Friday, May 23, 2008

Jude 3-4

3Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 4For certain men whose condemnation was written about [or men who were marked out for condemnation] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Jude wanted to write about salvation, but he couldn’t. There were more pressing matters that needed to be addressed in this letter. Namely, Jude had to urge his audience to contend for the faith. “The faith” in this circumstance doesn’t refer to their subjective trust in Christ who is the object of faith. “The faith” refers to Christian doctrine, the apostles’ teaching, Jesus’ teaching given to the apostles, the divinely inspired doctrine given by God to the apostles. Jude wants them to cling to that faith and to contend for that faith, the apostles’ teaching, sound Christian doctrine. His audience needed to go to war on behalf of truth – the truth. And notice that they weren’t being urged to defend their faith against assaults from outside their beliefs. Rather, the assault was coming from within their own assembly! Apparently, folks had secretly infiltrated the Christian group and influenced it slyly toward antinomianism – that teaching which declares that living in sin is fine since grace is greater than sin. This is the very teaching that Paul silenced in Romans 6, with his rhetorical questions, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! By no means!” Contend for the Faith Once Entrusted to the Saints. God is saying in Jude 3-4 that He wants you to be greatly concerned about the purity of biblical teaching in the church. Do you see it as your personal responsibility to uphold historic, biblical, Christian doctrine? Jude says it is. Are you aware of the false teaching that even goes on in the evangelical churches today? Everything that Jude says in this letter presupposes that it is every Christian’s important duty to know the truth of the faith, to care about it, and to protect it in the congregation.

Jude gets into an area that makes many people very uncomfortable. We live in a day and age where people say things like this: “Let’s not get caught up in all that doctrine. Let’s just share the gospel.” “Doctrine divides; witness unites.” “Don’t get all hung up about the minute details of truth. Christianity isn’t a belief or a doctrine; it’s a way of life.” Those kinds of ideas pervade even the evangelical church today. And so when someone like Jude comes along and his big message is this, “Be orthodox and care about the doctrines of the faith,” immediately we think, “This guy is a control freak, or a legalist.” But that is simply not true of Jude. Here’s how we know that: First, he addresses this congregation as beloved. He cares about them. Second, he says that he’d rather not talk about this; he’s not into controversy for the sake of it. He’d rather rejoice in the salvation that unites; but instead he’s got to deal with doctrine. Third, Jude wants them to contend for doctrinal purity, for the truth, so that they would grasp the faith. For Jude, maintaining sound doctrine is not something peripheral and minute, but it keeps the main thing the central thing, which is the faith that has been handed down. Allowing false doctrine to corrupt the truth destroys the faith. And so this issue is no small one.

Furthermore, the faith that Jude speaks of is an unchanging one. It was once for all entrusted to the saints. The inherent truths of Christianity do not change. But our culture of relativism doesn’t buy that. And postmodernism says that truth, even if it does exist, doesn’t matter. Today’s Christianity falls into that at times. The truth is absolutely essential to life. The truth is for life. Truth is good for people. It makes their lives better. We can’t grow in grace apart from embracing the truth ourselves, knowing it and embracing it ourselves. It’s essential for Christian health and growth. It’s essential for salvation. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life.

So it’s essential to care about the truth and to stand on the truth. But why? For this audience, it’s because there were false teachers in their midst. And for us, it’s because there are false teachers in our midst. Jude is saying, “Here’s why I’m writing to you. There are people in your own congregation who have the name Christian, who say that their teaching is Christian, but they’re leading you astray. They’re teaching you false things. They’re teaching cheap grace and denying Jesus Christ.” And, of course, that fulfills what Jesus Himself said to His disciples. When you look around and see false teachers in the church today, rejoice! It’s a proof that Jesus is divine. Jesus told His disciples that there would be false prophets in their own midst. Paul told the elders in Ephesus that wolves, ravenous wolves would come up even from their own number who would try to lead astray the people of God. And so Jude reminds us of this. He says, “Look, there are godless persons already among you. They’re subtle, so be on the lookout. And these godless persons are pre-condemned. God’s already passed His verdict on them long ago. So you look at them from God’s perspective. Yes, they’ll say that what they’re teaching is true and good and helpful, but it’s not in accord with the apostles’ teaching. It’s not in accord with Scripture, so you be on the watch.”

