“Worse Off Than At The Beginning”      2 Peter 2:20-22              June 17, 2012

 

SI:  This little letter from Apostle Peter takes you to the heights and to the depths. 

Chapter 1 is a glorious, positive summons to take advantage of the divine power

   that God has given you through Christ for moral and spiritual transformation,

   to claim the promises of God as the conduit of this divine power,

   and to add to your faith and make your calling and election sure.

 

Chapter 2 is a bleak, negative portrayal of false teachers in the church and what will

   happen to them and to the people who follow them. 

Peter makes one point over and over in chapter 2—heresy is a short rope to hell.

   Heresy a soul-destroying disease.  Heresies can kill you if you believe them. 

   They will ruin you morally and spiritually and bring you to judgment.

That is simply because they are false. 

   There is no power in falsehood to transform a person to be like Christ.

   Jesus himself said, “Sanctify them by the truth.”

   Instead, false teaching ends up feeding the sinful nature.

 

Peter is just as passionate in chapter 2, warning Christians about what will happen if

   you believe false teaching as he is in chapter 1, encouraging you to believe God’s

   promises and add to your faith. 

And in these final verses of chapter 2, he presents his most frightening warning

   against false teaching—that people who follow false teaching to their conclusion

   are worse off at the end than at the beginning. 

These are sobering verses.  Before we read and study, let us pray.

 

O Holy Spirit, who inspired the Apostle Peter to write these words for our benefit,

   open our minds to understand this teaching and our wills to receive it.

If I say anything wrong or if I say the right things poorly,

   do not let anyone here get away with using that as an excuse to ignore your truth. 

And may the result of this teaching be that we all run to Jesus Christ,

   and cling to him in faith as our only eternal security.

In His name we pray.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRO:  Have you ever noticed that when you are prescribed antibiotics,

   the pharmacist tells you to take all of the pills?

If you have 10 pills, you have to take all 10, even if all of your symptoms

   disappear after taking only 5.

Apparently what can happen if you don’t take all the antibiotic is that

   even though the infection seems to be gone, it’s really not—

   and it will come back with a vengeance.

Then your condition will be worse off than it was at the beginning.

 

There is a similar principle at work in the spiritual realm.

If a person makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ,

   If he joins the church and identifies himself with Christians,

   And then if he starts to experience some divine power and his life starts to change,

   and he starts to escape some of the evil desires of his sinful nature.

If after all of that he quits Christ—he deliberately, with his eyes wide open,

   hardens he his heart against Jesus and the Gospel and

   goes back to his old life, then he is worse off than he was at the beginning.

 

Now, you might ask, how can that be?  How can he be worse off?

   Because at the beginning he was a lost sinner.

   He was without Jesus and heading for the judgment day and God’s wrath.

   There is nothing worse than that.

Oh yes, there is something much worse.

   If a person quits Christ after starting out with him and experiencing some

   of the divine power of the Christian life, he has committed the one sin

   that will not be forgiven.

And even though he might have many years of life left on earth—

   he is a dead man walking because he is hopelessly and irreversibly condemned.

 

In these verses Peter is describing that sin which Moses called defiant sin,

   sin for which no sacrifice would atone.

Jesus had another name for this sin, he called it blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,

   and said that a person who commits it is guilty of an eternal sin

   and will never be forgiven.

John called this sin, the sin that leads to death

   and he said that it does no good to pray for a person who has committed it.

 

The writer of Hebrews said of people who commit this sin

   that it is impossible for them to be brought back to repentance.

And that for them no sacrifice for sins is left,

   but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire.

 

This teaching in the Bible has troubled Christians. 

   It troubles us for two reasons.

To some Christians this seems to be a poor reflection on God’s mercy and grace

   that he would declare a sin unforgivable.

Other Christians are troubled by this teaching because they start to worry

   that they have committed it.

 

If there is a sin that once committed in this life places a person forever outside

   God’s forgiveness—then as a Christian you certainly need to have a clear

   understanding of what the Bible says about it. 

And if, the apostle Peter, who had such great love for Jesus Christ

   and for fellow Christians, was compelled by the Holy Spirit to write about this,

   then obviously there is something beneficial to your Christian walk

   to know about it.

 

I want to divide our study into two parts.

1.  Three questions often asked about this sin.

2.  The spiritual benefit that comes from knowing about this sin.

 

 


MP#1  Three questions often asked about this sin

This topic brings lots of questions to the minds of believers.

 

1.  Does the Bible really teach that there is an unforgivable sin?

Yes, it does, and it starts where you would expect—in the Old Testament.

