Recently the Book of Jude, next to the last book of the New Testament, has been the focus of my studies. It’s short and pointed and extremely powerful. This is the second in the post on Jude and follows closely the one on contending for the faith. Jude didn’t particularly want to write on this topic but felt forced to do so because of problems faced in the church he loved.
In verse four he describes the problems like this, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.” If Satan or his followers marched into the worship gathering of a church to announce they were there to cause problems and upset the whole work going on, they would be thrown out quickly. But it is a mark of Satan from the beginning that he sneaks into the church or wherever Christians may be working to mess things up.
Most of the time those who are working for the devil don’t realize it themselves. Usually they are sure they are doing good and trying to correct some mistakes that have been made by the followers of Christ. Even when he entered Eden to tempt Eve and Adam he approached them as a serpent and lied to them about God and His word.
When Satan’s workers enter a church they usually come in as great workers, dedicated servants and promising leaders. Most of the time the church welcomes them in with excitement, thinking these are going to be the very leaders we have been looking for and praying about for a long time. It won’t be obvious to begin with that anything is wrong. They will just seem like very spiritually minded people and you may wonder what in the world was wrong with the people where they went to church before that they didn’t accept this wonderful family. Most likely the first thing that will dawn on anyone is that it seems that wherever they get involved there is usually some question or some complaint about how things are being done. They always have a better way of doing things. You may hear of some criticism of how things have been handled before, but it will seem like a very small thing and you will usually dismiss it. These false teachers will almost always become teachers, leaders and trusted workers in the congregation before anyone is aware that something just isn’t right.
Jude said that such people were “Marked out for this condemnation beforehand.” Whether we are talking about a church or a Jewish community or synagogue during the Old Testament, it is the same. God knew that such people would always be around and planned their condemnation long before.
Notice the three charges Jude makes against these teachers. He doesn’t name them. He doesn’t even identify them as to the nature of their error. People have tried for years to identify who they were. Some think it was the same people John would later talk about who denied the humanity of Jesus. Whoever they are there were three marks of these teachers that tend to be the things that characterize those who hurt the church in every place and time.
They are “Ungodly persons”. The idea of being godly is to have the reverence and awe for God that causes one to submit to His teaching. To be ungodly is to lack that same reverence and awe and thus feel it is all right to change God’s word at will and determine what He really meant when He said things that sound quite the opposite. The ungodly may be immoral, or they may be heretics that offer choices where God didn’t give any. Paul told Titus to “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11) Earlier in Titus He said that the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people, teaching us that “Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world.”
The second thing Jude points to fits with this point in that these ungodly people turn the grace of God into licentiousness. It seems strange that so many of the errors that have haunted the church through the ages have centered around a misunderstanding of grace. When Paul wrote the letter to the churches of Galatia they had turned from the grace of God to preach another gospel which wasn’t a gospel at all. He told them, “Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As I said before so I now say again. If anyone receives a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” What was their departure from grace that turned into a false gospel? It was demanding that one obey the laws of the Old Testament, written specifically to Jews of that era, in their own day. Specifically, they were demanding that Gentiles who became Christians had to be circumcised to be real Christians. Paul challenged these teachers as hypocrites. He declared that the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ and after Christ has come we are no longer under the tutor. He said “Whoever justifies himself by the law is fallen from grace, he is severed from Christ.” (Galatians 5:4)
The thing that was happening in Jude’s case was that they were turning grace into a license to sin. It may have been the notion that it doesn’t matter what we do, grace will cover it. Or it may have been some of the early forms of Gnosticism which said the body was unholy, and it didn’t matter what we did with the body as long as the soul was right with God. It can take all kinds of forms but anything that leads one to believe that grace means I can intentionally violate the teachings of the Lord without affecting my relationship to God is part of this error.
Thirdly, Jude said they “Deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul told Titus that some were denying the Lord by their actions and that could have been the case here. More likely it seems to me is that they were denying the ONLY Master and Lord by indicating Jesus wasn’t the only one that could save or give the commands that we should follow. More than likely they were elevating themselves to places of rule among the Christians and indicating they had some authority to speak for God. Jesus had said years before, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) The only way anyone can speak with authority in our time is to give what God said in His word.
More than likely they were claiming new revelations, dreams from God and leading from the Lord that went in a different direction from what the Lord had taught. No wonder Jude so firmly stated the message of faith had been once for all time delivered to the saints.
Truthfully, those who come into churches and cause problems tend to follow the same three tracks in every age. There is just room for one Lord and His place is occupied. But there is all kinds of room for servants. Those looking for lordship, need not apply.