by Mike Ratliff
1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words, their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.2 Peter 2:1-3 (LSB)
I worked for many years as a computer programmer and database developer. There are many developers who are team people who are not very creative, but their proficiency at coding makes them very useful in working on very large applications where the work is divided up along functional lines. Then there are the very creative developers who are confined by a highly structured programming environment, which seems, to them, to stifle their creativity. I must confess that I am of the second type. If I can’t be creative, I lose interest. The creative process is what I thrive on.
The problem for creative types is that it is very difficult to “get done.” That means that reaching perfection in the project is really the goal. I would get an application fully functional, but if someone didn’t tear me away from it, I would continue to tweak it to make it “perfect.” No matter how well it functioned, my creative “drive” wanted to make it even more so. This is my confession to you who are reading this that what makes me like this is the very thing that makes people refuse to believe that the simple gospel that we find in the Bible is enough to save anyone. Our natural tendency is to tweak it to match our worldly wisdom. After all, don’t we know what is best?
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:1-4 (LSB)
Nicodemus’ response to Jesus’ comment, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” is the response of Man’s wisdom to the gospel. The profoundness of the genuine gospel is lost on Man’s wisdom.
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which has been born of the flesh is flesh, and that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who has been born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (LSB)
When people are born again, is it a work of the person or is it a work of the Spirit? That statement from Jesus, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” tells us that salvation is being born of the Spirit and we do not have any control over that process.
9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness of what we have seen, and you do not accept our witness. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? John 3:9-12 (LSB)
Nicodemus was bound to Man’s wisdom. He was trying to understand what Jesus was telling him by it. What was the result? Did he get it? No, not yet. Jesus tells him that as long as he tries to understand His teachings by his own flesh bound wisdom then he will never understand.
13 And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. John 3:13-15 (LSB)
These three verses are a puzzle to anyone trying to understand them via Man’s wisdom. In fact, they do not seem to make much sense. The statement that no one has ascended into heaven then come back to declare God’s truth about eternity except Him tells us that He alone has the true knowledge regarding heavenly wisdom. (Proverbs 30:4) Therefore, any contradiction of, addition to, or omission from the gospel found in the Word of God is heresy. In light of this, would anyone take the story from Numbers 21:5-9 about the fiery serpent on a pole that the people were to look upon in order to be healed of a fatal snakebite and say it pointed to Jesus death on the cross? So, if we do tie these together then Jesus was telling us that in order to be saved from our fatal snakebite, the penalty for our sin, we must look upon Jesus on the cross. If we apply worldly wisdom to this don’t we say stuff like, “surely not!” There has to be more to this doesn’t there?
Let’s skip forward to John 6. Jesus had just fed the 5000 and walked on water. Then, in v35, He made one of his “I Am” statements, “I Am the Bread of Life.” This was associating the Manna from Heaven that God sent the Israelites in the wilderness with His coming to Earth to secure salvation for His people.
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 Now this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:35-40 (LSB)
How much more simple could it get? Many hear the gospel, but only those who whom the Father gives to Jesus will come and believe. No one else will. All given to Jesus by the Father come to Jesus. They will never be cast out. The will of the Father is that Jesus will lose none whom were sent to Him. Then there is the wonderful statement, “everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Here we see the tie-in with John 3. All who looks upon/beholds the Son and believes has eternal life.
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop grumbling among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:41-44 (LSB)
Once again, we hear from those trying to understand Jesus’ words by Man’s wisdom. They grumble against Jesus. What was Jesus’ response to their grumbling? He told them that they were trying to understand something spiritual with eyes of flesh. The following are words from Martin Luther about this statement of Jesus.
“Jesus is saying, ‘Stop complaining that I claim to be the bread of heaven. You want to understand this on your own. You want to be smarter than I am when you ask, ‘Don’t we know his mother and father?’ But when I tell you how the Father has drawn you to me, it can’t be understood by your reason. When you hear about how the Father draws you, reason draws you in a different direction. Those who want to understand these words must close their eyes, shut the gates of reason, and let themselves become like a blind person.’ This is what God wants. Whoever refuses to be led by God, but instead wants to be led by reason, will be irritated by the message of Jesus and will continually complain about it. – Martin Luther.
I would add that they not only are irritated by the message and complain about it, but they also attempt to add to, change parts of it and delete the things they don’t like. They apply worldly wisdom and human reason to the gospel creating something entirely different. This brings us back to 2 Peter chapter 2.
1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words, their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2 Peter 2:1-3 (LSB)
As we have seen, all heresy is the result of applying human reason to Biblical truths or to the gospel. False prophets and teachers espouse these heresies. For example, Jesus made the following statement about who could be and could not be His disciples.
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EACH ONE ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Matthew 16:24-27 (LSB)
Jesus’ disciples deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Jesus. He was telling us that His disciples must live a life of repentance, dying to self. They put the Lord first in all things. They do not deny Christ, but instead deny themselves. There are many false prophets and teachers today who are boldly denying that this call to repent is valid. They say it is perfectly okay to hang our in bars, pursue things of the flesh, curse like a sailor or anything else that we might want to do. They teach that this sort of behavior is no different than Jesus eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. This is how human reason works.
There are many false teachings of the gospel as well. There are those who teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. There are those who teach that salvation comes via man electing Jesus instead of salvation coming as we saw in John 3 and John 6. They also teach that salvation can be lost which is a denial of Jesus own words about not losing even one. There is much more, but they all have rebellion in common. The Spirit is not leading those who teach this sort of thing. What does their future hold?
4 For if God did not spare angels who sinned, but cast them into the pit and delivered them to chains of darkness, being kept for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; 7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who go after the flesh in its corrupt lust and despise authority.
Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they blaspheme glorious ones, 11 whereas angels who are greater in strength and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 2 Peter 2:4-11 (LSB)
That should be warning enough, however, we must remember that those who are teaching heresy are blind to the truth. The Spirit is not leading them.
18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity, they entice by sensual lusts of the flesh, those who barely escape from the ones who conducted themselves in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if they are overcome, having both escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and having again been entangled in them, then the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22 The message of the true proverb has happened to them, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:18-22 (LSB)
This is not describing saved people losing their salvation as a result of following the teaching of heretics, but instead describes those who have responded to a form of the gospel which does not save. The tragedy is that they think they are saved, but it is false assurance. We have already seen that it is the Spirit who is working in the hearts of those who are saved. The Spirit must do His work or there is no salvation. Jesus said that His disciples must live lives of repentance, denying self and dying to self, but these false teachers say repentance is just a work.
I am convinced that many of God’s elect are in bad churches or are sitting at the feet of heretics. We must pray that God will draw them away from this. We must also become dedicated to teaching and preaching the simple gospel found in the word of God. All people are born dead in their trespasses and sins. God’s wrath burns against all sin. All who die in their sins will spend eternity in Hell separate from God. Jesus Christ died on the cross as the substitute in place of God’s elect. God poured out His wrath on Him. As a result all whom the Father draws and gives to the Son will be saved, as they are Born Again, look upon Christ on the cross, believe and repent. At this moment God declares them Righteous as He imputes Jesus’ own righteousness to their account. They are now part of the family of God because He adopts them. They will spend the rest of their lives in the being sanctified, cleansed, being made ready for glorification in Heaven. Let’s preach this gospel!
Soli Deo Gloria!
“Let’s preach this gospel!” Amen. Amen.