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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Skip Heitzig » Skip Heitzig - Caution: Ruts Ahead!

Skip Heitzig - Caution: Ruts Ahead!

Skip Heitzig - Caution: Ruts Ahead!
Skip Heitzig - Caution: Ruts Ahead!
TOPICS: Rock Solid, Danger

As a servant of the Lord, I'm a servant of his Word, and as I am that, I don't necessarily get to pick and choose what out of the Scripture I teach. But because our method is through a book or through a series like this, we discover an entire chapter devoted to such encouraging topics like false prophets. And because of that, we don't want to skimp on it or not read it, but submit ourselves to it, and find out why it's there, and what it's there for, and what it means to us personally. So, even as I am a servant of his Word and we are people of his Word, we pause to pray and submit ourselves to the teaching of his Word. Let's pray.

Lord, in this little pause, this act of devotion that we know as prayer, it is simple, really, you are God and we are not. You made us, you formed us, you fashioned us, and you gave to us in the person of Jesus Christ a Savior, the way, the truth, the life. Because there is truth, Lord, it only makes sense there would be falsehood and counterfeits. We have the opportunity in a country like ours to enjoy freedom of worship, a freedom of expression, and the freedom, Lord, to read and to believe what we know to be inerrant truth preserved by God, given from heaven to those of us who live on this earth. Lord, give us grace, I pray, to be able to look at squarely, to deal with directly, and then to apply personally the truth that we find in these verses, in Jesus' name, amen.

Doctors will always tell you that you should never take prescription medication out of their original package. It's really simple as to why. If you have ever traveled and you pulled things out of different bottles and you need to pack them, it's a lot easier to just put them in one vessel. But it's not wise to do so, because you may get confused as to which pill is which and that's dangerous. Whereas, if you keep it in the original package, your name is on it, the expiration date is on it, what's in it is on it, and there's just no confusion. There's an interesting story about a gal who worked at a telephone store down in Jackson, Mississippi. She went away on a coffee break and came back and found her boss Jim, Jim McGowan, was sitting at her desk, his head in his hands.

And he noticed her as she came in, and said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I hope you'll forgive me. I took the liberty of going through your desk to find aspirin. I have a terrible headache. And so I found the pill jar and I took two of them and I feel much better." And she said, "That's great, Mr. McGowan, and you won't get pregnant either." Just as it is dangerous to have medicine in the wrong jar with the wrong label, it is also dangerous to call false prophets, false teachers and what they say anything else other than that, that it is false. It is dangerous to do so. And it is for that very reason that Peter spends an entire chapter in this short little letter, Second Peter. Chapter 2 is spent entirely on placing the correct label on the bad medicine.

It is a very straightforward passage, very concise, very complete, and one of the strongest in the entire New Testament on what this false prophecy is about. You've seen the sign before that says "Wrong Way." It's usually red. It's a red diamond in white lettering, "Wrong Way", telling you, "Don't go this way." Essentially, that is what is in Peter's mind. He understands that we can be going one way that is the right way, but the danger of others steering us off the path is very real. I want you to notice some wording, even before we read the entirety of the text. In verse 15 of Second Peter 2 he notes: "They have forsaken the right way and have gone astray, following the way of Balaam." Verse 21, "It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness."

That little word "way" means a roadway or a pathway. And the most typical form of going from one place to another was walking in those days. So the picture in this original author's mind is people walking down a roadway being pushed off the right path onto another road that is the wrong way. That's the idea behind this text. You probably also know that in the New Testament it is not uncommon to speak about "your walk" as your spiritual journey, right? The word or the term "your walk" or "the walk" or "the way" is often symbolic of the decisions you make and your entire lifestyle. And so Peter is writing to his audience, saying, "Be very careful. Take great caution. There are ruts in this road that are put there by false teachers, false prophets, and even wrong pathways that they want to take you down."

This week I found an article, actually I looked for it and so I found it online, of a little newspaper in England, a publication where people would air their complaints. And it's in Surrey, England, this one town was found. And this man was speaking about a road in his county and in his town. And this local citizen writes this: "This is the most dangerous road in our county. It is dark and narrow. It has deep ruts at the edges. And I have had several near misses with oncoming traffic." And he warns at the end of his little complaint that there could be a severe accident in the future. After writing that, the counsel wrote back online and responded with this: "There are no funds available till next year, but this remains our highest priority." "Our highest priority", no money.

This is Peter's highest priority. He is about to die. This is the last recorded utterance that we have of Peter is this book, and he wants to make sure these truths are in place. So let's look at them beginning in verse 15 to the end of the chapter, continuing the theme from last time: They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man's voice restrained the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.

