We are near the beginning of deer season. This has never been a big deal to me . . . but I know it is for many people. The only reason I pay close attention to deer season is because I know at this time of the year there are going to be a number of deer darting out onto the roadways. I used to hate coming home from away basketball games because of the seemingly ever-present deer along the side of the road. I always kept a sharp eye out as I drove trying to avoid a painful encounter with a deer.
In the book of Jude the author (who was most likely the half-brother of Jesus and the full brother of James (one of the leaders of the early church)), said he intended to write them a letter of encouragement but instead has to tell them to “Watch Out!” He tells them to maintain a heightened sense of awareness because of the dangerous threat of false teachers.
Jude is a man after my own heart. Over and over he uses a series of triad’s or threes. But rather than focus on his style, I’d like to focus on his message. We’ve heard a great deal about false teachers as we have looked at these small books of the Bible. The thing that I especially like about Jude is the practical strategy that he gives us for contending for the faith. So, let’s dig in.
WE MUST KEEP OUR EYES OPEN TO THE REALITY OF FALSE TEACHERS
Jude warns us of the reality of false teachers. This was not just a problem in the Old Testament or the new. The Christian faith is always vulnerable to those who would distort or pervert it’s message. Jude gives us several characteristics of these false teachers.
They live ungodly lives. In verse 4 they are called godless men. In verse 8 we are told that they pollute their own bodies. In verse 16 we are see that these men are “grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.” These people are “users”. They don’t care about others; they only care about themselves.
These people make themselves the reference point from which everything else begins. Moral behavior is whatever they are doing. Right and wrong are what they want people to do. And God is created in their image rather than the other way around. They talk about their faith, but there is no evidence of that faith in the way that they live or think.
They pervert the gospel. In verse four we are told that they “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” False teachers do not confess Jesus as God in human form. They will always make Him less than what he is. You can be sure that most false teachers will try to bring us to the level of Christ or bring Christ down to our level.
These men will pervert the gospel message. The gospel tells us that because of God’s grace manifest in Jesus, you and I can find forgiveness and new life. However, these teachers will tell you that God’s forgiveness is so great that it doesn’t matter how you live your life. They are the kind of people who say, “Come on, you don’t have to worry, you’re a Christian aren’t you? God will forgive you!”
In response to this kind of rationale people
- Are unfaithful to their spouses
- Embezzle company funds
- Kill someone
- Lie under oath
- Participate in various immoral relationships
- Give no regard to God’s standards for their life
What they fail to see or teach is that we come to Jesus Christ as Savior AND as Lord. He is not only the one who saves us, He is the one who leads us and guides us by His Spirit. It is certainly true that Christians will sin. But that should always be a tragic thing in our life. Our hunger and our passion should be to live lives that are holy and pleasing in His sight. A person who excuses their sinful lifestyle by pointing to the cross perverts the gospel and is not a true believer.
These false teachers lack respect for God. In verse 8 we are told that these people “reject authority and slander celestial beings”. Jude refers to a non-biblical source that his readers would have been familiar with (perhaps like us quoting a history text). It was an ancient book called, “The Assumption of Moses.” The story, obviously known to the early believers, explains that the archangel Michael had been sent to bury Moses’ body after Moses died on the mountain before entering the Promised Land. Michael prepared to do his task, but Satan said Moses’ body rightfully belonged to him because Moses had committed murder. He said that he had rights over all the earth and that Moses’ body fell under that category as well. While Michael had every reason to expose Satan’s lies, he did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him. Michael, instead of using his own authority, left the matter in his Master’s hands, saying simply, “The Lord rebuke you!” He did not rely on his own power and authority.
I honestly don’t know what the point of the story was supposed to be. However, I do know what Jude was trying to teach us. He wanted us to see that false teachers have no respect for spiritual powers (like Michael did). False teachers love to give commands to God and the Devil! In verse 10 we are told that they “speak abusively against whatever they do not understand.”
