The Danger Lurking in Knowledge of the Truth
These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”
Truth is a dangerous commodity. The truth will indeed set us free … but that same truth, ignored and unapplied it in our lives will surely serve to condemn us. Once revealed, the truth makes each of us responsible for obedience to its precepts. Truth is a dangerous commodity. Playing at religion is a form of toying with the truth. Church membership though the member should be unconverted is a form of self-deceit. Being baptised without personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a form of self-deceit. Claiming to live by the truth while walking in darkness is the grossest form of self-deceit. Knowledge of the truth imposes severe limitations upon the one familiar with the truth. More than that, the knowledgeable individual must give an answer to God who is truth, should that one choose to ignore implementing what is known to be true in his life.
Peter has begun to expose men he identifies as false teachers. Perhaps they were “good” preachers. Perhaps they were polished rhetoricians. Perhaps they were even able and capable in their presentation of the Word. But just as a salt spring cannot produce sweet water, and just as a fig tree cannot bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs, so a polluted heart cannot bring forth a life pleasing to God. The teacher of the Word is responsible to both speak the truth and to live the truth.
The Principle Stated — A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. This is the overarching principle which is in view throughout this message. Perhaps I could state that everyone is mastered by someone. Either we are subject to the will of God, or we submit to what we believe to be our own will. The great tragedy of those who follow their own heart is that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure [Jeremiah 17:9]. Thus, the heart leads us astray, fulfilling the will of the wicked one.
Have you ever taken note of the number of times the Bible states that the lost are under the control of Satan? In his last letter to Timothy, the aged Apostle speaks of the lost as those who have been taken captive to do the will of the devil [2 Timothy 2:26]. This is, in effect, an iteration of his teaching concerning of the minister who must be of such character that he will not fall into the devil’s trap [1 Timothy 3:7]. In the second Corinthian letter, Paul warns that the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the glory of Christ [2 Corinthians 4:4]. He is here speaking of the evil one, the devil. Sinners are not free! They are taken captive by Satan to do his will.
What is interesting in light of the text is that these teachers were taken captive willingly! They knew all that Christ offered and yet they deliberately choose bondage. Though presenting themselves as servants of Christ, confidently expositing the Word of God, these fraudulent ministers were nevertheless willingly enslaved by their own illicit, lustful desires. From what Peter has written previously we may readily speculate that the lustful desires which ensnared and enslaved were their desires for personal wealth, for authority and position, and for sexual gratification.
You will no doubt recall Jesus’ words: where you treasure is, there you heart will be also [Matthew 6:21]. It is that “treasure” which served to snare the false teachers that Peter had in mind as he wrote. It is that “treasure” which still seduces people from their secure position in Christ. You will likely tell me that Jesus is your treasure, or that you treasure doing His will or labouring to please him in all things; but I would urge caution until you have passed the test of discovering your treasure. Do you wonder what your treasure is? You may quickly determine what your treasure is by a simple little test. Write down the test and apply it to your own life.
Your treasure is that which you would most hate to lose were it taken from you. Your treasure is that to which your mind turns automatically when you are free to think of anything you wish. Your treasure is that which engages your sincerest attention and occupies the majority of your free time. Your treasure is that which you most love. The great tragedy surrounding our treasures is that we are oftentimes ensnared by our treasures, and we soon become slaves to the very things we treasure most.
An old adage says that Good is Enemy of the Best. This simply means that when I choose to treasure anything which cannot extend beyond this moment we call life, I have made a bad exchange. Family is good; but family is not the greatest good. Friendships are good; but friendships are not the greatest good. Character is important; but character without spiritual transformation is for this life only. So, Jesus warned that we must not store up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, we are urged to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal [Matthew 6:19,20].
Position and power can be good, if they are submitted to the Master for His use. Without Him, I doubt that any person can truly exercise power over another or occupy a position of authority and responsibility without being compromised by the power itself. Possessions can be a rich blessing, if they are used to the glory of the Lord who blesses us with the good things of this life. Possessions tend to soon possess us if we fail to check ourselves constantly to insure that we are submitted to Christ as Master of life. Pleasures can prove to be a source of much needed refreshment, provided we endeavour to refresh the soul and spirit as well as refreshing the body. When Christ is excluded from the equation, however, pleasure tends to become a frightful taskmaster.