In the law of Moses there is a distinction made between what is called

   unintentional sin and defiant or willful sin.

It says that there are sacrifices and forgiveness for unintentional sin.

   But there were no sacrifices and no forgiveness for defiant sin.

   Numbers 15 says of person guilty of defiant sin, “his guilt remains on him.”

 

What is the difference between unintentional sins and defiant or willful sin?

Unintentional does not mean accidental.

   Leviticus 6 lists theft, extortion, and lying as sins that can be forgiven.

   Leviticus 19 provides atonement for fornication.

You don’t steal, extort, lie or fornicate by accident.  They are deliberate sins.

   They are the sort of sins people commit day after day, even Christians.

 

By unintentional Moses simply means all sins we commit out of human

   weakness.  We lie, we lust, we are mean, we covet, we blaspheme because we are

   weak, and because we give in to the desires of our flesh and temptations of devil.

They are unintentional in the sense that by them we do not intend to forsake Christ

   and reject him as Savior and Lord.

There is sacrifice and forgiveness for all those sins, no matter how small or big.

 

So what is a defiant or willful sin?

It’s a sin committed by a person in the covenant community with intention of

   throwing off the Lord’s yoke and never being subject to him again.

It is saying through your sins that you are through with God, and you want nothing

   more to do with him and you have rejected his authority in your life.

Moses said that there is no forgiveness for that sin.

 

Jesus himself also clearly taught this in Mark 3.

   I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.  But whoever

   blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”  He

   said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”

Jesus was talking to the Pharisees.

Pharisees weren’t pagans.  They were members of the covenant community.

   They members of the same synagogues Jesus himself worshipped in.

They had experienced many of God’s blessings. 

   They claimed to be God’s people, claimed to revere the Word of God,

   claimed to be looking for and hoping for the Christ.

But when the Messiah came, and when time after time he proved to them who

   he was by his miracles—they defiantly and willfully rejected him.

   Going so far as to say he was demon-possessed.

Jesus said that sin will never be forgiven. 

 

Earlier in the service we read Hebrews 6 and 10.  Re-read those yourself.

   Notice same idea in both.  Professing Christians who by their sin

   have deliberately and completely turned backs on Christ cannot be forgiven.

 

Final key passage, besides 2 Peter 2 is 1 John 5

   John says that there are sins that don’t lead to death. 

   If you see a brother fall into sin, pray for him.

But there is a sin that leads to death, don’t pray for a person who has committed it.

   Earlier in his letter John identifies that sin—willful rejection of Christ

   by those who had earlier been members of the church.

 

Clearly, Bible teaches that there is a sin that cannot be forgiven.

Once that line is crossed, even if a person has many years left on earth,

   all hope of salvation is lost forever.

 

2.  What, exactly is this sin?

It is the deliberate rejection of Christ, his salvation, and the very notion that you

   need his forgiveness, by a person who once professed faith in Christ and who had

   some experiences of his blessings. 

This is not a sin committed by people out in the world, who don’t know Jesus.

 

Peter says it is committed by people who have “escaped the corruption of the world

   by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 

   In other words, people who make a profession of faith in Christ, make progress.

But then they become entangled in it again, overcome and—this is crucial—

   “turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”

Perhaps you have witnessed this yourself.  I have.

A person who appears to be a Christian in every way, but who then turns his back

   on Christ and the faith.  And oftentimes, these people actually become more

   profane and graceless and opposed to Christianity than people who have never

   darkened the door of a church.

Last week a Christ Covenant member called me and said: 

   I’ve got to talk to you about something that is really bothering me.

Told me a story of a close acquaintance of his who was a professing

   Christian, in fact, this man was once a Southern Baptist minister.

He hadn’t talked to this man in some time, knew he had gone through some

   problems.  Finally reconnected and found him horribly changed.

 

The man has completely rejected the Christian faith, he’s living with a woman who

   is an atheist, he’s reading and quoting books by atheist Richard Dawkins,

   and he’s mocking and jeering at Christianity. 

The Christ Covenant member told me how much this rattled him.

   It rattled me.  I also know this man and had no idea this had happened.

 

Has he committed this unforgivable sin?  Time will tell.

   Perhaps you could tell similar stories, about people you know who once

   professed Christ, seemed to be believers, but who have rejected him

   completely and whose lives subsequently became graceless.

Church history and our own experience demonstrates this truth of Scripture—

   When a professing Christian, with his eyes wide open, deliberately turns his back

   on Christ, he does not return. 

John Piper said that this sin inoculates a person against Christianity.

 

3.  Can a true Christian commit this sin?

No, praise God! 