For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But this has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."

I think Peter knew something. I think that Peter believed that it is profitable for all believers from time to time to stop, to pause, to consider their walk, where they're going, how they're doing it, with whom they are walking, and where it leads. It's interesting, pigeons, how they walk; have you noticed? Their head moves back and forth like this when they walk, and it's the strangest thing. Honestly, I don't really care for pigeons. I'd never have one as a pet, per se. But I've always been interested in why they do that. And I discovered just from a little research that they cannot focus while they're walking. They have to actually have their head at a complete stop, and they focus, take a step, move the head again; focus, take a step, move the head forward; focus, step, backwards. And they do it quite efficiently.

And it's as if Peter says, like that, you need to stop and refocus and consider what's out there, and who's out there, and what it can lead to. From time to time we just need a good Bible study on the subject, and Peter has given us an entire chapter's worth. So allow me to show you the road signs on this path. There are four cautionary signs that Peter puts out as to the ruts that are in the road: be careful as you walk, be careful who you walk with, be careful what you walk toward, and, finally, be careful how your walk ends. Can I show them to you? Verse 15, be careful as you walk, he says, "They have forsaken the right way and have gone astray", let's just stop there. He's speaking about people who were taken off course.

And have you noticed, if you have read your New Testament at all, that from the beginning of the New Testament (the time of Jesus to the book of Revelation), there is warning after warning after warning that this is a possibility. It seems as though all of the authors understood that this is a battle and in our walks we have to be very cautious as we walk, because there are people out there that want to take you the wrong way. Let me give you just a sampling, if I may, of those warnings. These are from the lips and the pen of Paul the apostle. In Second Corinthians 11 Paul writes, "I fear that somehow you will be led astray from your pure and simple devotion to Christ."

Galatians, chapter 1, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel... for there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ." In Ephesians 4 he writes, "We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting." And the final text that I want to share with you is in Acts 20 as Paul is leaving a city he had been in for three years, the town of Ephesus. He says this: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come. They will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves. Remember," he said, "that for three years I did not cease to warn you with tears."

So, throughout the entire New Testament you have warnings of ruts in the road: ruts of legalism, ruts of self-righteousness, ruts of pride, of apathy, of doubt, of anger, of jealousy, of doctrinal error. So simply put, step number one, warning sign number one on this roadway: Be careful as you walk. Now, Paul the apostle said almost the exact same thing when he wrote to the Ephesians. He said, "See then that you walk circumspectly", do you remember that word? "See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise." "Circumspectly" means carefully or with exactness. The point is, is when you walk, watch where you're putting each step. It's interesting, really, when a child learns to walk. It's one of most wonderful days of a parent's life. "Look, he's walking."

And we really don't care much about how they do it. But very soon after that come all the warnings: "Be careful where you walk." "Look both ways when you cross the street." All of those warnings are enacted once the walking process begins. When I was a youth, we had a field trip one day at our school to the local dairy. I was late for school, which was not untypical. My dad would take me school sometimes if I missed the bus. I missed bus, and so instead of going with all the kids to the dairy, and going the proper entrance to the dairy, my dad pulled up alongside the fence where there was a pasture, and we could see the kids out there in the dairy. So my dad just said, "Just go through the fence and join your friends. But," he said, knowing what I was walking through, "be very careful as you walk."

That makes sense, right? I don't have to describe much more than that. The land mines were there. It was a cow pasture. And I made sure that I walked very circumspectly through the field. But I came home later on and I sensed something. And I looked and indeed I hadn't walked that circumspectly. But I was rather foolish in my approach to the rest of kids. Now, in saying, "Walk carefully," I really don't want you to become a reactionary Christian. There are some people that react automatically to everything as if there's just false prophets waiting around the bush. I happen to believe that is true, but it can cause a person to become almost so narrow-minded, as if they're the only arbiter of truth, at every sermon, every book, every article, you know, has got something bad in it.

And we look for certain words. I don't want you to become the gospel Gestapo here. I simply would love it if you would learn to discern. It's a good word, "discern." It means to distinguish between truth and error, that you just listen carefully and you watch carefully as you walk. Paul writes in First Thessalonians 5, "Test all things and hold fast to what is good." Mark Twain, who can only say it like he said it, remarked that "A lie can make its way halfway around the world while truth is still lacing up its boots." Seems to be true how fast error will travel. And it also seems to be human nature to go astray. That's why there are laws. Isaiah the prophet said, "All we like sheep have gone astray." The hymnwriter said, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love." So simply said, be careful as you walk.

