Several years ago, Dr. Michael Kruger wrote an article drawing a parallel (it’s partially humorous) between the deconversion stories of our day and the deconversion of Saruman. Do you know who Saruman is? Yeah, the chief wizard in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And Dr. Krueger draws five interesting parallels.
Number one, Saruman was very much on the inside before deconverting. As a chief wizard and the leader of the White Council, he opposed the evil actions of the dark lord Sauron originally.
Number two, Saruman became enamored by the ways of the enemy. He gave himself to mastering the rings of power and became consumed with obtaining that power. He also became resentful and jealous of Gandalf.
Number three, Saruman mocked his old allies, insisting they were uneducated simpletons. The main example was Radagast the Brown. Saruman viewed him with disgust, as beneath him.
Fourth, Saruman presented his deconversion as a step toward enlightenment. For example, when he switched from wearing a white robe to a robe woven of many colors, he was moving from absolute truth to pluralism and viewed that as progressive. He explained to Gandalf that white only serves as a beginning, that one must move beyond the idea of absolute truth. Gandalf responded, “I liked white better.”
Number 5, Saruman tries to convince others to join him in his deconversion. He seeks to persuade Gandalf that they could accomplish much more for knowledge, rule, and order if they would join with the dark lord Sauron. So, another character like Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, or the well-known biblical character Anakin Skywalker, or Lex Luther. There’s a long line of them that started out really strong and ended up becoming agents of evil.
And there is some evidence in 2 Peter 2 that the false teachers we’re about to start studying are described as having that same trajectory. They didn’t start out planning to do wrong. They didn’t intend to harm people. This is why Peter emphasized so strongly in the hinge passage we looked at last week that links chapter 1 to chapter 2. Verse 19,
“We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you do well to pay attention [pay attention to the prophetic Word] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Why? Why do we need to pay attention to the prophetic Word? Because false teachers are coming, they’re convincing, and they’re condemning. Let’s look at those one at a time.
False teachers are coming. Verse 1,
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”
Notice all the internal language — “arose among the people,” “among you,” “secretly bring in,” “denying the Master who bought them.” This is not just talking about someone out there, someone with horns and fangs. These individuals probably really know their Bibles. They may have attended Christian school or Bible college. Look at verse 15, the first half,
“Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray.”
It’s hard to forsake the right way if you’ve never appeared to be on it. They have a testimony of deliverance. Look at verse 20.
“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
They’re again entangled; they turn back. Why is this so significant? Is Peter trying to motivate believers by fear? No, he’s calling us to pay attention that there will always be people who appear as sheep, who are really wolves.
Jesus warned us in Matthew 7:15,
“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing.”
In other words, they look like sheep, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Paul’s last words to the Ephesian elders — Acts 20:28,
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, [be afraid. No!] be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.”
This is one of the reasons that pastors and elders don’t have the privilege of skipping 2 Peter 2 of deciding we want to have a ministry that only goes positive. There’s something tempting about that. But it’s like a shepherd ignoring the wolf in the shrub with blood in its teeth and saying, “We’re just going to talk about the green grass. We’re not going to address the problem.” Now, for some of you who grew up in churches … There may be a few of you who grew up in churches where every sermon was talking about what everyone’s doing wrong and how they’re all wrong out there. This kind of sermon can be triggering to you. So, look at this false teacher meter. If you grew up in a church that tended toward the red side, the contentious side, where anybody who differs with us is a false teacher, there’s no distinction between primary gospel issues and secondary.
And so, if you’ve been in a church like that, hearing a message like this will give you the shakes. That is not what he’s talking about here — becoming contentious. Nor is he talking about becoming compliant, where we just want to affirm everyone and everything. No, some things are really heretical, and some teachers are really dangerous. And if we have no biblical discernment, Peter’s warning us we will be swept away.
But there is a place there which we could call “careful” or what Peter’s describing as “pay attention, be alert.” Don’t be contentious, that is factious and quarrelsome and self-righteous. No, no, no, no. But neither be compliant. Why? Because false teachers are coming.
Secondly, false teachers are convincing. Look at verse 2 — “And many will follow.” Just let that sink in. “And many will follow.” False teachers will have a lot of followers. They will have millions of likes.
“Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.”
These false teachers will be influencers, and because they come from within, they know the language. They can tell you stories, story after story of how church people have hurt them. And people begin to trust them, and they begin to influence others to throw off these moral, rigid restrictions that the Bible outlines, these puritanical restrictions of the past. And the result (end of verse 2) is “the way of truth will be blasphemed.” What does that mean? “Spoken against” as a way of hypocrisy. In other words, ultimately, by abandoning biblical morality, you end up claiming to follow Jesus, but living just like everyone else in the name of being affirming.
A quick clarification there, Peter assures us we will be spoken against. If you remember a few months ago when we were in 1 Peter chapter 2, verse 11,
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that [no one will say anything against you].
Is that what it says? No!
“when they speak against you as evildoers [bigots], they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
In other words he’s saying, “They’re going to speak against you. Make sure it’s not because of your hypocrisy, but your integrity.” It doesn’t mean you’re going to be perfect. But you’re honest about your failures. You’re running to Jesus for forgiveness and you’re not trying to justify living like everyone else in order to fit in. False teachers are coming. Secondly, they’re convincing.
And then thirdly, they’re condemning. In verse 3, he shows the seriousness of what we’re talking about. This isn’t just preferential.
“And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
So, Peter here is not talking about a Christian who’s wrestling with some of the other men or women in their life group, trying to learn how to follow Jesus in purity and truth. That’s not what he’s talking about here. Here he’s talking about false teachers who are characterized by greed and sensuality, and they not only want to live that way, but they want to exploit you with false words. And Peter then demonstrates God’s capacity to both save and judge with a giant sentence from verse 4 to verse 10a. Four “if” statements — Verses 4, 5, 6, 7 — and then a “then” in verse 9. And he’s going to give three examples of judgment, two examples of salvation. Let’s summarize these.
First, the three examples of judgment — angels, verse 4. So, remember Peter’s reinforcing this idea that these false teachers will be judged by walking through this hypothetical syllogism to communicate that. So, first example of judgment — angels, verse 4.
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.”
Now, here he could be referring to the angels who fell before creation, Lucifer and the gang, or he could be referring to the angels in Genesis 6:1-4, who sinned morally with the daughters of men. Now, the reason that one is a little bit more attractive is not because of the context here, but when you compare it with Jude 6 and the context of Jude, it does seem to be referring to these angels, who use their elevated status to take advantage of people rather than serve. But the point either way is the same — if God would judge angels. Number one.
Number two, if God would judge through a flood, verse 5,
“If he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.”
Now, most of us, when we think of the flood, as a child, we imagine these giraffe heads bobbing above the boat, elephants providing ballast on the ship, doves creating the first UPS air freight service, flying around. It’s a serene, beautiful scene. But when you step back and think of what the flood was, ultimately it is unthinkable. It is a horrific judgment on the world. Everyone was killed except eight people. And what’s interesting here is Peter is not like the typical progressive theologian that looks back on these judgments and is embarrassed, wants to minimize these as from an unenlightened time of the past. No, he’s actually saying that judgment is a gift because it warns you of a future judgment that is even worse. If God would judge with water, imagine a judgment of fire that is coming in the future. Angels, Flood.
Third, Sodom and Gomorrah. Verse 6,
“If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to all the to the ungodly.”
These famous cities are examples of what is going to happen to the ungodly, and Peter is concerned that we don’t have an exclusive mindset regarding judgment, which is pretty common today. We make salvation inclusive, judgment exclusive. What do we mean by that “exclusive”? Well, of course, Hitler. Come on! Pol Pot. Stalin, maybe. Putin, if he keeps going the way he’s going. There’s going to be a judgment for some of these people, but they’re different kinds of people; they’re really bad people. I don’t kill a lot of people; I’m just a little proud, little selfish, little greedy. God’s okay with that. He doesn’t judge that. He just judges the really bad people. And we become like the people in Luke 13, who thought the Galileans who were judged were worse kind of people. And Jesus clarified this. You notice he universalizes judgment. He answered them (this is Jesus),
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Peter is saying the same thing Jesus said. And this is where some of us step back and we make statements like “Well, I can’t worship a God like that who would judge people.” Be careful. It’s like someone hearing of another plane crash or another person who is cliff climbing and fell to their death and making a statement, “You know, I can’t live in a world like that. I can’t live in a world where every day we’re hearing of another person … gravity killing more people. I want to live in a world where people float.” Seriously, wouldn’t that be wonderful? But we have padded rooms for people who want to create their own worlds. You don’t have that option, friend. Humble your mind.
