Out of the Frying Pan
2 Peter 2:18-22
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers
Hogs and dogs. Many people consider dogs to be a man's best friend. Other's really enjoy their pigs. I have heard of people keeping pigs like pets - letting them sleep in bed with them and cuddling up with them on the couch. But we live in some strange times. Of course, 2000 years ago, dogs and pigs were in the same category. They were despised by everybody. And today, everybody has a pet dog, so maybe in another thousand years, everybody will have a pet pig. In Bible times, both animals were at the bottom of the barrel. If you wanted to insult somebody, or describe them as good for nothing, you could do no better than call them a dog or a pig. They were the lowest of the low in the animal world. They were unclean, filthy animals and the image of all that was disgusting and annoying.
We all know about the place of pigs in the Bible. They are at the pinnacle of the unclean animals. That's because they wallow in mud, which is often just dirt mixed with their own excrement. They eat filthy slop. My parents raised pigs for a while, I watched them urinate in their food and then eat it. We all know that pigs are disgusting creatures. Some have tried to convince me that they are some of the cleanest animals, but I just don't buy it. In the Bible, dogs were viewed just the same (Mt. 15:26-27; Prov. 26:11; Ex. 22:31; Is. 66:3: Mt. 7:6). They are repeatedly depicted as disgusting animals with repulsive habits. They eat rotten carcasses - sometimes even human carcasses. They will even chow down on human feces. Over at the parsonage, I have once or twice put our garbage out on the front porch and then forgot to put it in the rubber garbage can. The next morning I come out, and find garbage strewn all over from the neighborhood dogs that wander about. And guess what they always seem to go for? My daughter Selah's diapers. They always have holes chewed in them so that the dogs can get the delicious treat in the middle. This is why I never like dogs licking my hands or face. Who knows what they just gobbled up?
In the Bible, to call someone a dog or a pig is to draw attention to their miserable condition, and their insatiable appetite for garbage and filth (1 Sam. 24:14; 2 Sam. 9:8; Php. 3:2). This is the picture we encounter in 2 Peter 2:18-22. In Peter's letter, he is writing to Christians who are undergoing an attack. This wasn't an attack from the government. It wasn't an attack by those who were trying to stamp out Christianity. It wasn't an attack from persecutors. It wasn't an attack from outside the church. Instead, it was an attack from inside the church. Peter is writing to warn them of a very serious attack from within the ranks of the church body. He is warning them about an inside job.
This is where most of the attacks upon the church come from. The most devastating and serious attacks upon the church come from within the church body. Sometimes these false teachers are not Christians, but think they are. But just as often, these attacks come from genuinely saved people who are simply misled and deceived. It is probably very difficult for us to know whether a false teacher is genuinely saved or not, but God knows. What is important for us to know is that what they are teaching is false.
While all false teaching is dangerous, there are degrees of seriousness to false teaching. Probably all of us at times - and probably even now - have held to some wrong idea or some false teaching in one area or another. This is one of the reasons it is so important to read the Bible and pray, and read theology books, and listen to sermons, and attend Bible studies, and discuss spiritual things with other Christians. We are constantly trying to get rid of the error within us and learn the truth. But while all of us have held - and probably still hold - some bad theological ideas, there are a few areas of theology in which we must be absolutely solid. The closer a heresy comes to attacking some of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity - such as the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, and justification by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone, the greater damage these false teachings can cause the church. This is why false teaching is so serious and should be rooted out and Biblically refuted as much as possible. "All Scripture," says Paul, "is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correcting, for training in righteousness." While the Scriptures are to be used for encouraging and equipping and instructing, notice that two of the four words Paul uses there is to correct and reprove those who believe or teach doctrinal error.
This is what Peter does in the book of 2 Peter. It is a letter written to Christians to warn them about false teachers and false teaching. He begins chapter one with some instructions about living and believing right, and then in chapter 2, he begins to warn them about false teachers. 2 Peter 2:1-19 explain how to recognize a false teacher. And Peter is very clear in verse 17 that these false teachers he has in mind are unsaved. He says that there is reserved for them the blackness of darkness forever. This is a clear reference to hell (cf. Jude 13). Not all false teachers are unsaved - some of them are just deceived themselves - but these ones Peter has in mind are not saved.
