But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many well follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and there destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 1-3)
Heresy; does the word of God speak too harshly to those who push false teaching onto the Church? D.M. Lloyd-Jones writes of 2 Peter 2,
Of all the chapters which are to be found in the entire Bible, this second chapter of the Second Epistle of Peter is among the most terrible. For threatening, for warning, for the idea of doom and disaster and destruction, there is nowhere in the Holy Writ itself, anything which surpasses this particular chapter.Lloyd-Jones goes on to explain that the Church is involved in a great battle, God’s battle with Satan for the souls of humanity. And he emphasizes that one defense is to be aware that the greatest danger to the Church comes from false teachers and false prophets. He insists that because of this, and so does the whole New Testament, we must know the difference between truthfulness and falsehood.
I am looking at this text because someone in the comment section of my last blog posting commented using some of this text. And someone else objected to it believing it was awful to refer to another person, in this case radical Catholic feminist Joan Chittister, using this particular text. But two extremely important truths are in question here.
The authority of scripture is the first truth. We can pass over the words and ignore them if the scripture has no authority, but in doing so we will also pass over the great grace of the one who died on the cross for the sinner. The falsehood always has to do with Christology. We will have considered God’s truth in Jesus Christ unworthy of our defense. We will mock God because he defends his own truth.
God’s care of his people is the second. The Scripture speaks of Jesus Christ and his people before the foundation of the world; chosen “to be holy and blameless.” (Eph 1:4; 1 Peter 17-21)Satan hates Jesus, he hates those who love and belong to him. And deception is the great enemy Satan aims at the Church. Deception destroys the gift of grace. Who can know Jesus minus the forgiveness and love of the Father through Jesus death and resurrection? Who can know Jesus without the Holy Spirit’s gift of illumination? False teachers destroy the truth of Scripture.
John Calvin points out that in this same chapter Peter shows God’s care for his people. He uses the story of Noah and Lot; two persons who were helped while living in the midst of evil cultures which were given over to falseness and sensuality. And Calvin makes the point that until the day of God’s judgment, he did not remove either Lot or Noah from their culture but kept them steady and faithful in the midst of such evil. God’s care for his Church involves both love and in the end wrath.
“But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children forsaking the right way ….
These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desire, by sensuality those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for what a man is overcome by this he is enslaved. (12-15a; 17-190)
These words are the offending words that bother many. But remember these words are not spoken about those in the world, who need the good news, but those in the Church who are attempting to destroy the good news of both forgiveness and transformation. The false teachers in this text were involved in false teaching that included both a distortion of the good news and a promise of the supposed freedom of hedonism. (They of course need the good news also but have rejected it.)
Without the good news of forgiveness there is no salvation. Without the good news of transformation there is no new life or true freedom. Michael Green in his commentary on 2 Peter looking at this text refers to the two contrasting but similar claims made by Peter and the heretics. Using Käsemann he writes:
Their [the heretics]mistake is to confuse the thrill of animal instinct with the presence of the Holy Spirit-for it is very likely that those advocates of Christian liberty were loud in their claims to fullness of the Holy Spirit. … The heretics have claimed to have “knowledge”, to have the Spirit who gave liberty (both from ecclesiastical discipline and moral restraint) which they prized; they regarded the orthodox as devoid of the Spirit. On the contrary, Peter seems to say, the Spirit manifests his presence not by ecstatic thrills and insubordinate action but through moral renewal. … Peter, like the rest of the New Testament writers, emphasizes that Christianity is inescapably ethical. You cannot have relationship with a good God without becoming a better man.There has never been a time in the history of the Church when there was not a battle between falsehood and truth. But the battle belongs to the Lord of the Church. We may complain and rant against the word of God, but the one who paid the ultimate price in the battle is alive and will return. The victory belongs to him as does the judgment. Christ will keep his Church in his truth.