The Bible tells us the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. Respect for God is the foundation of a truly Christian life. God is sovereign and we are not. He is the Lord and we are His servants. There is no fear of the Lord in the heart of the false teacher. They do not respect His power, wisdom, justice, or knowledge. God serves them and not the other way around!
WE MUST REALIZE THE DANGER FALSE TEACHERS POSE
It is easy for us to shrug off the false teacher problem as something for theologians to deal with. But that is a mistake. Jude reminds his readers of three Biblical incidents.
First, there was the example of the Israelites in Egypt. God delivered the nation of Israel from slavery. In the process of their deliverance they witnessed great miraculous signs. Of all the people in the world, they were especially blessed. But when it came time to trust God, the people resisted, they grumbled, they refused God’s leadership. Consequently, God sent them into the desert where they died. If it could happen to the Israelites it could happen to us.
Second there is the account of the angels who “abandoned their home”. There are lots of theories as to what this refers to. Basically the Bible tells us that a group (1/3) of angels (apparently following the lead of Satan) left Heaven. They decided to be the tormentors of men and enemies of God. Several times we are told that a place of punishment has been reserved for these fallen angels. Peter says, “If God does not spare the angels . . . what makes us think he will spare us if we drift away?” (2 Peter 2:4)
Third there is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities were best known for their reckless immorality. When the angels of God entered Sodom the men in the city demanded the angels be brought out so that they could have sex with them. This town was seen as the pit of depravity. They disregarded God’s commands and standards and it didn’t bother them at all! We are also told in Ezekiel 16:49-50 (NIV)
49 “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah? They were destroyed! The message Jude is driving home is simple, false teaching can lead us away from the Lord and ultimately to destruction. We saw it with the Israelites, we see with the fallen angels and we see it with Sodom and Gomorrah. And the same will happen to us and to those we love if we follow the way of false teachers.
If these examples aren’t enough he gives us three (naturally) more in verse 11. There is the example of Cain who refused to worship God’s way and ended up killing his brother and being exiled from his family. There was Balaam who was called God’s prophet but was actually equipping the enemies of Israel for his own profit. And there were the people led by a man named Korah who led a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron (the earth opened and swallowed these people and their families!)
The point is simple: God cares about the truth. He is the true God and wants to be honored and respected. Those who refuse to honor Him will be destroyed.
HOW TO TAKE A STAND
The first thing we are to do is to Contend for the faith. The Greek word is an athletic term that gives us our English word “agonize”. It is the picture of an athlete who is devoted to becoming a champion. This is no haphazard command. It is a command to work hard to defend and preserve the faith.
We contend for many things. We have just finished an election season where people were contending for their issues and candidates. Many of these people were quite devoted. They would quickly get into a debate designed to clarify their position and clear up misunderstandings. We contend for our rights and our personal reputation. We fight with great gusto when we feel someone is trying to take something from us or isn’t treating us fairly. We know how to contend!
Jude tells us that we should have this kind of attitude toward our faith. We should be willing to stand up for the truth and purity of the gospel. Jude summons us to make our faith a more significant part of our lives. We must recognize the value of a pure faith and defend it with the same kind of zeal we would defend our family or our political views.
Second, we must Keep Growing In verse 20 we read, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Do you notice the key words, “build yourselves up” and “keep yourselves”. This is something we must do!
I’m not implying that Christian growth is something that can be accomplished without God’s help. We can’t grow without Him. However, we will not grow by just waiting for God to do something either.
The old story is a good one. A mother and dad put their two year old to bed. After an hour or so they heard this “thud” and then the cries of their child. They went rushing to the room and asked “What happened?” The child said, “I fell asleep too near the place where I got in.” That is the story of many people in the church. They fall asleep too near the place where they got in.