These false teachers that Jude warns of do 2 things: they use grace as an excuse to live a life of indifference and sin, and they deny Christ, what the Bible teaches about His person and work. They say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter how you live as long as you’re sincere. It doesn’t matter what your life is like as long as you believe.” It’s antinomianism. But Jude says, “That teaching denies God’s grace, and its result – a transformed life. That teaching denies Jesus as Sovereign Lord.” And that’s exactly right; it’s exactly what antinomianism tries to do today, which is deny the Lordship of Christ as a necessary component of saving faith. So Jude urges us here to contend for the faith and to beware of false teachers who make grace into licentiousness and who deny the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jude 1-2

1Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by [or for, or in] Jesus Christ: 2Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

What is a Christian? Jude begins his letter by answering a number of questions: How should we think about ourselves as Christians? How should we view our life purpose? What blessings has God bestowed on us? How do they impact the way we view ourselves and our sense of mission? What things ought we to long to be filled with? These first 2 verses focus on 3 particular things: how a Christian views himself (self-identity), the graces that we have received as Christians (defining a Christian), and the blessings that we ought to desire as Christians (what a Christian wants).

First is the self-identity we have as Christians, which we see in the first half of v1. Jude was a very common name, and so it was essential that the author announce his identity with a qualification other than merely his name. And so Jude does this by calling himself a servant and a brother. That’s who we are as Christians – servants and brothers. Specifically, as is the case with the authors of many of the other New Testament letters, Jude identifies himself as a servant – a bondservant, a slave – of Jesus Christ. A Christian is one who has been set free from one master – sin – in order to serve another master – righteousness. This is how the audience in Biblical times would have understood this title. And we share this title as well, if we are Christians. Jude also calls himself the brother of James. James had the authority in the early church – especially in Jerusalem, from whence many of the Jewish Christians had been scattered across the Roman Empire. James also had likely been martyred by the time Jude wrote this letter, so referring to himself as James’ brother immediately earns respect as the Christian leader he likely was. Now we know from our places in the Bible (1 Corinthians 9:5) that James and Jude were brothers of Jesus. But why doesn’t Jude call himself a brother of Jesus? He sees himself unequal to Jesus, but equal to James. He is humble and submissive – a servant and slave of Jesus, but he has authority, as a brother of James. So Jude is both humble and bold at the same time, which is what we as Christians ought to be.

Second is the definition of a Christian. What is a Christian? What characterizes a Christian? What favors does God give to Christians? Well, three divine favors, three graces, which ought to impact our view of our purpose in life, are specified here in the second half of v1. And they reveal a glimpse of the Trinity. The first of those characteristics is the calling of the Holy Spirit. If you have truly received Christ as Savior and Lord, then you have been called. Now there are 2 kinds of callings. The first is the external calling that we hear with our ears. It’s the call of the gospel – that Jesus saves sinners and that we receive salvation by grace through faith in Him alone. It’s the call to repentance, the call to seek forgiveness at the foot of the cross, and the call to give up any foolish attempt at self-justification before God on Judgment Day. But this calling is not the calling that Jude is talking about here.

Jude is speaking of the second type of calling. Jude says to these Christians in persecution, in fear of reprisal from a society that has great animosity for them and suspicion of them, “Remember who you are. You are the called of God, called to this great mission to bless the world.” Now being called doesn’t mean “invited,” as to a party. This call is a summons. It’s a calling that we don’t hear with our ears but with our hearts and minds. It’s not the call of a Pastor explaining the gospel but of the Holy Spirit awakening us to life when we were dead in sin. It’s an inward call, the call of regeneration. And most often, this second type of calling accompanies the first type. The Spirit rarely works apart from the Word. He can, but in our day and age, He quickens the dead in to sin to new life, He unclogs deaf ears and gives sight to the blind, and He convicts sinners of sin most often when they hear the gospel. Only with this second kind of calling will a person respond genuinely to the outward call of the gospel. Only with eyes that see and ears that hear can a person repent and believe. And that’s a description of us as believers.

