Recently, Phil Zuckerman, writing for Salon.com, argued that hard-core secularists have displayed better morality in recent years than devout Christians. He writes,
While most people assume that … morality is grounded in religious faith, and while it is certainly true that all religions contain plenty of moral ideals, in our nation today, it is actually the most secular among us who are exhibiting a greater moral orientation—in the face of deadly threats—than the most devout among us, who are exhibiting the least.
His argument is simple: Statistically speaking, Christians are more likely than secularists to oppose protections like masking and vaccines. Since a refusal to mask or vaccinate hurts people, and since it is Christians who are most likely to refuse these things, Christians are the most immoral among us. Here is the bottom line: “When it comes to the most pressing moral issues of the day, hard-core secularists exhibit much more empathy, compassion, and care for the well-being of others than the most ardently God-worshipping.”
While interesting, Zuckerman’s analysis misses a crucial point. He argues from a particular perspective. Specifically, his argument assumes the legitimacy of masking and vaccines. If it is obvious to everyone that masks and vaccines protect life, it is certainly immoral to refuse these interventions. But those who reject these interventions do so, not because they recognise their validity but don’t care, but because they reject the validity of these interventions. Christians who reject masking and vaccination are acting in line with what they believe, as are pro-mask and pro-vaccine secularists. Both sides of the debate act consistent with their beliefs.
Twenty-plus years ago, Doug preached through 1 John. One of the consistent themes in that letter is the behaviour that belief produces. The false teachers of whom John warned preached a patently false gospel, which resulted in patently godless living. Almost every week in that series, Doug hammered home a phrase that has remained with me (and many in our church) ever since: Belief affects behaviour.
John is not the only New Testament writer who emphasises this truth. Second Peter and Jude are known as letters written to combat false teaching and confront false teachers. Jude wanted to write a letter of a different sort but found it necessary to write a defence of the faith once delivered to the saints (v. 3), which necessitated him calling out false teachers. Second Peter has a similar feel.
But even as we think about the way in which Peter and Jude confronted false teaching, we must bear in mind that their goal was more than mere orthodoxy. They were not heresy hunters, on the prowl for anyone who said anything remotely unorthodox. They did not run ministries committed to exposing false teaching. Their concern was far more significant than that.
We can see this in that, while Peter was obviously burdened about the false teachers who had infiltrated the church, the only explicit reference to their theology is in 3:3–4. Throughout the letter, Peter was far more interested in protecting his readers from the bad behaviour of the false teachers than their bad teaching. Their false teaching was not insignificant, but he realised that belief affects behaviour, and if his readers caved to the errors of the false teachers, they would soon begin to live like them. It was more important to him that his readers be delivered from a destructive lifestyle than it was that they be technically correct in every doctrinal discussion. The false teachers promised freedom but were themselves slaves of corruption (2:19). If his readers embraced the teaching of the heretics, they would soon become slaves themselves to corruption.
This, then, is the burden of 2 Peter. Since belief affects behaviour, Christians must be wary of false teaching—not so that they can boast in their orthodoxy but because false teaching will inevitably lead to superficial living. False teachers are known—and always have been known—by their tendency to treat sin lightly. Peter warned his readers that they could not treat sin lightly and think that they can escape any penalty.
As we commence a devotional series in 2 Peter, let that truth ring in your mind. We must be careful to guard the truth of Scripture because right belief will lead to right living. Pray today that God will protect you from false teaching and, thereby, from godless living.