When I outlined our walk through 2nd Peter I knew that four straight articles on false-teachers were going to be a slog. With today’s article, we’ll reach the end of that difficult terrain. Congratulations for sticking with it. But before the corner is turned there are a few concluding verses to Peter’s stern warning.
Peter concludes, “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 desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:17–22, NASB95)
Did you notice Peter’s colorful descriptions of false-teachers? They are springs without water, mists driven by a storm, preachers of freedom yet enslaved themselves, dogs that return to their own vomit, and clean sows rushing to wallow in the mire. Let’s examine these a bit closer
Peter’s descriptions of springs and storms provide a valuable and memorable key. Both phrases create pictures of fruitlessness. (also see Jude 12) Of promises and expectations made but not kept. To put these in more modern terms. Springs without water is like a faucet that refuses to run. Or a thunderstorm that promises rain but only produces a cloud of dust. Where’s the water, the deluge of rain? If we encounter either of those we feel disappointed and let down.
I think there are two levels of disappointment stemming from false-teachers. One is just a practical observation of promises made but not kept. The arrogant nature of false-teachers will fuel quick and possibly extravagant promises. In the end, the promises made will be forgotten or hidden by grander promises. The second is spiritual in nature. False-teachers will appear as good springs to drawn deep from God’s goodness but only a trickle will be evident.
Why this failure? Peter provides the answer. “by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” If I’m overcome and enslaved by God then God will pour out. If I’m overcome and enslaved to lust, power, greed, pride, or self then those will pour out. As Paul wrote, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16, NASB95)
Of Dogs and Pigs
To close this section Peter relates a proverb and an observation. “A dog returns to its own vomit” is a quote from Proverbs 26:11. The source of “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire” is unknown. Yet the truisms are well known and somewhat disgusting. Dogs will eat their own vomit and pigs enjoy wallowing in a mud hole polluted with their own crap. I’ve observed both of them, yuk.
Peter’s point is that by their nature false-teachers will return to the very sins they proclaim to have conquered. I’ve seen that played out more times then I care to recount. We even see it with the wandering Children of Israel. After being set free from the slavery in Egypt and tired from eating manna they longed for the leeks and onions of their previous captivity. But the truth is that we all have that tendency to look back at times with a shade of longing for the things conquered in Christ.
A Telling Conclusion
In between the imagery of a dried-up spring and hogs wallowing in mire, Peter draws a startling yet telling conclusion. “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.” It’s at this point where we draw near to a firing line between various theological camps which can distract us from a couple of points.
They were free because of Jesus and became entangled again and overcome. The later state is worse than their initial state. Conclusion: it would have been better for them to have not begun the journey with Christ. This sounds harsh but if you listen carefully you’ll hear a pastor’s heart. Peter is concerned for them; upset, wary, warning, and concerned.
It is here that we must be careful. Not everyone who falls back into their old ways are false-teachers. But it is assuredly true that everyone who falls back is more entangled than when they began – even if they didn’t trespass as deeply into that sin. The difference is knowing freedom in Christ and choosing to return to past sins anyway.
Peter’s conclusion is more than an observation about false-teachers it is a warning for all who follow Christ. We must be on guard and vigilant lest we too become entangled again in the sins of our past. Peter’s message in chapter two is not a feel-good message. It’s a stern warning from a loving Pastor who is worried for his flock. A warning that needs to be heard and heeded today as much as when Peter (or his scribe) scratched the words on parchment. Not so that we can point fingers of accusation but so that we will run to God’s shield of truth, love, and grace.