Over the past week, I have looked into the book of Jude. This is part of a new blog fair that I found called Book Review Friday. We don't review just any books--we review portions of the Bible. And we don't say whether they are good or not, because they are all wonderful, always. Rather, we report back on what we have learned.
I’ve read Jude a few times before, but when you’re reading through the Bible, by the time you get to Jude you are in a sort of “get to the end” kind of state. Just coming off Hebrews and the Pauline epistles, when you hit 1, 2, and 3 John and Jude, you just sail through these tiny books, and it’s easy to let the word flow through your mind like water through a pipe. You think, “Um, I don’t really understand this,” and then you think, “And I still have Revelation to go—talk about tough to understand!” Thus, it was very good to spend a week looking at this book and meditating on it.
Jude is a book that I rarely hear preached. It’s kind of a scary book—in my NIV, the heading of the longest section is, “The Sin and Doom of Godless Men.” Not exactly what most pastors these days are drawn to, especially if they are of the “win friends and influence people” camp.
An outline of the book goes like this:
Jude identifies himself and greets his readers, identifying them as fellow sharers in salvation.
Then he proceeds to warn them about false teachers who will infiltrate the church and teach false doctrine for their own gain. He describes these false teachers in great detail, I think both to warn us against becoming like them, and (obviously) to help us recognize and avoid them.
Jude encourages true believers to continue strong in the faith, ready and willing to help those weaker than themselves, merciful yet very cautious towards those who are in error.
It ends with praise to God who is able to give us all we need for life and discernment, so we can live a life pleasing to Him and ultimately join Him in paradise.
There were two main things that I took from the book this week:
The first is a warning about antinomianism. This is significant these days, because evangelical churches everywhere are drifting into antinomianism. Antinomianism was, throughout the history of the church, recognized as a heresy, but in these days it is accepted as the blessed truth. The definition of antinomianism is: The doctrine or belief that the Gospel frees Christians from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, and that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace. Many people I know believe that this goes without saying. I pointed out to one woman once that her theology was antinomian. She said, “What is that?” I explained and she said, “Well, yes, of course.”
The whole point of the gospel is that Jesus came so that we could be freed from sin, filled with the Holy Spirit, and empowered to live life God’s way. (See Ezekiel 36:26-27, and particularly notice verse 27).
There are many places in Paul’s writings that can be said to support antinomian theology. However, when considered in context with the whole Bible, it becomes apparent that this is not what Paul means. Peter wrote of Paul, “…His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other scriptures, to their own destruction,” (from 2 Peter 3:16). If you read all the epistles by people other than Paul, and consider what they are saying about this issue, you will see that they clearly explain that if we are true believers, our lives must reflect the active presence of the Holy Spirit through obedience to Him. (James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 2:13-16; 2 Peter 1:3-11; 1 John 3:16-19, 5:18, 2 John 4; 3 John 3, 4, 11).
I know this sounds technical, and I hope it is not boring, because I believe that it is incredibly significant to all believers everywhere, and something to be especially on guard against in these days. Jude says, “They are godless men who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord,” (from Jude 4). So many people these days say, “It doesn’t matter. I can do it if I want to. I’m under grace.” Anyone who disagrees is labeled a “legalist.”
For the record…
Legalism is: believing that you can be saved through your own power and your own righteousness by following the law.
Legalism is not: loving the law and following it in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us and helps us to understand that the law is God’s revelation of what is right and good, the best way to live, handed down to us in love by the One who designed all life and knows how everything works best. (That’s not legalism, it’s Christianity. Read Psalm 119. It’s a very long Psalm, and just about every single verse mentions God’s Law in one way or another. For example, “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight,” [Psalm 119:33-35]. Believers delight in God’s law. They LOVE it.)
Even Paul says, “What shall we say? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2—and just to clarify, I hope nobody thought I said that Paul is antinomian. He definitely is not, as this illustrates. It’s just that some of the things he wrote can be taken to support that view if they are not properly understood.)
The thing is, we have lots of people changing the grace of God into a license for sin, but not so many whom we can clearly see denying that Jesus is Lord. Obviously Oprah does, but she doesn’t qualify as a credible spiritual leader to begin with. I wonder if it is a progression—folks begin by using grace to justify sin, and that should be a warning sign to us, because ultimately they will deny Christ. I wonder?
Clearly these false teachers know they are doing wrong, like Cain whom God warned directly—“sin is crouching at your door”—and yet he did not care or honor the Lord, but continued with his own murderous plan to seek his own personal gratification and jealous revenge. They are in it for selfish gain like Balaam who allowed himself to be hired to curse God’s people, even though God got right in his face and told him, through a talking donkey no less, that He did not approve (Numbers 22-24). Like Korah, they have no regard for God, God’s choice, or God’s true servants, and they fool heartedly believe that they have as much right as anyone to declare the “truth”. Korah thought he was as worthy as Moses and Aaron. God opened the earth and swallowed him up (Numbers16).
These false teachers not only think they have the right to declare truth, they think they have the right to define it, that they have the right and authority and ability to actually decide what is true. We see this attitude everywhere these days! In every one of Jude’s examples of this attitude, we see people who were destroyed by their sin. (You could do a whole study on how this relates to the fear of the Lord, but I will spare you today.)
Near the end, Jude exhorts us to treat these people with mercy. Truly, when we consider their ultimate demise, that blackest darkness has been reserved for them, we must be moved to mercy, pity, and hope that God will open their eyes and bring them back.
So we are warned to avoid antinomianism, to be on guard against false teachers who proclaim it. If we can’t trust our teachers, how can we ever make it to the end? Where do we go? This leads me to the second message that came powerfully from this book: God is sovereign.
The sovereignty of God, even the sovereign choice of God, is clear here, perhaps more clear than anywhere else in the Bible.
Right from the very beginning, Jude alludes to God’s sovereign choice: “to those who have been called,” he writes, “loved by God and kept by Jesus Christ.” The called. An awful lot of people don’t want to face it, but there are two kinds of people: those who are called by God to be part of His Kingdom, and those who are not.
I read Jude in a number of translations. The significance of Jude 4 doesn’t come out in the NIV, which says, “Certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago,” but if you look at some other translations, you get a message that is rarely seen in the Bible and almost never discussed out loud. HCSB says, “Certain men, who were designated for this judgment long ago…” NASB says, “…those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation …” And ESV says, “…who long ago were designated for this condemnation…” It sounds to me that, just as some of us were predestined for salvation (Ephesians 1:4 is one place we see this), there are those who were predestined for destruction. I’m not sure if I like this, but I’m pretty sure that whether I like it or not is immaterial, and it looks like that is what it says. I didn’t make it up; I’m just pointing it out.
God is sovereign, and whether people like it or not doesn’t change it. They can rebel against the truth like Cain, Balaam and Korah (and, I guess, Oprah and thousands of unnamed others in our day and age), but it will be to their own peril and demise. Me, I’m sticking with God, because I want to win this one. I don’t win much, but I can be on the winning side for all eternity, and that’s where I’d like to be: “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies,” (Psalm 60:12).
Which brings us to the end (and a glance back at the beginning). Jesus keeps those He has chosen. He keeps us. Jude 1 said that we are kept in Christ Jesus. Verse 24 says that He keeps us from falling. We don’t have to worry and fret about false teachers, or sinful society or a wicked world. If we are chosen, called, drawn, loved and kept, we are also safe. He is able to keep us from falling. He is able to provide all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. He is able to teach us, comfort us, justify us, make us wise and infuse us with His own righteousness. We really ought to all memorize Jude 24-25. My father often ends his prayers with these verses:
To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.