“Truth, Justice, and the Way”
Today we are going to round out the second letter of Peter. Remember that Peter was not only one of the first called apostles…and he was among the inner circle with James and John who witnessed Jesus’s transformation and discussion with Moses and Elijah…and was the one on whom Jesus promises to build his Church…but he was also one of the Christ-followers who was present during the resurrection, the ascension, and the condescension of the Holy Spirit upon the believers gathered a Pentecost.
Peter witnessed it all. He was not perfect by any means, but Jesus saw something in him that caused him to entrust Peter with the keys of the kingdom, as it were. “The gates of heal will not prevail against [the Church],” “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth with be loosed in heaven.” It was Peter who first stood up and proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord to throngs of people and 3,000 were saved.
In his first letter, Peter was writing to a persecuted church encouraging them to live holy lives since they have a LIVING HOPE in the resurrection of Jesus and because they are LIVING STONES built upon the foundation of Christ. As such they are called to live upright, submissive lives in society, in the workplace, in the home, and within the church.
In this second letter, Peter’s focus turns toward our growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ and, as such, we prove that we are really among God’s chosen people by FEEDING our FAITH with moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness (reflecting the nature and character of God), brotherly affection for the church family which moves us to turn outward with love for everyone.
But there were then, as there are now, individuals (and I would argue institutions) who teach a different truth than that which has been given to us through God’s Word. And THAT is the subject of the last two chapters of 2 Peter and of this message.
Remember Superman’s motto? “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” I think Peter’s motto might have been, “Truth, Justice, and The Way [of Jesus].” In the latter part of the first chapter, Peter warns us to pay attention to the Scriptures because the personal witness of Peter and others regarding Jesus Christ are not “clever made-up stories” as apparently some false teachers were alleging. In fact, Peter reminds us that HE WAS THERE. He saw the splendor of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and heard the voice of God affirming Jesus was his Son in whom he is well pleased. And Peter is saying that what the prophets spoke about can be trusted as TRUE because HE WAS THERE!
Now, in chapter 2 and 3, Peter addresses these false prophets and their fate. Here’s how he starts : But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who brought them. In this way they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. (2 Peter 2:1-3 NLT)
What he and many other NT writers are talking about are heresies. Heresy basically means a deviation from correct belief (orthodoxy) and correct practice (orthopraxy). Deviation from right belief and behavior was apparently rampant.
For instance, in Galatians, some Jewish Christians were teaching Gentiles that they must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to keep their salvation. Paul calls these false teachers “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh” and suggest that they castrate themselves (cut themselves off from the believers).
Peter contends against what he calls a “most destructive” heresy by “false teachers” who “deny the Master [Jesus] who bought them” and scoff at his coming again. There were other claims about the deity of Jesus, his resurrection, and his return, such as:
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, we read that some early Christians were claiming that the second coming of Jesus Christ has already occurred
In 2 Timothy 2:17-18, we are told that false teachers, Hymenaeus and Philetus, are claiming the resurrection of the dead had already occurred.
Heretics introduce false teaching sneakily, luring their listeners with deceitful flattery, exploiting them financially, and tarnishing the way of truth with their immoral behavior. The one-chapter, power-packed letter of another half-brother of Jesus named Jude, says this about false teachers. “3Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. 4I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Let me see if I can explain. False teachers who claim that either Jesus is NOT going to return to judge the world or that he has already returned and basically nothing happened to us can then excuse sinful, lustful, greedy, self-serving, immoral lives. A denial of Jesus’ return in judgment gave some false teachers and followers a sense of “moral freedom.”
There was another heretical practice going on. Some were claiming self-denial, celebration of certain festivals, and even the worship of angels as a means to keeping one’s salvation intact. This is known as asceticism, the practice of serious self-denial and all forms of worldly indulgences for religious reasons. The apostle Paul strongly condemns such thinking and behavior, saying You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules such as, “Don’t handle!” “Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”?
Here are a couple of other heresies that cropped up in the early church:
Gnosticism was a belief system that superior knowledge of God is the highest aim of man, and that the world of flesh is inferior and infected with evil.
The mind however is the seedbed of the divine. Therefore, the more we “know” about God, the closer to the divine we become. The flesh (our bodies) are an unfortunate appendage we will one day shed. Because the body is incidental, we can satisfy fleshly lusts without incurring any guilt. 19th and 20th century liberal theology opened the door to a new era of Gnosticism known as the “Age of Enlightenment.”
Docetism came out of this gnostic belief. Docetism claims that Jesus only “seemed” to have a body of flesh, that the spiritual Christ descended upon the fleshly Jesus at his baptism and departed and ascended to heaven BEFORE the crucifixion. This belief denies the incarnation, death, and bodily resurrection of the Son of God. Pretty heretical, right? In 1 John, the apostle John calls them “antichrists.”
Asceticism, Gnosticism, Docetism and other various forms of heresy have wormed their way into our churches today. Some preach and teach stern religious practices to be right with God. Church folk are supposed to act a certain way, so when an unchurched person doesn’t dress or act the way we do, doesn’t use the right kind of “church language,” we look down our noses at them in judgment. Some of us act as if showing up for church meetings, praying the Lord’s Prayer or reciting the Apostle’s Creed guarantees our ticket is punched for heaven.
