“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. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” (2 Peter 2:20–21, AV)
One night at the church I pastored, we had an open mic time. The young adults would come up and share their testimonies, prayer requests, and praises. In the middle of the testimonies, a young man stood up and went to the mic. His testimony went something like this. “I’ve been saved seven times and every time it gets worse.” People kind of looked at each other appearing quite puzzled. Yet, this testimony illustrates a truth that Peter is trying to get across in this passage.
Again, this is in context with the false teachers of Peter’s day. They were luring people into licentiousness. Many that they were enticing had heard the truth of the gospel. More than that they understood what they heard.
The text indicates that if people come to “the knowledge of” Jesus and then return to their former way of sin, that their later state is worse than the first. The word “knowledge,” epignosis, refers to recognition, full discernment (Strong G1922). It means that they came to a precise knowledge of the gospel. However, it does not mean that they proceeded past a correct knowledge to true saving faith. They had experienced a mere intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel.
It is possible for people to have mere intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel without having truly received Jesus. These people may even have made a profession faith and been baptized. They may have been actively engaged in the church and manifested some moral reform in accordance with the teachings of the church. Yet, these have not experienced true faith that changes the heart and produces true repentance.
Peter wrote about these that had left the church and followed the false teachers. Their departure from the truth is a clear indication that they were never truly saved by grace. This is exactly what John indicated in his writing.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19, AV)
This is what happened to the man in our church who stated he was saved seven times and every time it got worse. I personally sat down with this man and spoke with him about the deliverance that he could experience in Christ. He indicated that he clearly understood. He prayed to receive Jesus. Yet, he went right back, without batting an eyelash, to his former way of life. I had warned him about this, but he would not listen. He just continued on a pathway to destruction. His later state was worse than the former.