The Aggressiveness of Deceit

And the Faithfulness of God

The Reality of False Teachers

Text – (1) “There will be false teachers.”  As there were false prophets that sought to move the Israelites away from the revealed word of God to them, so the apostolic message, the revelation of the gospel arose within the church and even now continues.

This warning against false teachers is a common theme among the Apostles: cf. 2 Timothy 4:3;  Titus 1:10;  Acts 20:28-30; 1 John 3:4-10; 4:1-6; Jude 4, 17-19; Rev. 2:2 “cannot tolerate evil men and you Put to the test those who call themselves apostles and are not.” It is not a pleasant task to sift through the thoughts of teachers with a view to discovering error, but the constant warning of Scripture should make us wary of the destructive nature of it and to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” Jude 3. Peter emphasizes that the false teaching of these false teachers is “destructive heresy.” Heresy is destructive because it misrepresents God and leads sinners to put their hope in false things.

Focus of heresies

Person of Christ – Jude in speaking of this same group says that they “deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter says, “Even denying the Master who bought them.” In what sense did the Master buy them? Note that the word for “Master” both in Jude and in 2 Peter is “despot.” In Acts 4, Peter addressed the Lord as “Sovereign Lord,” the word for “Despot.” It is a word that emphasizes God’s sovereign arrangement and control of all things. The word for “bought” is a word that means “redeem” when combined with a prefix that means “out” (exagorazo) and the price (“You were bought with a price.” 1 Corinthians 6:20) In this case it means that Jesus has demonstrated his ownership of all things through his having conquered death. All things are under his feet and, as Peter noted in the first epistle, he has “gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:22). Thus, though God has shown his sovereignty as mediated through Christ’s powerful work [even as he showed his authority over all the gods of the Egyptians in the Exodus], these false teachers dare to pervert the gospel of Christ by denying his Lordship. “Jesus is Lord” is the cry of the believing heart.

Work of Christ – Christ’s lordship necessarily involves an acceptance of that that he did in his state of humiliation for the sake of sinners. That is why the confession that “Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh is important.” All that he did in his body and his human spirit by way of obedience and suffering constitute necessary elements of redemption.

Way of salvation – False teachers also find fertile ground for their heresies in their denial of the substitutionaty atonement as necessary for forgiveness. They will teach that one person’s bearing the sin of another is immoral and thus cannot form any part of divine mercy. They will represent it as divine child abuse omitting the biblical teaching that in the midst of Christ’s propitiatory suffering, infinite mercy is displayed for the sinners, and the foundation for eternal praise to the Son is being established [See Revelation 5:6-14 for the result of praise that redounds to the Son as a result of his substitutionary death. Does this end result sound like abuse of the Son?] Also the way of salvation involving justification by faith and imputed righteousness is denied by many. In doing this they destroy God’s intrinsically just standard of perfect righteousness as the meritorious ground for eternal life. In our nature Christ accomplished it and thus by his obedience we are granted eternal life.

Foundation of moral purity – Those that teach that grace gives license for moral laxity fail to grasp the true nature of saving faith. We trust Christ, not because we despise moral purity and perfection, but because we see its beauty and the excellence of God in requiring it as the only state of being in which we may appear before him as subjects of his eternal kingdom. Trust in Christ alone, means that we press on toward the “goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

The Motivation of False Teachers

Sensuality – 2, 13 and 14 – “The way of truth will be blasphemed” – Their opposition to the truth of divine revelation and their perversions of it lead many to adopt their ideas and thus blaspheme God’s way of redemption. These particular false teachers seem to have adopted such a polluted view of grace that they see the divine willingness to forgive as an encouragement to explore the basest sort of fleshly activity. They teach others that God’s with an encouragement to others that forgiveness means connivance and thus an encouragement to pursue sin aggressively. Paul dealt with this specific perversion when he asked, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1).

Completely given over to dissipation (13) spots and blemishes, compare to 1 Peter 1:19 Jesus without spot or blemish. This kind of lifestyle so deceives its perpetrators that they find a cause of real celebration (“reveling”) in their ability to deceive those with whom they pretend to have vital Christian fellowship.

(14) They cannot see a woman without considering her a potential adulteress with him [same with women toward men, Potiphar’s wife; Proverbs 7:6-27

Unable to stop sinning because they are slaves of corruption 14, 19 – Though they are “overcome” their guilt is not diminished. They are slaves and can do nothing else than their unruly passions entice them to do. Peter likens them to “irrational animals” (12) so overwhelmed are they by their unleashed worldliness and their ignorant disregard for the sobriety for the supernatural (10b, 11). This is the nature of all sin and guilt. We sin in following the propensities of the soul; and the controlling inclination of the soul constitutes the largest part of any sinful act. The Christian is involved in a process of discerning the destructive nature of indwelling sin and, now indwelt by the Spirit and renewed in conscience and affections, fights against the downward pull of the flesh. The actions of Christians are mixed, but never given wholly over to the dominance of those self-centered desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16, 17; 6:1). The Christian will advance in holiness, that is, a love for truth, a love for God and his glory, and the heartfelt quest for righteous living

They play upon the weak (18, 19) –  “who are barely escaping from those that live in error.”  These sinister and abominable deceivers look especially for those that have just begun to investigate the truth claims of Christianity. These candidates for deception have begun to see the error of other viewpoints, or of the pagan way of living. They have their spiritual interest piqued, but are not yet Christians. In swoop these glib false teachers, and instead of the gospel of the grace of God in truth, instead of the way of holiness, instead of  honoring the grace of Christ and his atoning work, they set before them a religion of supposed freedom from restraint by shadowing the gospel of forgiving grace with a sensual permissiveness. This freedom is a sure path to destruction eventually and present enslavement to corruption.