You don’t get to choose who God is. He made you. And this idea that “If I created God, he’s going to be good with everything. He’ll just punish those really nasty people, but the rest of us, he’s good to go with all these things that we’ve now learned aren’t as bad as once believed.” We don’t get to create our own worlds. That’s delusional. And we don’t get to create our own God in our own image. And what Peter is saying, he’s warning us of this, and he’s saying, “if God would judge angels, if God would judge the world in a flood, if God would judge Sodom and Gomorrah, you are foolish to think he will not judge in the future.” Please understand, that doesn’t mean you like it or can even imagine. If you like the thought of judgment, you’re sick. It will take your breath away. It will make you feel sick, the thought of people you care about coming under judgment. It is unthinkable. But the reason Peter is warning us is because the safest place is not to create a delusional world with a god of our own making so we can imagine what isn’t. But it’s face reality, pay attention, wake up.
Three examples of judgment and then two examples of salvation, because in the middle of this judgment, God is always saving. First example is Noah, verse 5,
“If he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.”
You could fit everyone saved in a minivan, eight of them. Let that sink in when you think “wow! God knows how to judge.” But he always has a remnant.
Second example is Lot, verse 7,
“And if he rescued righteous Lot.”
Any of you have trouble with that word “righteous”? Yeah, it’s like Lot? Really? The guy made one terrible decision after another terrible decision! And yet he is called
“righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that [here he is again] righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard).”
Now Lot is a case study in stupid decisions. But this I find weird sort of encouragement. God is saving people, but it doesn’t mean these people are particularly stellar, shining examples of some kind of different human being. No, he was messed up, but he never capitulated. He didn’t affirm the evil around him. That’s why it says he was “greatly distressed,” and some of it came from his own foolish decisions and terrible way he led his family. But after these four “ifs’” — if he would judge angels, if he would preserve Noah, if he would flood the world, if he would rescue Lot/if he would judge Sodom and Gomorrah, verse 9,
“then [here’s the key point] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and how to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”
The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials. Why do we need to remember that the Lord knows how to rescue?
Well, as false teachers arise … I think this was especially true during the pandemic because a lot of Christians spent a little more time online, and you start seeing the craziness out there, and you begin to wonder am I crazy to believe this? It seems like everybody is abandoning what the Bible teaches. Maybe I’m insane for believing what the Bible actually says. And what Peter is doing, he’s anticipating that. Yes, false teachers are coming. False teachers are convincing. False teachers are condemning. And they will sweep many away. And the antidote is not to be swept away with them, but to remember “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and how to keep the unrighteous under punishment.”
What makes it so hard is the fact that it’s not just the world. If the world was just redefining marriage, if the world was just creating their own morality and abandoning integrity, that’s not surprising. They’ve been doing the same thing for a couple millennia. If you study the morality of what was happening in the Roman and the Greek world as the early church was growing, everything we’re dealing with today was there. So, in one sense, it’s not new at all. What will rattle your cage is when you realize it’s within the church. There are leaders that claim to love Jesus that will tell you a very different message, and that’s what Peter is concerned with. He’s not worried about the world. The world will be the world. It’s what about the church? He says here “the Lord knows how to rescue.”
Well, how does he do that as false teachers are coming and convincing and condemning? Think back to the beginning of our study. 2 Peter 1, verse 3,
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who has called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he is granted to us his precious and very great promises.”
We pay attention to those
“so that through them you become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
That’s just real compressed, but the Lord knows, and he does it in ways at times where you don’t even know you’re being rescued.
