Had to laugh at the following meme: “I never thought the comment ‘I wouldn’t touch him/her with a 6 foot pole’ would become a national policy, but here we are.” Makes me think about the number of ways our vocabulary has been modified by the season of these past several months (as in, “The buttons on my jeans have started social distancing from each other” — who knew what social distancing was back in January?). And what of the identifiers, “people at risk,” or “high risk groups?” A whole new awareness of factors that sets someone apart as more susceptible to potentially lethal complications of the virus.
This morning I’m noodling on another “high risk group” at risk of succumbing to a different kind of deadly disease, a group most likely to be found in the church. I’m chewing on the dangers faced by those who are barely escaping.
For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
(2Peter 2:18-20 ESV)
Great “proof passage” for those who teach we can be “unsaved.” But, if you tether your anchor to what I consider to be the overwhelming teaching in Scripture that the Son loses none of those who the Father has given Him (Jn. 6:37-40), then you need to noodle on this and interpret it in light of that truth. And I think a clue is found in the phrase, those who are barely escaping. (Full disclosure, that phrase is not found in all translations. Depends on which original texts the translators use. But I’m an ESV reader therefore I try to be an ESV interpreter).
There’s no mystery as to who “they” are who speak “loud boasts of folly”, those who seek to appeal to “sensual passions” and “entice” others to follow them. They are the “false teachers among you” Peter identifies at the beginning of the chapter (2:1). The question really is who are those who have “escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” but again become “entangled in them”? I think it’s those who have barely escaped. And I don’t think they are disciples of Christ.
Barely escaping isn’t the sort of language used to describe the believer elsewhere. Born again (Jn. 3:3, 1Pet. 1:3, 1:23), new creation (2Cor. 5:17), given life abundantly (Jn. 10:10), no condemnation (Rom. 8:1), saved to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25) — those are the terms which describe someone who has been “called out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Pet. 2:9) and have been “delivered . . . from the domain of darkness and transferred . . . to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).
So, who are these barely escaping people? Who is this high risk group who are in our churches? The people at risk who have a knowledge of our Lord and Savior, have escaped the world’s defilements, but are susceptible to being enticed by false teaching and entangled and overcome in sin? I’m thinking they are the people who, while knowing the commandments, and know about Christ, have never actually been converted and have a living relationship with Christ. They’re “Christian” enough to embrace a higher moral standard but have never entered into a real relationship with the Savior. When you ask them about their relationship with Christ they respond with what they do and have few words to describe Who they know. Good morals, but in danger of being corrupted by bad company (1Cor. 15:33).
Having grown up in the church (perhaps a seeker-friendly church) on a diet of “moralistic therapeutic deism,” they know enough to be good and “escape the defilements of the world” but they haven’t been transformed by the gospel. Haven’t been confronted with the darkness of their sin. Haven’t confessed their sin, acknowledged their bankruptcy, and responded to the cross’s atoning work with a whole-hearted desire to live in submission to the Cross-bearer. They’ve escaped the world’s defilement, but they are those who are barely escaping. As such, they’re a high-risk people for false teaching, worldly entanglement, and being overcome by the enemy. And, I fear, many are in the pews beside us on a Sunday morning.
How our churches need to preach the gospel, the full gospel. How we need to pray for those who are barely escaping and call them to full-surrender to Christ. They are our “people at risk.” We need to care for them and call them to the cross.
That they might know the fullness of His grace. That they might walk in faithfulness for His glory.