Today’s reading: 2 Peter 1-3.
Peter says some will arise in church who “will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them,” which tells us that these men are not mere atheistic antagonists of Christianity—we have always had those—but these will be men who claim to be Christians, who profess to love the Lord Jesus, who profess to be followers of Christ; yet the things that they teach will deny everything that he stood for. What echoes of some of the voices that are raised in our day! – Ray Stedman
First Peter was all about hope in a time of suffering, but Second Peter focuses on truth in a time of false teaching. Peter lays down a familiar foundation of New Testament doctrine, then builds a protective wall against the heresies of false teachers who were invading the church.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1
The character of the false teachers. Not every false teacher would necessarily possess all these bad character traits.
- Selfish. In the old or original sense, meaning they are full of themselves, prideful, arrogant, boasting.
- Stupid. Though they claim wisdom and knowledge they are ignorant of the truth and empty of reason, like an animal.
- Sensual. They pursue the pleasures of the flesh, reveling in sensual sins, and dragging others into their sin.
- Shameless. They are slaves of depravity and make no excuse for it.
- Striving for gain. They are greedy, using their position to make a profit.
The heresies of the false teachers. These were the false doctrines that were being promoted in the early church. Versions of them still circulate today.
- Jesus is not Lord. Peter doesn’t specify how the heresy diminishes the Lordship of Christ. Some heresies claim that he was not fully human, others that he was not divine. Peter says they deny the Lord “who bought them,” suggesting the false teaching either downplays the atonement, or removes the obligation to obey the commands of the one who bought us. “For you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies.”
- The world is unchanging. The false teachers denied the second coming of Jesus and the judgment connected with it. In their opinion the world would just carry on as it always had. Peter sank this teaching by showing how God had intervened in the past at the time of creation and at the time of the flood. He promised God would intervene again when he destroyed the material world with fire. The apparent lack of change was only God’s patience giving time for sinful men to repent.
- Believers are free to pursue any pleasure. The heretics preached a freedom that was not the freedom from slavery to sin, but a freedom to sin as you please. They based this on a conception that the material body was of no value and therefore it didn’t matter what you did with it, or that grace made up for any sin you committed.
Many of these early heresies were given names. Here are a few of them:
- Docetism: Jesus was only a spirit being and did not have a physical body.
- Gnosticism: Dualism characterized this heresy. The body was evil, trapping the soul, which had to ascend back to the divine spirit world through special knowledge.
- Antinomianism: It stated that because of grace, Christians were free from any obligation to obey a moral code.
- Arianism: Denied the divinity of Jesus Christ
- Marcionism: Rejected the Old Testament and the Hebrew concept of God, instead promoting the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.
The answer to give to a person (inside or outside the church) who says that we are enslaved to an old-fashioned sexual morality is this: 1) All immorality is just as old-fashioned as biblical morality. 2) Why should it be called slavery when we freely choose to govern our passions according to divine principles, but be called freedom when you follow the dictates of your passions? If we choose to follow God and you choose to follow your impulses, who’s the fool? Listen! Don’t let the world shape you! The world is covered with darkness ( 2 Peter 1:19). It is enslaved to irrational passions. And unless it turns and repents, it is doomed. – John Piper
Image by Brian Smithson on Flickr, CC by 2.0