Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Freedom, Fruitfulness, and Apostasy in 2 Peter

One theme of 2 Peter is that those who have been cleansed from their sins ought not go back to live in them. At the beginning of the letter, Peter stresses that believers have "escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire" (1:4), and that therefore they ought to build on this foundation with divine qualities like virtue, self-control, and love (1:5-7). The one who neglects to cultivate such qualities "is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins" (1:9). It is folly to return to the enslaving dominion of sinful desire if Jesus has set you free from it.

In Peter's day, just as in ours, there were those who promoted a different view. In chapter 2, Peter gives attention to false teachers and treats them as a very serious threat. Not only will they lead people astray, but the immorality these false teachers produce will cause the way of truth to be blasphemed by unbelievers (2:2). How do these false teachers operate? They "they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error" (2:18). They target those who are not firm and steady, but who are "barely escaping" from the fallen ways of the world (2:18), "unsteady souls" (2:14). The false teachers entice them by using the appeal of sinful pleasures. Even as it happens today, these false teachers "promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption" (2:19). Those who "indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority" (2:10) might feel that they are free and independent, but they are in fact subject to a harsh master, "for whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved" (2:19). And this way leads to death: "For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved" (2:17).

What makes this even worse is that these false teachers, and the unsteady souls they targeted, had once professed the truth. Some of the strongest descriptions of apostasy can be found in this chapter. It says that these false teachers "will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2:1). They feasted with the church (2:13), but forsaking the right way, they went astray (2:15). They sought to lead others back into the corruption they had once escaped from, and Peter says this would be a worse condition than the condition of regular unbelievers. "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" (2:20). They were dogs returning to their vomit, and washed pigs returning to wallow in their mire (2:22).

We know from the apostle John that such apostates never truly belonged to the church (1 John 2:19). Jesus will not lose any of those whom the Father has given Him to save (John 6:37-39). But John also records Jesus' teaching about those people who are connected to Christ like dead branches are connected to a vine - because they do not receive life from the vine, they are unfruitful, and therefore they are cut off and thrown into the fire (John 15:1-11). Their covenantal connection to Christ is real enough that they can be described as "cleansed" (1:9, 2:22), "bought" by Jesus (2:1), and those who "have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior" (2:20). Nevertheless, they were predestined for condemnation rather than predestined for salvation (compare 2:3 with Jude 4) and unregenerate, and this was manifested by their unfruitfulness and apostasy (1:9, 2:15).

On the other hand, true believers manifest their regeneration by their fruitfulness and perseverance. If you have escaped the defiling passions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then avoid entangling yourself in them again and "be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election" (1:10). How? This is how:
"...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ .... for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (1:5–8, 10-11)
These qualities are graciously granted to us by God through the knowledge of Christ (1:3-4), so let us therefore "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen" (3:18).

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