Peter Describes The Deception Of The Atheist: “I Once Was A Believer In Jesus”

The second chapter of 2 Peter is often overlooked for its content. In this text Peter describes the false teachers of his day that started after the testimony of Jesus began to be circulated throughout the Roman Empire.

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered.  In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. ~2 Peter 2:1-3

The issues that are described in this essay are: who genuine atheists are; why they are atheists; how their profession that God doesn’t exist is a farce, and why some people who profess Christ and stop believing, never were true believers in the first place. Also, how far does a person have to go in moving away from Jesus, before it becomes too late to come back to Him?

Many Atheists Claim To Be Former Christians

At first glance this description of false teachers seems to have nothing to do with atheists or their claims. When we read the rest of 2 Peter chapter 2, we see that the false teachers Peter is describing, were formerly believers in Christ. Today there are a large number of people who claim to be atheists, that describe themselves as former believers in Jesus and the Bible.

If we continue with the rest of chapter 2 with the forethought that Peter is describing former Christians who are now atheists, the texts makes perfect sense. What is my evidence that this second chapter is describing atheists? Notice the following description by Peter in this second chapter:

And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. ~2 Peter 2:20-21

The false teachers whom Peter is describing in the second chapter of his letter, were persons who had heard about Jesus, some from firsthand accounts of the Apostles themselves who saw and heard Jesus, but they “got tangled up and enslaved by their former sins,” and departed from following Jesus.

This tells us that the statements modern atheists assert—that there is no evidence for God—is not really the true reason they don’t believe in Jesus or the Bible. Peter said they did once believe, but later these persons got tangled up in their old sins once again, and stopped believing.

The Apostle John wrote that after Jesus performed many miracles of healing; the blind who were unable to see from birth; the disabled who had never walked, and even people Jesus raised from the dead, “despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.” ~John 12:37

It wasn’t evidence that was the barrier to faith for the first century people, it was the barrier of their own hearts. They loved their old life of sin and doing whatever they wanted to do, more than they loved Jesus and following Him. This is exactly what Jesus said: And the judgment is based on this fact: (Jesus) came into the world, but people loved the darkness (of their sin) more than the light (of following Christ), for their actions were evil. ~John 3:19 (RCR)

All the claims of “there is no evidence for God,” is a ruse. The real reason people do not believe in, and follow Jesus, is because they love sin more than Jesus. It was this way with people in the first century, and it has remained the same throughout every generation since Jesus first delivered His message of salvation.

Jesus made it very simple: turn from your sins to Him, ask for salvation, and then continue to follow Him the rest of your life, and you will be saved. People were falling away from Jesus during the time that Peter wrote this second letter, and then they went out into the world and began teaching people that Jesus is not real, there is no God, and no one should believe the testimony of the men who had written their testimony about Christ.

Modern Atheism Is Just Regurgitated First Century Apostasy

The atheist movement was already in place, not long after Jesus was here on earth, suffered, was crucified, died, and rose again. The evidence of all Jesus’ supernatural works were right before the people of the early first century, but evidence is never enough to cause people to surrender their lives to Jesus and follow Him forever. There must be a deep heartfelt desire to turn from sin, and trust Jesus with a new life—set apart from sin and this world. For many people, then and now, the attraction of the world is too strong and often people cannot continue to follow Jesus because they love this present world too much.

Believers often depart from Jesus, but some go out into the world and begin to tell other people that Jesus is a myth, there is no God, and the Bible is a book of fairy tales. It is these persons who are militant in their apostasy and denial of God, whom Peter addresses in this second letter.

Peter continues in his second letter, with comparisons to the atheist of that day, to people of former times who had also rebelled against God and denied Him.

For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment. And God did not spare the ancient world—except for Noah and the seven others in his family. Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment. So God protected Noah when he destroyed the world of ungodly people with a vast flood. Later, God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. He is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority. ~2 Peter 2:4-10

Peter writes about these former believers whom He describes in this letter, who are now atheists, that they should remember that in former times when the angels of heaven did not stay within the authority God gave them, and they rebelled against the Lord, that they were judged by God and thrown into hell to await their future judgment. Hell is not a place of torment, per se, it is a prison where the rebellious are held awaiting a future trial. At the end of Jesus’ one thousand year reign on the earth, these prisoners will be brought before God for their final judgment, and cast into the Lake of Fire, or Gehenna. The torment that these prisoner experience in the prison of hell, is not from God, but from the other prisoners who are with them in hell. The people and demons in hell torment and torture each other.

