This is now our third Sunday studying this short book together. And the fact that we’ve been able to spend three Sundays on such a short book only goes to show that Jude has packed a lot into it.
In the opening verses, he made clear that he originally wanted to write to his readers about the salvation we share, but now he felt he needed to write a different kind of letter and to urge his readers to contend for the faith. They needed to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ. And they needed to contend for the faith and to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ, because certain men had slipped into the church and they were twisting the gospel of the grace of God to suit their own sinful desires. We don’t know exactly what they were saying, but from what Jude says about them it’s likely that they were saying that since we’re saved from God’s wrath and curse by grace and not by keeping the law, then we can do whatever we like. So, there’s no need to keep the law, because we’re under grace and not under law. And that means you can disregard all those laws about sex being for husbands and wives only and you’re now free to do whatever you want and to sleep with whomever you want. That’s perhaps the kind of thing they were saying. And while it’s true that we’re saved by grace and not by keeping the law, the Bible is clear that once we’re saved by God’s grace, God’s will for his believing people is for us to keep his laws and to walk in his ways. And to help us, he gives us the Holy Spirit to help us to become holy and obedient to the Lord and to his law.
And since these heretics had taken hold of the gospel and were twisting it out of shape, Jude wants his readers to defend the gospel. Don’t let them twist it. Don’t let them ruin it. Grab hold of the gospel and keep it safe.
And then in the second part of the book — which we studied last week — Jude made clear that God will judge heretics and false teachers. Jude referred to six stories of judgment: the Israelites who escaped from Egypt, but who perished in the wilderness because of their sinful rebellion; the angels who fell from heaven and who are being kept for judgment; the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who were destroyed because of their great wickedness; Cain who chose the way of wickedness instead of the way of goodness; Balaam who led the Israelites into immorality and idolatry; and Korah and his followers in the wilderness who grumbled and complained about Moses and Aaron and who went down alive into the grave, when God opened up the ground under them. And Jude refers to these six stories of judgment to make clear that just as God condemned and punished them, so he will condemn and punish the heretics who had slipped into the church and who were twisting the gospel and living immoral, godless lives.
And so, we come to the third and last part of this book which can be divided into four parts. Firstly, Jude tells his readers — including us — to remember what the apostles said. Secondly, he tells his readers to remain in God’s love. Thirdly, the tells his readers how to treat those who have come under the influence of the heretics. And fourthly, he ends his letter with a marvellous doxology in which he praises God for his glory and majesty and power and authority. And by means of this doxology Jude reassures his readers that God is able to keep us.
Verses 17 to 20
And so, in verses 17 to 20 Jude tells his readers to remember what the apostles said. What did the apostles say? They said that in the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires. We looked at this briefly last week, when I reminded you that the phrase ‘the last times’ does not refer to some time in the future, but it refers to the whole of time since the Lord’s resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven. And the last times will continue until he comes again in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead. In other words, we’re living in the last times. And the apostles warned us that in these, the last times, or in these, the last days, in which we’re living, we should expect false teachers to arise.
In fact, from what we read in the New Testament, the apostles made plain that believers can expect two things. We can expect persecutors to come; and we can expect false teachers to come. Those are the two main weapons which the Devil uses in his effort to destroy the church of Jesus Christ in these, the last times in which we’re living. He tries to destroy us by crushing us with persecution and opposition, so that we’re tempted to give up the faith because it’s too hard. Or he tries to destroy us by leading us astray with false teaching and doctrines. On Sunday evenings, we’re going through the book of Hebrews. And the writer of Hebrews is writing to Christians who were suffering for their faith. They had been publicly insulted and persecuted. Some had been imprisoned. Some had lost their property. And because of the trouble they faced, they were being tempted to give up their faith. And so, the writer was exhorting them not to turn away from Christ. So, Hebrews is about persecution. And Jude is about false teaching.
And Jude is telling his readers to remember that the apostles predicted that false teachers would come. He describes the false teachers as scoffers, because they were presumably scoffing at the true gospel and scoffing at those who taught that believers must keep God’s law and keep themselves pure. And he also says about them that they are men who divide you. So, instead of maintaining the peace and unity of the church, these heretics are splitting the church apart. And presumably they’re splitting the church apart because there are some who are for the heretics and there are some who are against them and there are perhaps others who are not sure. And these different groups are now arguing with one another. And the body of Christ was being torn apart, which is never a good thing.
And Jude says that they follow mere natural instincts. A more accurate translation is that they are ‘natural people’. He’s using a Greek word which the apostle Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul contrasts the natural person and the spiritual person. The spiritual person has the Holy Spirit, whereas the natural person does not have the Holy Spirit. In other words, the spiritual person is a believer, whereas the natural person is not a believer. And so, Jude is telling us in verse 19 that these heretics are not believers. They may say they believe and they may claim to trust in Christ. However, it’s plain to Jude that they’re not believers, because they don’t have the Spirit of God in them. And since they don’t have the Spirit of God in them, then they can’t be believers, because it’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to believe. And so, instead of being led by the Spirit into greater obedience, they are being led by their own sinful desires into more and more sin.
