Do We Need to Defend Our Faith

| Jude 1-4, 20-25

Week of December 1, 2019

The Point:  God can use you to show others the truth.

False Teachers:  Jude 1-4, 20-25

[1] Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: [2] May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. [3] Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. [4] For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. [20] But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, [21] keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. [22] And have mercy on those who doubt; [23] save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. [24] Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, [25] 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.  [ESV]

“Greeting [1-2]. What distinguished Jude, in particular, and New Testament epistles, in general, from Greco-Roman letters is the theological substance of their greetings. Jude did not give a perfunctory or customary hello. He invested the greeting with the content of the gospel, anticipating the major themes of the letter from the outset. Jude was the brother of Jesus. He identifies himself as a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James. After identifying himself as the author, Jude addressed the recipients of the letter. He addressed them as the called, beloved and kept. The term called does not merely mean that God invited believers to be His own. Those whom God calls are powerfully and inevitably brought to faith in Jesus Christ through the proclamation of the gospel. The call of God is extended only to some and is always successful, so that all those who are called become believers. Jude, by stressing God’s supernatural calling, reminds the readers of the efficacy of God’s grace. The called are the beloved in God the Father. Believers have been loved by God and His effective love is the reason they belong to the people of God. The next phrase, kept for Jesus Christ, means that the called are kept until the day of redemption for Jesus Christ. So believers are both loved and kept by the God the Father. The grace of God that called believers to faith will sustain them until the end. The emphasis on God’s grace does not cancel out human responsibility. In verse 21 the readers are exhorted keep yourselves in the love of God. God’s grace does not promote human passivity and laxity. It should stir the readers to concerted action. Nonetheless, the ultimate reason believers will persevere against the inroads of the intruders is the grace of God by which He set His love upon believers, called them to be His people, and pledged to preserve them until the end. Jude proceeds to pray for mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to his readers. The prayer wish anticipates themes developed in the rest of the letter. Jude prayed for mercy because his readers would resist the opponents only by God’s mercy and because they needed to experience God’s mercy so that they could extend the same to those captivated by the false teachers [22-23]. They needed peace because the interlopers caused division [19] and introduced strife and grumbling wherever they went [10,16]. They needed love because the intruders cared only for themselves and abused the very purpose of the love feasts [12]. Jude prayed that mercy, peace, and love would be multiplied because an abundance of these qualities was needed at a stressful time in the church’s life. He also prayed because he knew that only God can produce these virtues in the lives of His people.