But Peter's concern, as we come to verses 18-22, passes from explaining how false teachers can be recognized and revealed, to warning Christians about the dangers of listening to and being led astray by these false teachers. Verses 18-22 is about what happens to genuinely saved people who turn from the truth and believe in false teaching. Many believe that this passage teaches that those Christians who turn from believing correct doctrine to believing false doctrine lose their salvation. When correctly understood, this passage does teach that there are serious consequences for turning away from the truth, but loss of salvation is not one of them.
18For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
20For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
Verses 18-22 contain four descriptive phrases for the false teachers and seven descriptive phrases for those who have been led astray. Let's first look at the four times the false teachers are referred to. These are found in verses 18 and 19.
1. False Teachers (2:18-19)
First, we are told that they speak great swelling words of emptiness. One of the characteristic qualities of a false teacher is arrogance and pride. They often love to hear their own voice. Humility is a mark of the Spirit filled Christian, whereas pride is a mark of those led by Satan. Pride was the reason Satan tried to usurp authority from God in the first place, and pride is one of the motivating factors for why false teachers lead people astray. They enjoy the power and privilege that comes with positions of authority. They enjoy the public fame and recognition. If they are not up in front, they are unhappy and depressed. And it is not just their pride, but the way this pride is revealed in their speech. Peter tells us that they speak great swelling words of emptiness. They saw a lot, but nothing of importance. Their language is flowery and refined, but devoid of meaning and significance. They may be interesting and enjoyable to listen to, but there is no meat in their message.
I once had a man tell me that the only pastor he could ever listen to was one which told a lot of jokes and used a lot of stories, and was so animated in his preaching that he would even dance around on the pews and run up and down the isles. I had personally heard this pastor preach before, and while he may not have been a false teacher, he definitely was not a preacher. He was an entertainer; not a pastor. Sure, he was fun and interesting to listen to, but there was never anything of substance in his sermons. It was all fluff. It was, as Peter describes here, swelling words of emptiness. They are like balloons filled with hot hair. They're fun to look at and they will fly real high, but when they pop, there's nothing left but a tattered bit a plastic.
Watch out for pastor and teachers who do a lot of entertaining, but not much teaching from the Word of God. There is a chance that such teachers are false because they are basing their teachings on something other than Scripture. The chances that these are false teachers are greatly multiplied when they also reveal the second characteristic.
Second, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness. This is a defining characteristic. Maybe they say that since we live under grace, it is okay to sleep around or be sexually immoral. If you look at many of the cults that have sprung up during the past 100 years or so, many of them are centered around immoral sexual activity.
"Jim Jones of the People's Temple took advantage of his followers by promoting the notion that having sexual relations with him was holy and right. Moses David taught the young women in the Children of God that God wanted them to flirt with men, even have sex with them, to lure them into the cult, thus coining the phrase flirty fishing. David Koresh, head of Branch Davidians, had fathered children by many of the young women in his group and taught that this was pleasing to God." From this we see the truth of Pascal's statement that "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious convictions."
Sex sells - even within the church. But any teacher that uses such lewdness to advance himself is probably a false teacher. Sometimes this will show up in lewd jokes or crass humor from the pulpit. I heard of one pastor that allowed a mock strip tease to be carried out on the platform of his church. Do you know who Howard Stern is? He is known as the shock jock of the radio airwaves because of the crude things he says on the air. I recently read of a pastor who was trying to imitate Howard Stern from the pulpit. He prided himself in being the shock jock of pastors. Such things may bring crowds of people into the church, but not to God. There are pastors who teach that pornography is nothing more than art, that homosexuality is normal, and that sleeping around before marriage is acceptable as long as you are "safe." This is all very alluring to the world, and such pastors and churches attract lots of people. But they are false teachers who should not be trusted, or even listened to.
The third characteristic is how they justify all of their teachings in light of Scripture. Verse 19 says that they promise…liberty. Their call is always a call to break free from the stifling demands of Christianity. To be liberated from the excessive rules that hold us back from what God really wants for us. They often even mention living under grace. It all sounds very Biblical and Christian. But all they really do is exchange one set of rules for another. Though they all claim to offer freedom, all they really do is provide another list of do's and don't to live by. Though many of them talk about grace, when you really dig deep, what you find is only law.
Jehovah's Witnesses, in a discussion titled "What Must We Do to Be SAVED?" (on their official website), say that "Salvation is a free gift from God. It cannot be earned. Yet it does require effort on our part." They say it's free, but then they say it costs something. Mormons do the same thing. Their website says that "Grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts." In the book of Mormon, we read, "for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23b). (For more information on this, contact http://www.witforjesus.org and http://www.gracelife.org).
