Good morning, church. Please go with me to 2 Peter, chapter 2, and we’re going to start in v.17. This week for me has been a strange one, recovering from the storm. I’ve been up on countless roofs this week with a chainsaw. When Annie told AJ, my five-year-old, what I’ve been up to, he thought for a moment, looked up at the roof of our house, looked at the ground, and said “I’m glad daddy’s not dead.” And Annie said, “Me too, buddy.”
And all the while, our country has been in a storm of its own, waiting upon and responding to the results of the election. And we should be paying attention; such things are important. But remember, as Christians we have hope in our lives that is not dependent on the results of an election, or which policies are put into place. And we belong to a kingdom where the king is servant of all, who uses his power to seek and save the weak and the lost, who values every person, who welcomes in strangers and nations while they are yet enemies, and who is able to bring both peace and justice on earth.
As Peter reminds us in his letters, we are a people set apart as exiles in the world, involved in the nation we find ourselves in, tasked with serving its welfare; but this is not our home, and this is not where our hope is found. Our hope is more solid than that; it’s in the coming of the kingdom of God, which is already established in Christ. He is our home, our hope, our Lord, and our savior.
We’ve been in a series through Peter’s letters now for the majority of the year, because Peter is writing to a church that’s scattered and suffering, and this year has been a year of being displaced, out of normal rhythms, and in many ways, suffering. Peter’s message has been, over and again, no matter what’s happening around you, no matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, there is hope in Christ. Hope for life on the other side of brokenness. Hope founded in Jesus’s own death for your sake and his resurrection. Suffering in this broken world is inevitable, but in Christ restoration is just as sure.
In his second letter Peter writes from a place of personal suffering; he’s been condemned to crucifixion in Rome. This book, 2 Peter, is what he wants to leave with his church when he’s gone. He tells them, you have to kill the sin in your life, or your sin will kill you. Christ calls us, allows us, to participate in his very nature and in his work in the world.
And then he begins, in the text, to address false teachings that, in his time, as in ours, are able to make a wreck of your faith and life. The truth is this: Christ—his life, his death for your sake, his resurrection—is not another myth, but rather the true story at the foundation of our reality; in the midst of confusion and darkness in the world, Christ is like the dawn, allowing us to see the world in a new light, and by that light, to see everything else.
Last week, we talked about God’s ability to save the righteous from any trial, but also his constant call into Christ-likeness, to facing trials and suffering in faith, knowing that he is beside you through it all, unto life and resurrection after suffering. He is a righteous judge, who doesn’t allow suffering to go unseen or unanswered. I asked you to learn to recognize sin by the results of it in your life, and this week, I’m urging you, pleading with you, like Peter in this last letter, to learn to recognize false teaching as well, and not to get drawn away into teachings that will harm you, damage your relationships, and sicken the church.
Read with me, 2 Peter, chapter 2, starting in v. 17. […] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
The first point from v.17 in our text today is this: false teachings are waterless springs. False teachings are waterless springs.
I’m sure Phil will make fun of me for this later, but I’m going to tell you anyway: I spent years growing up in the Boy Scouts. And, if you can imagine my characteristic intensity mixed with scouting—let’s just say, I got pretty into it. I was Order of the Arrow. If I wasn’t at home, school, or church, I was probably out camping. We don’t do a whole lot of camping here, because, quite honestly—you know, I’m from here, I love Louisiana—but the nature here is just terrible. Truly the worst.
But in the later years, especially, I got really into backpacking, which is where you carry what you need with you and strike out for days at a time into the wilderness. This may sound familiar to some of you. One thing you learn pretty quickly in backpacking is how to live without. If something isn’t entirely necessary to your survival, you leave it behind, because then you don’t have to carry it.
Everything you bring with you when you’re backpacking is a calculation of weight vs. usefulness, and one of the biggest considerations before you leave for a trip is where you’re going to get your water. Because it’s so heavy, and if you’re in the woods for five, seven days at a time, there’s no way you’re going to be able to pack in enough water to carry you all the way through, especially since you’re hiking the whole time, so you have to drink more than you usually would.
So, in the weeks leading up to a trip, I would stop and plot out where we were going to camp each day based upon where we could get water. You always camp next to a spring or creek. In some ways, you spend your whole day just hiking to the place where you can get fresh water, and every good camp site has blue blazes on trees, the universal sign for “water, this way.”