Second warning sign is to be careful who you walk with. Now, that makes sense, doesn't it? Your company of friends is very important. Who you hang with is very, very important. Because you probably also know that the secret of doing anything, in keeping your interest up in anything is to have the right company of people around you. That's why clubs develop. There are reading clubs, and knitting clubs, and there's car clubs, and motorcycle clubs. And they have rallies, and they have chat rooms, and they have magazines. And it's because they know this truth, that if you want to succeed and keep going in anything, surround yourself with the information and the inspiration of people who also have the same interests. Amos the prophet said, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?"

So find people that agree with God's truth and walk with them. That's one of the reasons we go church. It's one of the reasons that we break up in small groups. It's because when we come together like this, we're literally on the same page. We're reading the walking manual. And then we watch and we listen in small groups how people are applying it personally and learning to walk with the Lord. Okay, with all that said, go to your text and notice words that are repeated. I want to draw your attention to these words; they're all third person words: they, them, those, these. Notice it: verse 15, "They have forsaken the right way and gone astray..."; verse 17, "These are wells without water..."; verse 18, "For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure...", on and on through virtually every verse.

He's writing about "those" guys, "them" dudes, "they." He is speaking here about the aggregate group of false teachers and their followers that comprise the "they." Now normally I would tell you that it's unhealthy to have a dichotomy of "us" and "them," "we" and "they." It's not good to do that, especially in the body of Christ. We're in this together. We are brothers and sisters. However, following Peter's lead, it's very healthy to make a dichotomy between those who hold to the historic Christian faith and those who pervert the gospel, and to say, "This is truth, and there are those who don't hold to the truth, and because of that," as John even said, "they are not of us."

It is important to have people in your life who will inspire you spiritually, to have people around you part of your "we" group that love the Lord and inspire us to get better and to go longer and be stronger. It's very important. It's also unnerving. My dad used to tell me, because we were all golfers, I haven't kept up. But he said, "Skip, I notice that you like play golf with people who you can beat. If you ever really want to get good at this game, find people who can beat you or who are at least as good as you, so it's an even match, because you will observe and watch what they do, and you'll get better at it." But it can be unnerving in the Christian faith.

I read a story that Dwight Lyman Moody, young D. L. Moody who became an evangelist and pastor, that his conversion was so radical that he would read the Bible, hours a day in the Word, and apply it immediately and be obedient to the Word, that it actually bothered some of the older, more mature believers in his church, that his rapid growth embarrassed those who had been in the faith a longer time. Every week D. L. Moody would come to Sunday school and talk about what God did, what God showed him, and how the Lord has worked in his life. And the older saints honestly felt a little humiliated by him, that some of them actually went to his uncle and said, "Could you quiet the boy down."

A biographer of D. L. Moody wrote this: "His robust spiritual health and bounding spiritual energy disturbed their napping. He was just too much for them. So, while they were sucking their thumbs, he was growing until he left them far behind. He grew more in a few years than they did in thirty." When I read that, I said, "God, give us more D. L. Moodys, give us those kind of people in our lives that inspire us to walk strong." Be careful who you walk with. So while he's talking about "they" and "these" and "those" and "them," he mentions one particular person by name from the Old Testament, a guy by the name of Balaam.

Balaam is in the Old Testament Hall of Shame. He's an unusual cat, strange guy, because he was a Gentile prophet who was called upon by Balak the king of Moab to curse the Jewish people, because the Jewish people were a sizable company in coming into the land. So he hires Balaam. Balaam comes and he knows what he is about to do is wrong. The Lord warned him, but he goes anyway because the pay was good and the honor would be even greater. So he goes in a direct disobedience to the Lord, and while he is going the Lord opens the mouth of his "dumb donkey" it says. It says "a dumb donkey" spoke to him. A donkey who couldn't speak spoke. So, you have a dumb donkey and a dumber prophet. You have "Dumb and Dumber."

You wonder which is dumber. Usually, donkeys are known as being stubborn. The prophet was worse. You ever see Mister Ed? You remember Mister Ed? I grew up with Mister Ed. This is like the Old Testament version of Mister Ed, but it's a donkey. "Balaam." Now people ask me: "Will there be animals in heaven?" I sure hope this one is. Now Balaam, like those with him (the "they," the "those," the "them" guys), they will use their spiritual gift purely to get rich, for profit. Have you ever read those surveys asking people what they would do for a million dollars or $10 million, or what their price would be to do certain off-color activities? Well, I found one recently that said, "What would you be willing to do for $10 million?"