This is what the final description of these false teachers reveals. Though they promise liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption. True freedom is found only in Christ. Like all sin, the sexual immorality they promote is addictive. Just as drugs, alcohol, greed, shopping and overeating enslave those who fall into them, so also those who are sexually immoral fall deeper and deeper into the dark pit of sin. All child pornographers and sexual predators began by looking a few pictures in a magazine. Eventually, they get bored, and must move on to something deeper and deeper, until they are so enslaved, there is almost no way out.
Sin is sinister. There is no such things as "trying it just this once." False teachers who promise freedom are actually enslaved to sin themselves. They are the blind leading the blind. As such, they should not be trusted or followed. This ultimately is why Peter wrote this letter. He has told them in verses 1-19 what false teachers look like, how they act, and how to recognize them. This isn't just so that as Christians we can point the finger, but so that we can keep ourselves from falling into their traps, lies and errors (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 6:6; 2 Peter. 3:17). Peter is writing to genuine Christians to warn them about believing false teachers. The warning is found in verses 18-22 where he tells them what will happen if they believe the false teaching of these false teachers.
2. Believing False Teaching (2:18-22)
It is here where the warning really picks up steam. We all know the dangers of teaching falsely, but few of us consider the serious dangers of believing false teaching. Peter lays down the terrible consequences of listening to and heeding false teachers. Peter first provides four descriptive phrases of the people he is warning, and then three warnings about what will happen to them if they fall into false teaching. The four descriptive phrases are found in verses 18-20.
First, the people to whom Peter is writing are genuine Christians. In verse 18, such Christians are the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. Who are those who live in error? It's the world. The people of the world are described in Scripture as those who live in sin, who walk in darkness, who do not know the truth, and whose eyes are blinded. This first description clearly reveals that unlike the false teachers, these people now under consideration are Christians. The people Peter is writing to are genuine believers. They have escaped from those who live in error. They have escaped the world. They are among those who know the truth, and who walk in the light. Peter knows they are believers because he says that they have actually escaped. They have not just claimed to have escaped, they have actually escaped. They have truly passed form the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. It is important to recognize that these people are true Christians because of what Peter is about to say.
He says next that these Christians have fallen into error. In verse 19, though promised liberty by the false teachers, they have been brought into bondage. Though these Christians actually escaped from the world, and the bondage of the sinful world system, they have been brought back into bondage by the false teachers they listened to and obeyed. There are many today who say that true Christians will not fall into serious and prolonged sin, or that true Christians will not believe false doctrine for an extended period of time. Some say that true Christians will never be enslaved again to sin. Some teach that true Christians will never live like the world again. Some teach that true Christians will not be in bondage to sin or false teaching.
Peter teaches differently. He says that some genuine Christians will, and have, be brought into bondage after having escaped the world. Amazingly, these Christians have not been brought back into bondage by television, or the corrupt media, or by failing to be faithful church members. These Christians have been bought back into bondage because they attended church and listened to sermons! Wolves in sheep's clothing entered the body of Christ and have deceived many. But many Christians have swallowed what they teach hook, line and sinker. Heresy always comes from within the church. Just because a pastor says it does not mean it is true. We must be discerning Christians and Biblical thinkers if we are going to know the difference between good and bad teaching. It is hard work, it takes a lot of time, but it must be done if we are going to remain free, and not be led back into bondage.
Peter goes on in verse 20 to once again emphasize that these people are genuine believers. He does not want to leave any doubt about their eternal security. He said that they escaped those who are in error, but were led back into error, now, in verse 20, he says they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Some people read this phrase by Peter and say that these people are not true Christians, they are only those who know about Jesus. But in his writings, Peter only uses this phrase to describe true Christians (1:2, 3, 5, 6, 8).
And how else can someone escape the pollutions of the world except through the knowledge of and a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ? Many millions of people know about Jesus Christ, they have read the Bible, they may even attend church, but they cannot Biblically be said to have escaped the pollutions of the world. So even though Peter always uses the idea of the knowledge of Christ in a way that refers only to Christians, he clarifies further by saying that these people have escaped the pollutions of the world. Christians are clearly in view.
After telling us again that these are Christians he is talking about, Peter says once more that though they have escaped, they have again become entangled. They have become all tied up. Though they escaped, they are again entangled in [the pollutions of the world] and [are] overcome. Peter does not question whether they were actually saved or not. He doesn't raise doubts that these are Christians because they have been overcome. He says that as Christians, it is entirely possible for them to become entangled and overcome.
