emphasized God’s judicial actions toward the sinful people of the cities of the plain.  As with Noah, the Lord showed mercy to Lot and his daughters.  The passage affirms God’s power to judge the wicked and preserve the faithful. The phrase “righteous Lot” may give some students pause.  Clearly, this Old Testament saint did not acquit himself well in the genesis account, but he did obey the Lord’s command to vacate the condemned vicinity. Furthermore, Lot did show some courage in trying to protect the messengers of the Lord from the lascivious advances of the men of Sodom.

 

III.             The Characteristics of the False Teachers (vv. 10b-22)

A.    They boldly blaspheme against the things of God (vv. 10b-11): These words bring to mind Paul’s observation that wicked men had no fear of God; rather, they audaciously troweled out their blasphemous heresies.

B.     They were like wild beasts (v. 12): These untamed, bestial teachers followed their base instincts and, like wild animals, they will be caught and destroyed.

C.     They were insidious revelers (vv. 12-16):  Peter expressed particular concern that these men brandished their blasphemies during the love feasts (including communion) of the church; thus, they defiled the most sacred traditions of the congregation.  As before, Peter particularly condemned their greed and lust.  The Old Testament figure Balaam served as example of the kinds of offenses that occurred in the church (See Numbers 21).

D.    They were waterless springs and rainless clouds (vv. 17-20): The ancient Middle East valued water as life’s most important staple.  These men promised to sustain and enhance the lives of their followers; yet, their promises proved as empty and unsatisfying as a waterless spring or a rainless cloud.   They enslaved their hearers in chains of deception, and, ultimately, they found themselves ensnared in their own traps. Their problem was not a matter of ignorance.  They knew the way of righteousness, and this knowledge compounded their culpability (See v. 21).   Peter concluded this chapter with reference to a proverb, “The dog returns to its vomit, and the sow… returns to wallow in the mire.” 

 

Note on verse one:  Peter affirms that these false teachers have been “bought” by Christ, and two theological issues attend this phrase.  Scripture should shape our theological formulations, and we risk great error when we simply ignore or reshape the clear meaning of the text so that it will conform to a preconceived theological framework.  Let Scripture speak.  We must examine two problems with the phrase in question.

 

First, the text seems to imply a general atonement.  By “general atonement” I reflect the view that Christ died for all people; therefore, the efficacy of his atonement rests with the decision of each individual. In this case, the passage says that Christ bought even these false teachers.  Indeed, if we take the simplest, clearest meaning of the verse, the text gives the impression that Christ died for these people, they embraced the Lord’s atonement, then subsequently turned from the gospel and brought spiritual ruin upon themselves.  The problem, of course, arises from the teachings of other passages that indicate that Jesus made a definite, effectual atonement for his people.

 

In my judgment, Thomas Schreiner, in his useful commentary on II Peter, provides a plausible explanation for Peter’s language.   ... Peter used phenomenological language.  In other words, he described the false teachers as believers because they made a profession of faith and gave every appearance initially of being genuine believers.”  These people, according to Schreiner, made a credible profession of faith in Christ, joined the church community, and may have become leaders in the congregation.  For all appearances, they gave evidence of saving faith in Christ; then, in time, they turned from their profession and embraced false doctrine.

 

Second, this phrase seems to indicate that a person may receive the saving grace of Christ, and then subsequently fall from that grace.  Many folks misunderstand and misstate the historic Baptist position on falling from grace.  Baptists have not taught that people who profess faith in Christ may continue in patterns of sin and ungodliness.  Genuine believers undergo a radical change of heart that the Bible calls regeneration.  This transformation redirects every aspect of the human personality and affects a lasting renewal of the mind, the will, and the affections.  God preserves his children so that they cannot fall; furthermore, this internal transformation guarantees that true believers will persevere in their faith.  If we accept Schreiner’s view on this text, these false prophets professed faith in Christ, but they did not persevere in their profession.  Since they did not continue in the faith, they demonstrated the artificial, counterfeit nature of their profession.

 

I offer these thoughts with humility.  I do not claim to have the final word on these complex matters; rather, this explanation expresses my sincere effort to understand and express the meaning of the New Testament.  Above all, I embrace my own inadequacy to comprehend the great mysteries that attend the teachings of the early church.