There are a whole bunch of Scriptures we could turn to in order to validate what I’m saying, but for the sake of time, let’s just look at one – the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. As we are spiritually dead in sin prior to conversion, so Lazarus was physically dead in the tomb. And just as Lazarus heard the audible call of Jesus to rise and come forth, so we sit in church and hear the gospel preached from the pulpit – repent and believe! But as Lazarus had to first have life in order to hear Christ and obey, so we must first be regenerated through the second type of calling in order to hear and obey the first.

The second divine favor, in addition to the Holy Spirit’s special calling, that a Christian has received is the love of God. If you have truly received Christ as Lord and Savior, then you, amazingly, are the beloved of God the Father. God loves you as much as He loves His Son! Isn’t that amazing?! But once again, there are different levels, or aspects, of the love of God. You will never hear me say that God does not love His entire creation. He loves all people – after all, He made them.

However, you would agree with me that you love your spouse in a different way than you love your parents, or your siblings, or your children, or your friends. God’s love is similar. Just as Israel in the Old Testament experienced the love of God to a greater and more intimate degree than the other nations, so we as believers experience God’s love in a greater and more intimate way than do unbelievers. God loves unbelievers, just not in a saving way. Both glorify God (Romans 9), so He loves both. He loves believers in such a way that they will be saved from His wrath; He loves believers in a way that extends to them mercy. He does not love unbelievers in a way that bestows saving mercy upon them. And Jude is speaking here of Christians as having the special, more intimate, saving kind of God’s love bestowed on them. It’s a love that accompanies the second type of calling. And it’s a love that accompanies the third divine favor, which we’ll look at now.

The third grace of God that befalls believers, in addition to the Holy Spirit’s calling and the Father’s deep love, is the preservation of Jesus Christ. We read that we are “kept by Jesus Christ.” The word “by” also includes “for” and “in” with it, so we might understand Jude to be saying, “If you’re a Christian, you’re kept by Jesus in Jesus for Jesus. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Jesus keeps us, because if He didn’t we’d surely wonder away; Satan would surely pluck us from our safe position if he could. But he can’t, because Jesus keeps us not at arms length, but He keeps us in Himself. Once we’re in Christ, He’s in us too, and He keeps us there. Why? For Himself. He doesn’t keep us for our benefit alone, though He knows that it is good for us that we remain in Him. Rather, He keeps us for His benefit. It is for His glory that not one of those He purchased with His blood will be lost or snatched away. So Jude includes these three amazing graces – calling, love, and preservation – that describe Christians, and it’s to these people that he is writing this letter.

Do these three grants of God’s favor – three blessings of God’s grace – that you are called, beloved, and kept – have an overriding influence on your understanding of who you are in Christ and of your mission in this life? Do you live as if these things are true? Are there things that you value more than those things? Do you realize the magnitude of those graces? Those graces demand gratitude from us. If we realize what God has done for us in Jesus Christ we cannot help but praise Him and thank Him and live for Him. These three divine graces impact our whole view of our purpose in life.

Third is what a Christian should desire, which we see in v2. Jude says a short prayer, a benediction in fact, here in v2, asking that mercy, peace, and love, come to you in abundance. These are three things Christians ought to desire. When mercy is distinguished in the Scriptures from grace, mercy is speaking of God’s goodness and kindness and love towards the needy; whereas grace when it is distinguished from mercy has in view God’s goodness and kindness and love towards sinners. And so mercy especially has us in view in terms of our need. When Jude says, “May God’s mercy be multiplied to you,” he’s reminding you that you stand in need of God’s favor and that in His grace He grants it. “God’s peace” refers to our experience of all the blessings that flow from God’s objective reconciliation accomplished for us through the atoning death of Christ. Peace is a rich biblical term. There are only two books in the whole of the New Testament that don’t contain that greeting “peace” somewhere. It denotes completeness and soundness and wholeness. It doesn’t just mean an absence of enmity with God; it means a friendship with God through His gracious covenant. It entails safety and security and welfare and happiness, and it is the gift of Christ. We need this peace to serve one another and to serve a world that hates us. Finally, love is brought back to our attention. Having been granted God’s love through faith in Christ, may it be multiplied to you in abundance. Are we desiring these things – mercy, peace, and love? Are there other blessings that we want more than God and the blessings that He gives? Do we pray for one another like this? O Lord, give us not more power, more prestige, more influence, more significance, more status, more money, or more things; but give us more mercy, more peace, and more love. That’s what we ought to want.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This tiny book – only one chapter in length – is unique for many reasons. First of all, the half-brother of Jesus Christ wrote it. Jude was one of Mary and Joseph’s sons, as was James – the author of the Book of James. It contains the only greeting in the New Testament that does not mention grace, but it also contains the only greeting in the New Testament that includes love. It was probably written as a letter to a congregation of Jewish Christians. And if you had to give the book a title that explains what lies within, perhaps you could call it, “The Faith Once Entrusted.” We'll study Jude over the next few days. Let's read it in full first.

