No Doubt About It.

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

In these verses, Peter is going to deal with some specifics regarding the dangerous content of the message of the false teachers. First of all, they were disparaging the whole idea of Christ’s eventual return. In their estimation, the second coming of Christ was not going to take place. As far as they could tell, if it was going to happen, it already would have by this point. They took a look around and concluded, “From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created” (2 Peter 3:4 NLT). In other words, nothing had changed. This was a case of overstatement, but as far as they could tell, the world just kept rolling along just like usual, with no indication that Christ’s return was eminent or even necessary. Their assessment led them to deny that Jesus was ever going to come back to earth. It was nothing more than wishful thinking propagated by the apostles. But Peter flatly denied this assertion and labeled these false teachers as scoffers or mockers. They were guilty of making fun of the whole concept of the second coming.

But Peter wants his readers to know that these false teachers were contradicting the very words of the prophets of God. These men had predicted the incarnation of Jesus, but also His return.

13 As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. – Daniel 2:44-45 NLT

3 Look! The Lord is coming!
    He leaves his throne in heaven
    and tramples the heights of the earth.
The mountains melt beneath his feet
    and flow into the valleys
like wax in a fire,
    like water pouring down a hill. –
Micah 1:3-4 NLT

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Isaiah 14:4-5 NLT

Not only does the Old Testament repeatedly speak of the return of Christ, so did the apostles.

12 And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 13 May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians3:12-13 NLT

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. – Revelation 1: 7 ESV

Jesus Himself predicted His own return and promised the disciples that it was going to happen.

2 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. – John 14:2-3 NLT

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

In spite of all of this, these “scoffers” sarcastically ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” “If He’s going to return, where is He?”, they mockingly ask. But Peter warns them that just because they don’t see any sign of His return, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. They can mock and scoff, but that doesn’t eliminate the reality of Christ’s second coming. They can doubt it’s validity, but it won’t do anything to lessen its inevitability. And Peter gives them a convincing illustration. In terms of the creation of the world, God used two essential things: His word and water. Genesis 1:2 tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Genesis goes on to tell us that God separated the waters in order to create the sky.

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” – Genesis 1:6-8 NLT

Then He formed dry land out of the waters.

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. 10 God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:9-10 NLT

Then Peter fast-forwards to the flood. Once again, God used to means to accomplish His will. He used His word and water. But this time, rather than using these two things to create, He used them to destroy. God reversed what He had done at creation, and covered the dry land with water. He spoke, and it happened. And Peter warns that, one day, God is going to speak again. He will utter the word and the world, as we know it, will come to an end.

And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. – 2 Peter 3:7 NLT

This time, His word will be accompanied by fire, not water. This future judgment will take place after the second coming of Christ. The old earth will be replaced with a new and improved earth. God will make all things new. The creation, which is now groaning because of the curse of sin, will be made new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. – Revelation 21:1 NLT

20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. – Romans 8:20-21 NLT

These false teachers could mock the return of Christ, but it wasn’t going to keep it from happening. And Peter wants his readers to rest in the reality that Jesus was going to come back and that the redemption of mankind and creation would be finally completed. They could doubt it and even deny it, but they could do nothing to prevent it. And for us as believers, we hope in the return of Christ. And the apostle Paul tells us why we should.

23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) – Romans 8:23-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Avoid At All Costs.

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 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. 21 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. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:17-22 ESV

In describing the false teachers who were negaively impacting the believers to whom he is writing, Peter uses some comparisons that are reminiscent of Jude.

…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

They are not what they appear to be, and they don’t deliver on what they promise. Like a waterless spring, they can only offer the hope of refreshment, but they lack the means to make it happen. Like a reef lying just below the surface of the water, they are a hidden danger, waiting to reek havoc on and all who come into contact with them. They are cloudless rains, suggesting the hope of much-needed rain, but failing to deliver. They are as unreliable as a wandering star. In a day when people used the stars to direct their paths by focusing on their location in the night sky, a wandering star would be a pathetically poor marker on which to base one’s journey. You would only end up lost and nowhere near your intended destination. And that is exactly what Peter is trying to say about these false teachers.

They were proud and arrogant, filled with boastful words that were little more than proof of their own foolishness. These men were ignorant, not knowing what they were talking about, but putting up a good front. They were persuasive and able to convince others that what they were saying was true. But Peter exposes them for what they really were: Liars and deceivers. “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you” (2 Peter 2:19 NLT). Like a blind person describing the beauty of a sunset he has never seen, these men were speaking about things they were incapable of knowing. They could talk a good game, but it was meaningless, because they had no idea what they were talking about. These men were prisoners of their own lustful desires,

One of the things that makes false teachers so dangerous is their appeal. They have this innate ability to entice others into falling for their lies by appealing to their base desires. That’s why Peter says, “With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception” (2 Peter 2:18 NLT). New and relatively immature Christians are susceptible to their rhetoric. Those who have just recently come to faith in Christ, having walked away from a lifestyle of sin and immorality are especially easy prey to the words of these deceivers. False teachers appeal to the senses, preying on feelings and emotions. They use man’s base passions like a bait to lure immature believers back into a lifestyle they had once left behind – all under the guise of spirituality. We can see it today in the messages of those who preach the prosperity gospel message. They appeal to men’s desire for material things, promising that God wants to make them healthy, wealthy and wise. They promise your best life now, complete with all the trappings of material success and financial reward. And people are drawn to these messages like a fish to a lure, not knowing that death, not life, awaits them.

