For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.2 Peter 2:21(NASB)
In the final three verses of his second letter, Peter is explaining that unbelievers, who for a time are enticed by false teachers into believing a fake gospel with a counterfeit Christ, end up in a worse spiritual state than at the beginning. They may have escaped the impurity of the world with its many entanglements for a short time when they came into a knowledge of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, but they never came into a saving knowledge of Christ. They were never born again and could not receive the light of life, because they believed a fake gospel which preaches a counterfeit Christ from an apostate teacher.
Fear is struck into the heart of many Christians who do not read these verses in their correct context. They worry that if they fall into carnality or go astray, they will lose their salvation and their "last state will become worse for them than the first." And when they read in this verse: "It would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, and then turn away," the conclusion is often reached that they must be headed for hell! It is sad when verses are taken out of context and misapplied to teach an unbiblical doctrine.
The context of the whole passage is the dangers of false teachers and the need for believers to be discerning, to grow in a knowledge of Christ, and pay careful heed to the truths contained in the Word of God. These verses are warning of the devastation that can be done to unbelievers who buy into the teachings of an apostate teacher.
Peter is explaining what happens to unbelievers who taste of the gospel of Christ, through apostate teaching, but are not taught the truth. They are not told the way of salvation but are presented with the lie - that they can ignore God's Word, disobey His commands, and wilfully participate in sin, with no repercussions.
The Bible makes it clear that we are to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God's Word. We are to obey His commands and to learn the truth. Indeed, multiple passages teaches that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, and there can be no deviation from God's declared way of salvation.
It is not enough to simply hear the gospel message. Salvation is not gained through an intellectual understanding of the Word of truth. Even the demons and the devil himself believe, and shudder! It is faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross for the forgiveness of sin, and His glorious Resurrection from the dead that saves mankind from their sin.
Peter tells us that when a fake gospel and counterfeit Christ is taught to unbelievers, "it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them."
Hearing of a corrupted gospel from an apostate teacher who shares a warped salvation message through a counterfeit Christ with a twisted truth, is hardly likely to endear someone to the glorious gospel of grace. It is far more likely to harden the heart of an unbeliever toward the good news of salvation and cause them to distrust godly ministers and be wary of genuine believers.
It is no surprise that the ageing apostle so aggressively condemned false teachers and their distorted doctrines which lead so many astray with their twisted truth. Peter concludes that their actions not only prevent many from coming to a knowledge of the truth, but they would have been better off without any knowledge of the way of righteousness.
May we be ready and willing to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ and pray that through our ministry, some may be plucked from the brands into a saving faith in Jesus.
Heavenly Father, I grieve to realise how many people must have been affected by being taught a fake gospel with a counterfeit Christ by the many false teachers that have infiltrated churches over the centuries. I pray that in Your grace, You would use godly men and women to pluck some brands from the fire and teach the truth to those that are dead in their sins and without hope in the world. Thank You that it is not Your will that any should perish, but that all would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. In Jesus' name, AMEN.