I’ve been thinking back to times, way back when I first became a believer. My parents weren’t saved, didn’t know any other Christians, huge public school. And I remember this one friend that was trying to get me to come to a gathering at his home with his church leaders. Remember, I knew nothing. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, no theological training. And for some reason I felt like I should not go to that gathering. And I find out later his church leaders are Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny the lordship of Christ. How does a puny little teenager who doesn’t even know the Bible know that’s wrong? And I look back and I say, “Lord, you know how to save us,” even when we don’t know we need to be saved. Even when we don’t even know we need to be protected, the Spirit provides an anointing through his Word. He is protecting us. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to go through trials. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to be tested. It doesn’t even mean we’re not going to fail like Peter. But he will rescue. He knows how to rescue.
He also knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment. So, don’t let looks deceive just because some movement is popular. Yes, there will be times when you feel alone. God is always raising up a remnant. If you remember a few months ago (I think Alan told this story) I was reading this past week Tyler Staton’s new book on prayer, and he tells the story when he was thirteen, same age/near the age I was at that time in high school. And he didn’t know for sure what he believed, but a mentor challenged him to prayer-walk his middle school. And so, he got hold of a directory of all the names and pictures of those in his public middle school, and for an entire summer, every day, he wore a path around the middle school praying for each one of his classmates.
And during that summer, he began to delight in the presence of God. Nothing was more valuable than just being with the Lord and then interceding for these classmates. So, the next year came around. He kept doing it twice a week, six something in the morning, doing his prayer-walk around the school. You just think God is raising up a remnant. So, he asked his principal if he could start a Jesus Club, got permission, got a teacher to sponsor it. He started teaching his students. By the end of the year (he said he knew nothing, but he’s sharing the Bible with them), a third of his class came to Jesus throughout that year. God knows how to rescue. This isn’t new for him. We don’t always know how he’s going to rescue, but he knows how to rescue. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy because as is evident here, there will be times where you will be told you’re a bigot, you’re narrow-minded.
I was reading an interesting example this week of that when Daniel DeWitt wrote of a conversation he had with his friend recently.
“I had an atheist friend ask me how I could live with the narrow claims of Christianity. ‘How do you feel about being so narrow-minded?’ he asked me. I was a bit amused by the irony of his question.
So I responded to my friend: ‘I am a Christian. Christianity is still the world’s largest religion, so that means I’m in agreement with a lot of religious people. Second, I believe there’s only one God, and on that point, I share agreement with even religions like Judaism and Islam that teach there is only one God.
Third, I believe there’s something outside of nature, some greater power, which according to international surveys, shows I agree with the vast majority of people breathing air on this planet right now.
You, on the other hand,’ I told my friend, ‘think they’re all wrong. Every religion. Every person who believes there’s some kind of higher power or purpose. You believe every last one of them is wrong. Doesn’t that make you extremely narrow-minded?’”
Now, of course, he’s playing with his friend. But I think it does illustrate finding winsome ways to engage when you’re mocked, when you’re misrepresented, which you will be. Also, his comments highlight a tension that is true about Christianity. Christianity is both inclusive and exclusive. And you’ll hear it come out in the words of Jesus.
Look at this example. John 3:16, very familiar,
“For God so loved the world”
Can’t get any wider than that!
“that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already”
“because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: that light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his work should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Now, lots more questions here. I blew past the “denied his Master who bought him.” I want to go back to that tomorrow, maybe, Lord willing, on the AfterWord. So, send me your questions today. We can follow up on some of those in the AfterWord tomorrow. Also, in the coming weeks, we’re going to look more specifically at what does this false teaching look like today.
However, the Lord knows how to punish and how to pardon. And as we take a few minutes to remember his provision through Jesus, you see a glimpse of the punish/pardon come together on the cross, that God knows how to do both, but they are both seen most vividly on the cross of Jesus. Look at this example, and Romans 3 summarizes this.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [that is, to appease wrath] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be the one who punishes and the one who pardons of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Do you see that?
“So that he might be just” In other words, he cannot overlook sin; it must be punished. “And the justifier,” the one who pardons and forgives. He’s both. He knows how to pardon. He knows how to punish. They came together in Jesus so that we, the ones who should be punished, are pardoned. Put your faith in him. There’s no more beautiful story!
So, in a few minutes, some people are going to come forward. They’re going to pass a piece of broken bread and a cup representing the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus. If your faith is in Jesus, please participate. If your faith is not in Jesus, just pass the elements by and use this time to pray. And then I will come back up in a few minutes, and we will partake together.