Imagine, being out day 4 of your trip, days away from the nearest road or store, and at the end of the day, you arrive at your planned campsite to find that the spring is dry, and there is no water for miles. It’s like the water going out after a hurricane, and you can’t just turn on the tap. Quickly you realize how vital water is to our lives.
In the ancient world, sources of water would be the whole cause of living in a place. Wars were fought over wells and springs. Jerusalem, for example, is founded where it is because of the Gihon Spring in the Kidron valley. They built the whole city around it, because with that spring, they knew they would never have to be without water. Not even in a siege would they run out.
So imagine, in that time and place, the spring of the city running dry. An entire city, suddenly without water to drink. A waterless spring, a well run dry, was one of the dark fears of the ancient world.
False teachers, Peter writes, and false teachings are like waterless springs. They promise to provide you with what is vital to your survival, but when you get to the end of the trail, tired, ready to make camp, when you’ve already used what you brought with you, false teachings are waterless springs, and they give you nothing to sustain you. After you’ve built your whole city, your whole life around these teachings, the spring runs dry.
This is the way of sin, and this is the way of false teaching: it promises you something you want, or even something you vitally need. Comfort in hardship. Friendship when you’re alone. Pleasure when your life is miserable. A pastor comes along and tells you that if you have enough faith, you won’t have to be poor or sick anymore. Somebody tells you that you don’t need to do the hard work of changing any aspect of your life; you’re perfect as you are. These teachings draw you further and further into the wilderness.
And, again, sometimes it’s only after you’ve drunk all the water you brought with you, after you’ve centered your whole life around this thing, that you get to the end of the trail and realize the spring is dry. There’s nothing here for you. There are no answers here. There’s no hope or happiness here. You’ve come all this way for nothing. Peter, in this last letter, is warning his people against false teaching because he’s seen it entice people, draw them away, and destroy them.
The health-wealth preacher on TV seems harmless enough, but I’ve seen people give to churches to the point of destitution because they were sick and tried to be healed. The pastor preaching radicalism seems righteous, but I’ve seen people leave their families and communities, sell everything they have, to try to be more religious, more righteous, only to end up burnt out, faithless, and impoverished in the end. Psychics are this way, promising to give people connection to what they’ve lost, assurance of the future. Materialism is this way, too, promising to make sense of life, but if you ever delve too deeply contradictions emerge. Workaholism, affairs. and pornography are this way, as well—the list could go on—they lead you down a long path promising to sustain you, to give you life, and then at the end, there is nothing to give you life.
And so you may be left doubtful—wondering how to tell the difference between false teachings and truth. And I’ll tell you, in all my years of camping, I never came across a single dry spring, and it’s because I followed those blue blazes on the trees from people who had been there before me and found something to sustain themselves, and I always went with people who had hiked those trails before and come away healthy and joyful, able to tell me of the beauty and meaning of what they’d found.
I would encourage you—give heed to the people who have gone before you in this life, to our family, which we call the Church universal, to the saints who have gone before and lived this life with joy in Christ. They will be able to tell you where the springs are. So often we ask the people who are on the road with us—but they know as much as we do. Look to the Church, and those who have lived faithfully and true. Follow their trail.
My second point for today is also from v.17: false teachings are mists driven by storms. False teachings are mists driven by storms.
I don’t need to tell you some story about storms. We just lived through that cat.-2 sermon illustration. But the idea here is, again, thinking of the necessity of water to your survival, even more in the ancient world before irrigation, when the agrarian cultures were dependent upon the rains, not only for water to drink, but for food as well. And in dry times, you would become desperate for, even pray for, the rains. But sometimes the rain would come, and it would not be life-giving rains, but rather rain driven by a storm, with so much fury that the very crops you were desperate to have watered are instead destroyed by the downfall. False teachers, and false teachings, are this way.
Again, they offer you that thing for which you are so desperate, but they offer it with so much fury that it destroys the very things in your life you were hoping it would preserve.
I speak to people every week who try to defend a lifestyle of seeking out pleasure at all cost, even while their life is in ruins and their most vital relationships are destroyed. It’s good to seek after joy, but seeking it in bottles and needles and wild living is like trying to drink from a hurricane. I think of Aaron Neville, who once described Louisiana as a “flower drinking from the pouring rain, the same rain trying to wash it away.”