And so, remember that the apostles told us that these heretics would come. We shouldn’t be surprised by their presence in the church. And we mustn’t be taken in by them. And Jude’s message to believers in his generation is true for us in our generation. We’re living in the last times as they were and so we need to take care that we’re not taken in by those who twist the gospel.
Verses 20 and 21
Secondly, Jude tells his readers to remain in God’s love. I’m now looking at verses 20 and 21.
The NIV isn’t as clear as it could be, but in these two verses, there’s only one imperative and three participles. Do you know what an imperative and a participle is? An imperative is a command. Do this! And a participle is normally a verb ending in ‘ing’. And so, this is what Jude is saying to us in verses 20 and 21: First, the command: Keep yourselves in God’s love. So, do this: keep yourself in God’s love. And then there are the three participles: building yourself by in your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; and waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the point of telling you this is that the three participles — building, praying, waiting — tell us how to keep ourselves in God’s love. So, how do we keep ourselves in God’s love? By building ourselves up in the faith; and by praying in the Spirit; and by waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, we’re to keep ourselves in God’s love. Now, while some commentators think he means that we’re to keep loving God and our neighbour, I think he means something different from that. I think he means we’re to keep ourselves in God’s love in the sense that we’re to persevere in the faith and not turn away from it because of the evil influence of heretics. So, keeping ourselves in God’s love means avoiding apostasy. Don’t let the false teachers lead you astray.
And so, how are we to do that? We do it by building ourselves up in our most holy faith. When he refers to our most holy faith, he’s referring to the truth of God’s word and to everything which the apostles taught about God and our salvation. And, of course, their message was centred on Christ the Saviour. And what the apostles taught about Christ is the foundation of the church, because the church is built on the message of Christ who gave up his life for his people so that all who believe in him receive eternal life.
So, the most holy faith is the message about Christ. And building ourselves up in the faith means we’re to grow in our knowledge of this message. I said last week and the week before that the way to contend for the faith is to know the faith. And so, we need to study the Bible and we need to study our church’s catechisms and Confession which help us to understand the Bible. In order to defend the faith, we need to know it. And the way to know it is by knowing our Bibles. That’s what I said last week and the week before. And now Jude is telling us that we need to know the faith in order to persevere in the faith. So, we need to grow in our knowledge of God’s word and we need to grow in our understanding of the faith, because the more we know the faith, the better equipped we are to resist the evil influence of heretics and false teachers. Building ourselves up in the faith will keep us from turning away from the faith.
And then we’re to pray in the Spirit. When we pray, we pray to the Father in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ. And when we pray, we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us. So, praying in the Spirit is true prayer.
And the fact that Jude mentions prayer reminds us that we need God’s help every day. Those who do not pray think they can manage on their own. But those who are aware of their weakness and need, will turn to God continually to seek his help. And, of course, this is why we meet together on Wednesdays. We meet together on Wednesdays, because we’re aware of our weakness and our need and we turn to God in prayer, because we know we’re weak and we know he’s able to help us and to keep us. Here’s the Devil and he comes at us with persecution; and he comes at us with his lies. He tries to crush our faith with opposition. And he tries to undermine our faith with false doctrines. And we’re not strong enough to resist him on our own. And so, we’re to seek the help and strength of the Lord through prayer. And so, let me encourage you once again to join us on Wednesdays when we meet together as a congregation and we humble ourselves before the Lord, confessing our weakness and need, and asking for his help for us and for believers around the world.
And then we’re to wait for the mercy of Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life. He means we’re to wait for Christ to come again. And by mentioning ‘mercy’ we’re reminded that what we deserve is condemnation, because all of us have sinned and we’ve fallen short of doing God’s will. All of us are sinners who have sinned against God continually. What we deserve for a lifetime of disobedience is condemnation. But because of Christ, who took the blame for what we’ve done wrong, we can expect mercy when he comes again. Since Christ gave up his life for his people to pay for our sins and since he shed his blood to cleanse us from our guilt, we know that when he appears, we’ll receive, not condemnation and punishment, which is what we deserve, but we’ll receive mercy.
So, how do we keep ourselves in the love of God? By building ourselves up in the faith, growing in our knowledge of God’s word. By praying in the Holy Spirit, seeking God’s help each day. And by waiting for Christ to return. In other words, we need a forward-looking faith. We’ve been learning about this from the book of Hebrews on Sunday nights. How can believers avoid apostasy? How can we keep ourselves from falling away from the Lord and the true faith? By looking forward to our reward, which is eternal life in the presence of God and which we’ll receive when Christ comes again. To keep his boat from going astray, the sailor looks at a fixed point in the distance and heads for it. And when we fix our thoughts on Christ and his return and our eternal reward, then we won’t go far off course.
Verses 22 and 23
And so we come to the third part of today’s passage where Jude tells his readers how to treat those who have come under the influence of the heretics. And he says to us in verses 22 and 23 that we’re to be merciful to those who doubt; and we’re to snatch others from the fire and save them; and we’re to show mercy to others, but it’s mercy mixed with fear.
