We've been looking at some of the characteristics of False Teachers in recent studies. This evening I'd like to point out something the Bible says about them which should cause us all to take heed, especially if any of us are in any sense Bible teachers or teachers of the people of God.
2 Peter Chapter 2 is talking about false teachers. That is the context of the chapter. If you read the chapter without theological prejudice, I think its fair to say that Peter is saying that many of these false teachers, at least the ones IN THE CHURCH, were once in the way of righteousness.
2Pe 2:20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
2Pe 2:21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.
Who is being talked about here? Its pretty clear from the context. I will quote just small portions of the preceding verses so that you get the picture.
2Pe 2:15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;
2Pe 2:17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
2Pe 2:18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.
2Pe 2:19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
These are people that are making promises. Anyone who is holding out a promise of liberty is clearly "a teacher" or "a preacher" of some kind.
They are following the way of Balaam – who was a prophet who heard God, but was motivated to go against God's purpose because of the lure of monetary reward for so doing. Again this sounds like someone in a trusted place of ministry.
They are referred to as "wells without water". This language is a reference to the Proverbs of someone who falsely boasts of of his gifts. He pretends to be a source of something good – good teacher – but actually cannot deliver.
The Scripture says of these people that they have forsaken the right way. If words have any meaning, this implies that these teachers were once ON THE RIGHT WAY. You cannot forsake a way you were never on.
Furthermore, it says that they had escaped the pollutions of this world through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How many people today would be confident to say that they have escaped the pollutions of this world? These people had. And when the Bible talks about the knowledge of God, it is talking about experiential knowledge, Hebrew knowledge, not mental assent – Greek style knowledge. You can't escape the pollutions of the world through head knowledge anyway. It has to get to the level of the heart.
So these are evidently people that once walked righteously, knew God, and rose to positions of teaching authority in the church. Yet, somehow, somewhere along the line they became corrupt. They become lovers of money, they prophesy for profit, they become entangled in the lusts of the flesh, and they became the kind of preachers of "grace", promising liberty, who actually are a DISGRACE to God because of their immoral, deceptive and greedy conduct.
There is no question in this passage that these people will end up in hell. Unless indeed, they repent. But it seems it would be harder for them to repent than for regular sinners to repent (verse 20). They are in a worse place than people who never knew the way of righteousness. People who never knew might yet come to know and believe, but those who have known and forsaken the WAY of righteousness – and please note, it is a WAY and not a STATUS here – these people are going to find it very hard to come to true repentance. Indeed, for some, it may never happen. For God's word says of them – "for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever" – a clear reference to hell I would say.
The argument in verses 4 and following is quite interesting. Basically God is saying that if he didn't spare ANGELS who sinned, he won't spare false teachers who get involved in sexual sin and other kinds of activities which defile the body of Christ. He will cast them into HELL. We should therefore live in the fear of God, especially as preachers. God has not promised us heaven as a kind of wage for having served Him in the past. If we defile our garments, if we forsake the Lord, and turn away from the holy commandment delivered to us, then WE TOO can perish and be damned.
I think hell is a very easy place to get to. To get there, you basically don't have to do anything except follow your own heart. Just follow your natural tendencies towards lust, greed and deception and you will end up there. This applies to the Christian as well. We are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. We need to keep going after the Spirit of Truth. Any other teaching which promises liberty but avoids this call to death is the teaching of a different master – a false god which leads his subjects to destruction and damnation.
Therefore, let us fear God, and not stand in awe of any man. We must all work out our salvation with fear and trembling – not with a casual, cocksure attitude of those who believe that God has made a covenant to overlook all backsliding.