The Purpose of Writing [3-4]. The purpose of the letter is communicated in verse 3. The readers were to contend for the faith that was transmitted to them. Verse 4 provides the reason the admonition in verse 3 was needed. Intruders had entered into the church and threatened the purity of its faith. Jude was eager to write about our common salvation. Salvation in Jude, as in Paul, was both an end-time gift and a present reality, for the eschatological gift had invaded this present evil age. The purpose for the letter is conveyed in the exhortation to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude exhorted his readers to strive intensely to preserve the faith once handed down to the saints. The tradition believers must strive to preserve is designated as the faith. Faith in this context does not refer to trusting God, as Paul typically used the term. In this context faith refers to the traditional teaching that was to be safeguarded. Even in Paul faith may refer to the message of the gospel. Jude returned to the theme near the conclusion to the letter, saying believers must be building yourselves up in your most holy faith [20]. We have an early recognition here that the touchstone for the Christian faith is in the teaching of the apostles and that any deviation from their teaching is unorthodox. This faith was handed down once for all. No supplements or corrections will be tolerated. The gospel of Jesus Christ has received its full explication through the apostles. The author of Hebrews drew a similar conclusion when he said that God has spoken definitively and conclusively through His Son in the last days [Heb. 1:2]. From statements like these early Christians rightly concluded that the canon of Scripture should be restricted to those early writings that explicated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now Jude explains (For) why his readers must strive to guard the faith that was handed down [4]. Intruders had crept into the church, and apparently they were disturbing the congregation to such an extent that Jude felt compelled to respond. Jude described them as certain people have crept in. This verbal form used of the opponents is certainly derogatory. The verb implies that the adversaries had hidden their true character and motives. It also indicates that they were outsiders, perhaps wandering prophets or teachers. They had been surreptitious and crafty, pretending to be godly members of the Christian church. Paul, similarly, criticized the Judaizers who had infiltrated the ranks of the church to spy out and destroy the liberty of those committed to the gospel [Gal. 2:3-5]. Peter indicted opponents who secretly introduced destructive factions [2 Peter 2:1]. Jude proceeds to tell us four things about these intruders: (1) their judgment was predicted long ago, (2) they are ungodly, (3) they turn grace into an opportunity for license, and (4) they deny the Lord Jesus Christ. We should notice that the first statement tells us the opponents will be judged by God, and then items two through four inform us why they will be judged by God, namely, for their ungodly behavior. Jude reminds his readers at the outset that these adversaries had not taken God by surprise. Their judgment was prescripted from the beginning, and it followed as a corollary that God knew they would appear on the scene. The reference to judgment indicates that the adversaries would not triumph. God will dispose of them ceremoniously and finally on the day of judgment. Jude encouraged his readers to persevere in the faith by assuring them that the intruders would ultimately fail and be judged by God. The remaining portion of verse 4 gives three reasons for the judgment: (1) ungodliness, (2) licentiousness, and (3) denial of Jesus’ lordship. The godless live as if God does not exist, so they do not honor Him as their Lord and Master. The second reason for judgment is that the interlopers subverted God’s grace and lived licentiously. The word sensuality often denotes sexual sin or some kind of gross debauchery in more general terms. The context of the letter as a whole suggests that sexual sin is intended. The third reason for judgment concludes the verse. The interlopers denied Jesus Christ as their Sovereign and Lord. Both of these terms together focus on the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is likely that Jude saw a denial of the sovereignty and lordship of Jesus Christ in the way the opponents lived. Their evil lifestyle constituted a denial of Christ’s lordship.” [Schreiner, pp. 427-440].

“Keep Yourselves in God’s Love [20-21]. Jude turns from emphasizing the intrusion of the opponents [17-19] to positive exhortations to believers. Jude recognized that his readers would not continue to be devoted to the faith if they concentrated only on resisting the opponents, as important as that was. The readers must also grow in the Christian faith themselves and keep themselves in the sphere of God’s love. Jude used only one imperative, the word keep in verse 21. The other three verbs are all participles: building yourselves up … praying … waiting. Each of these participles should be understood as instrumental participles, describing how we keep ourselves in God’s love. The participles in this case still virtually function as imperatives, but they modify the command to keep yourselves in God’s love, setting forth the means by which the readers can do so. [20] Here Jude gives the first two means by which believers could preserve themselves in God’s love. First, believers continue in God’s love by building themselves up in your most holy faith. Jude used the metaphor of building something on a foundation. The foundation in this instance is your most holy faith. Believers are to build on the faith’s foundation in order to preserve themselves in God’s love. The most holy faith upon which the church is built is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this faith has Jesus Christ as its center. When Jude spoke of faith here, he referred to the body of teachings, the doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ. This fits with verse 3, where believers are exhorted to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. So the first way believers remain in God’s love is by continuing to grow in their understanding of the gospel, the teachings that were handed down to them at their conversion. This faith is most holy because it comes from the holy God, and Christian growth occurs through the mind, as believers grow in their understanding of God’s word and of Christian truth. Jude did not think that growth occurred mystically or mysteriously. Instead, believers experience God’s love as their understanding of the faith increases. Affection for God increases not through bypassing the mind but by means of it. The second means by which believers can remain in God’s love is by praying in the Holy Spirit. The injunction to pray should be understood broadly. Believers cannot keep themselves in God’s love without depending on Him by petitioning Him in prayer. Love for God cannot be sustained without a relationship with Him, and such a relationship is nurtured by prayer. [21] The central command of the two verses now appears: keep yourselves in the love of God. Believers must keep themselves in God’s love to avoid apostasy, so as not to be corrupted by the opponents. Those who trust in Christ remain in the faith because of the preserving work of God the Father [24]. Nevertheless, the promise that God will keep His own does not nullify the responsibility of believers to persevere in the faith. God keeps His own, and yet believers must keep themselves in God’s love. Jude represented well the biblical tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. On the one hand, believers only avoid apostasy because of the grace of God. On the other hand, the grace of God does not cancel out the need for believers to exert all their energy to remain in God’s love. The third means of remaining in God’s love is explicated with the last participle, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word waiting is eschatological, focusing on the coming of the Lord. Since believers are to wait for Christ’s mercy, they will receive it at the coming of the Lord. Jude conceived of eternal life here as something that will be received on the last day, as something that believers will possess at the coming of the Lord. Jude emphasized that believers remain in God’s love by waiting for Christ’s return. Apparently Christians cannot remain in God’s love if they immerse themselves in this world and cease to long for their future perfection before God [24-25]. One of the means by which we continue in our love for God is if we continue to long for the day when Jesus Christ will show us His mercy, when He will grant us the gift of eternal life, and we will be perfected forever. Those who take their eyes off their future hope will find that their love for God is slowly evaporating, and it will be evident that their real love is for the present evil age.