What has mastered you? What is your treasure? Has a relationship begun to assume such importance in your life that it now masters you? Are you more concerned with how others view you than with how Christ sees you? Does the subtle scent of power so cloud your spiritual vision that you are unwilling to consider the impact of your actions on your testimony for Christ’s sake? Has your love of ease, or your possessions, become so precious that Christ and His glory are in second place in your life? I caution you that He shall never be second place. If He does not occupy first place He occupies no place in your life.
The Principle Examined — The principle has been stated and it remains to examine more fully the implications of the rule. Peter makes three particular statements concerning the false teachers, each of which flows quite naturally from the principle that a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.
The first of those three derivative statements concerning the false teachers is that empty themselves, these false teachers have nothing to give those searching for life. Peter describes these wannabe teachers as springs without water and as mists driven by a storm. They promise refreshment from the searing heat of the day, and though it appears that verdant growth is all about them, they are dry and empty. In west Texas where I spent some time during my late teens, water tanks dot the prairies. Each of those water tanks is easy to spot from a distance since they have a windmill to pump water into the tank. What is not apparent to the casual observer of the prairies is that many, perhaps even most, of those windmills are no longer functioning. They have seized up and no longer pump water. Cattle coming to those tanks during the heat of the day will find no refreshment. Should there be water present it will be stagnant and full of pollywogs. Just so, false teachers, who are themselves empty, have nothing to with which to refresh others who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
The false teachers appear to promise substance, but they are like a fog bank. We haven’t fog to the same degree that some cities of this West Coast experience fog. During earlier days of our pilgrimage following Christ our family lived in San Francisco. That city must surely qualify as one of the foggiest cities in the world. Rare is the day which has no fog in the city itself. Watching fog banks move toward the Golden Gate from Mount Tamalpias gives the impression of watching the creation of some new land. Yet, when the fog washes over the city, nothing much happens except that the sky is darkened and the air chilled until the fog has burned away under the midday sun. Again, false teachers have no substance, and as an airliner slices through the loftiest cloud, so the spiritual mind moves rapidly through the fog which false teachers spew forth.
The false teachers mouth empty, boastful words which does appeal to the unthinking. However, it is because they are just escaping from those who live in error and have not yet realised the danger of submitting to their own sinful human nature that they are so susceptible to the false teachers. These liars appear to be sincere … concerned for the welfare of those to whom they reach out, honourable men and women who want only the best for their followers. Beware of the one who only speaks to your emotions and leaves you feeling good because you are never confronted with your sin. Preach the Word, thundered the Apostle. Correct, rebuke and encourage [2 Timothy 4:2]. To be on the receiving end of correction and rebuking is unpleasant, but there shall never be encouragement until they have completed their perfect work.
Deceived themselves, they deceive seekers through appealing to their innermost lustful desires. Focused on gratifying their own sensual desires, the false teachers cannot appeal to the nobler, spiritual virtues of those to whom they reach out. They are duped by the wicked one himself. Thus intent on securing their own position or acquiring even greater possessions or beguiled by their own sense of fulfilment they cannot think of how to please God or how they may lead their followers into a closer relationship with the Living God. So they speak to the emotions of their followers, they appeal to the natural desires of the fallen creature, inviting their hearers to seek their experience. All the while they are determined to use their adoring crowds for their own pleasure.
Peter describes them as slaves of depravity. We are a fallen race. Every facet of our being has been contaminated by the fall. We cannot please God in our own strength. There is nothing in us which is pleasing to the Lord. We are in error should we maintain that there is that which is good, or that there is something of God, within each individual. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature, said the Apostle [Romans 7:18].
How, then, can these slaves of depravity give freedom? Can the convict truly make me free? Can the slave really show me how to live as a free individual? Can that one indebted for a great amount of money really show me how to live freely and without fear of creditors? The individual who lives with one eye on popularity cannot tell me how to be free. The individual who cannot sleep at night because of fear over what may happen to his wealth cannot show me how to be free. That one who jumps at every shadow because of a guilty conscience is not the one to lead me to freedom. Oh, that I might follow that one who dares encourage me: Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ [1 Corinthians 11:1].
The false teachers know what is better, as do those they deceive. Throughout the message there appears tragedy upon tragedy. Here is noted yet another grievous tragedy. Both the false teachers and those who follow them know what is better, and yet they choose that which enslaves. Peter says, and I hesitate to speculate on the meaning of his words, that if the [professed people of God] escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. With barren souls and starved intellects, the people of God are rendered susceptible to the vilest form of enslavement – enslavement to their own desires, and that by those who are likewise enslaved by their own desires.
