Robert Wurtz II
As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3–4 NKJV)
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. (2 Peter 2:20 KJV)
I have chosen these two passages to illustrate that Christians who have escaped the corruption of the world can, in fact, become entangled again in it. Our Greek word for pollutions is the root for our English word miasma. It means a noxious and oppressive stench. This stench is the result of the corruption that exists in the world because of lust. This agrees with the later context when Peter expresses this corruption and stench using the rank term vomit (dog vomit).
The means of escaping this corruption in the first place is the exceeding great and precious promises that are part of the New Covenant. The means of entangling again in the corruption is the lies spoken by covetous and lustful false teachers who, like Balaam of old, are prepared to destroy God’s people for money. Because they carry the title of minister or preacher, they also carry a certain reverence among the people — who believe their doctrine and suffer the undoing of their first experience of liberation from sin and this present evil world. The Balaam types are servants of corruption — overcome with covetousness (lust) and utilize lies and the world to lure others into the same web of bondage that they are in. This is precisely what Balaam of old did. When he could not curse the people of God, he devised an evil plan to lure them into sexual immorality and idolatry (Numbers 25:1ff, 31:16, etc.).
Balaam was the ultimate “traitor to his class.” He was supposed to be a prophet who spoke God’s word and called them to remember their covenant with God. Instead, he loved the wages of unrighteousness (profit) and did the exact opposite. As a result of his lies and schemes, Israel stumbled and suffered judgment. In modern times we have to be aware of the Balaam types who would encourage us to sin against God by alluring the people into covetousness (lust) by gross doctrinal error. This error can be anything from the prosperity heresy to unconditional eternal security.
The Corruption in the World
The world is relentless at trying to put our minds in the clouds or in the gutter. Whichever one gleans the most profits they care not. The whole enterprise of advertisement is designed to cause people to covet a product. Peter tells us that true believers have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. They are partakers of the Divine nature. However, we still have to guard ourselves against lust. Paul said he had not known lust except God had said, “thou shalt not covet.” Lust is a desire that seeks to control you. It can be good or bad, but the Greek word epithumia is usually used in a bad sense. Consider this incomplete list of things that Israel was forbidden to covet (lust after):
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s (Exodus 20:16).
Let’s modernize this list a little and make an application.
HouseWomen (or men)
Servants (male or female)
Or anything else ______________. (Fill in the blank)
Try this exercise to understand lust:
Do I want my neighbor’s house?
Do I want my neighbor’s spouse?
Do I want my neighbor’s car or truck?.
Do I want my neighbor’s ________.
Covetousness is when we have an inordinate desire for someone or something. This is the true meaning of lust. It is a strong desire that seeks to control us. However, we need to state plainly that we are born with good, God-given, natural desires for everything from food to procreation. Nevertheless, if we seek to find fulfillment in these natural desires we will inevitably overuse them. Like putting gasoline on a fire we can inflame natural desire into an unnatural lust. This is what the world seeks to do with all of its adverts. It is trying to stir up strong desire so that the desire will motivate us to act (buy a product, commit a sin, etc.).
We must also by way of disclaimer say that it is a different thing to acknowledge that your neighbor has a nice house, etc., or to recognize the beauty (within limits) of a spouse, etc. This does not necessarily imply desire. However, when you look so as to desire and long for it (or them) you are moving in covetousness (lust) which is also a form of idolatry. To set your affections on something other than God is lust and hence idolatry. We are to set our affections on things above and not on the earth.
How can we, who have escaped the corruption of the world through lust, guard against being re-entangled with it? We must first monitor our own affections and make sure our heart is not drifting towards covetousness (lust). If it is we must identify the cause and remove it from our lives. Anything that is throwing the proverbial gasoline on the fire of our desire has to go. Otherwise, we will be entangled again with the very things that God once delivered us from. Paul’s adds additional direction in Colossians 3:1ff:
If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1–3 KJV)
Jesus once used the word epithumia (lust) in a good sense when He told the disciples that “with desire I have desired to eat the Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15) Hebrew idiom doubles words for emphasis. With strong desire the Lord desired to eat the Passover with the disciples. He had powerful affections, but they were set on things above — things that relate to our relationship with God and one another. Moreover, Colossians 3:1-3 tells us that if we are truly in Christ (having more than just the theology of it, but have truly received His Spirit), we share in His experience with Sin. Jesus (unlike Adam) conqured Sin and died to Sin. If we are born again in Christ we share His experience with Sin just as we shared Adam’s failure and slavery to Sin by our first birth. Being born again we can reckon ourselves dead indeed to Sin (see Romans 6). Dead people don’t respond to stimulus. They are dead to it. Likewise, we must set our affections on things above and recognize that we are dead to Sin in Christ.