One of the most enduring children’s Sunday school songs is “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” There are different versions of the song’s history but its theme is clear: It proclaims the singer’s commitment (decision) to follow Christ regardless of the cost. The refrain is unapologetic: “No turning back, no turning back.”
Calvinists sometimes get nervous about this song—after all, is it not God who chooses us, and not we him? In fact, there is no real cause for concern. When we are presented with the option to serve Christ or idols, Scripture calls us to choose(Joshua 24:15). God sets before us life and death and urges us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:15–20). It is consistent with the testimony of Scripture to choose to follow Christ. And 2 Peter 2:17–22 warns us of the dire consequences of going back on that choice: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (v. 20). “Willfully turning back from the truth,” cautions Douglas Moo, “brings terrible consequences.” Here are three interconnected areas in which these “terrible consequences” might be seen.
First, if we turn back from the truth, we will see terrible consequences in our gospel witness. This is true both doctrinally and practically, for faithful gospel witness presupposes fidelity to the gospel and the lifestyle that flows from it.
On the most basic level, the gospel message is a doctrinal declaration. It is said that no historical figure was written about more than Jesus of Nazareth. Extrabiblical history attest to this man who was crucified under Roman authority and whose followers claim rose from the dead. But his death and resurrection are only good news when placed in their doctrinal context: that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification. If we abandon the doctrinal significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, our gospel witness loses its effectiveness.
But gospel witness is equally ineffective if it is not attended by holiness. To be sure, God can and may use an unclean vessel to achieve gospel fruit, but effective gospel witness ordinarily attends holiness. Through the gospel, we “have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The gospel promises deliverance from the penalty and the power of sin. If Peter’s readers believed the teaching of the heretics, they would fall back into defilements of the world and thereby compromise the powerful witness of the gospel. Since the gospel demands repentance, which results in holiness, we should not be surprised that there is a connection between holiness and evangelism. As John Stott said, the church becomes “a stumbling block to evangelism when it betrays the gospel.”
If we will bear effective gospel witness, we must remain faithful to the truth about Jesus Christ and the holiness that message produces. We cannot compromise the truth and expect our gospel proclamation to be fruitful. Are you careful to maintain fidelity to the truth about Christ? There is a great deal more to doctrinal fidelity than winning debates.
Second, if we turn back from the truth, we will see terrible consequences in our pursuit of holiness. This flows from the above. Holiness is intimately tied to gospel witness and orthodoxy is intimately tied to holiness. As we have noted previously, Peter’s primary concern in this letter was the godlessness that false teaching would invite. While holiness is essential to faithful gospel witness, we must recognise that holiness is dependent on orthodox gospel teaching.
Abandonment of holy living is no small matter for the professing Christian. “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” God takes holiness seriously; so should we.
Are you committed to a lifestyle that faithfully attends your professed belief? Does holiness flow from what you claim to believe about the gospel? Does sin and ungodliness bother you, as it deeply bothered Lot (2:7–8)? It should.
Third, if we turn back from the truth, we will see terrible consequences in our allegiance. “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” We are slaves of the things we believe. If we believe the truth about Christ, we will serve him as Lord. If we reject the truth about Christ, we will submit to the unbelieving world with its sinful lifestyle. The worldview by which we operate says everything about our allegiance.
When we believe the gospel, we turn from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. To turn back is to again embrace slavery. False teaching usually promises freedom but the freedom it proclaims always turns out to be a mirage. We are all slaves to something (Romans 6:16). Are you Christ’s slave or sin’s?
As you meditate today on 2 Peter 2:17–22, pray for the grace to remain firm in your profession for the sake of your gospel witness, your pursuit of holiness, and your display of allegiance. “No turning back, no turning back.”