Peter intends to remind his readers of the truth so that they may remember it and live by it after he dies (1:12-15). This reminder comes in response to a critical situation confronting the readers. Certain false teachers were troubling the churches by promoting destructive heresies that denied the lordship of Christ (2:1). Peter acknowledges the success of these false teachers—the way of truth was being reviled (2:2), the spiritually unstable were being enticed (2:14, 18), and some had already abandoned their faith (2:20).
Unfortunately, Peter does not elaborate on these heresies, and we are left to infer what they may have involved. Most likely the false teachers had misunderstood or misrepresented the teachings of Paul, particularly his understanding of Christian grace and freedom (see 3:16). Clearly these teachers believed they had a corner on the truth and boldly claimed divine authority for their teachings (2:10-11, 18). Evidently they believed grace made them “free” to do whatever they pleased (2:19). Accordingly, they exercised their “freedom” in immoral behavior and ridiculed those who did not follow their example (perhaps labeling them prudish or legalistic).
These false teachers, like others in the first century, could hold such teachings because they subscribed to a view of reality that understood matter as evil and spirit as good. Consequently, “salvation” involved a spiritual deliverance from the constraints of this evil material world. Since they were spiritually delivered, they were immune to contamination from the physical world, so they thought. In their view, “salvation” was all but complete, awaiting only the final liberation of the spirit from the body at death. In the meantime, since they had been “saved” they were “free,” if they wished, to indulge the flesh.
Under the sway of such a worldview, these false teachers denied the essential character of Christian life and Christ's work of redemption, as it was understood by the apostles. Furthermore, they scoffed at the notion of Jesus' second coming, which seemed doubtful because of the temporal delay and, moreover, irrelevant because their “salvation” was already (so they thought) complete (see 3:1-10). Peter responds to this distorted theology. He reminds his readers of the truth of the Gospel which will lead them to a godly life (1:3) and a place in Christ's eternal kingdom (1:11).