I was in Flagstaff last week and decided to stop somewhere and grab a bite to eat with a cup of coffee. While driving home I caught a glimpse of a familiar sign. It had the tagline: best donuts in the state of Arizona. I made my way over to the store. But after I had parked, I realized the sign had deceived me. The store was still under construction. I left without a donut and felt a bit disappointed. I had been deceived by the sign. I’m sure at some point you’ve felt deceived because you didn’t get what you were hoping for. (Perhaps you missed out on something less important than a donut.) It’s kind of like what happens when you see dark rain clouds overhead but then the clouds fail to deliver even a drop to the thirsty ground. The rainclouds might have looked promising but couldn’t deliver.
In 2 Peter we are warned about deceitful and empty promises. You’ll find them on more than just store signs and in misleading skies. The world is filled with them. Peter warns against the false teachers that will come from within the church and deceive. And they will not just cause disappointment. Their lies will lead to great damage to those who are duped. How does our God deal with the deceitful and destructive lies of false teachers? We see the answer today as we continue with 2 Peter. He warns, “Don’ t let the darkness deceive you.”
Peter reminds us that if you read the Old Testament, you will find it was a constant battle for the truth. Faithful prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all struggled against false prophets. The ancient struggle still goes on. Peter warned that just as there were false prophets in the past there will be false teachers today.
False teachers will bring “destructive heresies.” False teaching isn’t just something you can brush off and say it is only a matter of opinion. False teaching is destructive. It can harm someone’s confidence in Christ, it can cause someone to stumble in their faith. Ultimately false teaching can destroy the faith of those who belong to Christ.
And don’t think that the false teachings will always be easy to identify. “They will secretly bring in destructive heresies.” False teachings are introduced in a cunning, backhanded way. That is why false teachers often thrive in churches that don’t hold to any clear statement of faith. Some churches proudly identify as creedless. They say, “We don’t have doctrine here, just the Bible.” But the bible is doctrine. You can’t ignore what it teaches. Without solid biblical doctrine you will be defenseless against all kinds of deceit. False teachers operate on ignorance and deceit.
And it duplicates fast. What is secretly introduced can quickly gain popularity. “Many will follow their depraved ways.” Consider some of the preachers who are best sellers and have a large television viewership. The jacket on their book might claim, “Bestselling author.” It might promise something sweet. But it is a false promise offering only darkness and deceit. “Bestselling” can sometimes sadly mean they are harming many people with their empty promises.
The destruction of false teachers can even extend beyond their flock. They give Christianity a bad name. “Because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” They take on the name Christian but offer “destructive heresies…their depraved ways.” Much of the false teaching that Peter was concerned about deals with sinful depravity. On the one hand, there are false teachers who teach about morals and work-righteousness. They are destructive and lead people away from Christ. On the other hand, there are also always false teachers who teach tolerance of evil. Peter says they are depraved. They teach a sinful lifestyle and sexual immorality. Because they bear the title Christian all other Christian churches are slandered who share the same title.
Peter warns that they will exploit their followers with messages that they have made up. Instead of preaching God’s Word they will preach their own ideas in order to get something from you. False teachers are really only concerned with a few things, popularity, fame, power, and money. They seek only personal gain at the expense of others.
But what do false teachers really gain? Their many followers and their ill-gotten wealth won’t help them when God examines their work. “Their condemnation announced long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
The Bible is filled with examples of God’s response to sinful depravity. Peter gives us three examples of God’s dealing with the moral depravity which is promoted by so many false teachers. First off, there were the angels who sinned. When the devil and his followers rebelled against the Lord, he immediately placed them under guard to be held until judgment day. God made hell for the devil and his angels. It is a prison which even binds powerful spiritual beings. Should we expect God to treat our sins lightly when he did this to angels? Next Peter mentions the great flood. The entire world was completely annihilated. Picture the countless lives across the globe suddenly drowned by a literal wave of God’s judgment. Only Noah and those with him in the ark were spared. If God did that to an entire world of sinners, what makes anyone think he will overlook any sin today? Finally, Peter mentions the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s nephew, Lot lived there. He was tormented in his soul by the deeds he saw and heard from the people of those cities. They gave themselves over to all sorts of depravity. You can read about the men who proudly had sex with men and who followed their lusts. God sent fire from the sky and it consumed them all because of their ungodliness. Only Lot and his two daughters were spared from the literal wave of fire. Should we dare to think God doesn’t care? He left us these accounts as examples and for us to take to heart! “He made them an example of things to come for the ungoldly.”
