False Teachers and God’s Justice
2nd Peter 2:1-10 | December 3, 2023
Pastor Ryan Gilbert
Today, we are in 2nd Peter chapter 2. Let’s start by simply reading the text we’re looking at this morning. I want to let God speak for himself before I even try to expound and dig in. So if you’re able, please join me in standing for the reading of God’s Word. We’re in 2nd Peter chapter 2, and I’ll read verses 1-10.
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. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 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.
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; 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; 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 the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
This is God’s Living Word, amen? You may be seated. If you’ve been with us, you know that Peter takes a turn here against false teachers. We know from the rest of 2nd Peter that false teachers had not only made their way into the church, but false teachers had arisen from within the church. Peter has established the life we’ve been given in Christ. He has reminded us that God has given us everything we need for eternal life and Godliness.
In Christ, we are born again, and now we strive to live Godly lives. With the help of the Holy Spirit, by God’s grace having freed us from a life of sin and selfishness—we now are to strive for Godliness. That’s the message not only we see in Peter’s writings, but in all the New Testament. Certainly from Jesus himself, and now from his apostles who write not merely their own words, but the words inspired by God. The last verse of chapter 1: “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Now he turns to a massive problem in the early church, and certainly a massive problem today, nearly 2000 years later. There’s nothing new under the sun, is there? I want us to look at 8 Characteristics of False Teachers. Most of these come from just these first three verses, and then the last is hit hard in verses 4-10. So just know when we get to number 8, we’ll sit there for a time. 8 Characteristics of False Teachers. Number 1, straight from verse 1:
- They rise up from among us.
We just read it in verse 1. “False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teaches among you.” I hope that’s something that causes us to pause. Elsewhere we see Paul warn us of wolves trying to make their way into the flock. But Peter here writes that they will also rise from within.
Now, what does it mean to be a false teacher? Or what is it to embrace false teaching? Because not everything you or I disagree with is heresy. Peter uses this term here, heresy, which basically means a denial of essential truths of our faith. So not only is not everyone a false teacher, but also it’s the case that not everything we disagree with is heresy. Heresy is denying an essential truth of our faith.
In other words, denying such essential truths as to affect our salvation, even. Church history can help us here. This is why it’s a good thing to have had believers throughout history think through the most essential parts of our faith. We have the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles Creed. These have helped us form something we call orthodoxy. Truths like Jesus is fully God and fully human. God is three and one. Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus rose from the dead. Salvation is by grace through faith. Jesus is coming back. You get the idea here. To deny such truths is to deny the Christian faith.
Now, it may seem like surely these aren’t things that people in the church would deny. But even today, we see that happening. “We don’t really have to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. The point is that He came from God.” We have not only individuals today who claim Christ and yet deny the virgin birth. We have entire movements and denominations claim this sort of thing. All that to say, it’s not enough for us to think, “Well, he’s really nice and he says he loves Jesus. And look at everything he does for Jesus.” At some point, being nice and saying you love Jesus doesn’t mean anything if you deny essential truths of the Christian faith.
And this is also why you hear me often say, check what I teach. Don’t just take my word for it! Open the word yourselves. See for yourselves. Because even inadvertently, false teaching rises from within the church, not just from outside the church. The 2nd characteristic of false teachers:
2. They work secretly.
We see it there in verse 1: they will secretly bring in destructive heresies. In other words, no false teacher labels themselves a false teacher. No one who has embraced false teaching says, “I love false teaching.” Of course not! Most genuinely believe in what they’re saying. Most don’t mean to be false teachers. Most don’t mean to embrace false teaching. They think they’re embracing some new truth. This is why we must be discerning, and this is why we must pay attention to the word, as we see Peter encourage us to do back in verse 19 of chapter 1.
Because false teachers will use Scripture and elements of truth in their teaching. So it can be easy to think: “These people are smart, they are using Scripture, they seem genuine, who am I to say they’re wrong?” We need to hear this, church. You and I have no right to determine for ourselves what is right and wrong. That’s true. But God has every right. And he has revealed what is true and good in His Word. This is why we must be must pay attention to the word. Because false teaching, not just out there but in here, in the church, is often secret and subtle. Characteristic number of false teachers:
3. They bring destruction.
Perhaps that sounds melodramatic. But Peter tells us that false teachers “bring in destructive heresies.” Heresy most literally means “faction or sect,” it really means something different. This is why Paul writes more than once that we’re to embrace the gospel “as it was handed to us.” Or “as it was given to us.” Meaning, as it’s recorded in the Word. Why is this so crucial? Well, the reason it’s so crucial is because false teaching is destructive. As I mentioned already, to stray away from essential Christian truths is to stray away from the Christian faith altogether. At some point, what you’re embracing is not the Christian faith at all.
