Dear Radio Friends,
In the next couple of broadcasts we are going to consider Jude verses 3 and 4. We read: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These verses contain Jude’s reason for the writing of this letter. There were members of the church who were walking in and teaching horrible error. Mind you, these men were not outside the church attempting to convince people to leave the church and join them. They were members of the church. Not men of simple and foolish minds who in weakness of faith were still walking in the sins of their past. They were influential and knowledgeable men who wittingly walked in the way of error and were teaching others to do the same. For this reason, Jude exhorts the church and her members to contend earnestly for the faith. The rest of this short letter is spent describing these men and their character.
Jude takes it upon himself to write this letter because of his personal love for God’s people. In this he leaves an example to every faithful elder and pastor to love the church—to love her so much that he will vehemently oppose sinful men who seek to harm her. Officebearers in the church must be characterized by a sincere, selfless love for the saints. It is out of that love that Jude now writes this epistle.
In fact, Jude’s original intent in writing this letter was different at the start. He was going to write to the saints about the common salvation. That was his original purpose. He was going to write to them about the work of Christ in our salvation. In other words, he was simply going to relate to the church some of the truths that were common to God’s people—those that were taught by others. He simply wished to confirm them in the faith. But sinful men were now plaguing the church and threatening to lead the sheep astray. For that reason, Jude changed his mind and now decided to urge God’s saints to contend for the faith. “Beloved,” Jude writes, “when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write to exhort you.” That then is what we are going to consider today and in our next broadcast too, the Lord willing: the exhortation of Jude to contend for the faith.
CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH
I. Ungodly Men
The reason, as we noted, for the saints to contend for the faith was that ungodly men had crept into the church. Jude describes them for us in verse 4, men “who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude uses some very descriptive language to identify and explain the character of these ungodly men. He begins by identifying them as those who were “before of old ordained to this condemnation.” That is an interesting twist of words, leading commentators to offer several different interpretations. But the most obvious is that of the KJV translators. These men were ordained from eternity to condemnation. This is what is meant by the words “before of old.” The word “old” means “a long time ago.” Then add the word “before” in front of that, “before a long time ago,” and we have a phrase that refers to before time began or, very simply, in eternity. Then we have the word “ordained.” Actually, the literal translation of that term is “forewritten.” These men were in eternity forewritten unto this condemnation. Forewritten—written before. This is what I meant when I said Jude uses some very descriptive language! In eternity certain men were written by God unto condemnation. You see, in His counsel God wrote two books. The one book we are well familiar with it. It is the Lamb’s Book of Life. In describing who will be in heaven, John writes in Revelation 21:24 and 27, “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it…. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Those whose names were written from eternity by God in the Lamb’s Book of Life will walk in heaven. But God has another book: It is the Book of Death. And God has certain names written in this book too—the names of those not written in the book of Life. We read in Revelation 20:12, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” The term “forewritten” here in Jude speaks of the truth that God from eternity wrote the names of those not chosen to eternal life in the Book of Death. We have an obvious reference here to that decree of predestination known as reprobation. God has ordained certain men unto the condemnation of hell from eternity.
Jude uses this phrase for a reason. These ungodly men had crept into the church unawares, he tells us. But they crept in unawares only to the members of the church. We do not see or know the heart. We can only know a person by his outward actions. These men seemed like Christians, like believers, when they joined the church. But though they may have crept in unawares to men, they did not sneak into the church unawares to God. God had already forewritten their lives from eternity. Not only had God determined their eternal destiny—condemnation, but God actually determined the very way they would walk that led to condemnation. The evil these men were working in the church was not only known to God, but He had determined that they would walk in ungodliness. They were ordained to this condemnation—this particular way that led to their condemnation. But there is a second reason why Jude uses this phrase. He wanted to reassure the saints that these men were under the sovereign control of almighty God! They could do nothing apart from His will. God was in charge. They could not prevail against the church because God works all things—even the ravings of the wicked unto the salvation of His people and church.
But that being said, these men had crept into the church unawares to the elders who kept watch over the church and unawares to the saints in the church. They snuck into the church, so to speak. They entered hiding the evil intents of their hearts. They were hypocrites who faked their faith in order to be members of the church.
But once they were established in the church their evil doctrines and lives became evident. They did not humbly acquiesce to what the church taught concerning doctrine and life. Neither did they keep silent. They felt free to militate verbally against the church in order to stir up a following. Maybe they did not immediately come out with their error publicly, but behind the scenes they disrupted the unity of the church and created division and strife. And now the church had to deal with these people who had crept in unawares.
Though it was perhaps not the case in Jude’s day, there is another way in the history of the church certain men creep into the church unawares. Some are born into the church, born to believing parents, but as they grow older come to embrace errors of their own. These too despise the authority of the elders and become a law unto themselves in the church. But it was probably the former of these that had taken place in the church in Jude’s day. The church was too young to have had rebellious children grow up in it yet. Ungodly men had now joined the church and once becoming members began to walk in and teach their errors.
What error? They turned the grace of God into lasciviousness. The word “lascivious” is not an old English term. It is a good English term, but one rarely used given the immoral climate of our world. It simply means unbridled lust, excessive, unlawful sexual lust. At the same time implied in this term is insolence, shamelessness. In other words, to be lascivious is not only to be characterized by sexual immorality but to boast about it. It is walking in impurity as if it is the norm and those who do not walk in it are abnormal. Lasciviousness is walking in sexual wantonness and lust. The opposite of walking chastely, moderately, and in purity.