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about [or men who were marked out for condemnation] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord [Jesus] delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home — these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals — these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion.

These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted — twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him." These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's All About ME!

I live in the "you"niverse. It's all about "me." I have an "I"pod, I get "my" music from "I"tunes. I talk on "my" "I"phone. I even play video games on "my" Wii - that's "we" spelled with two "i's".... I read "self" help books, like The Secret, that tell "me" how great "I" am, how powerful "I" am, and how in-control "I" am. They're "me" centered, so I'm never disappointed. Even though the "you"niverse is all about "me," I'm still a "truth-is-relative" kind of "me," so all of this can be true for "you" too. Just embrace the "me" centered culture "we" - uh, I mean, "I" - live in. It's not hard to do. Just watch a lot of TV. There are enough commercials that are "me" focused to subliminally encode "your" thinking to be about "me." Have a great day! Is it in you? Obey your thirst. Just do it!

This is a paraphrase from a lesson I heard the other day (a teacher/preacher from Washington)... It's the truth. No wonder people think the Bible is irrelevant. They're bombarded with Oprah-ology all week, and if they happen to make it to church - a Bible teaching church is less likely - that's only 1 hour out of 168 throughout the week. Nevertheless, the truth stands firm.

Romans 1:18-32 says, "
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."

Romans 12:1-3 says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual, or reasonable, act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Lesson from a Question (2)

In Luke 20:20-26, we read about a trick question that Jesus faces. He answers with a question in order to set up His response. Let's take a look:

Keeping a close watch on Him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something He said so that they might hand Him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned Him: “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach what is right [a Man of integrity], and that You do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity [knowing their hypocrisy] and said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” They were unable to trap Him in what He had said there in public. And astonished by His answer, they became silent.

Pretending to be honest in their intentions, the spies come to Jesus and, after proclaiming the truth that He is a Man of integrity, speaking and teaching the truth of God, though they themselves did not believe that at this point, ask Him a question, intending to trap Him.

They ask if it’s right to pay taxes. If Jesus says, “Yes,” then the Pharisees will accuse Him of not being loyal to God. If Jesus says, “No,” then they’ll accuse Him of a political coup attempt against Rome. In their eyes, He can’t win; but in His eyes, He can’t lose.

"He saw through their duplicity." He knew their hypocrisy. They weren’t being honest with God or with men. Matthew’s gospel says that He called them hypocrites. And like Jacob’s tangible wrestling match with God, Jesus gives them a tangible illustration of His answer to their “impossible question.” He responds to their question with a question. “Is it right to pay taxes? …Whose portrait and inscription are on the coin? Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s.”

But that’s not the end of Jesus’ answer. He doesn’t say, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and stop there. That would have been enough, I suppose. But Jesus presses the matter back to them. “Give to God what is God’s.” We read that they were unable to trap Him in His response. They were astonished and became silent.

They hadn’t asked about paying anything to God. Knowing their hypocrisy, Jesus introduced the concept to convict them. Had their inquiry been honest, they would have followed up with another question: “What is God’s?”

Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to him.” They had a coin right there. Jesus is effectively saying it’s right to pay taxes. But He qualifies that answer by saying that we must also give to God what belongs to Him. They should’ve asked, “What belongs to God?” Here we learn something from the question that is not asked. They were silent. Matthew’s gospel says that they left Him and went away.

How do you think Jesus would have responded to that question had it been asked? What belongs to God? You do. And I do. Give to Caesar what belongs to him. Pay your taxes; live a life of honesty and integrity in the world. But give to God what is God’s. Give Him yourself. You are not your own. You were bought with a price.