I know you’re afraid that your life would be empty without all of the excitement you can find here in New Orleans, but there is such a thing in Christ as quiet enjoyment, the kind of joy, like a steady rain, that grows and causes life to spring out of the ground, instead of wind blowing, tearing your life apart. The joy of coming home to a family, of having good friends who know you completely and love you, of knowing God and living according to his ways—these things cause life to spring up.
There are other storms, too, that we don’t always recognize, other false teachings besides just wild living that are like the mists of a storm. One I’ve seen on full display this year is the false teaching of what, last week, I called emperor worship, which is the blending of our religious devotion with our nationalistic pride. There has been a storm this year surrounding politics in both parties, and instead of seeking the quieter rains of spiritual discipline, we’ve raged right along with our culture, placing our hope for change and a future in the election and the course of our nation.
And then there is the storm of the social justice gospel, where we devote ourselves to the excitement of protesting injustice, of seeking goodness and peace for society, without ever seeking righteousness and peace for ourselves and our families. We are pacifists, as Warren writes, who yell at our husbands. We are social media warriors who have never had a confessional conversation with our friends. We are advocates for change in society when we, ourselves remain unchanged by the gospel. We shout and protest for peace, when our family lives and our homes don’t contribute any peace to the world.
My last point for today is this, out of v.19: Sin and false teaching enslave; in Christ we are set free. Sin and false teaching enslave; in Christ we are set free.
Going back to Peter’s analogy of the dry spring, when you get to a place where you’ve been hiking for hours, and you’re tired, but you arrive, and there is no water to be found, the spring is dry, you have a choice. Imagine yourself looking down on a creek bed that is all mud and some pockets of stale water. Either you can stop there, and try to get by on the mud and the bracken of the dry creek bed, or you can turn around before you run dry, and go back to the place you know life-giving water can be found.
What I’ve noticed in my ministry thus far, is that when people stop and try to live on the mud and the bracken, when they make their camp in this place of sin and false teaching, their thirst is never satisfied, and they become more and more desperate for all of the things the gospel brings. They long ever more deeply for freedom, and pleasure, and meaning. They are desperate for friendship and relationship, for real community and a place to belong. And in that state of thirst, it gets harder and harder to leave the mud and bracken behind, because at least it keeps them alive. And people begin insisting that the mud of the dry spring is actually quite satisfying to them, and surely it will well up again, and you don’t know there’s clean water out there, and they make all of these excuses for why the dry spring is really all they need in life.
In short, as Peter writes in v.19, they are overcome by their thirst and enslaved. “Whatever overcomes a person, to that they are enslaved.” They can’t bear to part with these waterless things on which they’s become dependent, even if someone tells them of a spring of living water elsewhere.
There are many, many dry springs in this life. Life is so hard. Many things which can overcome us. I’ve met people who are overcome by grief and loss, where they don’t want to believe in the resurrection because they would rather have the grief, because at least then they are holding onto a small part of what they lost. I’ve met people who keep drinking because when they sober up they feel the shame of what their drinking has done in their life, and so on and on in an endless cycle. I’ve known people who are overcome by a sense of self-righteousness to the point where they can’t bring themselves to admit that they might be a sinner in need of the grace of God. I’ve known people who are so overcome with their own cleverness and independence, that they can’t bring themselves to believe for one moment that they might have been wrong about Jesus, or that they might need his to save them.
But friends, listen. I’m trying to tell you, Peter writes in his dying letter, “whatever overcomes a person, to that they are enslaved.” These things to which you’re clinging, they are dry springs, and I’m desperate to tell you to let them go. I know it’s scary, but you need to walk away from the mud and the bracken that you’ve been using to eke out a life. Because in Christ, there is real freedom. And in Christ there is living water, and if you drink of it you’ll never be thirsty again.
We think these sins and false teachings we cling to sustain us, but look again. Are you sustained and filled with life, or are you overcome and enslaved? I’ve been down that trail, as have many before me who lived lives worthy of following after. I can tell you where you can find water. Jesus Christ is a spring of living water. Trust in him, walk the way he goes, and you’ll find joy and life.
My invitation this morning is to all who are thirst, come to the fountain, come to the spring of life, and drink. To everyone who is overcome, allow Christ to bear your burden. To everyone who is enslaved, clinging to things which don’t satisfy, come to Christ and experience true freedom.
To those who have made their camp around the spring of life, who know Jesus, and who are still feeling dry and thirsty, come home. Experience life and satisfaction in him again.
For any of you who want to talk or pray with someone about waterless springs and mists driven by the storm, I’m here and available. Come find me. Please pray with me now.