I say, we do not hear the word lascivious today because it condemns our present society. And it condemns many in the church of today as well! Jude says these ungodly men in the church turned the grace of our God into lasciviousness. This describes their particular error. They believed that the grace of God had set them free from the strictures of the law. A classic case of antinomianism as we see it in the church today as well. A person reasons this way: If Christ has set me free from the bondage of sin and lives in me then I automatically will do what is right. I am no longer subject to the law. I am set free from the bondage of sin and therefore am able to determine what is right for myself. Since my heart is renewed by God’s gracious work of salvation I just need to follow my heart! If I feel something is right and have prayed about it, then I can do it. If I can convince myself that I am doing the right thing despite what God’s law or the admonitions of the Bible tell me, I can do it.
Do you see what was going on in the church of Jude’s day and what continues in the church today too? It is this horrible error: God’s grace has set me free to live a lascivious life! And no one may condemn me on the basis of the law! I am free to fornicate outside of marriage. It is natural and good. Adultery, unfaithfulness in marriage, naturally happens when two people fall out of love with each other. Divorce is now the order of the day. Sexual relations with multiple partners, male or female, may be odd but certainly may not be condemned. Sexual relation with a person of the same gender is an alternate lifestyle because it is a matter of genetics. God does not frown on it.
All these are no longer sins because the believer is no longer subject to God’s law. He is free through grace to live the way he likes without feeling guilty. That is what these ungodly men in the church of that time and in the church today promote in the church. And it was appealing to many, since they lived in a culture that also permitted all of these sins, just as we do. These sins were acceptable to the pagan culture of Jude’s day, just as they are in our culture today. And there were men in the church who were teaching that it was perfectly fine for a Christian to be a part of that pagan culture. One could be a Christian and still enjoy the lasciviousness of the wicked—that was appealing to the flesh. These ungodly men were shamelessly walking in violation of the seventh commandment.
But then, what is wrong with the reasoning of these ungodly men in the church? It is true that those who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness went to an extreme. But what is wrong with the teaching of those in the church who are anti-law, antinomian? Their error is easily discerned. Jesus teaches us, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” On the basis of this command of Christ, John teaches us in I John 2, “Hereby we do know that we know Christ, if we keep his commandments. He that says he knows Christ and does not keep his commandments is a liar.” God’s people are required to obey all the commandments of God—not in order to earn salvation, but out of thankfulness to God for salvation already given. It is true that the works of the law can never save a person, they cannot form even a part of our righteousness before God. In this way we are set free from the curse of the law. The law can no longer make us guilty before God. Christ’s perfect obedience has been imputed to us. We are righteous. But this does not mean we have been set free from keeping the law of God—the ten commandments and the admonitions of Scripture.
And Jude explains that too. In the last part of verse 4 we read that those who turned God’s grace into lasciviousness “denied the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” The emphasis in both of these references to God and Jesus is that they are Lord over us. This is what has happened with our salvation, people of God. By means of Christ’s work on the cross, we are set free from the hold sin had on us. When lost yet in unbelief we were totally given over to sin. We served sin in the lust of it. But Christ through His death destroyed the power of sin over us. By God’s grace we have been saved. But we have not been set free to serve ourselves and what we want. That is not freedom. It is license. We are not free to follow our own hearts. By means of salvation you and I have been set free only to serve our Lord Jesus Christ. We become servants of God to do His will. Christ is become our Lord and Master and we His slaves to do His will. We explained that in detail in our last broadcast. That is the key to the error of those men who were walking in lust and sin: they were not obeying their new Master and Lord. They were not being a slave to do His will. They were not keeping God’s commandments—the only true God who demands of all the creatures of His hands to obey His commandments. He does not let man go out and serve himself—ever. He gives us the command and we bow before that command. We must serve Him by keeping His commandments! The horrible sin of these ungodly men was that they had no fear of God before their eyes. They did not reverence Him. They had no piety. That is why Jude refers to them as “ungodly.” It means no reverence toward God.
There is an important application that needs to be made in this connection. The church of Jesus Christ may never rest from her battle against sin in all its forms. This is why Jude saw it as urgent to exhort the early church about these ungodly men. The church is constantly battling sin on two fronts as it appears in the church. On the one front it must battle against worldly-mindedness. This is the battle that Jude is waging in this letter. The church must always battle against those in the church who stretch their liberty in Christ to license to do what they want. That is happening more and more in the church of today. Especially is that true from the point of view of lasciviousness. The lives of many members in the church have become unholy. They walk in open fornication, homosexuality, adultery in marriage. But what is sad is that many church institutes fail to speak out against these sins in their preaching. There is no discipline in word or in deed. But what is worse, many churches today have accepted and even promote the sin of lasciviousness. They refuse to condemn this sin but rather accept those with loving arms who walk in such sin.
There are other sins against which the church must contend. For example, to the other extreme the church must carry on a never-ending battle against the sin of legalism. This sin is rooted in work-righteousness, the error that a person can earn his salvation either by the works of the law or by his faith. But never may the church give in to the sins that we will find described by Jude in his short letter. She must contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints. Such a church is truly characterized by love. She loves the holy God above all. She loves Jesus Christ who was sent to deliver us from sin. She loves God’s Word, that ever sure and true Word, and as a result she loves God’s saints too. By contending for the faith she truly desires to guide God’s people in the way that leads to life everlasting. And that is love.
We will continue in our next broadcast to explain the calling of the church toward these ungodly men who crept into the church unawares.