Spiritual discernment obviously requires an understanding of the difference between true and false doctrine, as well as knowing the characteristics of false teachers and how the Lord will judge them. As you read Jude’s entire epistle in preparation for today’s study (click this link to get the epistle), be alert to Jude’s focus on the latter two elements of discernment. Then remember how he shifts the conversation, beginning in verse 17, to the nuts and bolts of how believers should contend for the faith against these false teachers.
We’ll be talking about verses 22 and 23 in this installment of our Bible Study, but let’s read these verses in their 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)
As we learned last Monday, contending for the faith isn’t as glamorous as taking on false teachers. As much as I used to enjoy trolling Beth Moore’s Twitter account (I repented before she needed to block me), such activity fails to accomplish anything productive. False teachers have no interest in repenting of heresy, and they certainly have no intention of considering Biblical challenges to their propaganda.
Jude instead counsels Christians to edify each other through sound doctrine as we pray according to Scriptural guidelines and love God by our obedience to His Word. Moving to verses 22 and 23, we discover that he also assigns us the responsibility of ministering to the victims of false teachers.
Jude presents three types of victims, prescribing various ways to minister to them. He begins with the most vulnerable group, calling them those who doubt. These people have heard the teachings of the apostates as well as correct teaching, and they feel torn between the two. They need gentle correction. Compassion, please notice, includes helping them understand the difference between truth and error, but it makes these distinctions without a pejorative tone. Indeed helping people understand that they’ve been deceived is ultimately the best way to express mercy.
Jude’s second group represents those who are on the brink of accepting the lies of the false teachers. To rescue them, we don’t have time to be gentle. They’re walking into fire, and must be warned of the judgment and condemnation that will burn them unless they repent and turn back to Biblical truth. We don’t have time for gentleness! Our tactics will seem quite harsh, I agree, but blazing infernos rarely afford anyone the luxury of patient persuasion.
The final group Jude mentions also needs to be treated with compassion, but our compassion must not lead us to condone their sinful beliefs, attitudes or behaviors. People in this group may demand that our mercy toward them include an acceptance of their sin. While maintaining a gentle posture toward them, however, we need to demonstrate an abhorrence for the sin that threatens to damn them. We absolutely cannot have anything to do with even superficial vestiges of that sort of thing.
False teachers leave severely damaged people in their wake. Rather than vindictively chasing after the false teachers, whom God has already designated for condemnation anyway (see Jude 4), we most effectively contend for the faith by encouraging their victims to return to sound doctrine. And that happens as we remain in Scripture and direct them back to Scripture.