Listen to this survey: 25 percent of those who took the survey, 25 percent said that for $10 million they would be willing to abandon their families, 25 percent. Twenty-three percent said they would become a prostitute for a week. Seven percent said they would kill a stranger if the price was right. Now, I want you to know what that means. That means that if you have a group of one thousand people, there are seventy in that group who are willing to kill someone if the price is right. Balaam was willing to do this deed because the price was right, the status was right, the honor was right. Notice how these are described in verse 17. "These are wells without water." How disappointing to be so thirsty and come up to a well or a water fountain and you push the button and there's no water in it, there's no refreshment.

Do you know that every human being has an inborn thirst for God? We thirst for spiritual reality, something authentic but spiritual. We all do. And false prophets know this and they make promises, but they are wells without water. Notice what else: they are "clouds carried by a tempest." In other words, clouds that blow in and blow out. You know what it's like when you see clouds coming in from the west, you go, "Oh, we need rain so bad." We always say that around here. And so, "Here come the clouds, the clouds; there go the clouds, the clouds." No rain in them. So they may make promises, but there's no moisture, there's no deliverance. There's a lot of noise, there's a lot of commotion, but no refreshment; rather, in verse 18, "They speak great swelling words of emptiness."

"Great swelling words", they're orators, and they know they're good at it, and they use that gift of oration to get the kind of disciples that they wish. With charisma and eloquence, they impress people. I've noticed something over the years that's been disconcerting to me, that so often people are more easily impressed with how a person says something rather than what a person actually says, that the substance isn't as important as "Wow! Did you see that?" It's because we are so form oriented in our culture and external oriented that we're driven by it. I've always loved that story of the old Native American man who was very wise. And he went to church. And one Sunday this pastor had not prepared a message, had not poured over the text, had not spent time before the Lord.

So to make up for his lack of preparation, he got all frothy and noisy, and pounded the pulpit, and shouted and shouted and shouted. And people loved it. They said, "He preached up a storm." That was their words: "He preached up a storm." He asked the old Native American what he thought. He uttered six short words: "High wind. Big thunder. No rain." That's essentially what Peter is saying: "High wind, big thunder, no rain, clouds without water, wells without water." Be careful who you walk with. Be careful what you listen to. Here's another sign on this road: Be careful what you walk toward. Now, there is an allure in the message of the false prophet, of the false teacher. There is a promise. They overpromise, but they underdeliver.

And so you are walking toward something, and they're going, "Come on, come on, come on. Come this way." What are you walking toward? Be careful about that. I want you to notice something here, what they're promising. Verse 18, "For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning."

They promise freedom. The allurement is "Come and be free. Do what you want. Do as you please." The more you do as you please, the less you are pleased with what you do. The allurement is the freedom, but what they deliver is bondage. Now, I want to say something here, because it's sort of, it's absolutely essential to sort of find out what we're dealing with here. Every book that I've read, every commentator that I've read, every scholar that I've look at of the text doesn't exactly know what group Peter is referring to. It's not that there's a particular cult or particular religion, like Gnosticism, that John and others write about.

It just seems to be that there's developing among Christians this belief system where people realize, you know, "It's empty to live in this world without God, and I should better myself somehow. So I need to believe in something to feel good about myself and to better myself, short of, short of, repentance from my sin and faith in Jesus Christ alone. Whatever that system is that is developing, Peter senses it and he writes about it. It's true, most of the world is looking for a better way to live, they want some spiritual experience, but they want it without the narrowness of the gospel. They want it, but they don't want to be told they're sinners and they have to leave that. They don't want to be told that they have to have a new birth and trust in Jesus Christ alone. So what they opt for is some religious reformation.

It's amazing how many people say, "I go to church and I go there just to feel better. And I want a place that will tell me I'm okay, and I'm good, and makes me feel better. And I want to feel better about myself." So it's sort of an outward reformation. "I'll kind of put these few religious things into practice." But I want you to get the gist of what Peter is saying: outer reformation without inward transformation will lead to spiritual incarceration, bondage, slavery. They promise freedom, but you'll end up in worse bondage. Let me level with you. You may be a very spiritual person and you may be an unsaved person. I meet people all the time, "I'm a very spiritual person." Well, congratulations; aren't we all? But what manner are you? Are you a saved person?

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Ah, in that you're a saved person. Fourth and final sign is: Be careful how your walk ends. The last two verses, let's just look at them, and remark on them, and apply them. "For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness", they had the, they were confronted with the truth of the gospel, but they didn't want it, they rejected it, "than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: 'A dog returns to his own vomit,' and, 'A sow [a pig], having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'"He's not speaking very kindly about little doggies, is he, and little piggies?

