Lessons in the Book of Jude
by Bob Burridge ©2013, 2016
Lesson 1: Contending for the Faith Jude 1-4
From the time I was a young teen I’ve loved stories about spies and covert operations. It was the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and novels, movies and TV shows were about the heroic efforts of secret agents keeping infiltrators from getting our secrets, and carrying out assassinations, or sabotage.
We knew that these covert operators were among us. They threatened our national security and were intent on our destruction. We all remembered the haunting words of Soviet Premier Nakita Kruschev as he angrily warned, “We will bury you!” We cheered with renewed confidence and national strength when President Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin wall and demanded that the defiant Soviets take it down. They did. Soon after that the Soviet Empire fell too.
Today there are infiltrators who have brought back that same awareness that evil is among us. Infiltrators took over those planes that flew suicide missions on September 11th, back in 2001. There have been other attacks since then by some who have taken up residence within our borders. We are aware that Al Qaida, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations are intent upon our destruction.
But there is another war — a spiritual one. We are sometimes not aware of it. There are no dramatic captures or battles to watch on TV. Our surveillance devices are useless in detecting its progress. Yet the enemy is among us, and is intent upon destroying the True Church of Jesus Christ. The infiltrators insert themselves into pulpits, religious organizations, and congregations. They fill the news and dominate the religious media on television, radio, and book store shelves. They hold rallies and seminars spreading a distorted and destructive mutation of God’s revealed truth.
Jude was about to write a letter to the churches expounding “our common salvation”, but his awareness of infiltrators made him devote this short but powerful letter to that issue.
We do not know for sure when Jude wrote this letter. There are parts of it which are similar to 2nd Peter. Whichever one was written second may have gotten information from the prior writing. It’s also possible that both Peter and Jude used some third document we no longer have. In either case, God superintended the writings to ensure that both Peter and Jude correctly reported what was true.
The problems Jude dealt with became worse during the 2nd century. They have been present all through the history of God’s People. Jude uses many examples from the time before Jesus showing that the challenge was not new. We recognize these same concerns today. Jude is a good warning, a heads up. There are infiltrators in the church. We need to watch out for them, and not let them succeed in their subversive goals.
The introduction to this short letter follows the style of that day:
Jude 1a, “Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, …”
The author was Jude, a brother of James. Since he does not tell us which James he is, he must have been a person who was known well to his readers at that time. It was probably the James who was an important leader in the church. (Acts 12:17, 15:13).
The first thing he told his readers was that he was a bondservant of Jesus Christ. He saw it an honor to be bound to the service of his Lord. This obedience and service is not an oppressive slavery as it might imply to some readers today. As servants of Christ we are liberated to be what we were made to be, honorable representatives of God, and much loved instruments in his sovereign and loving hand.
His letter is to believers in the early church:
Jude 1b, “… To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:”
They are “called ones”. Their coming to faith in Christ was a response to the work of God in their hearts. James and his readers were aware that their standing as believers originated in God’s sovereign grace. He did not only mean that they had been at sometime called outwardly (invited to believe). He means an inward call, the effectual call to the heart by the Holy Spirit when he regenerates us.
Jude then calls them “sanctified by God”. There is a different word in some of our ancient copies of Jude. Some say the “beloved of God.” There are just a few letters difference between these two words in the Greek text. Both flow well and neither presents any problems or effects any of the Bible’s teachings. We are in many places in the Bible declared to be sanctified (holy in Christ), and loved by God. It is his love that sent the Savior to redeem us, and to clothe us in his righteousness. Taken either way, we are set apart to be God’s special people.
Jude then reminds them that they are preserved, kept in Jesus Christ. Our confidence is in this promised preservation by a persevering and all-powerful God. Jesus told us in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”
The Apostle Peter wrote about our security in the Savior in 1 Peter 1:5, “who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
These are good reminders to prepare the readers for the attack being directed against them. We need to keep these promises in mind when we are being endangered by infiltrators in the church. Our confidence lies in the power and promises of our Lord.
Jude ends his introduction asking God to bless his readers.
Jude 2, “Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”
When we desire these good things toward other believers, and call upon God to grant them these covenant blessings, we discover our place in God’s plan. He stirs us to pray, then uses those prayers in the process of pouring out good things upon his children.
Jude did not just ask that they should have these comforts, he further prays that they would be multiplied and increased toward them. He wanted them to be fortified in these good blessings.