Verses 20-21 have caused many to assume that Peter is teaching that those who place their faith in Christ can fall away from that faith. In other words, they can lose their salvation, “the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV).  But if Peter has been pointing out the falsehood of these teachers, it would seem that he is once again addressing them. He describes them as those who have been exposed to “the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, and appear to “have escaped the defilements of the world” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV). In other words, they look like Christians. They talk as if they have become followers of Christ, but “they are again entangled in them and overcome” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV). And, as a result, they are in a worse state than before. Why? Because they have been exposed to the truth of the gospel, but have rejected it. They never became true Christ-followers. In fact, they ended up preaching a different gospel. Paul spoke of these kinds of people in not-so-flattering terms.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

 

And he accused the believers in Corinth of willingly putting up with and buying into the message of these people.

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

The people Peter refers to as false teachers were not true believers. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus warned about these kinds of people. “”Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (Matthew 7:15 NLT). He went on to say that you have to judge these people by their fruit, not their fur. They may look the part, they may say all the right things, and they may fool you into thinking they belong to the body of Christ, but “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT).

Peter makes a sobering assessment of the state of these false teachers, saying, “ It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life” (2 Peter 2:21 NLT). In other words, they would have been better off if they had never heard the truth of the gospel and the salvation from sin made possible by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. But to have heard it and then, ultimately to have rejected it, only makes their immoral lifestyle that much worse. Peter makes an interesting, yet often overlooked observation in this verse. To know the way to righteousness is a reference to understanding justification or a right relationship with God is only possible through faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, we don’t earn salvation by our good works. But Peter points out that our faith is to be followed by an obedience to the command of God that we live a holy life. That is the predominant message of Peter’s first letter.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

Had these false teachers been truly saved, their faith in Christ would have been followed by a change in behavior. But their actions had not changed because they had never accepted Christ as their Savior. As a result, they were conformed to the passions of their former ignorance. They had heard the message of justification, but had not accepted the free gift of salvation made possible through Jesus. And having heard, but rejected the offer, they stood doubly condemned. And Peter describes their state in fairly graphic and memorable terms: “They prove the truth of this proverb: ‘A dog returns to its vomit.’ And another says, ‘A washed pig returns to the mud’” (2 Peter 2:22 NLT). Notice that he refers to them as dogs and pigs. These are not terms Peter would have used of fellow believers. He sees them as what they are: Unsaved, unregenerate individuals who have turned up their noses at the true gospel and created their own version, which they use to justify their sinful passions and to lure others into their same false sense of security.

So, what is Peter’s point? Avoid these people at all costs. Stay away from them. Learn to spot them and then keep your distance from them. Be aware that they are an ever-present danger in the church. They will always show up in a local fellowship, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, infiltrating the flock and attempting to lead the weak and immature astray. The words of Paul to the elders at Ephesus would be wise for us to hear and heed.

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! – Acts 20:28-30 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

It Pays to Obey.

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; 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; 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; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (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); 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. 2 Peter 2:4-10a ESV

False teachers, they are an ever-present reality in the world. Wherever God’s truth exists, there will be false representations or variations of it. Those, like Peter, who speak on behalf of God, will always be opposed by others who contradict them, while claiming to be presenting the truth of God. But the truth of God is not up for debate and does not come in a variety of forms. God doesn’t send mixed messages. He is not a God of confusion and disorder. That is why Peter stresses the truth and the need for the people of God to know it well. It is extremely difficult to spot falsehood if you don’t have any idea what the truth really is. But Peter, as one of the original disciples of Jesus, and as a commissioned apostle of the risen Lord, knows false teaching when he sees it and he has strong feelings about those who propagate it. “God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed” (2 Peter 2:4 NLT). There was no tolerance on God’s part toward false teachers. They were dangerously deceptive and destined to destruction.

And we should not be shocked or surprised that God would react so strongly to these individuals and their false messages. Peter brings up a series of examples from history revealing God’s past dealings with rebellious angels and humans. Jude uses many of these same examples in his book.

So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful. And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment. And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment. – Jude 1:5-7 NLT

Who were the angels that Peter and Jude refer to and what was their crime? They  evidently participated in a rebellion against God’s authority. These were most likely the same angels who followed the lead of Satan himself, when he attempted to dethrone God and take His place. The prophet Isaiah gives a metaphorical glimpse into that event.

12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
    O shining star, son of the morning!
You have been thrown down to the earth,
    you who destroyed the nations of the world.
13 For you said to yourself,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars.
I will preside on the mountain of the gods
    far away in the north.
14 I will climb to the highest heavens
    and be like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14 NLT

Satan led a rebellion against God, that was easily thwarted and resulted in the casting out of heaven of every angelic being that participated in it. Peter indicates that God “cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4 ESV). Jude states that “God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment” (Jude 1:6 NLT). The actual word that Peter uses, which is translated in the ESV as “hell”, is the Greek word, tartaroō. The Outline of Biblical Usage states that this was “the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews.” This is the only place in the entire New Testament where this word is used. While we cannot be sure of the exact nature of the event to which Peter and Jude refer, we do know that they stress God’s evident delay in fully judging the guilty parties involved. That seems to be the point. Whether these angels are chained in actual hell or are relegated to an earthly existence, totally subjugated to God’s authority. The tartaroō to which these angels have been sent could be referring to their existence as demons, serving the wishes of Satan, and doomed to wait for their final judgment by God. Either way, these angels sinned against God and are waiting for God to mete out His full and just judgment.