This is why Jesus says in Mark 13, “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders to lead people astray, if possible, even the elect.” Even we, as Christians can be led astray. Our faith can be damaged for a time. Jesus goes on in Mark 13 to say, “But be on guard; I have told you these things in advance.” We remain on guard, as a church, and particularly as your pastors and elders. That is perhaps the most important job as your shepherds is to do everything we can to guard against false teaching, because it brings destruction. Characteristic number 4:
4. They deny the Master.
According to verse 1, these false teachers “deny the Master who bought them.” In other words, they deny Christ. They deny the One who they claim is their Lord. The one who died for the world and bought his children by his blood. They deny Jesus. They deny him with their doctrine and with how they live, both!
We’ll see later in 2nd peter that these false teachers were teaching that Christ would not return. That’s also why Peter puts such an emphasis on this in the first chapter. His return is as sure as his Transfiguration, which they saw with our own eyes. Even more than that, we have the prophetic word to tell us he is coming back! Really, as we’ll see, the reason they denied Jesus coming back is because they wanted to justify living how they wanted to live.
That’s why verse 2 says that many will follow their sensuality. And then even verse 10, as Peter is ramping up this condemnation of these false teachers, he writes, “and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” So there’s where we see how they were denying the Master not only with false doctrine, but also with how they lived. Even more than what they were teaching about doctrine, was how they were living.
What do we learn from this? Here’s what we learn: we can say all the right things, and yet deny the Master with our actions. And your actions, no matter what we say with our mouths, our actions betray who we really are. False teachers deny the Master. Characteristic number 5:
5. Many will follow them.
Verse 2 says, “many will follow their sensuality.” Meaning, “meaning will follow their unlimited freedom when it comes to sexual activity and sexuality.” Does that sound familiar? Think about this for a moment. These false teachers were saying, basically, “Sure, let Jesus be your Savior. But it doesn’t matter if he’s your Lord.” They weren’t putting it like that, necessarily. But that’s the reality of what they were teaching. Is that not pervasive today as well? The gaping discrepancy in so many claiming Christ and yet not pursuing holiness? That’s not new! So many today, as well as 2000 years ago embrace a Jesus with no moral or ethical implications! Here’s the problem with that: that’s not the real Jesus!
One of the greatest obstacles to people embracing the gospel today is the fact that Jesus requires obedience! And so if we just remove that reality, it will be much more appealing for others to embrace Jesus. The problem? Again: that’s not Jesus. That’s a figment of our imagination, a Jesus who is Savior and yet not necessarily Lord. More than 250 times in the New Testament, Jesus is called Lord. Don’t embrace this false teaching that denies Jesus as Lord, no matter how many others embrace it. Characteristic number 6:
6. They cause others to blaspheme the truth.
That’s what verse 2 says: “Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” Did you know it’s always been a problem that Christians did not act and live like Christians? A common accusation in the first century was that Christians had no conduct to follow. The word for it is antinomian. You don’t have to remember that word, but it’s kind-of the opposite of legalism. Anti-nomian, “anti-law”, or “anti-conduct.” This is also something that is so pervasive today. It’s funny that the two biggest false teachings of the early church are still the two biggest false teachings of the church today, at least here in the West.
You have legalism, the belief that somehow by following the Law we earn for ourselves God’s favor. And we have the opposite: God doesn’t care about you following the Law or any sort of conduct. God doesn’t care about you pursuing holiness. It doesn’t matter how you live. Isn’t that a common thing today, to think that obedience is legalism? Or that striving for Godliness is legalism? Godliness is literally labeled as legalism. Please hear me: that is false teaching. And unfortunately, Christians living just like the rest of the world has caused many to blaspheme the truth. We’re called hypocrites, because broadly-speaking, if you include everyone who claims Jesus, we are hypocrites. That’s where false teaching gets us. To a place where people can’t even discern what it means to be a Christian. Characteristic #7:
7. They are greedy and exploitative.
The first part of verse 3: “In their greed they will exploit you with false words.” For false teachers, what’s the ultimate concern, at least some of them? Money and influence. Sometimes, they’re shameless about it! In the world of the prosperity gospel, this false teaching that claims God only wants you to be rich and healthy by the world’s standards—in this world, greed and exploitation is almost shameless. Did you know the wealthiest pastor in the world lives in Fort Worth? Kenneth Copeland’s estimated worth is as much as $750 dollars. That’s not from and inheritance or investing his money well. It’s from exploiting countless people across the world with his false teaching. And, frankly, he’s shameless about it.
Maybe Kenneth Copeland is an extreme example. But we have to be aware that people will tell you what you want to here, so they can influence you, and at times so they can get your money. That’s not just pastors and preachers with huge platforms, that’s locally to. Can we just clarify something briefly: the truth is not for sale. Christians must not be in the business of telling people what they want to hear. Christians, and pastors especially, only have one business: embracing the Word of God and sharing the Word of God. No matter if people like it or not. The last characteristic of false teachers, and as I said before, we will stay here for a moment:
8. Their condemnation is coming.
The second part of verse 3: “Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Those are some terrifying words. Peter’s saying, no matter what the current reality is (like these manipulative preachers making millions of dollars), there is no doubt: God will bring about justice. Their condemnation is coming. Their destruction is not asleep. God has not forgotten. Richard Bauckham gives three similarities of all false prophets: “They lack divine authority. They promise peace when God threatens judgment. They will be judged by God.”