What an earthy picture of those ensnared by their own lustful desires which are fed by the message of death delivered by the false teachers! Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” The dog and the pig were both considered unclean by Jews. Peter is comparing those who turn back on their confession by living for their own pleasure to dogs and pigs. In short, those determined to live for themselves are unclean. Especially are those who lay claim to being spokesmen for Holy God unclean when they are slaves to their own lustful desires.
The Principle Applied — I name names at the risk of being considered uncharitable or divisive. However, the issue before us is so vital that we dare not permit any idle speculation. We must be clear that the issue is vital and then boldly identify those among us who are false teachers. Among evangelicals, those classified as false teachers include a bewildering array of sincere individuals who give every appearance of orthodoxy – if we don’t look too closely.
Word Faith is one such aberrant movement. Though there are a multitude of popular preachers throughout Canada espousing the tenets of Word Faith, those usually identified with this deadly and deadening movement include such denizens as Kenneth Copeland, Ken Hagin, Don Gossett and Benny Hinn. Commonly called the “name it and claim it” movement, some have facetiously called this the “spit it and get it” movement.
Gripped by the allurement of the wealth of this perishing world, these professed teachers of the Word deceive their followers into paying to learn the secrets of obtaining their own wealth. Word Faith, the Gospel of health and wealth, is nothing less than Gnosticism in modern garb with the cognositi being the exalted leaders of the movement. Followers of Word Faith are encouraged to have faith in their faith. It is a logical outgrowth of teachings by no less a religious luminary than Robert Schuler of Crystal Cathedral fame. However, we who are followers of the Risen Son of God have faith in Christ. With the Apostle we glory in Christ Jesus, and we put no confidence in the flesh [Philippians 3:3].
Another outgrowth of the modern charismatic movement is the Vineyard Movement. This movement is dangerous to the untaught in part because it combines some of the best features of the doctrines of grace with the excitement of the charismatic movement. Consequently, throughout this exciting movement is the theme that the Word of God is judged by our experiences instead of submitting our experiences to the Word of God. Those within the Vineyard Movement are susceptible to strange aberrations, and have been the source of the laughing revivals in Toronto and Orlando. The Kansas City prophets and other groups which exercise authoritarian control over devotees seem to arise routinely from within this seemingly exciting movement of God.
Ècumenical Christendom is yet another such movement toward self-assertion. According to this modern movement, all communions of the Christian Faith are equally valid and therefore all Christians should be held in equal esteem. Of course, if we were speaking of those who are actually Christians, adhering to the great foundational truths of the Faith, we would agree. However, simply to say that someone is a Christian does not make that one a Christian. A Christian is one who has been born from above through faith in Christ. We accept as fellow saints all who accept the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, a perfect guide for faith and practise. Such individuals will accept Jesus as very God in human flesh, believing that He died a sacrificial death, was buried and raised from the grave on the third day. They will share the testimony that salvation is by faith in this Risen Son of God without reliance on any human merit or effort. They will also look for His return. All such people are knitted by love in a holy fellowship and are Christians.
There can be no union between those alive in Christ and those who are dead in trespasses and sins, however. Paul warns believers against being unequally yoked. He queries and probes and challenges us, using unassailable logic and penetrating insight. What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God [2 Corinthians 6:14-16].
Religious Tolerance is perhaps closely related to Écumenism. Though it cannot be said to be a formal movement, it is nevertheless another popular form of false teaching. Though the advocates of religious tolerance would not necessarily urge a formal union of all religions upon us, they would remind believers that they must tolerate other faiths, even though they deviate at significant points from the Faith once delivered to the saints. Somewhere there must be a textbook devoted to unbelievers, stating which verses they must learn to silence the saints. Perhaps the first verse memorised is Matthew 7:1, and it is inevitably quoted from the King James Version: Judge not, that ye be not judged. Contemporary versions simply warn: do not judge, or you too will be judged.
No more can we tolerate a little bit of error than can the surgeon tolerate a little bit of contamination in the surgery. No more can we tolerate a little bit of sin than can the navigator tolerate a little bit of error as he guides the jetliner across the skies. Christians are called to be a holy people, living lives which glorify the Master. Tolerating evil, tolerating doctrinal deviation, is tantamount to lèse-majesté.