After his greeting, Jude gets right to his purpose in writing:
Jude 3, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Jude wanted to write about the salvation all believers share in common. Teaching about the basics of the gospel was a continuing concern for the leaders of the post-resurrection churches. By their lessons and letters they taught and reinforced the now completed body of truth we treasure in our Bibles.
Something changed Jude to focus his theme on a particular challenge as he started to write. Maybe he had been hearing disturbing reports. Maybe as he thought about how to present his lesson he decided to focus on this problem. Whatever the circumstances, he felt compelled to write about contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.
The faith he speaks of here is that body of truth God had made known to them. It had been given as an unchanging and comprehensive standard for truth and life. This is why it was delivered to the saints, those who have believed in Christ. They are the ones set aside to be redeemed by God’s blessing of grace, and to contend for that faith.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul speaks of the gospel in a similar way, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
The New Testament was just then being completed. The truths of God were being made more clear than ever before. But the truths had been given from God all along. It has an eternal character, so once given it endures. It had just recently come to completion in the work of Jesus Christ.
It is not “once for all” as if it was all given on one occasion. It’s that it was given as a truth that never changes and always applies. It’s that form around which everything we believe and do should be shaped. That is what it means to be Reformed: always re-forming, re-shaping our convictions around God’s unchanging standard. Sadly many today understand “reform” in a different way. They keep reshaping the standard. That’s the work of the infiltrators.
God’s word is our charge, our entrustment. We are to contend for it earnestly. Paul makes a similar warning in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,”
Notice that Jude does not recommend a negative attack against the heretics. Our strategy is to make a positive assault by promoting and defending the truth God has made known. By the faculty of faith implanted in us at regeneration we trust God’s word enough to contend for it with all our commitment and energy.
Jude gives a general description of these infiltrators.
Jude 4, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These enemies had already crept in unnoticed. In every era, from the organization of the church under Moses, and continuing through today, these dangerous people have entered into the midst of God’s people without being recognized. They usually realize they have different basic beliefs, but disguise them or even deny them so they can slip in. It is truly a covert operation. They often have aspirations of changing the church to make it more what they want it to be. But that is not how it ought to be. The church needs to change only when it is not measuring up to God’s standards. These infiltrators want to change the standards themselves.
These are people marked beforehand for condemnation. The word here for condemnation has to do with the verdict of God as their Judge. We might not recognize them, but God has not been fooled for a moment. They are not true citizens of the church. They are pretenders. They like to be called “Christians”, but want it to mean what they envision it to mean, not what Jesus himself says a Christ-follower ought to be.
We may wonder why they even bother entering the church. But they unwittingly are following the strategy of the enemy of God. They enter in to confuse and destroy what Jesus himself established. They will not succeed. But many injuries will occur in their attempts.
These are the ungodly. They turn God’s grace into lewdness. The message of Justification by faith and of Sovereign Grace is often perverted. Galatians 5:13 says, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Those who defy God’ s moral principles are called Antinomians. It comes from the Greek word for law used in the Bible, “nomos” (νόμος). So law keepers are nomians. These who are against his law are anti-nomians. They speak of grace as if it means that God simply ignores the breaking of his law. In reality grace paid the horrible debt of his people’s sins by sending the Savior to die for their breaking of his law. The legal debt we owe is not simply ignored or set aside. It is fully satisfied by our substitute, our Savior Jesus Christ.
The ungodly believe they can better satisfy their needs in ways not bounded by God’s revealed truth and moral principles.
This is not a new or isolated problem. The church has battled it all through the ages. The greatest challenge is not from those who openly deny Christ. It’s from those who say they love him, but they twist his law and teachings.
- They consider physical pleasures and financial gain to be better blessings than than those which come from obedience.
- They are enemies of those who still believe there are absolute standards of right and wrong.
- They turn God’s Sabbath and Worship into times for personal entertainment and pleasure.
- They degrade the Sacraments by their careless and casual practice of them.
- They down-play the authority of the books of Scripture and deny their accuracy.
The list could go on, but to sum it all up Jude says they “deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” To these intruders Jesus becomes a mystical guru, a quaint teacher that tolerated all beliefs and views of life. They ignore the record of his life in Scripture, and turn his teachings into their opposites.
These are the infiltrators who try to move the church of Christ off track and confuse her people. Jude tells us more in this important letter, but the primary solution is quite plain and direct. Our solemn duty is to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)