Next, Peter brings up our antediluvian ancestors, who also sinned against God, and were ultimately destroyed by God in a great world-wide flood. Only Noah and his family were preserved from destruction by God. The book of Genesis describes just how bad things had gotten.

11 Now God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. 12 God observed all this corruption in the world, for everyone on earth was corrupt. – Genesis 6:11-12 NLT

God had put up with the sins of mankind for some time before He finally destroyed them. And He showed mercy by sparing the lives of Noah and his family, giving them an opportunity to start over. But the bottom line was that God did not spare the sinners in Noah’s day, so He would not spare the false teachers in Peter’s day. They too, would face the judgment of God.

Then there were the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two wicked cities were destroyed by God for their rampant and willful sins against God. When God sent angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom, they told Lot, “Do you have any other relatives here in the city? Get them out of this place—your sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else. For we are about to destroy this city completely. The outcry against this place is so great it has reached the Lord, and he has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:12-13 NLT). And God did destroy Sodom, along with its neighboring city, and all the residents who resided in them. God had put up with the sins of the two cities for a long time, but judgment finally came, “making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6 ESV).

And interestingly enough, Peter uses Lot, the nephew of Abraham, as an example of the godly. He refers to him as “righteous Lot” and describes his condition as “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (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)” (2 Peter 2:7-8 ESV). While Lot had made the decision to move his family into the city of Sodom and expose them to the rampant wickedness of its inhabitants, he was still considered righteous by God. He still had a heart for God. So, God rescued him. And Peter uses Lot as an example of how God will “rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9 ESV). These were meant to be words of encouragement to the recipients of Peter’s letter, providing them with incentive to stay faithful to God, even in the face of growing persecution and in spite of the confusing and misleading teaching of the false teachers. Peter used Noah and Lot as examples of how God rescues the righteous. God completely destroyed the world, but spared Noah. He completely annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah and everyone in them, but spared Lot. God will one day judge the false teachers, and treat them as what they are, sinners and rebels against Him. But He will spare the righteous. So, Peter appeals to his readers to remain faithful to God. He wants them to reject the lies of the false teachers. He wants them to adhere to the truth of God’s Word, regardless of the pressures they may face to cave in. Their endurance would be well rewarded. They would not be disappointed in the end. It pays to obey. The rebellious angels fell. The wicked of Noah’s day drowned. The immoral and perverse of Sodom and Gomorrah died. But God spared the righteous.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

Falsely Appealing.

1But 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. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 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. 2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV

Wherever there is truth, you will always find falsehood. They are inseparable. When the truth of God shows up, the lies of the enemy are sure to follow. It has always been that way. Even in the earliest days of man’s existence, this battle between truth and falsehood was evident, as Adam and Eve were forced to decide between the words of God and those of Satan. Disguised as a serpent, Satan lured the first couple into questioning the veracity of God’s command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). Notice his strategy. He begins by attempting to confuse Eve over what God had actually said. She corrects Satan’s misrepresentation of God’s words by responding, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Genesis 3:2-3 ESV). But then, Satan begins his clever and crafty deception of the two innocent creatures God had created. He flatly states, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV). First of all, he contradicts the words of God, for God had clearly said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV).

First, he rejected the word of God. Then he accused God of attempting to keep them from being like Him. He tried to convince them that God was denying them something that was rightfully theirs. He painted God as nothing more than a divine spoil sport who wanted to prevent them from being gods themselves. And the appeal of the fruit, mixed with the false promise of the enemy, was too much for Adam and Eve.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV

They bought into the lie of the enemy, but rather than becoming like God, they became filled with guilt, shame, and fear. With their newfound knowledge of good and evil, they became aware of the reality of sin and all the baggage that came with it. Instead of the unbroken fellowship they had enjoyed with God, they now found themselves hiding from Him. They tried to cover their sin, blaming one another and, ultimately, blaming Satan. But God held them responsible for their sin, placing a curse on the two of them for having listened to the lies of the enemy and rejecting the truth of His words.

Peter fast-forwards to the days of the Israelites, long after the exodus, when they were living in the promised land given to them by God. He provides some historical context, indicating that “false prophets also arose among the people” of that day. During the Old Testament period, God spoke through prophets, providing them with His words to deliver to the people of Israel. But each and every time a prophet of God appeared on the scene, Satan sent a false prophet, who delivered a contradictory, yet highly appealing message. And the one common denominator found in the messages each of these false prophets declared was falsehood. They claimed to speak for God. They tried to get the people to believe that they had received their message directly from God. But they were lying. Whatever the prophet of God said, they would counter with contradictory messages, declaring, “Surely, God has not said”. False prophets have to discredit the true prophets of God. For their message to be received, false prophets must first undermine the credibility of God’s prophets, by causing the people to reject their message. And one of the main ways they did this was by telling the people what they wanted to hear. When God’s prophets spoke of judgment and discipline from the hand of God, the false prophets declared just the opposite: God’s blessing and mercy.

This tactic of twisting the words of God or presenting a more palatable alternative was still going on in Peter’s day. But rather than false prophets, it was being done by false teachers. Which is why Peter warns his readers, “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 Peter 2:1 ESV). And notice that Peter indicates that these false teachers would come from among them. Jesus had warned against this very danger.

15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.” – Matthew 7:15-16 NLT

In the book that bears his name, Jude provides a similar warning.