Greed 14-16 – They exploit the religious motivations of their followers. They are cunning in this, that is “trained in greed.” For them, religion is big business. They used the superstitions and oppressed consciences of those that hear them to drum up great contributions. The father of providing religious service for a designated payment is Balaam.

Assumption of power and knowledge 11, 12 and 17, 18

Make great show of their religious power and their ability to command spiritual beings. They indeed rush in where angels fear to tread. They mock spiritual forces and act as if their own strength gains for them an authority within the spiritual realm. Since they are concerned only about the immediate impression they make of spiritual boldness, they are oblivious to the reality of their unrepentant arrogance, and their covetousness of the place of applause for having more impressive spiritual credentials than anyone else. Peter had first-hand knowledge of this fleshly grasp for spiritual authority in his confrontation with Simon Magus. When Simon saw the impressive works of power done by the Spirit and how Peter and John gave the Spirit with his external manifestations to the new believers by prayer and laying on of hands, Simon sought to give them money if they would grant to him that same power. “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money.” Peter said that Simon’s heart was not right before God, called him to repent, that the intent of his heart might be forgiven for Peter saw that Simon still was in “the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” (Acts 8:9-24)

Make great show of their “Faith”, its strengths, and the rewards they receive for it. They appear to be great sources of knowledge by the superfluity of religious words that they have (“boats of folly”), but in reality are “waterless springs” and not real substantial thunderclouds filled with torrents of water, but mere “mists driven by a storm.” None of their religious showmanship is in service of true religion and gospel purity, but is designed to impress a certain clientele to entice them to sensual pleasure.

The Manner of Judgment of False Teachers – “Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” “to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2:3, 10) In the gradation of punishment in its intensity, Peter is dealing with the kind that will receive a far greater punishment than others of less aggravated states of sin.

Swift destruction – 1 –Look at the quickness of the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira;  Look at the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu  Leviticus 10:1-3

Delayed but certain – “the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved,” (2:17) Romans 2:4, 5; “. . . You are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

Severe – Earthly demonstrations of flood and fire (2:5, 6) are just finite manifestations of the helplessness that one will sense under the eternal wrath of God

Aggravation of judgment – “and especially those . . .” (10) “last estate worse than the first. For it would have been better . . .” (21, 22) cf.  Matthew 11:20-24  “Chorazin . . Bethsaida; . . . cf w/Tyre and Sidon; Capernaum cf. with Sodom

Rescue and Return – 9, 10

God’s purpose is to rescue His people by preserving them from temptation  [that is, the fulfillment of its tendency to make people fall] and thus judgment

Trial of affliction – James 1:2-4, 12 “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.;” also 1 Peter 3:17 “For it is better if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” ”suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” Romans 5:3, 4]

Temptation to evil – God is not the proper actor in this temptation – James 1: 13;  But he does make a way of escape, 1 Cor 10:13; Also for purposes of a greater expansion of his glory, he grants leeway for forces that oppose him to do their own work in order to bring about an occasion for his intervention and deeper revelation. [Satan asked to sift Peter like wheat Luke 22:31, 32; Look also at the progress from Job 1:8-12; Job 40:1, 2; 42:1, 2, 10]

Jude 24, 25 – God preserves his people even though so many powers of the world and of Satan seek to make them stumble

God Himself preserves his people from stumbling – “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control—that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and hath shed his own blood for my soul.”

He also presents us blameless – Our union with Christ means that his righteousness and blamelessness are ours.

Astounding that even before the presence of his glory, that salvation that has been given us remains unchallenged by the spotless brilliance of God’s glory, a glory that forgives but will by no means clear the guilty. [Exodus 34, 6, 7].

And not with shame, but with joy; not cowering but with the full confidence of a forgiven and justified child.

2: 5 – Noah found grace, and though the entire world was destroyed, God preserved Noah and his family. All the while that the ark was being built Noah preached righteousness and did o see one person consent from the heart to his message. God, however, preserved him from fatal discouragement.

2:6-8 – God rescued Lot, not only from the destructive fires from heaven that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah, but from the destructive sensuality of his culture (“righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard”)

While God is preparing the ungodly for their punishment, he operates effectually to preserve and save those that he has set aside for salvation [Look ahead to 2 Peter 3:9 and 15].

2:21, 22 – The ungodly return to that to which they have been captive all along and thus that judgment which has lingered over them comes to pass – 22; Their knowledge [2:20] was unfruitful [1:8, cf. Heb 6:7, 8]. Though they appeared externally for a while and in their boasting made some plausible claims of a Christian profession, and indeed had advantages of hearing the gospel and seeing its transforming power in true believers, they eventually turn away from this and show their true nature.

Sobering Reflections

Are you persevering in the truth?  You cannot ignore the truth claims of Christianity and be a Christian.

Do you persevere under trial?  This is God’s way of purifying you

Do you flee temptation to moral evil. 1 Cor 10:13, “Therefore flee from idolatry”  to Timothy “Flee youthful lusts”  1 Peter 2:11  “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain form fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”

Cultivate the implications of your knowledge of Christ; do not let it be a witness against you in the day of judgment.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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