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What does it mean to escape the pollutions of the world (2 Peter 2:20)?

escape the pollutions of the world

Second Peter 2:20 reads, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” The verse is situated within a broader context discussing false teachers and their harmful influence on the entire church. Verse 20, in particular, focuses on victims of false teaching, especially those who have reverted to a sinful lifestyle after having distanced themselves from the “pollutions of the world,” as the KJV puts it.

To “escape the pollutions of the world” entails turning away from a sinful lifestyle and seeking to know Christ. Typically, those who achieve this are believers, but exceptions exist. Seekers or nominal Christians may find themselves drawn to a community of Christians and begin to get acquainted with Jesus. As they gain more knowledge about the person and work of Christ, they gradually disentangle from their past lives. The term escape implies that the group Peter refers to comprises recent converts or those who are interested but uncommitted and need to establish a firm foundation. However, every Christian can be said to have escaped the world’s corruption, and we should take care not to regress into those pollutions (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Thessalonians 4:7–8).

The worldly lifestyle revolves around the pursuit of all our desires, effectively rejecting God and elevating ourselves to the status of gods. The corrupt worldly lifestyle is driven solely by the satisfaction of personal desires instead of pleasing God. Author Natasha Crain succinctly captures the worldly creed: “Feelings are the ultimate guide, happiness is the ultimate goal, judging is the ultimate sin, God is the ultimate guess” (Faithfully Different, Harvest House Publishers, 2022, p. 239). Knowing Jesus involves recognizing that He’s our only hope and living to please the Father just as He did, effectively escaping the ideology of self-deification.

Second Peter 2:20 is often cited as proof text by those who believe salvation can be lost. However, a comprehensive reading of the whole chapter and a comparison with the rest of Scripture suggest otherwise. The focus here is primarily on the negative impact false teachers have on the body of Christ. Even genuine Christians can stumble into sin, especially when they are recent converts (Galatians 6:1–2). Additionally, Jesus’ parable on the four soils illustrates the difference between mere intellectual assent and wholehearted commitment. Merely rejoicing at the message is insufficient if no fruit is ever produced (Matthew 13:1–23).

We can understand Peter’s anger toward the false teachers. False teachers who deny Christ lead a polluted life and deceive others. The church’s responsibility is to nurture individuals in the truth, such that the unconverted become believers, baby Christians grow, and growing Christians maintain devotion. False teachers undermine this mission with their falsehoods and ungodly conduct. Peter does not provide specific examples of the destructive heresies propagated by these false teachers, but we can glean hints from his contemporaries like Paul, Jude, and John. False teachings in the first century included the following:

Legalism, as exemplified by Jews who insisted that salvation required adherence to certain Jewish customs like circumcision (Acts 15:1–29; Galatians 5:2–4).
Gnosticism, which emphasized secret knowledge, practiced asceticism, and denied Jesus’ incarnation (Colossians 2:8–10; 1 Timothy 4:1–5; 1 John 4:1–3).
Licentiousness and immoral living (Jude 1:3–16).

Analyzing false teachings from the first century serves as an aid for evaluating contemporary teachings, with the aim of safeguarding ourselves and those around us from reverting to the pollution of the world. Anyone who denies or distorts the person and work of Jesus, His teachings (and, by extension, those of the apostles), and His lifestyle can rightfully be labeled a false teacher. The most distressing aspect of false teachers is how they lead unsuspecting individuals who are drawing near to Christ back into an ungodly lifestyle. Peter describes those who return to the pollutions of the world as being “worse off,” akin to a clean person returning to the mud.

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What does it mean to escape the pollutions of the world (2 Peter 2:20)?
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This page last updated: May 9, 2024