A Christian can fall very far.  He can go through times of backsliding, coldness,

   rebellion, and indifference toward God, immorality and active disobedience. 

But—he will always be restored by the grace of God though repentance,

   to earnest faith and active holiness in life.

There is always forgiveness with God

   as long as there is real faith in him and love for him.

Look at Peter himself.  Could a Christian fall lower, do anything worse than Peter? 

   To deny with curses that he even knew Jesus Christ.  I don’t know the man!

   Yet God moved Peter to repentance and restoration and usefulness.

 

Clearly, people who commit this unforgivable sin appear to be Christians.

Peter says that they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord

   and Savior Jesus Christ.  Hebrews makes even more remarkable statements.

That they have tasted the heavenly gift, and shared in the Holy Spirit.

   That certainly sounds like a Christian, doesn’t it?

But notice what Peter says about the character revealing nature of this sin.

   Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed

   goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”

His point is that the reason these people have turned away from Christ

   and back to a corrupt way of life is because their natures

   were never changed in the first place.

Why does a dog lick his vomit? 

   Because he has a dog’s nature, not a man’s nature.

Why does a pig prefer filth to cleanliness?

   Because he has a pig’s nature, not a man’s nature.

 

Remember what Peter says of every single person who has put his faith in Christ?

   You participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world.

The divine nature in the true believer will always prove itself.

   A Christian might fall deeply into sin, but eventually he will be repulsed

   by the vomit and filth of it and come weeping back to Jesus.


MP#2  The spiritual benefit that comes from knowing about this sin

This brings us to the second point—

   the spiritual benefit that comes from knowing about this sin.

This could just be the fourth question—Why is this in the Bible?

 

Is this just a theological exercise?

Perhaps some of you have heard all this and said—That’s thought-provoking. 

   I’ll have to think about this for a while.

   Interesting how this teaching about the unforgivable sin throughout Bible.

 

But I’m glad this doesn’t apply to me, because I know I’m a Christian.

   As you’ve said, true Christians can’t commit this sin.

I’ve prayed to receive Christ.

   I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart.

   I’ve joined the church, I’m growing as a Christian,

   I’m serious about my beliefs and I read and study the Bible.

 

These verses prove that if you are standing on those things for your eternal security,

   you are standing on sand.

Everyone who has committed this sin and is in hell now or on his way there,

   at one time really, sincerely believed that he was a Christian too.

 

There is only one way that you can be keep true to Christ and not repudiate Him

   and turn your back on your faith—and that is if He keeps you.

As I was studying for this sermon you would not believe how many stories I ran

   across of ministers who had not just left the ministry, but left Christ.

   Men who repudiated the Christian faith and whose lives had become graceless.

Those stories, combined with these verses, scared me.

   Because I saw that these men had accomplished much more in ministry

   than I have, but that did not keep them safe.

 

In my mind’s eye I saw myself an old man with my heart hardened like stone

   against all that I had once believed and preached. 

So right there in my study, over my books and notes I prayed—

   Lord Jesus, keep me true to you. 

   Lord Jesus, never let me believe lies.  Never let me reject the faith.

   Never let me become an enemy of the Gospel and the Kingdom.

 

Why are these verses in the Bible?  For interesting theological discussion?

No, they are warnings.

   This is how the warnings of Scripture function in the Christian life.

   They are one of the means, not the only means, God uses to keep us safe.

When your children are running out somewhere, why do you always say:

   Kids, be careful!  Because you want them to be sober.

   You want them to take stock of situation, be realistic, act wisely.

   “Be careful” is just another way of saying, “I love you.”

 

I had a high school friend named Ray who lived large—

   he always had sports cars, he would always do crazy things—jump off bridges.

   He eventually became a top gun fighter pilot.

Whenever I would go hang out with him my mother would say—Son, be careful.

   Son, wear your seatbelt. 

   Son, if you are shooting guns, don’t let Ray stand behind you. 

Used to think—Come on.  Until I had my own children.

 

The warnings of Scripture are given by your heavenly Father for same reason—

   He wants you to be sober and realistic.

   He doesn’t want you to be presumptuous.

They are one of the means He has established to keep you in the faith.

 

After glorious high of chapter 1, He is saying in chapter 2, especially last verses,

   don’t rest your eternal security in your profession,

   or in your prayers, or in your progress—but on my Son.

 

That is the spiritual benefit of knowing about this sin.

   That is the reason this teaching is in the Bible. 

If you take it seriously, it makes you doubt yourself and trust who?

   Trust Jesus Christ.

   And trusting him is only way of salvation and progress