So, he’s perhaps thinking of three groups of people. The first group are those who have doubts. They are beginning to waver. These are believers who have been listening to the heretics and they’ve beginning to waver in what they believe. They’re thinking: ‘Perhaps the gospel I’ve heard from the apostles isn’t the true gospel. Perhaps what these new teachers are saying is true. Perhaps they’re right about how I don’t have to keep the law, because Christ kept it on our behalf.’ And, of course, Christianity is often depicted as being too narrow and too restrictive. And these false teachers are promising greater freedom. And that’s often what people want: greater freedom to do what I like. So, we can imagine these wavering Christians thinking: ‘I like what they’re saying. That’s a Christianity I can get behind.’ And so, they’re beginning to waver. Well, instead of getting mad with them and being impatient with them, or instead of righting them off and giving up on them, be merciful to them. Be kind towards them. Be patient. And help them to realise that what the heretics are saying is wrong.
The second group of people have gone further. They no longer wavering, but, as one of the commentators puts it, they’ve fallen under the spell of the heretics. They’ve decided firmly to side with the false teachers. And how should we treat such people? We need to snatch them from the fire and save them. So, just as we grab hold of the toddler who is getting too near the fireplace and we pull him away from danger, so we’re to do what we can to snatch these believers who have gone astray from danger. And when he refers to fire, he’s referring to eternal punishment in hell. So, they’re not there yet, but that’s the way they’re heading, because they’ve fallen under the spell of the heretics and they’ve taken a wrong turning in their life. And instead of walking in the ways of the Lord, they’ve gone astray. And so, we need to do what we can to snatch them from the fire.
And then there’s a third group and, presumably, they have gone even further. Perhaps they’ve already put into practice some of the things the heretics have been teaching and they’ve begun to indulge their sinful desires and to live immorally. And so, Jude’s readers are to show them mercy, but it’s mercy mixed with fear. So, Jude’s readers are to be kind to the people in this group. They’re not to hate them or despise them, but they’re to be kind towards them. But Jude’s readers are to be careful lest they’re corrupted by those who have gone astray. Jude refers to clothes which have been stained by corrupted flesh. Often in the Bible filthy clothes symbolise a person’s sin and guilt. And so, while you must show these people mercy and do what you can to save them, watch out in case you come under their influence and you’re led astray by them.
And so, how should we treat any believer who has gone astray? We must be merciful and kind, just as God was merciful and kind to us, when he delivered us from our sin and misery and pardoned our sins and gave us the hope of eternal life in his presence for the sake of Christ who died for us. But we must also be careful lest we go astray ourselves.
Think about whether there’s someone you know who appears to have gone astray. Perhaps they used to sit beside you here in church, but they’re not here now or they’re only here now and again. Now, they might not have gone astray because of heretics and false teachers. Maybe they’ve gone astray for some other reason. But think about whether you know such a person and think about what you can do to show that person mercy and to snatch that person from the fire.
Verses 24 and 25
So, Jude told his readers to remember what the apostles said. Then he told his readers to remain in God’s love. Then he told them how to treat those who have come under the influence of the heretics. And finally he ends his letter with a marvellous doxology in which he praises God for his glory and majesty and power and authority.
Look how he describes our God. He’s the one who is able to keep his people from falling. In these, the last times in which we’re living, Satan comes at us with his two weapons: persecution and false teachers. And they’re powerful weapons. So, how can we possibly stand up to his wicked schemes? How can we stand firm in the true faith? Only with the help of the Lord, who is able to keep us from falling and who will one day present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. And so, right now, in this life, he’s keeping us. He’s guarding us. And one day he’ll bring us into his glorious presence to be with him forever. Think of the shepherd who watches over his sheep when they’re out in the field. And then, at the end of the day, he brings his sheep into the safety of the sheepfold. It’s a picture of how the Lord keeps his people when we’re in this fallen world, where there are many dangers. And in the end, he’ll bring us into the safety of our heavenly home.
But how does he keep us? He keeps us by warning us. For instance, he’s coming to you today in the preaching of his word to warn you not to go astray. And through the reading and preaching of his word, he builds us up in our faith. And he keeps us through prayer, because he hears and answers our prayers when we confess our weakness and ask for his help. And he keeps us by giving us the hope of eternal life in his presence. And whenever we’re longing for heaven, then we’ll not let anything distract us.
So, God is able to keep us and to present us before his presence. And what else is our God like? He’s the only God, because there is no other god but him alone: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Trinity. And he’s our Saviour, because God came to earth in the person of his Son to save us from our sin and misery and to give us eternal life in his presence. And then, one day, he came to us in the person of his Spirit and he enabled us to trust in his Son for salvation.
And then glory and majesty and power and authority belong to him. He was glorious and majestic and powerful and full of authority before all ages; and he is glorious and majestic and powerful and full of authority right now in the present; and he is glorious and majestic and powerful and full of authority for evermore, because he is the Eternal God who does not change, but who is the same, yesterday, today and forever. And therefore, you should look to him to keep you from falling and to bring you into his glorious presence where we will worship him through Jesus Christ our Lord forever and forever.