…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. – Jude 1:4 NLT

False teachers do their best work on the inside, disguising themselves as part of the family of God and giving every appearance of having been sent by God. That is what makes them so dangerous. And Peter warns, “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered” (2 Peter 2:2 NLT). False teachers will always find an audience to listen to their lies. There will always be those who are ready to hear what they have to say, regardless of the fact that what they say is not from God. Paul warned Timothy that a day was coming when people would seek out teachers who told them exactly what they wanted to hear.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

But what Peter wants us to understand is that there is a deadly danger associated with listening to the false teachers. What they have to say may sound appealing. Their words may come across as godly and spiritual, but the end result of listening to their falsehood is deadly. Jude describes them in very blunt terms.

12 …they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

Peter warns that many of these individuals are in it for the money. “In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money” (2 Peter 2:3 NLT). They are not out for the spiritual good of the people. Their motivation is purely selfish, aimed at amassing a large following, developing a powerful reputation, and lining their own pockets. In our day and age, they sell books, hold conferences, produce TV shows, and hawk their message to any and all who will hear it. And, sadly, they usually find a ready and receptive audience within the church. But Peter warns that “God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed” (2 Peter 2:3 NLT). God will not tolerate false teachers, so neither should we. We must see them as He does, as dangerously deceptive purveyors of pious-sounding platitudes that subtly contradict the Word of God. In Peter’s day, they were denying the reality of sin. They were promoting promiscuity and immoral behavior, stating that the body and the soul were separate, so whatever you did in the body didn’t matter. There were those who denied the resurrection of Jesus, stating that it was unnecessary. Others, who were Hebrews, were teaching that salvation was incomplete unless it included circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law. False teachers come in all shapes and sizes and promote ideas of all kinds. Yet, what they all share in common is that their messages sound appealing and convincing. But they are lies. They deny the truth of God. The reject the gospel in its God-ordained form. And they all share that very basic tactic pioneered by Satan in the garden: Casting doubt on the Word of God. When Satan asked his questions, “Did God actually say?”, he was placing a seed of doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve, causing them to question the veracity of God’s word. And doubt leads to disbelief. Disbelief results in disobedience. And disobedience brings the discipline of God. 

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

False Confidence.

“How can I pardon you?
    Your children have forsaken me
    and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
    they committed adultery
    and trooped to the houses of whores.
They were well-fed, lusty stallions,
    each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord;
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this?

“Go up through her vine rows and destroy,
    but make not a full end;
strip away her branches,
    for they are not the Lord‘s.
For the house of Israel and the house of Judah
    have been utterly treacherous to me,
declares the Lord.
They have spoken falsely of the Lord
    and have said, ‘He will do nothing;
no disaster will come upon us,
    nor shall we see sword or famine.
The prophets will become wind;
    the word is not in them.
Thus shall it be done to them!’” Jeremiah 5:7-13 ESV

The people of Judah, like the people of Israel before them, were stubbornly resistant to confessing their sins, let alone repenting of them. They were set in their ways, enjoying their lifestyle of hedonism and religious pluralism. They enjoyed the things they did and saw no reason to stop. And this had been going on for generations, which led God to say, “For even your children have turned from me. They have sworn by gods that are not gods at all!” (Jeremiah 5:7a NLT). The extent of their unfaithfulness was undeniable, and God pulls no punches in describing it.

“I fed my people until they were full.
But they thanked me by committing adultery
    and lining up at the brothels.” –Jeremiah 5:7b NLT

But the most disturbing aspect of Judah’s rebellion against God was not so much what they did, but how they had become convinced that God was going to do anything about it. Where would the people have gotten an idea like that? Jeremiah was not the only prophet speaking at this time. There were false prophets as well – self-proclaimed prophets who had no call from God and whose message were not were man-made, not God-sent. They were leading the people to believe that the words of Jeremiah were wrong. His predictions of gloom and doom were nothing but lies.

“They have lied about the Lord
    and said, ‘He won’t bother us!
No disasters will come upon us.
    There will be no war or famine.

“God’s prophets are all windbags
    who don’t really speak for him.
    Let their predictions of disaster fall on themselves!’” – Jeremiah 5:12-13 NLT

Later on in the book of Jeremiah, an event is recorded that describes a confrontation between Jeremiah and the priest and false prophets of Judah. He had been telling them that God was going to destroy the temple and the city unless they repented and returned to Him. But the priests and the so-called prophets didn’t like what he had to say.

The priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah say these things in the Lord’s temple. Jeremiah had just barely finished saying all the Lord had commanded him to say to all the people. All at once some of the priests, the prophets, and the people grabbed him and shouted, “You deserve to die! How dare you claim the Lord’s authority to prophesy such things! How dare you claim his authority to prophesy that this temple will become like Shiloh and that this city will become an uninhabited ruin!” Then all the people crowded around Jeremiah. – Jeremiah 26:7-9 NLT

A hasty trial was set up outside the temple in order to deal with this trouble-maker once and for all.

Then the priests and the prophets made their charges before the officials and all the people. They said, “This man should be condemned to die because he prophesied against this city. You have heard him do so with your own ears. – Jeremiah 26:12 NLT

Jeremiah had been speaking for God, but these false prophets had been promising the people that nothing was going to happen, that God was not going to bring judgment or destruction on them. And they wanted Jeremiah dead. But while they judged and condemned Jeremiah, God would stand in judgment against them.

“Both the prophets and priests are godless.
I have even found them doing evil in my temple!
So the paths they follow will be dark and slippery.
They will stumble and fall headlong.
For I will bring disaster on them.
A day of reckoning is coming for them.” – Jeremiah 23:11–12 NET

These men wbo claimed to be speaking for God actually speaking lies. They had not been sent by God and were not getting their marching orders from God. They were self-appointed freelancers who told the people what they wanted to hear.