We know better, don’t we? We affirm that the truths found in the Apostle’s Creed is essential for salvation, but the Creed is NOT salvation. [Faith in Jesus Christ as Savior is.] We know that praying the Lord’s Prayer does not grant us a “get out of Hell free” card. But praying for God’s will to be done, his forgiveness as we forgive others, and his daily provision and protection is beneficial to continuing our faith journey.
The opposite is true. There are those in every church and every denomination who—because of their incomplete or incorrect view of the lordship of Jesus Christ—allow for immoral behavior in their own lives and those within our churches. For instance, some of us KNOW that drunkenness is not only wrong for you, but it is sinful in the eyes of God. And yet, you drink too much. If you are sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, you feel guilty about the behavior when it happens. If you have stopped listening to his still, small voice, then you may not even feel guilty about it. Guess what, it is still sinful and affecting not only your relationship with God, but its hurting your witness to your family and friends.
Maybe for you its watching inappropriate content on TV. You KNOW gazing at those bare bodies is wrong, but you justify that it isn’t hurting anyone. But it is. It is hurting you and your testimony with others. Or maybe for you it’s the overindulgence of food. You KNOW your body is the temple of God, but you have come to believe that only your soul is important, so why not let the body go?
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. We can “say” we have right beliefs, but if we are not engaged in right practices, then it kind of makes our right beliefs ineffective, doesn’t it? Now, I’m not suggesting that over-eating, or gazing at another woman or man is the point at which you lose your salvation. God forbid! I’m simply suggesting that false teaching can lead to false or incomplete beliefs, which can lead to false living, which CAN lead us to fall away from true faith. Make sense?
Back to 2 Peter. He gives examples in chapter 2 of eras in which false teaching and practices have led to God’s judgment as a precursor to Jesus’s return when ALL the world will be judged. He mentions the angels who sinned and were thrown into hell. Then there’s the epoch of the Great Flood, where God’s destroyed the world of ungodly people but saved righteous Noah and his family. He moves on to the story of the wicked city of Sodom whose inhabitants, along with those of Gomorrah, were destroyed because of ungodliness. But God also rescued Lot and his family because of his righteousness.
Here’s his summation in 2:9 à So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. The Almighty God, creator of all things, giver of eternal life through his Son, Jesus Christ, is also the great rescuer from the judgment that is coming upon the earth.
I know this can be a hard message for many of us to hear. We want to think of God as a benevolent Grandfather who never really sees the bad things his grandkids get into. Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it .
But God has no grandkids, only children. And these children are those who respond to the call of Jesus Christ to allow Him to be Lord and King, as well as Savior and Friend. The Lord disciplines those whom he loves—who are legitimate sons and daughters through Christ—and Jesus will return to judge the quick/living/born again and the dead/unsaved. For the believer, our judgment will NOT be the same as the condemning judgment in store for the false teachers and unbelieving world.
Chapter 3 reminds us that the Day of the Lord (Christ’s return) is imminent. Until then, scoffers and mockers of the truth will have their way in this world…but it won’t last forever. Peter points out the good news that , “The Lord isn’t really slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (3:9)
But, when we least expect it, like a thief, the day of the Lord will come. And for the unrepentant unbeliever, this will be very bad indeed. Everything and everyone will receive their deserved judgment. This is all the more reason, Peter writes, as he closes out his letter, to remain steadfast in living godly lives. He wants to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” It’s not just some catchy motto. God wants us to NOT be swayed by false teachers and teachings, such as:
Jesus is only ONE way among many to salvation
Going to church, being a good person, and avoiding sins like murder and stealing is enough for God to let me into heaven
Sin doesn’t really matter so long as you don’t hurt others doing it
Salvation (escaping hell and gaining heaven) is all about saying a religious prayer, but no real change needs to happen in your life
Getting spiritual through yoga, meditation, and self-actualization are the same things as prayer, Bible study, and corporate worship of the triune God
Politically and socially acceptable practices such as abortion and same-sex marriages are acceptable among Christians since Jesus actually never spoke on those two issues. Besides, to go against these two strong currents in our culture would make us seem intolerant, hateful, and judgmental.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, by necessity, grants us freedom from poverty and physical trials. If we simply have enough faith, we will have financial freedom and good health. [a.k.a., the Prosperity Gospel]
Friends, false teachers have wormed their way into our churches throughout the land and told us what our itching ears wanted to hear. And when we hear something that sounds hopeful or helpful without any real change in our own behavior, we grab hold of it. The problem is clear: if we do this, we will go down with that “Titanic of truth-less-ness” with the rest of the false teachers and believers.
[PRAYZNMOR] Today’s message is a warning to discover and walk in the truth of the Scriptures…ALL of it! We are warned to not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world [1 John 4:1].
Beloved, there is great news. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That’s every one of us. We can go on living for ourselves, believing and behaving however we choose. But the cost of our choice is huge. Or, we can come to accept that God’s ways are true and best, and live according to God’s law of love—love for Him and love for others.
Then we will have a LIVING HOPE in the resurrected Christ. We will live as part of God’s spiritual house as LIVING STONES, submitting ourselves to one another and serving others out of love. With the Spirit’s guidance, we will grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and avoid false teaching which may sound good to the ear but is destructive to the heart. This is God’s message to us through the letters of Peter. Thanks be to God!