“I Don’t Believe…”

The atheist, although he denies that God exists, also does not believe in hell. He mistakenly believes that at our last breath, this is the end of our existence. The Bible says that every person know this is not true, because “God has placed eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We know that death is unnatural, and this is why we fear what comes after our physical death. Paul also wrote in Romans chapter 1, that God has made Himself known to every person, by the things He has made. When we see the universe, earth, and the beauty of life as human beings, we know instinctively that God exists. In order to convince ourselves that God doesn’t exist, we must “suppress the truth,” in order to quiet our conscience and convince ourselves that God doesn’t exist.

God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. ~Romans 1:18-21

Then Peter presents us with several Old Testament examples of real events and people to illustrate the future judgment of the atheist and those who teach others that God doesn’t exist. Peter describes Noah and the great flood, and all those who refused to obey God, and as a result, were lost in the flood. Peter describes the men of Sodom and Gomorrah who all perished, as practicing: shameful immorality…keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. He is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire…

Those who say that the Flood of Noah never happened, ignore the fact that Jesus referenced this event several times, and Peter here, also describes Noah and the flood as real events that happened as a result of God’s judgment of sin. The atheist does not believe there is a future judgment, but Peter wrote in this letter that there is a judgment for those who fall away from Jesus, betray Him by scoffing at Him, and tell others they are fools for believing God exist.

Peter reveals a few events in this letter that are unique to the Bible. He speaks of the former fallen angels who were in rebellion against God with Lucifer, angels who are said to be held in chains in hell as a result of their opposition to God. Then Peter describes the atheist false teachers of his day who scoff and these stories by their pride and arrogance, and demonstrate the depth of their own rebellion.

Peter says that even the angels who remained faithful to God, do not speak of these fallen angels in derogatory terms, they respect their positions of authority and the horrors of judgment that will fall upon these supernatural beings. The reason Peter states the rebellion and errors of these fallen beings is because the atheist also mocks, and scoffs at the idea of God, angels, heaven and hell. Militant atheist often have no respect for anyone or anything connected to God. This behavior is seen by Peter, and even the angels who did not rebel, as foolish and fatal behavior that will have a horrific end at the judgement of the atheists who say and do these things.

These people (atheists) are proud and arrogant, daring even to scoff at supernatural beings without so much as trembling. But the angels, who are far greater in power and strength, do not dare to bring from the Lord a charge of blasphemy against those supernatural beings.

These false teachers are like unthinking animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed. They scoff at things they do not understand, and like animals, they will be destroyed. Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. ~2 Peter 2:11-13

Fatal Choices, Eternal Consequences

When a person comes to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and begins to follow Him, and later falls away and does not return to Jesus, something happens to this person that many are not aware of. Even those who fall away do not realize that by denying Jesus and working to discredit Him, they have caused a terrible event to take place. God abandons these persons to their unbelief and at some point, the Holy Spirit does not seek to bring them back to Jesus any longer. Peter describes the finality of this process as becoming like an unthinking animal, a creature of instinct.

Made In His Image

God created us like Himself. God is an eternal Spirit and he made each one of us eternal spirits, who presently live in earthly bodies. We were made to live forever, but sin has ruined our perfection and made it necessary for God to redeem us. First He must remove our record of sin, which prevents all human beings from living forever in heaven. God sent Jesus to die in order to pay the penalty of death that was upon all of us. When we trust in Jesus as our Savior, God removes our record of sin, and makes us perfect once again. After the physical death of our bodies, we will be resurrected to receive a new, perfect, and eternal body.

People who turn away from Jesus after knowing Him, devolve into animals, without the ability to think and reason as God intended. Their thinking becomes like an animal with no awareness of God, or ability to know Him. They believe that human wisdom is all that is needed, when in reality, God has chosen the cross of Jesus and its simplicity, as the way that He saves people. God has impeached all human wisdom and rebuked human philosophy by making salvation a simple matter of believing Jesus died for us and paid for our sins. If we believe this, God saves us. The militant atheist has lost all ability to understand this simple truth, and therefore, God had become unknowable to him.