“They are unfaithful to me
and continually prophesy lies.
So they give encouragement to people who are doing evil,
with the result that they do not stop their evildoing. – Jeremiah 23:14 NLT

The unmitigated gall of these men to lie in the name of God is hard to imagine. And God was going to hold them personally responsible for the sins of the people of Judah.

“For it is because of Jerusalem’s prophets
    that wickedness has filled this land.”

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to his people:

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’ Jeremiah 23:15-17 NLT

And God makes it clear that these men did not speak on His behalf.

I have not sent these prophets,
    yet they run around claiming to speak for me.
I have given them no message,
    yet they go on prophesying.”
– Jeremiah 23:21 NLT

They could say whatever they wanted to say. They could prophesy in the name of whatever god they chose to use, but their words would prove to be nothing but lies, providing nothing in the way of true hope. In fact, God concludes, “The prophets will become wind; the word is not in them” (Jeremiah 5:12 ESV).

This phenomena of false prophets and teachers was not relegated to the Old Testament time period. It was alive and well in the early days of the church. In fact, the apostle Paul warned his young protege, Timothy, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). False prophets will always be around, because people don’t want to hear the truth of God. They don’t want to be told they are sinners. They don’t want to be told that their sins will one day be lead to everlasting punishment. People don’t want to hear that they are hopeless sinners in need of a Savior. So, men and women rise up who will tell them what they want to hear. That God wants them happy, healthy and whole. He wants them to have their best life now. He loves them and would never do anything to harm them. They preach and teach that God is all-loving and non-judgmental, and would never send anyone to hell. In fact, they promise, God would never even consider making a place as hideous and evil as hell. And, they say, a loving God would not restrict salvation to just one way, through faith in one man. All roads lead to God, they assure their eager listeners.

But God would say, ““I have not sent these prophets, yet they run around claiming to speak for me. I have given them no message, yet they go on prophesying.” (Jeremiah 23:21 NLT). And just because they garner a huge audience and have what appears to be a successful ministry, doesn’t mean they speak for God or have the blessing of God. False teachers and prophets will always be in high demand, because unfaithful people will always look for them.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:10-11 NLT

The truth of God is always hard to hear. The reality concerning our sinful state is not something anyone wants to be reminded about. But the convicting power of God’s
Word is necessary for true repentance to take place. Jesus affirmed this when He spoke the following words to a crowd of Jews:

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I Am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him.” – John 8:28-30 NLT

And the text tells us that many believed in Him. Which led Him to say:

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 NLT

It is the truth that sets you free, not the lies of false prophets and teachers. False prophets can only provide you with false confidence. They can make you feel good about yourself and help you justify your sinful behavior, but all the while they keep you chained to the sin in your life and unable to see the truth of God’s saving grace made possible through His Son.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sound Doctrine. Sound Faith.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul’s protégés. He was a Greek Gentile whom Paul had evidently led to Christ. This young man had actually accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys and had gained the great apostle’s trust, so that Paul was confident in sending him out on his own on numerous occasions as his representative. In fact, Paul had sent him to the island of Crete in order to help establish some sense of order within the churches there, including appointing elders to help him lead. “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT). As in the case of Timothy, Paul provided Titus with advice on how to deal with false teachers who had become a real problem within the fledgling churches on Crete.

Titus found himself ministering in a place where the reputation of the inhabitants was far from stellar. Paul even quoted Epimenides, a 6th Century BC philosopher and religious prophet who happened to be a Cretan himself. He said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV). Paul went out of his way to paint a less-than-flattering picture of the people of Crete. He described them as  “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10 ESV). Evidently, not only were the false teachers considered men of poor repute, so were some of the members of the local churches on Crete. So, Paul spent a great deal of time in his letter talking about good works. He wanted Titus to understand just how important good character and moral behavior should be in the life of every believer. Paul commanded Titus to deal harshly and firmly with those whose lives were marked by laziness and lying. He didn’t want his young disciple to tolerate the disorder and chaos these kinds of people were bringing into the church. He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13 ESV). Rebuking and restoration were both to be a part of Titus’ ministry on Crete.

Paul’s objective was to make these individuals “sound in the faith”. There was a real problem with false and deceptive ideas regarding the faith taking place on Crete. The faith refers to salvation as expressed through belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. The false teachers were confusing and even contradicting what Paul, Titus and others had taught regarding what it means to have faith in Christ and enjoy forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God. Rather than faith alone in Christ alone, new and confusing gospel messages were being taught, and the result was weakness in faith among the people. They didn’t know what to believe anymore. One of the qualifications for elders that Paul gave Titus was: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). These men were to be knowledgeable of the truth so that they might refute falsehood and rebuke those who taught it. As far as Paul was concerned, sound faith was totally dependent upon sound doctrine.

But these false teachers were teaching “what they ought not to teach” and all “for shameful gain” (Titus 1:11 ESV). Paul refers to them as being from the circumcision party. This is a reference to Jews who had expressed faith in Christ, but who held to the idea that Gentiles who became believers in Christ must also keep the Law of Moses and undergo the rite of circumcision in order to be truly saved. Paul fought this heresy with every fiber of his being. And Paul’s fear was that, based on the reputation of the Cretans, they would easily accept this false teaching, and end up “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV). The Cretans were easily swayed by the “commands” or teachings of these people, readily accepting what they had to say about circumcision, abstinence from certain foods, the keeping of Jewish feasts and festivals and adherence to the Mosaic law. But Paul warns Titus that these false teachers “claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good” (Titus 1:16 ESV). Paul makes it clear that the real problem with these false teachers was their hearts. He says, “Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15 NLT). They were obsessed with the externals: keeping of laws and commands,  and adherence to rituals and religious rules.

