Happy New Year ladies! Isn’t it fitting that, as we pivot from 2016 to 2017, we’ve reached the point in Jude’s epistle at which he pivots from describing false teachers to explaining how true believers can contend for the faith (Jude 3). The two verses we’ll study today rather surprised me, since so many discernment bloggers have used Jude 3 as a rallying call to publicly expose and denounce false teachers. While other Scriptures certainly support such exposure and denunciation, Jude 20-21 proposes a different, more foundational strategy.
I’d really like you to prepare for this study by reading the entire epistle (it’s only God 25 verses) to remind yourselves of the context. Click this link to make it easier. I know I’m always beating the context drum, but context helps more than I can say in sharpening Biblical discernment. When we view verses within their proper context, we get a much better sense of their intended meaning. So please, before you read any further in this blog entry, click the link and revisit Jude’s epistle.
Now, let me quote Jude 20-21 in its more immediate context.
17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. ~~Jude 17-23 (ESV)
Last Monday we saw that the First Century apostles had directly warned Jude’s immediate readers that false teachers would arise. Jude verified that the apostles spoke of the people who, because of their worldliness and lack of the Spirit, cause divisions in the church. Now Jude draws a contrast between such apostates and true believers by giving us four practical ways to stand against heresies.
Jude begins by exhorting us to build ourselves up in the “most holy faith.” Notice the plural pronoun. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown juxtapose building up the body with the false teachers in verse 19 who cause divisions.
Where false teachers divide the church, we must edify the body of Christ instead of tearing it apart. And, according to Jude, we build each other up in the “most holy faith.” By this phrase, he means specifically the Christian faith as opposed to the unbiblical ideas of false teachers. And how do we build each other up in the “most holy faith?” MacArthur comments that this building up happens through the ministry of God’s Word (Acts 20:32). So we contend for the faith by bringing each other back to the truth of Scripture, which shows us the false teaching of apostates.
In addition to building each other up with sound doctrine, Jude instructs us to pray in the Holy Spirit. I could, with probably way too much relish, write an entire article on the topic of praying in the Spirit, basing it on the ways that Charismatics use this verse fragment to support their practice of speaking in tongues. However, I will restrain myself and simply say that praying in the Spirit means nothing more than praying according to the Lord’s revealed will in Scripture.
Rather than distract ourselves with a debate on Charismatic misinterpretations of this phrase, let’s concentrate on Jude’s point. Again, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown draw a contrast between praying in the Holy Spirit and the apostates being devoid of the Spirit. Contending for the faith requires that we align our prayers with God’s Word. In so doing, we keep ourselves in His Spirit.
Next, Jude calls us to keep ourselves in the love of God. Those of us with Calvinist sensibilities understandably bristle at this clause, which clearly teaches a synergistic dynamic. But Philippians 2:12-13 helps us understand that any efforts on our part ultimately depend on God’s work in us. Remember also that Jude 1 stated that God keeps us for Jesus Christ.
Here Jude encourages the obedience that results from true faith. Jesus made a similar connection between faith and obedience in John 14:21. Since Jude has been highlighting the permissiveness of false teachers, he directs us to combat their ungodly influence by living in obedience to godly principles.
Finally, Jude tells us to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The commentaries I read didn’t belabor this point except to say that it refers to Christ’s return. After Jude’s repeated warnings about the judgment awaiting false teachers, he assures us that we can expect mercy!
Contending for the faith really boils down to basic Christian living that contrasts the rebellious lifestyle of apostates. Next week we’ll discover ways to minister to friends and family who have been deceived, or at least influenced by false teachers.