The apostle Peter warns his readers that, just as in Old Testament times (e.g. Deuteronomy 13), when there were false prophets among the people of Israel, so there would be false teachers among the Christian leadership who will bring into New Testament churches “damnable1 heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).
Their false doctrines, and they themselves, are “denying the Lord that bought them” (v.1b)—i.e. even while they pretend to be ministers2 of the Christian Gospel, and servants of the Lord.
By being in the office of teaching minister, they have taken an oath of service to the Lord—professing that he has bought them out of slavery to sin and false gods. But they are really serving themselves.
Their “covetousness” is what really drives them in the “feigned words” of their preaching, by which they “make merchandise of you”, their congregation (v.3)—they themselves get very rich from the offerings that their destructive doctrines bring in.
Bringing Christ and Christianity into disrepute
Meanwhile these “pernicious ways” are noticed and mocked by a watching world, so that these pretended men of God and women of God bring the church of Christ into disrepute—“by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (v.2).
Does this sound like your church? Then you must do whatever you can to warn your family and friends there, and to rebuke and correct false teacher in the pulpit—this rebuke and correction must be in a loving way, intended to “convert” them (see James 5:19-20; 1 Peter 4:8). If they fail to repent, then you must leave them. You do not want to be part of a church that is shaming the Lord Jesus Christ—and you do not want to receive part of what he will soon bring upon them, in his own time.
There may be saved but deceived, genuinely Christ-bought teachers teaching “damnable heresies”, alongside unsaved false teachers who teach the same errors—indistinguishable, for a time. What a dreadful state a church has fallen into, when such errors have taken over, where the pastors teach Christians sinful—damnable ways! And what a seriously dreadful state a church has fallen into, when under these heresies and the sinful practices, there is no way of identifying who in congregation or pulpit is a true Christian and who is not, because all are in error and all are involved in immoral and destructive ways, careless that their reputation is spoilt before a watching world.
Judgment must begin at the house of God
How does the Lord Jesus Christ deal with such compromised Christians and their churches? For surely he knows who are his people and who are not, even though some are (for a while) believers and preachers of these heresies.
The Bible teaches us that Christ does deal with unconverted false teachers and their followers. For his own honour, he brings “swift destruction” upon them (2 Peter 2:1), even on some who have been blood-bought by the Lord. After repeated rebuttals, warnings and calls to repentance, and after chastisement of afflictions not being heeded, there is only one course of action remaining.
There inevitably will come when this becomes true in a compromised and corrupted church: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We can be sure of this: Christ will not endure “the way of truth being evil spoken of” (2 Peter 2:2). He will allow these errors to run their course for as long as his purposes require, but then he will swiftly consign them to history.
Many false teachers (i.e. teachers of false doctrines, and damnable heresies) are not true Christians but are unsaved. They may have deliberately infiltrated the Church of Christ in order to subvert it. They may through sheer self discipline withhold themselves from outward sin for a while, in order to pretend to be Christians. But their true nature will eventually manifest itself—and especially so in a church that they have turned evil by their damnable heresies.
The word evil does indeed apply here, for one identifier of a false doctrine is that it promotes and gives licence to sinful practices. The ungodly in church and pulput will thus “walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness”, and they will behave as “natural brute beasts”, “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin”, and they will “allure through the lusts of the flesh, through wantonness” (2 Peter 2:10-18).
God will judge perverse heretics for their efforts to drag down Christians into becoming “servants of corruption”—turned evil, like themselves (v.19).
Escape with your life
True Christians who are ensnared in such corrupt churches do heed the warnings and therefore they repent of the errors and “come out from among them” (see 2 Corinthians 6:13-16). They are the ones who are eventually compelled by God to leave, as were Noah and Lot in times past (2 Peter 2:4-8). “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (v.9).
Similarly, if a pastor or theological seminary teacher comes to understand that part of what he has been teaching is an error—even a damnable heresy, then he will know that he must repent even if it means he must leave his place and office, for the honour of his Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord delivers his people from error. Whereas fake Christians are those who repeatedly and ultimately fail to repent and reform.
- The Greek word translated damnable here means destructive, bringing to ruin (Strong’s Concordance). The same word is translated as pernicious in the next verse. The apostle is here giving serious warning about “damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1) lead people along “pernicious ways” (v.2) that lead to destruction, i.e. everlasting ruin in Hell.↩
- The word elsewhere translated minister is also translated servant or deacon (Strong’s Concordance). The idea of being a bought servant is in Paul’s words, “the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1).↩