The Rise and Fall of False Teachers
December 3, 2023

The Rise and Fall of False Teachers

Passage: 2 Peter 2

The Arrival of False Teachers

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been working through 2 Peter. Peter wrote this letter shortly before his death, and he takes time to urge the recipients of his letter to hold to God’s Word firmly and to live it out faithfully. Up until this point, Peter has spent time stating positively what pattern of life these early Christians should be following. But in our passage tonight, in 2 Peter Chapter 2, he warns us against following a group of people that he refers to as false teachers. Peter wants us to be wary and watchful. False teachers are coming who will pretend that they’re advocates for the truth, but in reality they’ll distort it and deny it.

So (if you haven’t already) turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Peter, chapter 2. I’ll be starting at verse 1. But before I read our text, please pray with me.

[PRAY / READ TEXT]

Where Will You Find False Teachers?

At the end of Chapter 1, Peter reminded the church that God has revealed himself through Scripture – that the prophets of old – these “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” “But,” Peter goes on to say in our text today, “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.”

So notice here – Peter tells us where we will find these false teachers. Just as false prophets arose among the people – from within the gathered people of God – so the Church in every age will have false teachers arise out of her midst, too.

So notice who Peter is warning those early Christians about. He’s not warning them about the Greek Philosophers. He’s not warning them about the priests of the Roman temples. He’s not even warning them about people who used to call themselves Christian but who are now deconstructing their faith. Instead, Peter is warning believers about people who will arise in their churches, and who will continue to wield influence in the Church. At the end of verse 13, Peter confirms that these people will revel in their deceptions “while they feast with you.” There will be people who are in the fellowship of the Church outwardly – who claim to be Christians, who claim to have spiritual insight and authority – but in reality they will be at odds with the Christian faith.

So even though there are real dangers to our souls that are coming from outside the Church – from extreme political figures, from secular academia, from pop psychology and cultural trends – though these are real dangers, Peter wants to make clear that there are also dangers that will come from within the Church.

How Will They Live?

So how will we know these false teachers when we see them? How will they live?

Well, first, these false teachers will, of course, teach falsehood. They’ll speak lies instead of the truth. Verse 1 tells us that they’ll “secretly bring in destructive heresies.” Verse 3 tells us they’ll “exploit you with false words.” And the passage goes on to explain that these false teachers will revel in their deceptions, as we saw in verse 13. And they’ll make promises they can’t keep, as we see in verse 19.

Second, these false teachers will be irreverent. Verse 10 indicates that they will despise authority. They’ll live and speak in a way that’s disrespectful toward spiritual things and spiritual beings.

Third, these false teachers will be sensual – that is, they’ll be mastered by sensuality. Verse 2, “Many will follow their sensuality.” Verse 14, “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed.” Verse 18, “Speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.”

Now, I’ve said that these false teachers will be mastered by their sensual desires because this is the language Peter uses in verse 1 and in verses 19-20. In verse 1, Peter says that these false teachers will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them…” Peter is affirming that Jesus Christ, the good Master – He came in order to buy slaves out of their slavery to corruption – because that’s what we all once were, slaves to corruption.

Yet even though these false teachers will outwardly, superficially claim to know Jesus, they’ll ultimately deny Jesus and what he came to do. They’ll deny the Master who bought them because they won’t leave their slavery to sin, even though Jesus paid to set sinners free from their bondage.

Peter picks up this same imagery in verse 19. He explains that these false teachers will promise freedom – but here’s the irony: “they themselves are slaves to corruption.” It would seem here that these false teachers were saying, “Look, you can be free like we are. Jesus has taken away the punishment for our sin. So go do whatever you want now! Indulge your desires. Gratify your lusts. You’re free!” But all the while these false teachers are denying true freedom and are overcome by the enslavement of sin – “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” – that’s at the end of verse 19.

The freedom we gain in Christ is the freedom to rise above our radical self-centeredness and to live in a right relationship with heaven. True freedom means that we aren’t just wild animals who run from one impulsive craving to another. Instead, we have the freedom to say no to desires that are ungodly. We have the freedom to pursue a life that is truly noble and worthwhile, not only in our own eyes, but in the eyes of God.

So we should be prepared to withstand these false teachers, and to live in the freedom Christ paid for.

What Will Be the Outcome of Their Lives?

But Peter doesn’t just describe these false teachers for us. He also explains what the outcome will be from their lives.

For example, Peter tells us that these false teachers will, in some sense, be successful in leading people astray. Verse 2: “And many will follow their sensuality.” The false prophets will gain a following. How is this possible? Well, we need to recognize here – though false teachers will say false things, that doesn’t mean everything they say will be false. Some of the things they say may sound spot-on. They may say it compassionately, or convincingly. There are a variety of ways that false teachers can manipulate and persuade that we need to be watchful for.

Peter also goes on in verse 2 to lament that the truth will be blasphemed because of these false teachers. People will label the church as immoral hypocrites. People will label the clergy as pedophiles and swindlers. These false teachers will ultimately make it harder for people to humbly consider the claims of Christianity.

Yet Peter foretells that God will hold these false teachers accountable. Peter reminds the church that God has demonstrated his just judgments against sin in history. He has condemned fallen angels. He sent the flood of Noah. He annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah for indulging in the lust of defiling passion. And in verse 9 Peter reasons that if that’s what God’s judgment looks like, “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”

Though for a short season the influence of these false teachers will seem to grow and prosper, they will, in the end, be punished for their ungodliness.

Applications

So let me wrap up this passage with two quick applications:

First, a word of warning. We, of course, need to watch out for false teachers out there – on social media, in other churches, and so on – but that’s not all. We also need to watch ourselves. I, as a pastor, need to humbly submit myself to the goodness of God, his Word and His ways. Each of us in this room will be tempted to elevate our sensual passions and opinions above the teachings of Scripture – and if we aren’t careful, we’ll find that we’ve become a slave to sin instead of a servant of God. So let’s be watchful together – out of our love for one another, and out of our love for the Lord Jesus, and his truth.

Second, though – I want you to be encouraged. The text we went through today may seem like a bit of a downer. It’s not particularly encouraging to hear that false teachers will rise and will successfully entice people into sensuality. Perhaps the only thing less encouraging than that is to look out into the Church today and see that this very thing is happening as we speak. But you may remember, in verse 9, I read, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” – the trials spoken of here specifically being temptations.

Though false teachers will experience a moderate, temporary form of success, we know that they won’t have total success. The truth won’t be stamped out. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. How do we know this? It’s because God knows how to rescue the godly from temptations. We have a God who has demonstrated his ability to uphold His people in some of the darkest moments of human history. And he continues to be at work to rescue us from our trials and temptations. So hold firmly to His Word. Embrace true freedom that comes from Christ. And be encouraged that you know the God who brings rescue in the day of temptation.

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