There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by a group of Pharisees and religious leaders, who wanted to know why His disciples didn’t follow their man=made tradition of ceremonial hand-cleaning before they ate. Jesus responded to them:

“And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:3-9 NLT

 

Jesus went on to say: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11 NLT). The Pharisees had missed the point. They were so busy keeping external rules that they missed the real problem: The condition of their hearts. And Paul knew that the false teachers who were so negatively impacting the churches on Crete had the same problem. Their minds and consciences were defiled. Their hearts were hardened to the truth regarding faith in Christ. They were convinced that there had to be more to salvation. Faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. Works of self-righteousness were necessary. But Paul describes them as defiled and unbelieving. They were wrong and they were dangerous. So Paul tells Titus to rebuke them sharply. He was to deal harshly with the false teachers, and he was to rebuke the Cretans who were so easily buying into their lies. Sound doctrine and sound faith go hand in hand. The Word of God is not open to our interpretation. We are not free to add to the gospel or alter the truth in any way. And we are not to tolerate those who attempt to mislead by misinterpreting what God has said. Again, that is why Paul told Titus an elder must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT).

Paul had also written to Timothy, telling him that the purpose for his letter was that “you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). The church and its leaders must adhere to and uphold the truth of God, especially as it relates to the message and means of salvation. There is no other gospel except the one we have been given: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

So Easily Deceived.

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?  – 2 Corinthians 11:1-7 ESV

The debate that Paul was waging with his adversaries in Corinth was about far more than his authority and who was going to get credit for the spiritual state of the Corinthian church. This was about deception. Those who were standing against Paul and his ministry were actually leading the Corinthians astray. They were proclaiming another Jesus, promoting a different spirit, and preaching a different gospel. And the thing that bothered Paul the most was that the Corinthians “put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4b ESV). Maybe it was because these “super-apostles,” as he sarcastically refers to them, were skilled in speech and the Corinthians found themselves easily swayed by their rhetoric. With Paul physically out of the picture, it was easy for them to tear about his message and discredit his ministry. He was not here to defend himself. Which is what led him to write this letter. And Paul is forced to remind them of their long-standing relationship with him.

He begs them to bear with a “little foolishness” as he recounts his role in their “betrothal” to Christ. What makes it all so foolish is the fact that he is having to take time to remind them at all. Paul had been the one to introduce them to Christ. Like a father of a bride, he had given them in marriage to Jesus and his goal was to keep them pure until the day their marriage was consummated. It was not enough to Paul that they came to know Christ, he wanted them to remain pure until the day He returned for them or called them home. And yet, he found that they were easily deceived. He even compares them to Eve, who had been deceived and led astray from the truth of God by Satan in the garden. Her deception resulted in her banishment from presence of God. And Paul fears that the Corinthians, due to their willing reception of the false teaching of his critics, would be “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3b ESV).

It is important to note that as Satan led Eve to question the veracity and reliability of God’s word, so these false teachers were causing the Corinthians to question the very heart and soul of the gospel that Paul had preached. They were offering a different gospel that promoted a different Jesus. While Paul does not elaborate on what their message was, it is clear that they were leading the Corinthians astray. The apostle John describes these kinds of people as having the spirit of the Antichrist.

But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. – 1 John 4:3 NLT

I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. – 2 John 1:7 NLT

Whether these people were denying the incarnation of Jesus or questioning His death and resurrection, we do not know. But it is clear that their message was in direct opposition to the one that Paul had preached. And they had found the Corinthians to be a willing and receptive audience. This was particularly disturbing to Paul, because he had sacrificed so much to ensure that they heard the unadulterated gospel. He brought them the good news of Jesus, free of charge, with no strings attached. He had not come to them demanding that they idolize him or treat him like a god. He humbled himself so that they might be exalted to a right relationship with God through a knowledge of Jesus Christ. He took a backseat, playing the role of the humble mouthpiece for God. He had simply been the messenger, the bearer of good news. And now, to hear that they were so easily accepting another version of the gospel, was disturbing and disconcerting. But Paul was not one to sit back and let his work among the Corinthians go to waste. He loved them too much.

The gospel is always under attack, and most often from within. Satan is the great deceiver and he would much rather promote a slightly false version of the truth than an outright lie. He tends to blend truth with just enough falsehood to make it palatable, but just as deadly. He is more than willing to have people accept Jesus, as long as it is a slightly different Jesus. He loves the idea of a Jesus who was a good man and lived a life worth emulating. He likes to promote Jesus as the great teacher and moral prophet. He prefers a Jesus who was nothing more than a martyr to a cause. But the Jesus Satan promotes is never the Son of God and Savior of the world. He is never the selfless, spotless sacrifice that paid the penalty for man’s sins. He is never the source of man’s justification and the power behind his sanctification. He is never the resurrected and ascended King of kings and Lord of lords who sits at the right hand of God the Father and is one day going to return. That is the Jesus of the gospel. And any other Jesus is a false Jesus.