Peter doesn’t sugar coat his depiction of sensual depravity. They are “just like unreasoning creatures that live by instinct.” Does that sound familiar? How about the lies you hear today? “Follow your heart. Do what is best for you.” Peter warns, “They consider it a pleasure to carouse in the daytime.” Does that sound familiar? Today people delight to lust, to be unfaithful, and to do anything they might find pleasing with their bodies. Peter would have us ask, “How is that any different from what a pig does?” It sounds unloving or judgmental to say it. But Peter depicts lust for what it is: mindlessness. It lowers the dignity of human life to the same as that of an animal! Someone might argue, “Peter, is going to far!” But is he? He knows what happens when false teachers win the day. They turn the hearts made for the love of God into self-centered hearts fit only for rebellion against God and greedy striving.
It is all a deceptive trap. False teachers seduce their victims with sensuality. There was a time in ancient Israel when one of their enemies hired a man to curse them. The King of Moab hired a man named Balaam to put a curse on Israel. But the Lord would not allow it. In fact, Balaam, like a senseless animal, accepted the money. He thought he could go against the Lord. But he failed. And he was stopped when his own donkey spoke and rebuked him. Balaam had been so blinded by his greed he was going headfirst against the one true God. In the end, when his initial efforts failed, Balaam came up with another plan. He encouraged the women of Moab to seduce the men of Israel into idolatry. That deceptive plan brought the destruction of many people. They chose to be like senseless animals instead of the people of God. The devil knows he can’t force people away from Christ, so he seduces them.
And don’t think those who deceive do it from a dark street corner. Many take their places among the churches that bear Christ’s name. They target unstable souls who will join them. That is really one of the saddest parts. Peter says, “by uttering arrogant, empty words, they use the depraved lusts of the flesh to seduce those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.” They speak to Christians. They target those who are new to faith. And they lure them.
But their lure is an artificial, deceitful bait with a deadly hook at the end. They are like the storm clouds that promise rain but then fade away without any real blessing. They are like a well that has no water. They are not freeing anyone. Quite the opposite! They are enslaving people to their sin. “While they promise these people freedom, they themselves are slaves to corruption.” The darkness doesn’t simply offer us a donut shop. It offers a donut shop with poison products that will sicken and kill you. It is a seducing trap and enslavement to sin’s curse. I have yet to meet someone who is truly satisfied with their slavery to sexual sins. They are, instead, mastered by it.
How does God respond to the deceit of the darkness? As we have seen, he responds with his holy judgment. But Peter mentioned another response. Our God is “the Master who bought them.” God responded to the devil’s cunning deception to Adam and Eve by giving them a promise of true freedom. He said he would crush the enemy and all his lies. Think about how merciful God was to make that promise and to keep it! When angels sinned, God did not spare any of them. He did what a holy God does! He sent them to everlasting chains to hell. But when the first man and woman sinned God responded with an amazing promise of mercy. He promised a rescuer.
That’s what God does! He invites us to turn from the darkness and trust in him! He spares us from sin’s curse, slavery, and the darkness of our own depravity. In the great flood God delivered all who trusted in him. He did not fail to rescue Noah, who preached God’s righteousness. And when Lot cried out against evil God sent his angels to rescue Lot from that city and its destruction. God also knows how to rescue! It is what he mercifully does for us!
In faithfulness he sent the greatest rescuer to this dark world. Jesus did not come to exploit the world. He didn’t come seeking money or power. He came setting aside all of it. He put all his own desires aside and put all his riches down –even laying down his own life and shedding his blood. He did this to purchase us from sin’s slavery and set us free. He is our Master and has bought us with such a price! He paid to set us free from the lies and sins that ensnared us!
Today he says through his apostle, Peter, “Don’t let the darkness deceive you! It promises freedom but enslaves you in sin.” His Word is a sign telling you, “Christ is your light!” He promises forgiveness and freedom! He promises fellowship with God forever! Come! What God desires for you is far greater than what you desire for yourself. He desires you to have the free gift of life and freedom!
And he delivers on what he promises. Unlike all the empty promises of the false teachers, Christ’s promise is true. He rose from death and lives in everlasting truth and light! His offer is a freedom from the darkness and slavery to sin. His is a freedom of cleansing from all our sins. His is a freedom that rises above the depraved human mind and gives us new hearts of faith. And because he bought us, we will serve him in the everlasting freedom of his kingdom. We will rise from the darkness of the grave and his precious and great promises will be fulfilled.
We go now from darkness to dawn. Don’t let the darkness deceive you. It won’t deliver on what it promises. Only Christ can deliver what is promised. And he does it in his great mercy and love for you and all who trust in him.