The Christian is to work at growth. We can do this in many ways,
- Get involved in a small group Bible Study
- Maintain a regular, disciplined and systematic approach to reading of God’s Word
- Study the Bible and use a supplementary text to help you understand (but don’t read the text instead of the Bible)
- Enroll in a correspondence course
- Find someone who will meet with you regularly to talk with you about your spiritual life
- Write down a daily record of what you are learning spiritually
- Regularly study the character and nature of God
- Get personal in your praying
Third, we are to Practice Godliness. You see this in verses 22 & 23. “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” Jude reminds the people that this is not a battle that they fight alone.
Don’t shrug this off too quickly. One of the great dangers in fighting spiritual error is that it becomes merely intellectual. We can become antagonistic and mean-spirited. We debate, we discuss, and we confront. Jude reminds us that spiritual truth is practical truth. We are just as much in error if our faith is merely cerebral. We must keep growing in our knowledge of the truth but also in our application of the truth.
Jude reminds us that we are to help each other when we doubt and drift. We are to be merciful, loving and kind. Peter says we are to “be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us to explain the reason for our faith . . . but we are to do so with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15). Jude is saying much the same thing.
So let’s try to “put the cookies on the lowest shelf”. What is the message of Jude for you and me?
First, The Bible must be our standard of truth. There is a great deal of teaching in the church today that has no basis in Scripture but originated from a person who twisted a particular verse and built a theology around it! I know it takes time to check things out . . . but it is necessary.
Many of you will check the labels on food and medicine. Some of you will research purchases through consumer reports or via the Internet. The Bible is our standard for truth. I know, I know, there are people who do not believe in absolute truth . . . and they believe that truth as an absolute truth! We need a standard and that standard is the Word of God.
We must remember that the Bible does not contain truth, it is the truth. We must also remember that the Bible is not an inspiring book but it is an inspired book. The Bible must be the standard by which we measure everything else.
Second, we must be prepared to defend our faith. It is foolish to go out to war if you have no weapons or ammunition. One of the ways to become prepared is to read books on apologetics. It’s a fancy word that has nothing to do with “apologizing” for our faith. Apologetics is the discipline that concentrates on giving a defense of our faith. There are some great locations on the Internet and some very good books to read. We would be happy to recommend some of these books to you.
Christian faith makes sense . . . you do not have to put your brains in the closet to be a Christian. You can defend your faith if you become familiar with how the various attacks on Christianity are answered. Besides, you may have some of those same questions!
As a young man Francis Schaeffer grew up in a very liberal church, a church that believed nothing of substance in the Bible. He decided on the basis of what he was hearing that the only logical philosophy in life was agnosticism, or perhaps atheism. As an agnostic, he started to read the Bible for the first time. He wanted to compare it to the Greek philosophers he was reading. He had no thought of ever becoming a Christian, but as he read through the Bible, he saw the logical consistency of it and the way in which Scripture alone answered the problems of life. He became a Christian, and years later he wrote a book entitled He Is There and He Is Not Silent. In that book, he said,
There is no other sufficient philosophical answer. You can search through university philosophy, underground philosophy, filling station philosophy—it does not matter which—there is no other sufficient philosophical answer to existence. There is only one philosophy, one religion, that fills this need in all the world’s thought, whether the East, the West, the ancient, the modern, the new, the old. Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of being, and it is the Judaeo-Christian God—not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He really exists. It is not that this is the best answer to existence; it is the only answer. That is why we may hold our Christianity with intellectual integrity.
Third Faith must not merely be defended . . . it must be lived. I’ve touched on this already but it bears repeating. Intellectual Christianity is important but it will have little power if it is not combined with a consistent Biblical lifestyle. At the same time, a consistent lifestyle without an adequate explanation of faith will lead no one to the Savior. We need balance between understanding and application.
Jude concludes his letter with a great benediction. In this dangerous world with false teachers standing along the roadway of life, we must be alert . . . but we must also be confident. Our God is able to keep us from falling. He is able to present us before the Lord without fault and with great joy. He will see us home . . . .if we hold His hand and follow His directions.