A few months ago we saw how the apostle Peter concluded his first epistle by warning his audience about the devil who prowls about looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He knew well that the people of God must be continually on guard against the wiles of the enemy, lest they fall prey to his deceptions.
In today’s passage, Peter concludes his second epistle with another warning not to be unprepared for the assaults of the enemy. In 2 Peter 3:17 we see that we must take care so that we are not carried away by the error of “lawless people.” The people in view here are of course the false teachers that he has described throughout his epistle. However, the warning can be taken more generally. Having been instructed in the dangers of false teaching by this epistle, we now have no excuse if we are carried away by the errors of libertinism, the denial of the return of Christ, or any other view opposed to the sound doctrine given in the Scriptures. Therefore, we must be willing to turn away from false teaching anytime it is presented to us.
If we do not do this, Peter tells us we may lose our stability (v. 17). Peter is not here teaching that true Christians can lose their salvation, although those who never turn from damnable errors show that they never had true faith (1 John 2:19; 5:12; 2 John 7–11). We must note, however, that even true Christians can flirt with false doctrine and begin to waver in their profession and assurance of salvation. If we see this happening to ourselves or to other believers, it is incumbent upon us to discover the false ideas lying behind such errors and then either graciously receive reproof from others or gently, but firmly, remind our fellow believers of the teachings given to us by the apostles.
Like his first epistle, Peter does not give only a warning at the end of his second epistle. He also includes words of exhortation. Verse 18 of chapter three reminds us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, who is worthy of glory both now and forever. Having helped us to recognize false teaching, Peter reminds us at the close of this epistle that only as we seek after the glory and truth of our Savior will we be able to avoid the errors that may come our way.
While it is certainly true that all of those without true faith will not finally fall away, this does not mean that we who confess Christ have the right not to take the warnings of Scripture seriously. Even true believers can temporarily lose assurance if they follow false teaching. Warnings like the one found in today’s passage are used by the Holy Spirit to keep us in faith. Pray that you would be receptive to the warnings of Scripture and study so that you may not fall prey to error.