Among contemporary transdenominational movements are the twin evils of Evangelical Feminism and Evangelical Homosexuality. These movements glory in their breadth, in their ability to accept the actions of the vilest sinners. Effectively, these movements attempt to capitalise on broad contemporary social movements, importing them into the church. Frequently it seems that the hope is that through displaying such openness to contemporary attitudes the church will attract the world. Great danger lurks in permitting the world to set the standards for the church, however. Either the Faith is a holy movement because the standards set are divine, reflecting the will of God, or it must be a movement with standards always shifting to meet the understanding of the moment.
These two movements seem to operate hand-in-glove. Seldom does one occur except the other furtively waits near at hand. That this is so should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with the Word, since each assaults the created order. They are movements of appeasement. They are movements designed to empower what the world has declared to be the powerless. Such efforts as these are nothing less than capitulation to the agenda of the world. The church which surrenders at either of these points will likely soon surrender at both of the points and at other critical points in the near future.
Phoney Faith is the worst form of false teaching among evangelicals. For a teacher of the Word to declare the Faith without living the Faith is the vilest form of false teaching. To preach against lying while lying openly is deceitful and destructive to the Faith. To preach against stealing while stealing destroys moral suasion and tacitly permits followers to accept moral lassitude. To so focus on a few evils while ignoring the biblical demands to confront unrighteous attitudes is to teach falsely.
I briefly pastored a church which prided itself on its doctrinal correctness. The membership of that church was proud of their strong stance for the Faith. They excluded from their choir a man who occasionally smoked a pipe, saying that he had an “unsanctified voice”. They were quick to censure young women who became pregnant out of wedlock. They were open in their scorn of anyone who drank alcoholic beverage. They were icily precise in applying the strictures of the law as they saw it.
I preached on one occasion a message which challenged their long-held beliefs. They were proud that they were not “worldly”, but they defined “worldly” from a rather narrow and strange perspective. I simply appealed to the Word of God, demonstrating that in the several instances of the Pauline Epistles where the term “worldly” was applied to the saints, it always confronted attitudes and never actions. A sectarian spirit is worldly. Divisiveness is worldly. A jealous and a quarrelsome attitude are worldly. Instability and failure to keep one’s word is worldly. A haughty attitude is worldly, as is mere regret at being tripped up in ones plans. The absence of self-control, unrighteousness and a lack of holy zeal are worldly. When I had concluded the message I pointedly laid the charge that the congregation was worldly. What outrage from their wounded pride! What choler! What bile! I was attacked openly in meetings for weeks following the message. It was even bruited about that I was a Jesuit priest insinuating myself among evangelicals, even though I was married and had three children!
There is, you see, a constant temptation for the preacher to preach against that which does not touch the life of his audience. So long as I attack the sins of another, those listening are comfortable. The temptation is to speak against that which is generally agreed to be reprehensible. Thus, those listening are safe from feeling uncomfortable with their own lifestyle. However, the task of the preacher remains to correct, rebuke and encourage. This means that the saints must be challenged by the standard of heaven itself, even as they are called to a higher level of commitment.
There are other serious false teachings among the churches of our Lord. Time and diversity will not permit me to address all of them, much less name them. Instead, I encourage the people of God to know the Word of God thoroughly, to study the Word, investing time in discovering the revealed will of God and in implementing that will in daily life. When we endeavour to maintain sensitivity to His Spirit, we will discover that we eschew sin almost as a matter of course. He dwells within us and we cannot be comfortable with sin if He is actually regnant in our life.
When you became a Christian, you left the unclean elements of this filthy world. You turned to Christ as the pure and holy Saviour, knowing that you yourself were cleansed from all unrighteousness. To permit yourself to return to any aspect of that former life is to accept as true for yourself the proverbs Peter quotes. We are sheep, not dogs. Let us therefore seek out green pastures … not vomit. We are sheep, not sows. Let us then seek secure pasturage for our rest instead of mud in which we may wallow.
Above all else, let us carefully hold up to the perfect standard of the Word rather than teaching which we receive from any professed teacher of the Word. Whether from this pulpit or from another pulpit, whether by means of radio or television, or whether through a book or magazine, a multiplicity of teachers seek to present their messages. Not every message is worthy of the name of Christ and even a well-respected name and accolades from well-known religious leaders do not mean much if the message leads us into error. The responsibility for testing the message lies with each Christian. Take the responsibility seriously that you may grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.