You know, these are two animals that in our culture they're pets. In that culture they were not, right? You understand that back then, 2,000 years ago, they didn't have dogs as pets. They were scavenger animals that ran around town and ate garbage. Pigs were considered highly unkosher, as you know, and it was never a compliment to be seen as a pig or a dog. Gentiles were called "dogs." Now, back in verse 12 he describes false teachers as "natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed," verse 12. You can look at it yourself if you have a Bible. Now, he gets more specific. They're like "'a dog that returns to its vomit,' and, 'a pig that goes back to its mire.'"Now why do dogs and pigs do that? It's their nature. It's their nature to do that. I have a friend that had a pig one time as a pet. It was in his house.

And I was in his house and just watching this pig run around. I was okay with it, but it's still a pig. You can bathe a pig and dress a pig, and I've even seen a pig, I gotta tell you this, I've seen a pig with a bow tie on. Seen it with my own eyes. And it's novel, but at the end of the day that thing is still a pig and it will demonstrate its nature. I'll give an example you're aware of. Tigers and lions that are at circuses are trained to respond to human commands and the crack of a whip, but all trainers know that those animals are carnivorous hunters, and I dare not turn my back, because that's their nature. In 2003 at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas at the Siegfried & Roy show a six-hundred-pound white tiger took Roy Horn like a rag doll and threw him around that stage in an attack.

Trainers are aware that is a possibility, because that is its nature. And here is Peter saying that these people will do what their unregenerate, unredeemed nature is really like. You can dress up a pig and put a bow tie on a pig, and just like you can dress up a person and put a bow tie on a person, but if there's no change in the essential nature, if they're not given a new nature by the new birth, they'll just live like the old life. Where's your walk ending up? Whatever belief system you're choosing to walk down, does it end in the sheep pen under the care of the Good Shepherd, or like these animals that return to their own filth? It's a very, very potent point that he is making.

Now, I don't know for sure, but could it be that as Peter is writing this he's actually thinking of a real life example, he's thinking of somebody that he knew quite well, who is a friend of his, who was one of his closest friends, who walked with Jesus for three years named Judas? You don't get any closer than following Jesus around, eating and drinking and sleeping and breathing and walking with Jesus Christ, than those disciples did. You know that both Peter and Judas betrayed Jesus. And Peter was so brokenhearted that he repented; Judas was so brokenhearted that he killed himself. Peter is such an honorable name, even to this day, that some of you are named after him, but there is nobody here named after Judas.

You don't name any, you don't know anybody named Judas. You wouldn't name your dog Judas. That's how infamous his name has become. Could it be that Peter is thinking of that when he is writing this? Proximity to the truth is no guarantee of change. You need to be given a new nature, regeneration, the new birth. Okay, time's up. I want you to walk away with three little things to tuck in your Bibles, in your brains, in your notes, because you and I will be confronted with words and lifestyles of people who purport to be spiritual people from this day forward. So there's three tests you can apply, three tests you can apply: the test of character, the text of creed, and the test of converts. Apply those three.

The character of the person: Is there the fruit of the spirit? Galatians 5, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, kindness, gentleness, meekness." The test of creed: What are they saying about Jesus? What are they saying about God? Are they abandoning the narrow gate? Are they abandoning the narrow way? Are they messing with the historic Christian truth? And, finally, the test of converts: Look at the people they're influencing. What is the effect of that teaching on those followers? Where is their joy? Where's their vibrancy? Where's their holiness? Where's their prayer life? Have they gotten too harsh and legalistic? Or have they gotten too loose and self-centered?

D. L. Moody was talking to a friend one day and another guy walked up. And this other guy Moody saw and said to his friend, "That man was in the army." And the friend to whom he was speaking said, "Well, I know him. He's a friend of mine. You're absolutely right, he was in the army, but how did you know?" Moody said, "I could tell by the way he walked." You can tell by the way people walk, and people can tell by the way you walk. I'm so thankful you love the Bible. Look at this church packed full of people with Bibles. What an honor to be among you and to serve you in the Word, but please don't be fooled by anyone's cheap costume. Dig a little deeper.

Father, we do pray with a spirit and heart that is behind the words of Peter, that you would make us discerning believers, not narrow-minded people willing to embrace those who name the name of Christ, but always with a discernment that would say, "I need to just look a little deeper and be a little more careful," so that we might grow and not go astray as Peter writes here. Lord, would you help us? Would you place around us those inspiring ones that will help us grow even further and deeper and stronger, in Jesus' name we pray, amen.

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