Escaping the Pollutions of the World

Peter had noticed that some people had come to church in order to escape the worst of the corrupt culture around them, and in order to better themselves.

By Simon Padbury 15 February 2020 7 minutes read

The apostle Peter issues further1 warnings in his second epistle. There are some verses in these later warnings which are sometimes offered by eternal-security deniers as proof that Christians can lose their salvation by later sinning it away: “For if after they2 have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” (2 Peter 2.20-21).

Were there some people coming to church, in those days, in an effort to escape the worst of the corrupt culture around them? Did they come because they wanted to make themselves better people by becoming disciples of Christ? Were they using Christianity was yet another philosophical system of personal development; a self-help religion? Did they merely admire the preaching on moral purity and holy living that Christianity was gaining a reputation for, and they wanted the Christian example to be a good influence upon themselves? We are not told why these people came to church in the first place, only that they had benefitted for a while by having the influence of a Christian culture around them—an environment in which they had escaped the pollutions of the world “through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” But had they been converted? Had they remained unchanged in their heart?—because after a while, it turned out that they left the church and returned to their old ways.

The question is: did the apostle regard these “unstable souls” (v.14) as true Christians? No. Peter indicates that they were never saved. Notice how he concludes by referring to them metaphorically as having remained as “dogs” and “sows” all along, whose unchanged nature becomes evident again after a period of suppression: “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (v.22).

It would have been better for such temporary fellow-travellers if they had never known the “way of righteousness.” Now their latter end will be worse than the end of those who never heard the gospel of Christ.

Peter’s warnings of perdition (i.e. complete and utter ruin, including everlasting punishment in Hell) for apostasy are serious and true warnings—but these warnings encourage true believers in Christ to persevere in the faith and to flee from such errors.

Such warnings are used by God to bring us to sense, to stir us to repentance, to pull us out of our lapses into old habitual sins, and to rescue us from damnable heresies and from succumbing to the world’s temptations—even when these same temptations are taught by so-called Christian pastors.

The Christian life is neither static nor passive. It is an active “walk” of persevering effort as God enables by his grace, but it is a walk in which the true Christian can sometimes, sadly, take a wrong path and fall into error and sin.

True, godly perseverance involves keeping on the right way—and where necessary, repenting and returning to the right way—following the Christian path by heeding such Scriptural warnings as these.

The great call of the gospel includes God’s great promise which he makes to all who turn to Christ in faith and repentance: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16.31; compare John 3.16; Romans 10.9).

Through “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20.21), which God bestows as gifts by his sovereign grace, a spiritually regenerated sinner “closes with Christ,” as our spiritual forebears used to say. Born-again sinners come to Christ (and they are the only kind of sinner that truly comes to Christ) because the Father draws them to him (John 6.44). “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.12-13). This is how God establishes his covenant of grace with his elect people.

God keeps his promises. God has promised in the law, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18.4,20; see also Deuteronomy 27.26; Galatians 3.10). And God has promised in the gospel, “whosoever believeth in should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3.16).

Believe the gospel! Repent of your sins—turn from your sins with grief and hatred. Turn to God, begging him for mercy and forgiveness. Work to cultivate “fruits meet for repentance” instead of continuing your sins (Matthew 3.8). And with God’s enabling you “to will and to do of his good pleasure,” this is how you will “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12-13).

There is no such person as a true Christian who does not grow as a Christian. Admittedly, some true believers struggle spiritually, but they will inevitably repent and return to God’s way—and grow in it. But there are many who claim to be Christians, but the absence of all real repentance, and their deliberate and ultimate failure to live as a Christian ought to live, reveals the fact that there has been no regeneration of their soul.

What our Lord says concerning false prophets holds true for all false converts: “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7.15-20).

Jesus also warned certain religious leaders of woe to come for their attempts at appearing to be truly religious while being nothing of the kind inside their hearts: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23.27).

The apostle Paul teaches Christians: “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them [i.e. the practitioners of counterfeit forms of ‘Christianity’],3 and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6.16-7.1; see also Ezekiel 11.20; Zechariah 8.7-8; Revelation 18.4).

Let us not miss Paul’s continuing argument because of the chapter-break in our Bibles: “Having therefore these [covenantal] promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7.1).

Understand the apostle’s argument: true Christians—who are the “dearly beloved” to whom Paul writes, and the dearly beloved of God—possess these promises that are integral to the covenant of grace. And, seeing that these promised blessings are indeed ours, therefore we ought to cleanse ourselves of our former unchristian manner of life—cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, as Paul also says. We should put off the old man with his deeds, and we should instead strive toward perfecting holiness: completely manifesting holy living in the fear, or reverence, of God.

A heart-change outworked in a life set apart from sin and worldliness. Touch not the unclean thing, and God will receive you. Having therefore such promises as this, dearly beloved, let us…do what Paul said.

  1. See Come out From Among Them. ↩︎

  2. This “they” are, as Peter has already described them, “unstable souls” who came to church but who did not believe the gospel of Christ, and who remained unsaved. They have been taught “the way of righteousness,” but they preferred false doctrines, and were “beguiled” by teachers and preachers whose false gospel promised them liberty, and much else besides (see 2 Peter 2.14,19). ↩︎

  3. Where such sins appear within a Christian community, those who commit them must be excommunicated (see 1 Corinthians 5.9-13). But if these practitioners have been allowed to run rampant and have taken over, when hope of recovering such a church to repentance and reformation is lost, then you must come out from among them. ↩︎