“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3-4)
It’s a pity that we don’t spend more time in serious study, even memorization, of the shorter books in our bible. Obadiah and Nahum and Malachi are powerful warnings and reminders. Philemon and 2 and 3 John are extremely enriching books for the Christian walk. And Jude, that last little letter right before the book of Revelation, is an extremely urgent and necessary call to us as members of church communities to be alert, for our sake and the sake of our brothers and sisters, against the great corrupting dangers of false teachers. It is important to note that these false teachers are not the ones out there in the world clearly representing other religions and ideas, but the ones right in and among us, influencing people away from sound, Christ centered teaching and from strict biblical virtues and righteous, holy living. As was quoted above, they “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” or as the HSCB translation puts it, “turning the grace of our God into promiscuity,” or in the NIV “who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” God’s wondrous message of salvation by grace alone is not to be twisted into permission to live as we want.
When Paul famously wrote in Ephesians 2:8,9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” He followed it immediately in verse 10 with, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The gospel is destroyed by the idea that we can earn or merit salvation by our good actions, but it is also destroyed by the idea that God’s grace means that our evil deeds are in fact not something that we need to be saved from, and that we can just go on doing whatever we want and God will just be okay with it, love us for who we are, and forgive any wrong in the end. The message of the gospel is one of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. It is a message of unmerited, unearned, undeserved blessing from God purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is all of Him, and nothing of us. But the message calls on us to repent (change our minds, turn around, go the other way) and believe (that we are sinners, that we have been wrong, that God has saved us in Jesus Christ, and that He is Lord, Master, and King, and is therefore in charge of our lives and whom we should now obey). The gospel is not a mere feel good message, it is a life transforming reality that, if believed, will have the necessary effect of changing ones priorities and view of life, and therefore of one’s actions. As Peter wrote, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16)
Understanding this, Jude is greatly concerned for the Christian churches of his day because there are those who are coming in spreading a sinful lie that uses Christian language about God’s grace and love, but in fact entices people to sin freely without regard for God, and is therefore utterly opposed to repentance, faith, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, our need for redemption, and therefore the very gospel itself. The book is replete with examples from Old Testament Scripture, history, and Jewish traditions familiar to the readers that help them remember the fact that there have always been those who outwardly professed the name of the one true God and dwelled among His people as if they were truly part of the faith community, but were in fact false brothers and deceivers marked out for condemnation by God, and we must be careful to keep ourselves and our beloved brothers from walking according to their ways. As we talked about (HERE), we must be ever vigilant and on guard against sin!
In our day (as in many times in the past) it is highly unpopular to point out that a particular teaching is wrong, a particular teacher or author is dangerous, or that a particular action is sin, and that such things and people are not Christian and not befitting of the Christian community, despite their own self identification and surface language that may sound very loving and evoke the name of Jesus, but these are exactly the sort of things Jude is warning us we must be ready to do, and if we love our Christian brothers we will be eager to deliver them from the snare of such lies. We must pursue holiness together, and watch one another’s back for the stealth and guile of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
It is interesting that Jude frequently uses the example of those who would justify sexual immorality. Today, we see this more than we want to admit. There is, to give one of many possible examples, an organization called the “reformation project” whose express goal is to train people to actively work within local churches to influence people into believing that homosexual and bisexual lifestyles are perfectly okay, and to shame the biblical standard of holiness and the need for repentance. The whole thing tries to be as “Christian” as possible while representing exactly what Jude is talking about in a very literal sense. People coming into our fellowships by stealth to turn the grace of God into a license to sin and bring shame and reproach before God on our fellowships. One can see a similar idea in the documentary “expelled.” While it is focusing on the subject academic freedom and the study of intelligent design, it makes a passing observation that is crucial to our subject after an interview with a PR representative for a secular organization that works with churches and other faith communities to convince them that full fledged secular Darwinian ideology is totally compatible with their faith. What is shown through the interviews is that such people are often very conscious that in fact their teachings are NOT compatible, and that it will destroy the faith of the next generation. They are intentionally deceiving, and often training people inside the church to be their mouth pieces to the Christian community. While many of the sort of teachings Jude is warning us about come into our churches passively through books and media and the like, there really are people doing exactly what Jude warned about, literally making the conscious and active effort to infiltrate churches and alter their teaching in a manner that turns us to sin or even leads to eventual outright denial of our Lord!
“But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.” (Jude 10)
“These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 12, 13)Jude goes on to urge the Church to hold fast to the true, biblical faith and to remain steadfast, knowing that Christ is coming again. Our hope of pleasure and reward is not in this sin sick world, and it is okay to be outsiders here in the name of holiness, indeed it is glorious to be so! Christ is coming in judgment on the wicked and to bring eternal life to those who are His own, a holy people of faith resting in His grace and enduring to the end, not in our strength, but in His!
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 20-25)
I urge, read through Jude regularly. Memorize its warnings and reflect on them often. (The entire book is set to great music HERE for easy memorization.) Keep the true gospel ever before you, and be careful of teachings, even from those in the pew next to you, that would lead you into sin or into denial of our Lord’s teachings, and care enough about those around you to correct them of such error and encourage them on in righteousness and holiness. As James, Jude’s brother, wrote “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19,20). Know your brothers and sisters of your local church well enough to notice if something is wrong and to be able to speak immediately into their lives to turn them from sin and error, and open yourself up to them enough so that they can do the same for you. We are in this together, and we need each other.
Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.