It is important to emphasize that Peter is not saying that all who follow false teachers are believers who have been duped. Obviously, this cannot be true. What Peter is saying is that as believers, we must take heed lest we fall to the wiles of false teachers. We must not be sucked in by their fine sounding arguments. At the same time, we must not think ourselves impervious and above being deceived. We must watch our life and doctrine closely, and always be praying that God will teach us, correct us as needed, and point out to us any error that we may believe.
False teaching is so serious, Peter now turns to explaining what happens if Christians fall into it. Sometimes, a warning about the consequences of failure can keep us from failing. There are three consequences Peter lists in verses 21-22. Because Peter's terms are so graphic, some have uses these verses as proof texts that true Christians can lose their salvation. But as we go through them, we will see that this is not what Peter is saying. As we go through them, notice what isn't said. Eternal judgment is not mentioned. "The apostle makes no reference to hell, the lake of fire, unending suffering, or any similar term or phrase." There is a mention of fire, but we will see what that means when we get there.
The first warning is that because they have been entangled again, things go from bad to worse. The latter end is worse for them than the beginning. Peter had heard Jesus tell the parable of the unclean spirit (Mt. 12:43-45; Lk. 11:24-26). In that parable, a very similar term is used, and it very clearly describes a person's experience in this life. It was worse to have seven demons than one. This same idea is expressed in Matthew 27:64 where Jesus says that the last deception will be worse than the first. Most people, when they read Peter's words, think that Peter is saying that Christians can lose eternal life if they fall into false teaching. And if Peter is talking about eternal life, then this could be what he is saying. Of course, we have all known Christians who are lower morally and emotionally than many non-Christians, but I don't think this is what Peter has in mind. Either Peter is teaching that Christians lose their salvation if they fall into false teaching, or Peter is not teaching about eternal life at all.
The key to understanding this phrase is to discern what Peter is writing about. Is he writing about eternal life and being born again? Or could it be that Peter is writing about progressive sanctification and the process of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ as we live in obedience and submission to Him? It is, of course, the latter that Peter is talking about. Throughout the entire letter, he has encouraged his readers to persevere in the faith, and to press on toward godliness. Look back at the introduction to the entire letter. In 2 Peter 1:3-8, Peter explains his purpose in writing: that his readers will make use of the divine blessings God has given to us so that they will live godly lives. He tells them that if they do these things, they will never fall, and will receive a rich reward in heaven. The purpose of 2 Peter is not about how to be saved, or how to know you are saved, or how to keep yourself saved. The purpose of 2 Peter is to encourage Christians to press on and keep faithful in the spiritual battle. Failure to do so does not mean loss of salvation, but loss of reward and a loss of fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ.
So when we come to 2 Peter 2 with this contextual understanding, it is easy to see that when Peter writes their latter will be worse than the beginning, he is talking about the beginning of their Christian life compared to what their life will be like after they fall prey to false teaching. All brand new baby Christians face serious struggles with sin, temptation and legalism. Old habits and sinful ways of living do not always change instantaneously or automatically. Such change often takes time. That is why new Christians need so much attention at the beginning of their life in Christ. Peter is saying that when Christians fall prey to false teaching, their life will have greater struggles than when they were first Christians. Their latter end, after heeding false teaching, will be worse than the beginning of their Christian life.
We have all known Christians that this happens to. They make progress for a while, they learn, they grow, they walk in the Spirit and develop Christlike characteristics. But then they get caught up in some organization or movement or false teaching that begins to draw them away from Christ. Eventually, they become even more enslaved to sin or legalism than they ever were before. There are many Christians who have been Christians for ten, twenty or thirty years, but who are more enslaved now to sin and false teaching than they ever were as a new Christian, or even as a non-Christians. Sin is always powerful - even in the life of the Christian. And it always enslaves - even the life of the Christian. So we must be very careful what we do and who we listen to so that we do not make things worse for ourselves.
That is what Peter is saying is seen in verse 21 where Peter says almost exactly the same things. In verse 21, we are told that they jump from the frying pan into the fire. Peter writes that it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.