And to be absolutely sure that we believe what he’s writing here, Peter gives us reasons why we can know that God has not turned a blind eye. That God will condemn false teachers, while rescuing the Godly. To paraphrase verses 4-9, Peter says if God did not spare angels when they sinned, nor did he spare the ancient world during Noah’s time, and if he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, then, verse 9, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment under the day of judgment.”
How can we really know that God will punish the ungodly? And especially false teachers? Because we’ve seen it throughout history. And no one is exempt from this judgment he will bring. Angels aren’t exempt. There’s some disagreement there in verse 4 about what event he’s actually referring to. It’s either a time before Adam and Eve when angels first sinned, and that’s how fallen angels came to be. Or he’s referring to Genesis 6 when angels were immoral and had sexual relations with human beings. There’s more than one way to interpret Genesis 6. But no matter what event he’s referring to, he’s saying even angels are not exempt from the judgment of God.
Noah and the ancient world were not exempt from the judgment of God when he brought a flood upon the earth. And then Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities God completely destroyed because the people were so evil and shameless in their sin.
There’s a reason Peter keeps bringing up sensual or sexual sin. It’s because the false teachers of the day, who he’s warning about in this letter, they did not want to follow any teaching limiting their sexual fantasies or proclivities. It’s obvious by how much Peter brings this up. Verse 2- “Many will follow their sensuality.” If verse 4 is referring to sinful angels in Genesis 6, then their sin was sexual and sensual. Even using Sodom and Gomorrah as an example: their sin was rampant, especially their sexual sin.
It was giving in and letting run wild their uncontrolled sexual urges. Homosexuality, orgies, likely pedophilia as well. According to verse 8, Lot was continually tormented over the lawless deeds that he saw and heard.” And then verse 10, the unrighteous, “especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” Over and over, we see that the highlight of these false teachers is they wanted complete authority over their own sexual desires. They did not want anyone telling them any urge or desire they had was wrong.
Let me just say: there are remarkable similarities between these false teachers and false Christians, and so-called “progressive Christians” today. Does this not describe our day, not only in the culture, but even within the movement of so-called “Christianity”? “Defiling passion and despising authority.” The thought that God has the right to say what is right and wrong. God has the right to deny me my desires. That’s outrageous to so many today. And especially so when it comes to sexual desire.
This is also why there is such passionate demands for rights to abortion. Because, as the thinking goes, “we should be able to have sex with whoever we want and not face consequences of any kind.” “Defiling passion and despising authority.” This is my body, and I do with it what I want. That teaching, that thinking is not just out there anymore. It’s in here. It’s in the church. Some are blatantly embracing it. Some are making seemingly small compromises leaning that way.
Rejecting differences between men and women, embracing all kinds of sexual activity as normative and healthy. Or maybe not embracing it, but saying, well, we can agree to disagree. Not according to God’s Word. These are destructive heresies. They point to a twist in who Jesus is: that he can be Savior without necessarily being Lord.
With all of this warning you’ve heard today, let me close with two more personal thoughts. Before any of us are tempted to feel self-righteous because we agree with all of this, and we see it out there, but not in here. One closing exhortation:
Be like Lot.
- Be broken by sin.
According to verses 7 and 8, Lot was righteous. He was striving to live a holy life. We need to do that ourselves. But also, notice how he responded to all the evil around him. Did he walk around complaining and becoming bitter toward the world around him? Did he just get angry? No! It seems that he was broken by the sin and lostness of the world. He was tormented by evil, not just angry.
2. Know that God will rescue you.
I don’t want us to just sit around and wait for the day for God to come and get us. We’re not lazy Christians. We’re to be active in the world, and helping people, and showing the love of Christ. But it is also appropriate and fitting to remember that God will rescue the Godly. Like he rescued Noah, and like he rescued Lot, he will rescue all of his children, including me and you.
There’s a lot of false teaching out there today, just as there was 2000 years ago. And it’s not common or popular to talk about it like we have today. To read and focus on texts like this one. I think the most common sentiment I hear about these convictions I’ve shared with you today, even in the Christian world. It goes something like this: “We have a world to reach for Jesus. We cannot waste time fighting over these secondary and tertiary issues.” Admittedly, there are things we can disagree on in the church. Some of the fights we have might be a waste of time. But some disagreements are fatal. They destroy. Because some disagreements are not disagreements between men, but a rejection of the authority of God. May we pay attention to His Word so that we can know the difference.