The Foolishness Of Human Wisdom

Paul describes the loss of intelligence by the atheist in his letter to the Corinthians:

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.  As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. 29 As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. ~1 Corinthians 1:18-29 (NLT)

The atheist believes that he is the most intelligent person on earth because he has learned that there is no God. In truth, this is a deception that is only known to the atheist. By renouncing Jesus and going out into the world to tel other people that they are foolish to believe in God, this error has caused the mind of the atheist to lose all discernment, and the future ability to know the truth about God. The Lord takes personal offense when people make themselves His adversary. He causes these persons who spend their lives trying to refute Jesus and the Bible, to become debased in their thinking, reasoning as animals by instinct, and impossible to return to Jesus and be saved.

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way! ~Matthew 11:25-26

It should be noted that not everyone who falls away from Jesus, fits this category. There are many people who have doubts, fall away for a time, but come back to Jesus later and continue to believe. The persons that Peter is describing here, are those who never come back, but go so far from Christ that they make themselves unsavable. Their hearts have become so dark and deceived, they cannot ever find God again.

The Peril Of Falling Away

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. ~Hebrews 6:4-6

The meaning of Hebrews 6:4-6 is clear by the language: People who have experienced the good things of God, partaken of the Holy Spirit, tasted the word of God, then turn away from Jesus. These are persons who once professed faith in Christ, but later change their minds and no longer believe, Hebrews states that they reach a point where it becomes “impossible” to bring them back to Christ again.

Some people have the idea that once a person believes and is saved, they can never lose their salvation. This is absolutely true. The qualifier is they want to remain with Jesus and continue to be saved. God does not force anyone to believe, and He will not force anyone to continue to believe. Salvation is complete in Christ, but the obtaining of the salvation He offers, is our choice. Once we decide to follow Jesus and base our salvation on what Jesus did for us at the cross, we remain eternally saved—if we continue to believe.

This is this Good News (of salvation in Christ) that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you never believed it was true in the first place. ~1 Corinthians 15:2

In John chapter 17:6, Jesus is praying for all believers in Him. He thanks the Father for those who do trust Him for their salvation, and He describes us as “always His.” From the foundation of the world, before God made the universe, those who are genuinely saved, were always His. This defines salvation as being a once-off event. Everyone who really believes and is saved, remains saved forever by their choice, and by the power and grace of God. We cannot lose our salvation, unless we do not want it any longer. The paradox is that those who believe but later stop believing, never were His, as Jesus said in John 17:6.

In order for someone to always belong to God and have salvation, they never could have fallen away permanently.

People who have doubts and fall away for a season, if they were genuinely saved in the first place, they always come back to Jesus. These are the people whom Jesus described in His prayer of John 17, they were always His, because they never permanently stopped believing.

A person who does fall away from Jesus and never comes back, according to Jesus, they never were saved in the first place. There are many “Tares” in the world who look like the “wheat,” but they are not saved. The evidence of a person who was genuinely saved is whether or not they remain with Jesus until the end of their life. People who stop believing and do not come back to Jesus, were not saved. This is why they were not always His.

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted Tares among the Wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’ “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked. “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” ~Matthew 13:24-30

The simple meaning of this Parable by Jesus is the reality of false and pretend believers amongst the true and faithful believers. The False are called Tares; the True and Faithful believers are called Wheat. In the Christian church there are pretend believers. Some who claim to believe in Jesus, do terrible things in the name of Christ. The true followers, live and act with lives that are like Jesus’ words and life.

At the end of the present age, the angels will separate the false believers from the true and they will be excluded from heaven. Jesus said that on that day, many will say to Him, Lord, Lord, didn’t we do all of these wonderful things in your name? Jesus will say: I never knew you. ~Matthew 7:23

It doesn’t matter if a person claims to know God; it matters whether God knows them. People who pretend to believe and later fall away, are know by Jesus and they never were His.

The false believers that Hebrews is speaking of who know the Lord, partake of the Holy Spirit, learn the word of God, say and do all the things that real believers say and do, but stop believing in Jesus, it is impossible for them to come back and be genuinely saved, if they wait too long. This is particularly true when they become an activist atheist who posts critical comments on social media. There is a place when a person waits too long, goes to far from Jesus, that it is impossible for them to come back to Jesus and be saved.