Throughout the Bible, eternal life itself is never referred to as "the way of righteousness." However, it is an idea that is used to refer to daily experiencing a close intimacy and fellowship with Jesus Christ as we make progress in our sanctification (cf. 1 John 2:3-11). "They way or path of righteousness refers to holy living. Climbing up the mountain of holiness on the path of righteousness is, for the Christian, a lifetime pilgrimage. It is possible to slip, even to fall off the path and down the mountain (2 Pet. 3:17-18)."
Peter is saying that for the Christians who start believing in the lies of these false teachers, it would have been better for them to have never known the way of righteousness than to know it and turn away from it. People who work among the homeless in the inner cities of America find a surprising number of people who were at one time very successful salesmen, managers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals, but who fell into loose living, drugs, and alcohol. Some of these homeless, it become clear, are Christian who began to follow Christ in discipleship, but fell away, and so now, their behavior, condition, peace of mind, and emotional well being is worse than when they first began on the way of righteousness.
"Few people are more miserable than believers who have formerly known the joy of walking with Christ and now are not walking with Him. Regardless of any material prosperity they may have, discontentment, frustration, and unhappiness characterize their lives." This is exactly the lesson Jesus taught to his disciples in Luke 14:26-33. He tells them that before they begin on the path of discipleship, they had better count the cost to make sure they can finish, for if they do not finish, their fall will be great. It is better to not even begin down the road, than to start on it and turn back. Most Christians enter the path of discipleship with a "I'll try it and see if I like it" mentality. But Jesus and Peter both say that this is not an option with the road of discipleship. Discipleship is dangerous. When you commit to following Christ, all hell breaks loose against you, and you had better be determined to stay on track. There are great rewards for making forward progress, but to fall of and turn back brings great shame to both the name and cause of Jesus Christ. People should not enter into discipleship flippantly.
The Bible has such a low view of disciples who turn back that they are compared to dogs and pigs in verse 22. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A dog returns to his own vomit," and "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
Remember, dogs and pigs are the lowest of the low. It is hard for some to imagine that Peter would compare failing Christians to dogs and pigs, but he wants to point out the seriousness of turning back. Notice that the dog had previously left it's filth, but had now returned to it, and the pig had been cleaned, but had now gone back to the mud. This illustrates Peter's point in verse 20 that they had escaped the pollutions of the world but had now become entangled in them again, and it fits right in with what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:9 where the readers ha been cleanses from their old sins. "Whenever a believer ceases to walk with Christ and begins to walk in darkness, he has forgotten who he is (2 Peter 1:9) and has allowed his old habits to take center stage. Such a person is rightly compared to a dog that returns to his vomit or a pig that has been cleaned up only to return to the mud. For the Christian to begin on the path of righteousness and then return to the pigsty of sin is a terrible affront to the name of Christ."
Because of this, we all need to take serious heed to the kind of teachers we allow to speak into our lives. They will answer to God for what they taught to people, but we will answer to Him for whether we listened to them and supported their ministries or not. Obviously, no teacher is going to be completely correct in all that they say, but we must make sure that the ones we allow to teach us are not denying or perverting some of the cardinal and key doctrines of Christianity. Do they hold to the inerrancy of Scripture? If not, they will most likely hold to many other errors also. If the Bible cannot be trusted, then it is no better source of reliable information than any other book.
Do they believe in the Trinity? That there is One God in Three Persons. It's a difficult doctrine to understand, but essential to Biblical theology. Do they believe that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, and that He lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, rose again the third day from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven? This is one of the most important truths of Christianity, yet there are many, many groups that deny the full deity or humanity of Christ. Even some of the teachers on TBN have made some very questionable statements about the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ.
Do they believe that God gives eternal life to all who simply and only believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life? And the key issue here is do they just say that, or do they really believe it? Catholics and Mormons and even many Christians says that salvation is by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone, but when you dig deeper into what they mean by these words, you discover that what they mean is that God gives us grace to do the works we are required to do to get to heaven, and that faith includes a life of faithful living and obedience to the commands of God. So when someone claims to believe in justification by faith alone, make sure you dig deeper to see if that is what they really believe. According to Galatians 1, if anyone teaches another gospel, they are anathema, accursed, and should not be listened to.
Who you allow to speak into your life is a very important decision. This is why it is so important to not pick a church based on the music or the programs. Though this is the way most people pick churches, what they have unwittingly done is chosen to sit under a false teacher who will lead them astray. Peter says this choice will be a disaster in their life. Be very careful about who you allow to speak into your life, and whose teachings you believe. If you don't want to go from the frying pan to the fire, it's best not to be in the frying pan in the first place.