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Last week we saw the empty promises of the false teachers. They promised freedom, but were themselves enslaved by greed. Their lives were a contradiction of their message. This morning, Peter enters what if land and provides a more beneficial scenario.
2 Pet. 2:20-22 says, “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.”
Look where true freedom is found. Peter says true freedom is found in knowledge of Jesus Christ. “For if, after they had 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 first thing we have to determine is who Peter is referring to. It’s either the false teachers or the recent converts. There are a couple of clues and if we read too fast, we might miss them. The first is the word “for.” This refers back to v. 18 and the people that were caught in the trap set by the false teachers. The second clue is the phrase, “have escaped” in v. 20. Who recently escaped from the ones that live in error? It’s the recent converts of the church. Given these clues and the fact the entire chapter is devoted to the false teachers, it’s reasonable to conclude Peter is talking about the false teachers in v. 20.
Why does it matter? Let’s break down the verse. It contains two phrases and if we take out the parenthetical phrase we’re left with, “For if they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” It is Jesus Christ and the knowledge of Him that sets us free. Take a look at John 8:31-36. If you have a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and claim a relationship with Him, then there are expectations that result. Look at 1 Jo. 2:3-6. Peter’s argument is that if they had the knowledge of Jesus Christ and fell back to their old ways, they’re worse off.
There is a difficulty in the church today. This is a bit conditional clause and I want to clear up any misconceptions you may be having. People will use this verse as a proof text that one can lose his salvation. If they’re once again entangled in the, “defilements of the world” then how can they be saved? Verse 20 is talking about a true, conversion experience. It’s set off by the knowledge that Peter loves to talk about. Remember back in 2 Pet.1:2 in Peter’s opening remarks he said, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” This is a clear indicator that he’s writing to people that have experienced that authentic transformation that only Jesus can make happen. Grace and peace are multiplied through the knowledge of God and Jesus. God’s, “Divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet. 1:3) So Peter is clear that he’s talking to true believers because he talks about having escaped from the world in the past tense. What about the false teachers? These false teachers had escaped the pull of the world only to return to the world. The gospel they once confessed they now deny. The One they called Savior, they now reject.
So here’s the difficult part. V. 21 says, “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 sounds like Peter is saying it would be better for them to have never heard the truth of the Gospel to begin with. It sounds like he’s saying forget about evangelism and missions because there must be some special caveat for people that have never heard the name of Jesus. It sounds like he’s saying you can walk away if you want to. We could apply it to many situations today too. You see people that are church goers, but are not converts. You see people that are church members that are not miraculously transformed. Peter is saying that they knew the truth and still turned away from God. Way back in the first verse of this letter, Peter said righteousness in our lives is an indication of God’s transforming power. If there is no transformation, there is no conversion. If there is no conversion, there is death. Pro. 12:28 says, “In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” I encourage you to challenge people that profess a relationship with Christ, but have no evidence in their lives. If they’re really saved, they’ll welcome the opportunity. If they’re truly saved, they won’t be offended, but grateful you talked to them. There are too many people that teach and preach a Gospel that that does not change people. There are too many people in the church today that have a profession of faith and no resultant transformation.
Peter illustrates what he’s talking about in a very graphic manner. There are two illustrations in v. 22 to help us understand. The first is, “A dog returns to its own vomit.” The second illustration is, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” These phrases should be taken together because they mean roughly the same thing. Dogs and pigs are unclean animals. People are sometimes called dogs as a derogatory term in Scripture. These animals go to what they know. Remember Peter called the false teachers unreasoning animals in 2:12. Regardless of how you dress them up, dogs and pigs are just dogs and pigs that act upon their instinct. Pro. 26:11, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Is Peter saying that these false teachers were saved and then renounced Jesus? The quick answer is absolutely not. The Bible does not teach walk the aisle, say a prayer, or become a church member to be saved. At the same time there are people that anchor their salvation to an event like that. Making a decision to be a disciple of Christ will necessarily mean things in your life. Peter laid them out in the first chapter of this letter. In 1 Pet. 1:5 he said believers, “Are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” You can clean up a pig on the outside, but inside he’s still a pig. These false teachers can be clean on the outside, but on the inside, they’re the same as always. They’re just like the Pharisees when Jesus when said, “You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead man’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matt. 23:27) Only Jesus can truly transform the inside of a person – the soul of a person. So what of Peter’s statement that they’d be better off not knowing the truth? Because these false teachers were still in the church, Peter addressed them with Christian type language. They had the appearance of faith, but Peter did not consider them to be Christians not because they lost their salvation, but because they never had a faith to begin with. It doesn’t make much sense to say they’d be better off not knowing if they were truly saved.
1 Jo. 2:19 is very clear that people who have a genuine faith will never walk away from Jesus. The only possibility for walking away means there was no salvation. These false teachers seemed to change, but they are just like the pigs that were washed on the outside only to return to the mud. They were always unclean.