“There will be false teachers among you” (2 Pet 2:1)
There are many points of entry into the realm of Truth, but Today, the dynamic Apostle Peter will be our guide. At one point, he justifies the content of his letters by stating that it is his intent that when he is gone the church members will be able to remember his repeated efforts at teaching them the fundamental truths of the gospel. But just because it is accurately recorded, does not mean “Christians” are all careful to listen to what he is saying.
Sadly, many theologies have developed over the centuries that fulfill Peter’s warning about ministers who will secretly introduce destructive heresies into the church. The assurance of salvation is one of those topics for which Scripture promises that “they will be paid back for the harm they have done.”
The popular doctrine often sounds something like this: Once you have committed your life to Jesus, it doesn’t ever matter what you do after that (whether good or bad), because you have been guaranteed eternal life and God will make sure you are saved. There is much truth embedded within this statement, but it only takes a pinch of leaven to inflate the entire loaf.
The writings of the Apostle Peter appear to take a very different position. His theology is based upon the divine power gifted to believers through faith in Jesus (2 Pet 1:3), from which every professing Christian is told to
“be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure” (v.10).
Peter’s idea of assurance, or “making sure our welcome into the eternal kingdom” (v.10-11) places part of the responsibility upon the believer in growing in the faith and grace initially given to them. He doesn’t ever state that our efforts earn righteousness or salvation, but he does present our willing participation as evidential proof of the indwelling of God.
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith…” (v.5)
Following this he cites a whole list of character qualities that reflect the presence of Christ. Those who have the grace to hear Peter, rather than perhaps their denominational theologies (if they are different), will recognize that
“if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you” safe (v.8).
Of course, with free will involved, Peter also addresses the reality for those who don’t grow accordingly.
“But if anyone does not have them, he is [spiritually] nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (v.9).
Notice that Peter does not say that they will be saved anyway. Quite to the contrary, he teaches that this is such a big deal, that it can lead to a person “falling” from the promised eternal kingdom (v.10). He later makes an even more blunt declaration about the real assurance for such a fallen believer:
“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness [ie: become a Christian], than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2:20-21).
The assurance for those who were cleansed from their past sins by knowing Jesus in genuine faith, but who later turned back to life’s pleasures, former addictions, or self interests, is graphically described by Peter as
They fulfill the prophecy of “A dog returns to its vomit” and “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2:22).
By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter comments upon how “ignorant and unstable people distort” what he, Paul and the other writers of Scripture have recorded “to their own destruction” (3:16). In context, he is not speaking of pagans or other unbelievers who care little about what the Apostles were writing; He is speaking of people in the church (see also 2:13).
Those ministers and “Christians” who teach otherwise, according to Peter, are “like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish” (2:12). It might seem like excessive abuse to even reference such things, but according to Peter, “I think it is right to refresh your memory” (1:13).
His warnings are not intended to brow-beat the broken, but to strongly caution those who think their salvation is assured no matter what. That teaching does not come from Peter. And, I would suggest to you that it doesn’t come from any of the other writers of Scripture, although Peter is our solitary guide on this trip.
Peter reveals at the end of his letter that the assurance of salvation is his key focus. Like God himself who is “patient with you”, Peter doesn’t want any of “you” to perish (3:9). He writes with strong emotion and conviction in hopes of securing the faithful, so they will never experience what remains possible for believers: eternally falling from grace
“Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position” (3:17).
So how ought our definition of salvific assurance be stated in keeping with Peter’s theology?