But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” - 2 Peter 2:1, 4-9, 15, 19
One of the most difficult things for a pastor to deal with is when wolves are attacking members of his or her flock. However, these wolves are often in sheep’s clothing. These are people who call themselves Christians and even pastors or teachers, but preach a message that is in contrast with the message of the Gospel. This is what Peter is attempting to address, but what is the message that has Peter so riled up? What are these false teachers telling his people?
For if God did not spare angels…
It is likely that those he was writing to knew exactly what he was talking about. However, for the rest of us, Peter gives us clues as to what he was addressing. Peter points out that throughout history God has punished ungodliness, while rescuing the righteous even when they were living amongst the ungodly. This appears to be Peter’s primary point that he builds the rest of the text upon. There is a difference between sin and righteousness and God has consistently dealt with sin (and those who refuse to turn from it) in the same way, while those who turned to righteousness were saved. God sees the difference between individuals who follow Him and those who don’t. Peter was addressing those who would suggest otherwise. This is further clarified as he continues.
Follow in the way of Balaam son of Bezer…
Most of us know the story of Balaam, at least in part. However, I’m sure many of us do not know the story of Balaam well enough to realize what he was referring to. Those who Peter originally wrote to would have known this well. Balaam is referenced in 3 New Testament books. Revelation 2:14 tells us that Balaam taught Balak how to entice the Israelites into sin. We can see this in Numbers 22-25. Although Balaam was not able to curse Israel in Numbers 22-24, Numbers 25:1-2 tells us that “the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to sacrifice to their gods” and Numbers 25:4 tells us that God told Moses to kill all of the leaders of the people and by chapter 31, there is a plague among the people. This is an incredible turn from the chapter 24 when God refused to curse these people. Who, then, are those who follow in the way of Balaam? Those who lead God’s people into evil. Those who condone it. Those who claim that sin is not punished, although the history of God’s interaction with his people shows that sin is punished unless people come to repentance (change of direction). There are those who would suggest that because we are covered by grace and no longer under the law, sin is no longer punished. In the middle of Paul’s proclamation of grace, he asked and answered this question: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2).
They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves…
Peter concludes his description of the false teachers by stating that the false teachers “promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves to depravity….” This speaks to the suggestion that many have made that God’s call restricts us, while living for ourselves is freedom. I’ve heard many say that they don’t want to follow God because he seems to not want us to have fun or there are too many rules. However, if we understand that God’s intend is for our good, then we must believe that his call for us is to give us freedom from the bonds that we enter when we don’t follow Him. For instance, when I began smoking and drinking, I thought that I was free. However, it wasn’t long before I found that these things held me in a very tight grip. Even sexual immorality had an addictive quality to it that left me craving more and feeling out of control of my own cravings. Had I followed the call of God as proclaimed by the church I had grown up in, I would have never walked into the slavery that sin brought. Paul, like Peter, proclaimed God’s freedom to be a freedom from sin, not a freedom to sin! He said: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
God’s incredible saving grace through Christ is necessary for our salvation. However, Peter spends this entire letter reminding us that the Gospel is one of transformation. He has saved us out of our life of sin, not so that we can remain in it. His call is out of darkness and into light (1 Peter 2:9). In the final chapter, next week, we will talk about the life to which God has called us.