If you look at new U.S. currency, bills twenty and up, you’ll notice some built-in anti-counterfeiting measures. They have security strips, reflective multi-colored ink, small holograms, and new layouts, all designed to thwart counterfeiting. People who deal with currency every day, like bankers and cashiers, can often spot a counterfeit just by how it looks and feels, even if it’s an older bill without the new countermeasures built-in. Because even the paper U.S. currency is printed on is an anti-counterfeiting measure. It’s paper that is only used in American currency.
Peter wants his readers to be able to spot a counterfeit as well but he’s not talking about counterfeit bills. He’s talking about counterfeit or false teachers:
“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” (2 Peter 2:1)
Peter notes that in OT times there were false prophets who preached in the name of Jehovah but were not sent of Him and whose message was not true. He tells us that today, we have a similar problem with false teachers. While how they market themselves may have changed, who they are and how to identify them has not changed much. There are four things that are characteristic of them all: Deception, Denial, Sensuality, and Greed. Today, we’ll just look at the first one: deception.
The dangerous thing about a false teacher’s deception is that it is always couched in some measure of truth. An outright lie is easy to spot. A clever counterfeit that looks close to the real thing is not. Like clever counterfeits, false teachers can make “their truth” look like the truth. Peter refers to their teachings as “damnable heresies.” The word translated “heresies” means “to choose,” meaning that false teachers choose certain truths while rejecting others. Because they are using parts of God’s truth, what they say sounds legitimate but because they do not submit themselves to the whole counsel of God, what truths they do use are easily bent and twisted to conform to their doctrine. Those not solidly grounded in the Word of God become easy prey to them. The best defense against such cunning false teaching is not just to know God’s Word but know it intimately so that you can withstand the subtle challenges that false teachers make against true doctrine. A counterfeit bill like a counterfeit painting can deceive even the best expert. It’s why it’s important that in addition to your own study of God’s Word, you compare notes with other godly people whom you can trust to determine whether a person you are hearing is a true teacher or a false one.
The other insidious thing about the deceit of false teachers is that most are not on TV, or pastors of megachurches. Many are in our churches. Literally translated, “who privately shall bring in” can be phrased as “they secretly bring in alongside.” When we lived in Greenville, we raised chickens and one of our dogs operated a little like a false teacher. He would make a wide circle around the chickens and gradually narrow that circle. The whole time he only partially kept an eye on them. He made it look like he meant them no harm. If he was able to get close enough, he’d try lunging at them. By the time he was that close, his circle had gone from many feet wide to less than a foot or so. By then, the chickens assumed the dog was harmless. While they weren’t onto him, we were. To protect them, we had to be out when the dogs were out, or the chickens had to be put up in the run to keep them safe.
Guarding against false teachers and their doctrine, like guarding the chickens from the dogs, is not a one time thing. It requires constant vigilance. That’s not to say we should be suspect of everyone who comes to our church, but at the same time, we should be careful and pay attention to what they are all about. Scripture warns us to prove things to see if they are true. The first line of defense against false teachers and false doctrine is to inspect carefully.