P.T. Barnum was quoted as saying “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” I would say most of us have found this to be a true axiom in life. Someone might be able to put on a good show for a while, even in church, but they can’t keep up a charade forever. If you’re around a false believer, it will show eventually. As we have seen in the last examination of these verses, the false teachers that Peter writes about have made professions of being real Christians but their lives do no line up with that profession. In the end, sin is so pervasive in their life that they are defeated and doomed.
First of all, although they had come to know the truth about Christ and the gospel, notice the depth to which their sin has drug them down. Peter uses two words here to describe their predicament. He says their sin has “entangled” them. This word is the same word used to describe the soldiers weaving a crown of thorns for the Lord when they mocked him. The idea is they have become so intertwined with the sinfulness of the “defilements of the world” as to be hemmed in—stuck. They are captured in sin’s grip. Peter says also that they are “overcome” which means they are defeated by these sinful passions. Unlike Paul, who beat his body and made it his slave, these false teachers have lost the battle to the passions of their own black, sin infested, heart. Because of this, as Peter writes, their “last state is worse than the first”.
Someone might ask “How is it worse?” Peter goes on to tell us in verse 21. They had heard the gospel. They knew who Jesus Christ was, what He did, and the implications of all that knowledge. They had seen and heard for themselves the “holy commandment”. They were no longer ignorant of how to be saved, how to be made right with a holy, righteous God. However, Peter says they “turn[ed] away” from the truth. This is written in Greek so that it means they made a definite choice in the past—this is a completed act, a done deal. They had the revelation of God and were taught the truth and have flatly rejected it. They cannot plead ignorance now. That is why Peter says it “would have been better for them not to have known” because, while hell is hell no matter how one gets their, rejection of the truth displays the depravity and hardness of a person’s heart like nothing else. For someone to be so prideful as to reject the revelation of Christ in the gospel is sinful to the extreme.
However, Peter tells us that we should not be surprised at the abandonment of the truth by these evil men. They’re just doing what comes naturally. Quoting two proverbs, one from scripture, the other probably just a common expression of the day, he tells us that by doing this, rejecting the truth after having the evidence presented to them, that they are showing themselves to be what he said they were in verse 12—“unreasoning animals”. They are the dogs who lap back up what they have just regurgitated. They are the swine who cannot abide being clean. They are totally depraved people who, through their rejection of the truth, demonstrate their love of sin. They are condemned.
As Christians, we must be careful to not allow such false teachers to gain a foothold in the church. I think this is even harder now with technology making it so easy to spread a message, no matter how false it might be. It is paramount for the local church to test all things to make sure that what is taught is true and demand that teachers hold fast to correct doctrine. The soul saving, life giving gospel is to precious to allow it to be contaminated with false doctrine.