by Brian Douglas
Certain Bible verses stick with you, get inside your head, and do real work. I’d classify most of them as Meaningful, some as Moving, many as Important, and few others as Words to Live By. On a few very rare occasions, though, the inspired Word of God is memorable because it gives you a metaphorical slap in the face.
Such was the case for me when I first read 2 Peter 2:21, 22: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit’ and ‘A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud’” (NIV).
What had I just read? A person would literally be better off never knowing God and the words of truth than to know and then turn his back on it? Did the Bible just use the word “vomit” in a sentence?
This week’s stop on the “Breaking Bad” sermon series at Christ’s Church deals with bondage—that of sin and doubt, those things that keep calling us back and pulling us away from salvation and safety. Yesterday’s teaching may be a little biblical shock and awe that’s needed as we consider how to break our particular chains.
Breaking Down the Message
As with many things in my faith, this passage in 2 Peter came to mean more to me over time. In the moment, though, it had never occurred to me that such a state of being was possible. The implications were heavy. To know the Word of God even in part for a time felt preferable to being in the dark. But on the other hand, it makes sense that knowing God and then choosing to ignore him in your life could be more insulting. I was compelled to dig deeper.
The first chapter of this book penned by the apostle Peter is encouraging and offers advice on how to add to your faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7). Definitely the Moving category; who doesn’t like a good list to follow? Check those boxes, Peter says, and you can assure you won’t be ineffective or unproductive in your knowledge of Jesus. This is the work you do to ensure you will never fall away.
But woe to those who break bad among the Christian fold. It’s incredibly tempting to let the world get inside our minds and make us shortsighted, to lust after things that will be fun for a moment and destructive later. Peter speaks of those who start to believe their own lies, and then drag others around them along for the ride down (2 Peter 2:18). Pulling no punches, Peter plainly explains in verse 20, “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” (NIV).
This is a New Testament lesson with an Old Testament vibe. I’ve heard arguments about an inability to fall from the grace of God, and I believe this and other verses are evidence that it is totally possible to do so. God meets us more than halfway. He’s given us all the tools we need to follow him: grace, the Holy Spirit, prayer, and each other for encouragement, just to name a few. But if you then reject these things, you are genuinely broken and in grave danger. All of us sin, no one is perfect, but we must take care not to let those sins multiply to the point where our job becomes justifying them rather than seeking to follow God’s will.
Breaking Up the Negative Pattern
The apostle Peter doesn’t make us wait long for the answer on how to Houdini our way out of the chains that bind us. He provides three distinct keys to consider.
- God Is Patient
Peter describes how some will say the Lord we believe in isn’t real and isn’t coming back to earth to take his followers back to Heaven with him. The words were written in the first century; 2,000 years later they are even more potent to consider as challenges to our faith. Have you ever considered the time we have here is meant to be for our benefit? “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV). When we’re not busy falling off the righteous path, it’s our job to grab the hands of those who are, and steady them through encouragement, sharing the truth, and being their friend.
- Look Forward
“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, NIV). Our eternal reward in Heaven is our reason to take the longer perspective. How difficult this is for a younger person is impossible to describe in words! But as we grow in wisdom, it becomes easier to see the impact of hard living on ourselves. Ignoring the cheap thrills for something lasting almost always pays off, both in life and afterward.
- Be on Guard
“Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position” (2 Peter 3:17, NIV). Peter again warns that the doubters will not be content being alone, but will try to get others to join them. I am reminded of an old rock song, “Heaven” (2003) from the band Live. It meant so much to me at the time because the chorus says: “I don’t need no one to tell me about Heaven/ I look at my daughter, and I believe.” My own daughter was two years old at the time, and the song really spoke to me.
The second verse begins, “Sit with them all night, everything they say seems right, but in the morning they were wrong.” How true that can be! People can be persuasive, so you need to be on guard for those challenges to your faith, ready to defend your own, and perhaps even persuade them to see things your way.
I had a friend at work once who was known for his wild and crazy antics. He was always far nicer to me than to most people who were not known as God followers, so we spent a lot of time together. One day out of the nowhere he floored me with a confession. “I want to have what you have,” he said. “I want to have a wife and kids and be happy all the time.” He has those things now. Sometimes the slap in the face doesn’t come directly from the Bible, but from the lack of what the alternative offers.
Being a Christian carries real weight. You are in essence judged by a higher standard than those without it, something not to be taken lightly. But never forget you are also infinitely more prepared to resist the things that would drag you back into the mud . . . or vomit. We can replace that unpleasant visual with another, one of Jesus washing away all of that through his sacrifice on the cross for our sins.
Brian Douglas moved to the Mason area two years ago to work in Sales at P&G. He and his wife Christy found Christ’s Church on a recommendation from a friend, and they have loved it since they first arrived. They have one daughter, Mary Kate, who is a junior at Elon University.