No Other Gospel.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! – Galatians 5:7-12 ESV

Paul took this issue very seriously. As far as he was concerned, it had little to do with the rite of circumcision itself, but it had everything to do with the integrity of the gospel. God had sent His Son as the one and only means for mankind’s salvation. His sacrificial death on the cross was God’s sole solution to man’s sin problem. The law was never intended by God to save men, but to condemn them of their sins. The law revealed the holiness and righteousness that God demanded in a non-negotiable, hand-written form. It left no grey areas or anything up to man’s imagination. But man, in his sinful condition, was totally incapable of keeping the law. And this was no surprise to God. He had intended all along to send His Son in human form, in order that He might keep the law and become the sinless substitute and unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died on behalf of sinful men, and His death provided the only means by which men might be restored to a right relationship with God. Paul wrote to the Romans, “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 by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25 ESV).

Anything and anyone that interfered with that message was considered an enemy by Paul. He didn’t suffer false teachers lightly. He would not tolerate those who preached a different version of God’s gospel. That is why he started out this letter to the Galatians with very strong words concerning those who were amending the gospel of God.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 ESV

In today’s passage, Paul commends his readers for running the race well, but then accuses them of allowing others to knock them off course. They had accepted Christ by faith and were living the Christian life in faith, but then had run into an obstacle along the way. The Greek word Paul used was ἀνακόπτω (anakoptō) and it refers to something having its progress hindered, held back or checked in some way. The Judaizers, who were demanding that the Gentile converts in Galatia be circumcised, were actually hindering them from obeying the truth as found in the gospel. They were adding unnecessary requirements. And Paul made it clear that his new rules were not from God. “This persuasion is not from him who calls you” (Galatians 5:8 ESV). And the real danger of this kind of teaching was that it would soon permeate every aspect of their faith, causing them to walk away from the grace offered by God and back into the legalism of the law. Which is what Paul seems to be saying when he writes, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” This kind of false teaching would become like an uncontrolled cancer spreading through the church in Galatia and robbing them of the freedom they had found in Christ.

But Paul expressed his confidence that the Galatian believers would reject this false teaching and remain faithful to the life of faith.And he assured them that, regardless of what others might have said, he was not a proponent of circumcision. Yes, he had encouraged Timothy to be circumcised, but that was a different case altogether. Timothy, a young disciple of Paul’s, had a Jewish mother who had become a believer, but his father was Greek. In the book of Acts we read, “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3 ESV). It had nothing to do with Timothy’s salvation, but with his ministry to the Jews. Paul knew that they would never listen to an uncircumcised Gentile, so he encouraged Timothy to undergo circumcision to make him acceptable to the Jews and provide him a platform to share the gospel with them.

Evidently, the false teachers in Galatia had been saying that Paul was also a proponent of circumcision, most likely using the story of Timothy as evidence. But Paul denies that charge and asks why he is still being persecuted by the Judaizers if they are all on the same page. No, Paul was adamantly opposed to these men and he made his position clear. For Paul, the very nature of the cross was an offense to the legalists. Jesus’ death had removed any vestige of self-righteousness or the possibility of justification by works. The cross symbolized Jesus’ once-for-all-time payment for the sins of mankind. Nothing more was necessary. But for the legalists, this party of the circumcision, the cross was not enough. So Paul had some harsh words for them. He compared them the pagan priests who practiced ritual castration as part of their worship, and he wished that they would do the same to themselves. Paul was not necessarily wishing physical harm on these individuals, but was really expressing his desire that they be cut off from the local fellowship of believers. He saw them as a real danger to the spiritual health of the church. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul had similarly harsh words regarding these men”

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. – Philippians 3:2-3 ESV

In our desire to be tolerant, we sometimes run the risk of allowing dangerously false doctrines to infiltrate the church. But when it came to the doctrine of salvation, Paul was anything but tolerant. He would not accept alternative views. He would not abide by those who offered a different gospel. For Paul, there was only one means of salvation and it was by faith alone in Christ alone. And if anyone preached a different gospel, Paul called them out. And we should do the same. It is NOT true that all roads lead to the top of the mountain. It is false to believe that there are other ways for men to be made right with God. Jesus Himself said,  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

 

 

 

Christ Formed In You.

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. – Galatians 4:12-20 ESV

It would be easy to read Paul’s letter to the Galatians and simply assume that his sole motivation was to defend his particular interpretation of the Scriptures. But Paul was not just promoting his own doctrine over that of someone else. His goal was not to prove himself right and all others wrong. His objective was far more selfless and loving than that. He was out to see his readers experience the fullness of God’s love for them. He wanted them to grow up in their salvation and enjoy all that God had in store for them. And he was willing to do whatever it took to see Christ formed in them.

Paul was writing from the perspective of a pastor, not an academician. He was interested in heart change, not mere head knowledge. But Paul knew that an accurate knowledge of God and an understanding of true doctrine was essential to spiritual growth. False doctrine produces fake fruit. An improper or faulty view of God always results in a god of our own making. Truth is not relative. It is not up to our own imaginations or the insights of men. God has given us His Word in which He has revealed Himself to man. It contains divine insights into His character, will, relationship with mankind, outlook on sin, redemptive program and future plans for the world.

Paul had come to the Galatians, lovingly preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to them. He had taught them the truth regarding their own sin, their state of condemnation before God, and His gracious offer of salvation and justification through faith in Christ. He had taught them the truth and they had gratefully received it. And Paul had done this while suffering from some undisclosed physical ailment. But he had not let his health interfere with his efforts to evangelize and disciple the lost in Galatia. Perhaps this “bodily ailment” was the thorn in the flesh that Paul refers to in his letter to the Corinthian believers: “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). Whatever it was, his condition proved to be a trial to the believers in Galatia, and yet, because of the good news he brought to them, they had gladly received him.

