Last week we introduced Jude’s concern over false teachers who worm their way into Christian assemblies. We began examining verse 4 to determine the characteristics of false teachers, and learned that they typically assimilate into churches so that they seem indistinguishable from true believers. Additionally, we noted that God would ultimately condemn them.
Today I want to look at the ungodliness of these stealth teachers, which we find in the last two points of verse 4: their perversion of grace and their denial of Christ’s authority. So let’s review verses 3 and 4 to remind ourselves of Jude’s purpose in wanting us to identify these people.
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The ungodly nature of false teachers manifests itself first through their distorted representation of grace. Before we get into this aspect of their characters, however, I want to mention that Paul addressed teachers who were equally false, but who err on the side of legalism (see, as an example, Galatians 2:4-5). Jude’s epistle doesn’t give an exhaustive description of false teachers, therefore, but it instead emphasizes arguably the most prevalent type.
So Jude gives us people who regard the wonderful grace of God as a license to continue living sinful lives. The apostle Paul also encountered such people, and boldly repudiated their heretical thinking (look up Romans 5:18-6:4 to see his argument). Peter likewise recognized that false teachers presented a libertine mischaracterization of grace.
18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. ~~2 Peter 2:18-19 (ESV)
Peter more clearly shows that the false teachers appeal to fleshly desires, sexual or otherwise, promising a type of freedom from God’s expectations. They ignore the true benefit of grace, which actually empowers Christians to resist ungodliness (as Titus 2:11-14 makes plain).
Their abandonment to sensuality leads to the second characteristic that Jude brings up. By advocating (as well as modeling) a distorted “grace” that embraces sin, false teachers deny that Jesus Christ has authority over how they conduct their lives. Jude strongly counters this self-serving attitude by emphasizing Christ’s deity (in the word translated “Master”) and authority (in the word translated “Lord”). While they may give lip-service to the lordship of Jesus Christ, their doctrine and lifestyle betray their rebellion against Him. Again, Paul offers insight into this denial:
They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:16 (ESV)
Jude highlights, then, the hypocrisy of these false teachers. Their pretense of devotion to God crumbles when we measure their gospel of self-fulfillment against the true Gospel of repentance and faith that leads to obedience.
Next week, we’ll move on to Jude’s finer details concerning these heretics. But for now, maybe we can take stock of our own response to the Lord’s grace. Does His grace so fill us with gratitude that we joyfully submit to His ownership of us? Or do we mumble an obligatory prayer of thanks before rushing back to our sin with a giddy sense of entitlement? I pray we’ll bow before Him as our loving Master and Lord.