Christian leaders seem to be falling away from the faith in record numbers. Either they fall away by their actions (the love of sin) or through their confession (the denial of the faith). Actually, they might fall away by doing both of these things. Why does this happen? It’s hard to pin down one reason, but Peter (and Jude) provide some indications of the spiritual motivation behind falling away.
It seems that falling away from the faith involves two things: denying God and embracing sin.
Rising from among You
Consider the Words of 2 Peter 2:1–3
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Observe how false teachers bring in “destructive heresies” that will bring “condemnation” (for them and for you!). They are not obvious about it either. They “secretly” smuggle heresies into the church.
And it happens in our own backyards. False teachers arise from “among you.” They are (sometimes your!) teachers. So how can we know who they are?
Denying the Lord
In the first place, you know them because these teachers deny the Master. Their teaching tends to deny Christ, the Master, who redeemed them (Jude 4). Peter means this at the very least. Such denials can certainly look like someone denying Jesus Christ came in the flesh (1 John 4:2).
But Peter also focuses on the morally evil actions of false teachers.
Denial by Sin
True teaching tends towards goodness because God is good. In contrast, Peter notes that false teachers “follow their sensuality.” He explains, “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
Jude also describes false teachers in similar ways, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
And according to Peter, such sin enslaves: “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet 2:19).
For these two authors (Peter and Jude), false teaching involves sensuous and enslaving sin (at least in Peter’s explanation).
So Why Do They Fall Away?
The spiritual reasons seem to involve a close relationship between denying the Master and enslavement to sin.
I am not convinced every denial of Christ must tie to some sensual sin—as if every false teacher also hides some secret sexual sin.
But I do think Peter and Jude lay out two common spiritual patterns.
- False teachers become enticed by doctrine that denies the one who redeemed them. In other words, they deny Christ their Lord. While the reasons for this might be legion, it could also be simple pride: I am smart, and I know the truth unlike these others. My sin certainly does not require the redemption entailed by the Gospel. I don’t have to obey the Master; I follow my own desires.
- False teachers become enticed by sin. Whatever they love, they become enslaved to it. They should be enslaved to the Master who bought them (2 Pet 2:1). Instead, they become enslaved to the sin that entices them: “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet 2:19).
We certainly can discover many reasons for why people follow away. But Peter (and Jude) provide insight into two primary spiritual reasons for their falling away. And also a warning: false teachers will rise up among you and secretly (not plainly) introduce false teaching to enslave and to destroy you. Make no mistake: Heresy is destructive and results in condemnation.
Here’s a crash course on the Trinity to help you spot error.