2 Peter 2:21,22 (ESV)
For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
Truth in Focus: False professors, though appearing to have many or all of the external marks of God’s redeemed people, will always forsake the truth of the Gospel.
Beloved, today we consider Peter’s warning to the false professors, those who “have known the way of righteousness” by sharing in many of the external trappings of genuine faith (attendance to Gospel meetings, being baptized in water, partaking of the communion table, leading in the activities of the congregation, etc.), but who do not truly believe the Gospel. In fact, false professors never come to a saving knowledge of Christ in the Gospel because they reject the “holy commandment” (Peter’s descriptive term for the Gospel of Christ) and cling to sinful self-righteousness. Ultimately, false professors show themselves to be what they are, as they openly reject the Gospel and return fully and publicly to wallow in the mire of self-righteousness, displaying their true unregenerate identities for all to see.
v. 21 “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
A. “For it would have been better for them…..” – what an aggravated circumstance those who feign salvation find themselves! Pretending to be members of the household of faith, they secretly cling to self-righteousness, seeking to lead others astray in the process. Christ warned in the Gospels that “it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2). The false professor openly mocks the God of heaven and earth with this charade of religiosity. However, God will not be mocked.
B. “known the way of righteousness” – Another descriptive term for the Gospel of Christ, Peter makes it clear that the false professors in view here are not merely ignorant of the Christian faith. Neither are they “babes in Christ” only needing more instruction and patient counsel. Oh no, these false professors are versed in the Gospel message. They absolutely know the Gospel. In fact, the false professors Peter warns about in his letters are in positions of authority teaching the people. In verse 14, Peter warns that false professors will “entice unsteady souls,” having “hearts trained in greed.”
C. “turn back from the holy commandment” – Peter calls the Gospel “the holy commandment.” Earlier in this letter (2 Peter 3:2), Peter describes the Gospel as the “commandment of the Lord and Savior.”
It is from this commandment of Christ, the Gospel, that false professors gleefully turn away, venturing back to the mire of self-righteousness works. The question often asked is whether or not this verse could describe genuinely saved individuals falling away from true faith and back into an unregenerate state. There are several reasons why this passage provides absolutely no evidence to support the notion of God’s elect losing salvation.
1. The immediate context deals specifically with false teachers, not with genuinely saved individuals. In fact, 2 Peter 2:3 explicitly teaches that the kind of false professors dealt with in this letter are of those who are destined by God for destruction:
“And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
2. The broader context of Peter’s writings preclude any talk of God’s people, those who whom Christ came specifically to save, actually being lost back into the world and eternally separated from God.
Consider Peter’s comments in the opening verse of 2 Peter that Christians “have obtained a faith of equal standing by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
In his earlier letter (1 Peter 1:4,5), Peter assures God’s people that salvation is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
3. The overall context of the New Testament presents salvation, true salvation, as a wondrous and completed work of God in Christ whereby God adopts us as sons and daughters, heirs of the kingdom, not dependent on the will, works, or perseverance of man, but on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed.
John 1:12,13 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Romans 8:15 – “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’“
It is clear that false professors and not genuine Christians are in view throughout Peter’s letters. The only people who turn their back on the truth of the Gospel are those who still cling to self-righteousness, false professors “whose condemnation is from long ago.”
D. “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – In much the same fashion, a false professor may leave the external trappings of a life lived in self-righteousness for a season to go through the motions of religiosity. In his commentary on this passage, Robert Hawker describes the situation well:
The Holy Ghost, by the Apostle, is speaking all along of mere nominal professors, as distinguished from the Lord’s own people. The outward form of godliness had done enough to induce, in mere professors, a wish for an outward, garb of godliness. The reputation of being somewhat religious, had an effect to restrain them from the open commission of more daring offenses before men. They had set up somewhat of a reform, observed perhaps family prayer, attended ordinances, and now and then the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But here it ceased. No awakening by grace, no regeneration of the heart, no union with Christ. Hence, though they had escaped the open and notorious acts of pollution which were in the world, yet no work of saving grace was ever wrought in the heart; and therefore, what begins only in nature, can arise no higher, neither will it ever end in grace. The dog, when sick, and vomits up, soon returns and swallows down again what must everlastingly make sick. And the sow, however you may wash her, will not be easy until she return to wallow again in her favorite mud. It is her nature, and nature never ariseth above her own element. The sheep may fall into the mire, but it will never lay there. But the sow is in her native soil. When there, neither can any keep her from it. Oh! how sweet is distinguishing grace!
The final end of the false professor is complete separation from God in judgment. Perhaps after hearing a message such as this, you may feel the need to examine your own life. Questions may start rising in your mind as to whether or not you be in the faith. You may even be tempted to look to your own action and works to give you assurance that you are, in fact, a true Christian. I would urge you not to look to works for assurance. In fact, the only thing you’ll discover by examining your works is that our best efforts always fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Our Scripture lesson showcases the final end of the false professors. What makes them false professors? Are they false professors because they commit sin? If so, everyone on the planet is a false professor! What does the text teach us about false professors? The false professor “turns back from the commandment of Christ,” the Gospel! Rejecting the Gospel is proof-positive that one is no child of God through Christ.
Do not spend your life wondering whether or not the promises of God will be promises kept! He will keep you in perfect peace. Christ is a friend that will stick closer than a brother. We are seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We have passed from death into life. We are born again unto a living hope. Blessed is the man God chooses to draw near! He will keep His promises and He will keep you! Doubts arise in our sinful hearts, but the promise of God is real and everlasting!
False professors do not share this wondrous and sure-footed hope because they reject Christ’s Gospel. It is the very promises of Christ which they reject. Therefore, no comfort can be afforded them either today or in face of the judgment. In fact, those who reject the Gospel while trying to seduce others find themselves in an aggravated state just as Peter writes in 2 Peter 2. Beloved, unless and until the Lord gloriously saves these individuals, they will happily march headlong into judgment apart from any Gospel hope, having trusted instead in their own self-righteousness. The false professor does this at his own peril.
Jason K. Boothe is Pastor at Horizons Baptist Church in Piketon, Ohio. For more information concerning the ministries of Horizons Baptist Church, please visit www.HorizonsBaptist.org