2Peter 2:18 (ESV) - "For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error."
This verse explains the metaphor of the preceeding verse further, but without the veil of figurative language.
V17 - "waterless springs..." corresponds to v18 "loud boasts of folly". All talk and no substance. All show and no go. The show is the "sensual passions of the flesh" but there is no spiritual depth to this enticement.
"those who live in error" are the people of the world (who are not saved). "those who are barely escaping" are Christians who have been saved but are enticed by the sensual sham of those who are boasting.
Overall, we see a description of Christians who are saved but are being drawn into error by very poor leaders.
How does this apply today?
- As a caution to church leaders who pattern their ministry this way, i.e. relying on sensual means to draw people into their church. Anything that seeks to produce an emotional response that is independant of the knowledge of God (as revealed in scripture) is something that is purely sensual. This is a characteristic of many cults who manipulate peoples' emotions with guilt and fear. It is also a characteristic of many churches that have been influenced in their methods by New Age concepts, e.g. most "pentecostal" churches. Verse 17 warns of the judgment to come upon false leaders who lead their church down these paths.
- As a caution to believers to learn the difference between "sensual passions" and real spiritual truth and substance in your life. We are commanded to worship in spirit and truth (John 4). The truth is easily understood as correct doctrine but there is often confusion over what it means to worship "in spirit". Galatians chapter 5 gives a clear description of what it means to be spiritual.
- There is a further caution as to the form these "sensual passions" take, i.e. boasting, which comes from sinful pride. Boasting of goals and achievements that are folly. Sensual passions don't have to be sex, money, drugs, food, etc. but can be power, status, authority, and the like. [Note: A realisation, that the flesh corrupts gifts from God, is necessary here. Sex is not bad, but how you use this wonderful gift can be. Money isn't evil, but the love of money is. Food and pharmaceutical drugs can be used wisely to sustain us but gluttony or excess is bad.] Back to power and status: Have you ever been around church leaders that boast of their takings in the offering, or of how many members are in their congregation? This really is foolish behaviour and, if you sit under people like this to regularly listen to their teachings, you need to ask yourself if you should be placing yourself under the authority of them.
- A word of hope to those on the outside, for those people who are watching, crying, and praying for those they love who are caught up in false ministries. Remember that they are escaping from hell, though barely.
Ministries that are characterised by "loud boasts of folly" and sensual enticements often spiral down into excess with leaders and congregation members being caught up in scandal. God has exposed their shameful affairs to the public so that their folly becomes known to the world. God does bring judgment here and now as a means of purifying His people. This is a stern warning to us all; yet at the same time, we should be aware of His great mercy in saving us from the hell we deserve through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.