Show Mercy to Those Affected by the Opponents [22-23]. We come to the third stage of the argument in verses 22-23. Verses 17-19 focus on the opponents; and verses 20-21, on the readers. Now Jude explained to the readers how they should respond to those who had been affected by the false teachers and perhaps even how they should treat the false teachers themselves. [22] Jude’s preference for threes manifests again as he gave three exhortations to his readers. He began by saying have mercy on those who doubt. He likely referred to those in the church whom the false teachers were affecting. Jude began with those who were least affected by the intruders. They were affected to the extent that they were beginning to doubt whether the opponents were correct or whether the faith they received at the inception of their Christian life was normative [3]. It is tempting to dismiss those struggling with doubts, to lose patience with them and move on to something else. Jude encouraged those who were strong to show mercy and kindness to those wavering with doubts, to reclaim them with gentleness. [23] Others in the church were in even greater danger. They had fallen under the spell of the intruders to a significant extent. Perhaps they had begun to embrace some of the latter’s theology and were beginning to live in an antinomian manner. The fire here refers to future judgment in hell. Jude did not say, then, that the opponents were already in the fire. They were to be snatched from the fire that would consume them unless they repented. The main verb is save, and the participle snatching depicts how they are to save those entranced by the opponents. The image suggests that some have nearly been seduced by the false teachers. And yet there is still hope that they can be reclaimed, rescued from the judgment to come and restored to a right relationship with God. Still another group of people are even more influenced by the false teachers, or perhaps Jude included some of the opponents in this category. Believers should show mercy even to those deeply ensnared in sin. They were not to despise them or abhor those so defiled by sin. And yet their mercy should be mingled with fear and hatred, knowing that sin had stained and defiled these people in a remarkable way. Believers are to beware lest their mercy is transposed into acceptance, and they themselves become defiled by the sin of those they are trying to help. The text constructs a nice balance between showing love and mercy and maintaining standards of purity and righteousness. Showing love for the sinner does not exclude an intense hatred for the corruption brought about by sin. Furthermore, believers need to beware of getting too entangled with some who sin, lest the sinner influence them rather than vice versa.