But now, because of the influence of false teachers, the believers in Galatia were eyeing Paul with suspicion and questioning the veracity of his teaching. He asked them, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:7 ESV). Sometimes the truth of God is difficult to understand and even harder to accept. The concept of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is not something that makes sense to us. It goes against our human sensibilities. We have been trained to believe that nothing is free and anything of value must be earned. Even our much-beloved American work ethic stands in stark contrast to the grace offered by God through Jesus Christ. And the Galatians were falling prey to the words of the Judaizers who were attempting to convince them that their salvation was incomplete and insufficient. They needed more. They needed to do more. In fact, Paul accused these false teachers of making the believers in Galatia dependent upon them. Paul was preaching the freedom found in grace, while his enemies were trying to imprison believers back under the law.

Paul preached grace. And his message of grace was not just tied to salvation. For Paul, grace was an essential ingredient to the Christian life, from beginning to end. Peter felt the same way. “I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18 NLT). The danger we all face as believers is thinking that we must somehow transform ourselves into the likeness of Christ through self-effort and hard work. And while we do have a responsibility to pursue Christ-likeness, we must always remember that it is by God’s grace and through His power that we are transformed. We can no more sanctify ourselves than we could have saved ourselves. Sanctification, like salvation, is a grace gift, provided to us by God and made possible through His indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul knew that only God could “form” or transform the Galatians into the likeness of Christ. The word Paul used literally meant, “until a mind and life in complete harmony with the mind and life of Christ shall have been formed in you” (“G3445 – morphoō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

Only God can turn sinners into saints, enemies into sons and daughters, captives into free men, the dead into the living, and the condemned into co-heirs with Jesus Christ. Paul wanted his readers to understand just how much he loved them and how desperately he longed for them to remain in God’s grace. Their growth in holiness was to be the work of God, not the result of human effort. Our role as believers is to remain completely dependent upon the grace of God. Any effort we put into our spiritual formation is to be according to His power, not ours. As soon as we begin to think that our spiritual growth is somehow up to us, we step out of the light of His grace and back into the darkness of legalism. We must always recognize that our transformation into the likeness of Christ is God’s work, not ours. Our sole responsibility is that of dependence that leads to willful obedience. Our desire, like that of Paul, should be to see Christ formed in us. But that requires living in the freedom of God’s grace and fully reliant upon His power.

 

Known By God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. – Galatians 4:8-11 ESV

There is a common belief, even among evangelical Christians, that all people are seeking after God. But the Bible seems to paint a distinctively different picture of mankind. Ever since the fall, humanity has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. Men have not been seeking after God, but for anything and everything but Him. They have sought to make their own gods. Adam and Eve knew God intimately and personally. They had a daily and uninterrupted relationship with Him. But after the fall, they found themselves cast out of His presence. And the further mankind got from Eden, the more distant their recollection of God became. Paul paints a vivid picture of this fading knowledge of God in his letter to the Romans:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

God’s character was visible through His creation. Paul writes, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20 ESV). But as time passed, men began to lose their perception of God and their ability recognize His attributes in the world He had made. They lost their knowledge of God and began to create gods of their own. They worshiped the creation rather than the creator. They even worshiped other men.

But Paul reminds the Galatians that they have had their knowledge of God restored. But it was not something they had achieved. It was not as a result of their own searching or seeking. He emphasizes the fact that they have come to be known by God. It was God who had sought them out and not the other way around. He had chosen to know them and have a relationship with them. He had determined to make Himself known to them through His Son. As the apostle John put it, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (1 John 1:18 NLT). As a result of placing their faith in Jesus Christ, they had come to know God for the very first time. Up until that point, they had been “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (Galatians 4:8 ESV). They had been worshiping false gods. They had been limited in their spiritual understanding and were stuck worshiping the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:9 ESV). Their spirituality was of this world and not of heaven. While thinking they were seeking and coming to know God, they were actually moving away from Him.

But God had chosen to seek them out. He had called them to Himself and opened their eyes so that they could see the truth found in His Son’s death, burial and resurrection. For the first time they had been able to see the depth of their own sin, the hopelessness of their condition, and their need for a Savior. Rather than attempting to earn their way into God’s good graces, they relied on the grace of God as expressed in the finished work of Christ. But Paul was concerned that these very same people, who had discovered the secret of justification by faith in Christ alone, were allowing themselves to become enslaved again. They were listening to the false teachers who were preaching justification by works. Suddenly, grace was not enough. The death and resurrection of Christ was insufficient. More was required. Human effort was necessary. But Paul completely disagreed.

There were those who were trying to convince the Gentile converts in Galatia that they were not truly saved unless they became circumcised and began to keep all the Jewish rituals, feasts and festivals. That is what Paul means when he refers to observing days and months and seasons and years. These outsiders were convincing the Gentile believers that their salvation was incomplete. They needed to do more. Their faith in Christ was insufficient. And it was this false teaching, a form of legalism, that Paul stood so strongly against. He would not tolerate it or allow it to take root among the churches in Galatia. Earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul had stated his amazement at how quickly and easily the believers there had turned their back on justification by faith alone.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. – Galatians 1:6-7 ESV

There was no other gospel. There were no other requirements. The salvation offered by God was not based on human effort, but on faith in Christ alone. The works of men had never made God known to them. Self-righteousness had never earned anyone access to God. The righteousness God required was only available through faith in Christ. As Paul told the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Romans 1:16-17 NLT).

We don’t seek God. He seeks us. We can’t earn God’s favor. He must willingly extend it to us through His Son. When it comes to our justification before God, self-effort is self-delusional. We would do well to remember the personal testimony of Paul to the believers in Philippi: “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).