The letter from Jude is one of the last books in the Bible, just before the book of Revelation. It was written by a man who was believed to be the brother of Jesus and a leader in the early church. The book is quite short, and a quick read.
At the start of the letter, after the greeting, Jude mentions that he would have rather written about his common salvation with the intended readers, but felt compelled rather to write a warning. I’m sure that Jude was excited about his faith and wanted to share his excitement with others who felt the same as he did. It’s always more rewarding to find a connection with other Christians and build one another up with your mutual faith. At this time though, Jude felt it was more important to put out a warning.
Christian leaders and elders have two major responsibilities to the Christian community: First, to encourage and build up the brethren to continue in their spiritual walk of faith with their hope set on heaven, resulting in sanctification and the attaining of spiritual maturity; second, to warn and guard the brethren against false teaching or concepts that cause them to drift away from the core truths of the Christian faith. Jude, in this letter, was doing the latter.
Jude’s warning is summarized in verse 4:
“For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
In other words, there were people who had become a part of their activities and fellowships, who joined in to their gatherings, and were part of the Christian community, who were ungodly, but they were not recognized as such. Christians were engaged with these ungodly people, and were exchanging ideas and teachings. Jude was warning that their teaching was in error.
Jude describes the teaching as follows: first, they pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness; second, they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Let’s look at both of these errors.
Grace is perverted when it is used as an excuse, or shield, for ungodly behavior. The word “licentious” means to lack moral or legal restraint. These people were either promoting or making an allowance for sinful behavior, or they were taking sin lightly. I’m sure that the argument is similar to what is promoted today among some Christians, that since we can’t be perfect and will have some sin in our lives, we must accept that God will forgive us because we have been “saved”. They say that we are all sinners and are only saved by God’s grace and mercy towards us, therefore we can allow for some sin in our lives (and God will understand because He is merciful). The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans gives a similar warning against this same error to men who were ungodly in their behavior:
“Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4
Remember that the repentance mentioned in this verse is not referring to just feeling bad about the sin that was committed, but it means that we must truly change and sin no more.
It is very clear in the scriptures that God expects us to be holy and blameless. He wants us to live and walk in righteousness. Yes, it is possible for us to live in this manner; if it were not so, why would Jude and Paul warn against this perversion of grace?
“Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” 2 Peter 3:14
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matt. 5:48
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” 1 Th. 4:3-8
Holiness and righteous living are only possible if we become spiritual. I believe that the root cause of this error is that Christians want to remain carnal and worldly, and are unwilling to die to the things of this world and to their flesh. Only death can lead to life, and it is spiritual life that leads to godliness.
It is true that we have all sinned and it is not within our power to erase that sin from our record. Only the mercy and grace of God, shown to us though Jesus on the cross as a payment on our behalf, can make a way for us to be acceptable to God, allowing us a place in heaven. No man can boast before God and declare that they have earned a right to be forgiven and allowed to enter heaven. It is also true, that once having received God’s merciful forgiveness and acceptance, that we can disqualify ourselves by continuing in sin. Our ungodly behavior can cause us to be rejected by God, even after we have been saved. This is exactly what Jude is warning against.
The second part of Jude’s warning has to do with denying the Lordship of Jesus:
“…and (they) deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Although they could have possibly been verbally and directly denying that Jesus was the only Master and Lord, I think that the second part of the error that Jude mentions is related to their first error of licentiousness. It is impossible to submit to the Lordship of Jesus if you remain carnal, or “in the flesh”. You cannot serve two masters, either you will serve the flesh, or you will serve Jesus, but not both. When people are allowing sin to reign in their lives, they must deny the Lordship of Jesus. Our conscience will also bear witness to this, that any sin in our lives is an offense to the Lordship of Jesus. If we choose to continue in sin, then we will be forced to also deny the lordship of Jesus.
“And this is the condemnation, that the light (Jesus) has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:19-21
Next Jude gives several examples of how God deals with ungodliness. Jude first mentions how God was merciful to the Israelites by saving them from slavery in Egypt, but later he destroyed them because of their unbelief. He also punished angels for “not keeping their proper domain”, and punished Sodom and Gomorrah and cities around them for “having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh.” These were all done as example for us to learn from and to recognize that ungodly behavior will not go unpunished.
Jude continues by describing some of the behavior of these ungodly men, comparing them to men who had committed grave error in the past as recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. He then reminds them that the apostles of Jesus had previously warned them that there would be such evil men in the world that they would encounter in the future in the “last time”.
Jude ends his letter with this recommendation to the brethren:
“But you , beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Verse 20
This was Jude’s direction for how the Christians should have been behaving, and how to protect against the erroneous teaching. This is good direction for us also: we should build ourselves up and mature in our faith and we should pray. We should walk in God’s love, and we should wait and look for the hope we have of eternal life in Christ Jesus. I wholeheartedly agree with this recommendation of faith, hope and love. Amen.