No one knows when this final event happens. This is why it is so dangerous to leave Jesus and begin to believe the lies of atheists. At some point, a person will not be able to return and they will lose all chance at eternal life. Notice that Hebrews doesn’t say it is not impossible for God to save these persons; it becomes impossible for those who goes to far, to come back to Jesus.

Time, Sin, And A Hard Heart

Sin always hardens our hearts and at some point, it becomes impossible for some people to turn from their sin and unbelief and return to Jesus. God does not exclude people from heaven who fall away; these persons exclude themselves and make it impossible by the darkness they embrace and the lives  they live, as they tell people to not trust Jesus or the Bible.

Peter said that these atheists are sometimes in disguise and amongst the true believers in the Church. They eat with us in our fellowship meals, but in their hearts, they have already begun to depart from Jesus:

They love to indulge in evil pleasures in broad daylight. They are a disgrace and a stain among you. They delight in deception even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals. They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed. They live under God’s curse. They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong.  But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice. ~2 Peter 2:14-16

Peter describes sin as the cause of apostasy for all people who stop believing in Jesus. It is not an education that causes someone to cease believing in Jesus, as many atheists assert. There are thousands of persons who complete university and graduate studies, who never fall away. Sin is, always has, always will be, the reason people fall away from Jesus.

All Events In The Bible Are True

Notice in the above text from 2 Peter 2, that Peter says that the donkey who spoke to Balaam, is a true story. Many atheists claim that narratives like this in the Bible are the reason they don’t believe the Bible is true. The answer is simple, Peter said it is true, and there is no refutation anywhere in the Bible that the stories of Noah, Jonah, or Balaam and the donkey, are myths or allegorical. Jesus confirms many of these stories are true in the four Gospels. Here in Peter’s letter, he also says the story of Balaam and the donkey speaking are true.

As Peter finishes this second chapter, he closes with the futility of a life lived without Jesus. People who leave Jesus, lose their purpose in life; they become useless and dried-up springs, a mist blown by the wind, here for a moment then gone forever. Their end is a prison of darkness without hope.

The False Narrative Of Freedom Without God

Peter noted that atheist’s continually boast about the freedom they have without any fear of God or judgment. The truth is, no atheist ever achieves this claim. I have known thousands of atheist’s, I was once an atheist myself 45 years ago. No atheist knows for certain that nothing happens after death, and the freedom they allege without God, never takes away their fear of dying.

I know many hundreds of Christians who still fear death, even though they believe they have salvation and God has promised them no future judgment for all who trust in Jesus. It usually takes a number of years before a Christian feels the certainty that heaven awaits and there is nothing to fear. The idea that someone who does not have the hope given to us by the Bible, could not be afraid of dying, is preposterous. Only when a person really believes that heaven and hell are real, sin is a part of our fallen nature, and only Jesus can take away our sins and give us the hope of heaven, can they rid themselves of fear forever.

These people are as useless as dried-up springs or as mist blown away by the wind. They are doomed to blackest darkness. They brag about themselves with empty, foolish boasting. With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you. And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. They prove the truth of this proverb: “A dog returns to its vomit.” And another says, “A washed pig returns to the mud.” ~2 Peter 2 (NLT)

Peter’s final warning to the atheist is to remind them that if a person escapes from their old life of sin by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then gets tangled up once more in sin and the old life once again, they are worse off than before they knew about Jesus. Peter closes with an Old Testament Proverb: 26:11. People who go back into their old life, are like a dog who vomits and then returns to eat it again later; like a pig who was cleansed of filth, but misses their old life and they go back to the stink and scum of their former life of sin.

Atheists never achieve the freedom or peace they claim to have by denying the existence of God. They remain as slaves to sin and they never rid themselves of fear, nor do they finding lasting peace. I know these things because I once was an atheist who tried to achieve these ideals without God. When anyone really lives their life for Jesus, they find true and lasting peace, and all fear of death ends the moment they understand the infinite love of God in their life. Perfect understanding of God’s love, casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Categories: Agnostics and Skeptics, Alleged Contradictions, Archeological Confirmation, Going to Church but unsaved, Historical Validity of the New Testament, Literary authenticity of the New Testament, Living For Jesus, New Testament Criticism, No Compromise, Pretend Believers, Reasons For Unbelief, Robert Clifton Robinson, Salvation through Jesus, Science and the Bible, The Historical Jesus, The world rejects Jesus, True Repentance

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