Mark Fox April 14, 2024

False teachers are sometimes false converts

In Peter’s second letter, he spends a whole chapter on the subject of the dangers of false teachers in the church. And he is mostly referring to false teachers who may claim to know Jesus but they in fact had false conversions. It is true that there are men and women in the church who are truly born again and then drift away from sound doctrine. They are enticed by the enemy and their own fleshly desires and begin to believe and even to teach unsound doctrine. Some of them grow huge churches and at the same time that they are preaching Christ crucified, they are also serving up deadly works-righteousness in their weekly sermons or even promoting sensuality of some form or another. They may be misguided believers but we must certainly judge their wrong teaching and hold it up to the Word of God as the good Bereans did. As Luke records in Acts 17, the believers in Berea examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul and Silas was teaching them was the truth!

But let’s be clear. Peter is not talking about those guys in his second letter, not the misguided believers. He is talking about false teachers who were never truly born again. They put on the uniform and learn the language but their hearts remain blackened by sin. Jude says, “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouth boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” Peter says these men actually seemed to escape the defilements of the world for a season, because they heard of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They heard the truth and for a while conformed their lives, in their own strength of will, to what accords with sound doctrine. They cleaned themselves up! It seems. But wait. Can anyone do that? Have you ever heard someone say they can’t come to Christ right now, not until I get myself cleaned up? And you say to them, what? Don’t kid yourself, man! Jesus catches his fish and Jesus alone can clean them. How do we know these false teachers were also false converts? “They are again entangled in them (the defilements of the world) and overcome (by them), the last state has become worse for them than the first.” The disease they were born with, sin, was never actually cured through faith in Jesus, and their defilements, or the pollution of their lives is even worse now than when they were not pretending to be saved. 

Then Peter says something shocking. These false teachers who are false converts would have been better off never knowing the way of righteousness. Or he could have said, “knowing about the way of righteousness.” This is a hard word. One explanation may be this: to hear the truth and ignore it inoculates you against the truth. It is harder for you to even hear it after that. Also, to hear the truth and pretend to embrace it makes you a liar and a deceiver. And in so many cases as we see here, someone who rejects the truth starts a campaign to entice others away from it as well. Paul wrote about that to the church in Galatia: “Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” 

And that must be our answer to false teachers as well. We do not yield even for a moment. We stand firmly and loudly proclaim the truth of the gospel.

 

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Mark Fox April 14, 2024
Mark Fox April 8, 2024

Hearts trained in Greed

“They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin.” The language Peter uses to describe false teachers is not metaphorical. It is stark, straightforward, and scary. Sexual sin was then and is now a prominent characteristic of false teachers. Along with their boldness and arrogance to believe that they can say and do anything they want, their lust and greed makes them believe they can have anything, or anyone, they want. Perhaps Peter was thinking of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, which became a part of the fabric of early church teaching. Words like this had never been heard before and were probably rejected by casual or nominal believers, and certainly by false teachers. What were the words? Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Sexual sin begins with the eyes, and Peter says these men were like predators, looking for the next person to corrupt. And they cannot stop, their lust is insatiable, never satisfied, as they see every woman as a potential adulteress. Who are the ones most likely to fall victim to these predators? Peter says, “They entice unstable souls.” Those who are unsettled, not grounded, and therefore the most vulnerable. It reminds me of how cults grow so often. The charismatic and heretical leader looks for the young and vulnerable, the bruised and unloved, the isolated and alone, and he entices them into the fold with promises that they will be loved and cared for there. Instead, they will be used and discarded.

 

Another marker for false teachers is greed. Peter says, “they have hearts trained in greed.” He uses a word and a concept that was very familiar in that Greek culture. We Americans didn’t invent gyms and places to work out and train our bodies. The Greeks in Peter’s day and way before that were committed to physical training. Green writes, “There were centers founded for the physical training of young citizens, which then became venues for mental as well as physical education, serving as secondary schools in the community.” We are body, soul, and spirit, and all three must be exercised. Paul recognized this and wrote, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” He saw the connection between discipline of the body and the effectiveness of his ministry to other. He also wrote, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” There is action required, training that is intentional and committed.