Doxology [24-25]. [24] When Jude spoke of God’s ability to keep believers from falling, he did not merely mean that believers might be kept from falling. The idea is that God will keep them from falling by His grace. The promise that God will preserve believers from apostasy does not cancel out the exhortation of verse 21, keep yourselves in the love of God. Ultimately, however, believers obey this admonition because God will strengthen them to do so. He gives us the grace so that we desire to keep ourselves in God’s love. The preservation from stumbling does not refer to sinlessness in this context. The verb stumble does have that sense in James [2:10; 3:1]. In Romans 11:11, however, the verb stumble refers to whether the Jews have stumbled irrevocably, so that they will be lost forever. Paul answered that question with an emphatic no! Peter used the verbal form of this word in reference to apostasy in 2 Peter 1:10. And that is how Jude used the adjective here. God does not promise that true believers will never sin. He promises that He will preserve us from committing apostasy, from abandoning the faith once and for all. That this is what Jude meant is confirmed by the next clause, to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy. What Jude said is that God is the one who will keep believers from committing apostasy so that they will be able to stand before God with great joy on the day of the Lord. Believers experience joy, and their joy brings honor to God as their patron and protector on the last day. On the day of the Lord believers will be blameless. This term is used of Old Testament sacrifices, of Jesus as a perfect sacrifice, and of believers on the day of judgment. Jude used the term in the latter sense and with the same meaning. He was not suggesting that believers will in any sense be perfect in this life. The Lord will make His own, who have not abandoned Him, blameless on the last day. God will complete His saving work on that day. [25] The one who is able to keep believers from falling is identified as the only God, our Savior here. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ usually is designated as the Savior. In some texts, however, God is said to be the Savior [Luke 1:47; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4]. The idea of God being the Savior fits well in a context in which false teachers threaten the church and believers need rescue from their clutches. Glory, majesty, dominion, and authority always belong to God for all of history. Glory signifies the honor, resplendence, and beauty that is ascribed to God for His saving work. Since God does the protecting, saving, and preserving, He receives all the glory, acclamation, and praise. Majesty denotes His greatness and how worthy He is of honor given His exalted position. Dominion and authority are terms that are rather close in meaning. They indicate that God is sovereign and in control. The direction of all things is in His hand [1 Tim. 6:16; Rev. 4:11; 5:13; 19:1]. Glory, majesty, power, and authority have always belonged to God, before the world began and will be His forever and ever. This is not a prayer, which would be rendered by the term “may be,” but a fact. Because of who God is and what He has done, the praise and power are His forever. Readers rest secure in this truth, and Jude did as well, signifying it by saying Amen.”  [Schreiner, pp. 481-492].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In his greeting, what three descriptions does Jude use for his readers? How do these three great facts about what makes a person a Christian continue to be a source of tremendous encouragement in the struggles of the faith? What three things does Jude pray for his readers? Why are mercy, peace, and love so vital to our Christian experience? Why do you think Jude prays that they might be multiplied to you?
  2. What is the purpose of Jude’s letter [3]? What does Jude mean by the faith [3,20]? Why is it significant that it is the faith once for all delivered to the saints [3]? What is involved in contending for the faith? How does Jude describe the false teachers [4]? Do you see examples of these type of false teachers in today’s Church?
  3. In verses 20-21, Jude gives positive exhortations to believers. How should those who are true followers of Christ behave and respond to the damaging influences they find in the church? What is his main command for believers? What three things does Jude tell his readers to do in order to obey this central command? Why are these three things necessary before and during our interaction with false teachers?
  4. How should we respond to Christians who fall into temptation and sin [22-23]? What does Jude mean by show mercy with fear? How are we to maintain the important balance between showing love and mercy and maintaining standards of purity and righteousness?
  5. In his doxology [24-25], Jude gives his readers two promises in verse 24 and a praise in verse 25. What are the promises? What does Jude mean by with great joy? How does this promise of future joy promised in heaven affect the way you live your life now?
  6. What does it mean to you personally to ascribe glory, majesty, dominion, and authority to God? How can you do that daily? Memorize this doxology and meditate on it this coming week.

References:

The Message of 2 Peter & Jude, Christopher Green, Inter Varsity.

Jude & 2 Peter, Gene Green, Baker.

Let’s Study 2 Peter and Jude, Mark Johnston, Banner of Truth.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, Broadman & Holman Publishers.