But these false teachers were also committed to training. They actively exercised themselves in cultivating a love for money. They trained their hearts in covetousness and greed, yearning for more, filled with envy of those who have what they want. I was talking with a man this week about the power of addiction, as he volunteers at a ministry to those who are addicted to drugs. We have all seen it or read about it. An addict is constantly thinking about his next fix, and his mind and body are both tormented until that fix is found. His master is his drug. But the drug that gives him temporary pleasure brings long-term pain and destruction right along with it. It is the same for the man or woman who is never satisfied with what they have but are consumed with lust for more. Their master is money. And it consumes their very soul. Again, Paul warns us, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Those who find themselves spending most of their time thinking about money are on dangerous ground.

Peter said, “there will be false teachers.” And there are. The Bible gives us markers to look for, and warnings for our own souls as well.

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Mark Fox April 8, 2024
Mark Fox April 1, 2024

He Opened Their Eyes

I love the story Luke tells of the two men, Cleopas and another unnamed disciple of Jesus, walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing the events that they have just witnessed. And while they talk and reason with one another about these things, Jesus walks up beside them and asks them a question. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? We don’t know, but the simple answer may be that God prevented them from recognizing Jesus. Isn’t that the case with many whom we talk to about the Lord? We have the Spirit of Christ but they cannot recognize him. Their hearts are hardened or broken over the circumstances of their lives or it is simply not the right time yet. 

Jesus asks them a question, as he has done so many times in his ministry. You know, Jesus never asked a question because he lacked knowledge, but in order to peel open hearts, that he might speak into them. (Never underestimate the power of a well-placed question! It will often provide access into a life that nothing else will.) Jesus asked them what they had been talking about as they walked.

We see that God has a sense of humor, when Cleopas responds, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who does not know what just happened there?” I can imagine Jesus stifling a grin because he is the only one in the city who DOES know what just happened. Saints, we can come to the Lord sometimes with our prayers and say, “Lord, don’t you see? Don’t you know what is going on with me here?” And the truth is, he is the only one who knows what is going on with you. We don’t ever fully know what is going on, even with ourselves. But the Lord does, and cares.

Jesus says, “What things?” Never underestimate the power of an open-ended question.

Cleopas and the other disciple of Jesus respond with a word that reveals dashed hopes. They say that Jesus of Nazareth has been crucified, and then they reveal their hearts: “But we had hoped that he  was the one to redeem Israel.” Two things about their response: first, they had misplaced hope. Their hope was for a Messiah who would come as a victorious champion and conquer Rome and deliver Israel from bondage. They did not understand the truth, that God had always told his people that the One who came to deliver them would have to do it through his own death. That the path to glory went through suffering. They have ignored the bloodiness of Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Instead they have gone right to Isaiah 61: 1-2 “…he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God…”

Second, it was hope that had been buried with Jesus. We had hoped, they said. In other words, we don’t hope any more. We were hoping, but all hope is now lost. Jesus of Nazareth is dead. In fact, he was put in a tomb. That’s where you put dead people. That’s why the women went there today, to see the body, but when they got there to see the dead body, the dead body wasn’t there. He was crucified and buried, but now he is gone. An angel said he was alive, but they didn’t see him. They just know his dead body wasn’t there. You get the point, right? They were sure that Jesus was dead.

It was when he was breaking the bread and blessing it that these two finally saw Jesus. I love the way Luke says it: “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Was it that they saw the nail prints in his hands as he was breaking the bread? Or was it the way he broke the bread that reminded them of times when Jesus broke bread and fed five thousand in the wilderness? Or was it the way he spoke to the Father as he blessed the bread that reminded them of the way they had heard Jesus talk to the Father before? The truth is, we don’t know, but what a difference was made in the hearts and the lives and the attitudes of these two men!

When Jesus opens our eyes to the truth of who he is in every situation, the situation itself may not change at all, but we do. And if we have believed a lie and then Jesus opens our eyes to the truth, it is resurrection day all over again. 

The men knew they had to go find the other disciples and tell them all they had just seen and heard. Night is approaching, they have just walked seven miles, but neither of those facts deter them now. They rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem. How many want to wager that they ran a little, if not the whole way back? Truth sets us free. Free to run. Free to live without fear and guilt and shame. 

Jesus Christ is risen in our hearts. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

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Mark Fox April 1, 2024