In every generation, the Gospel message faces threats from both outside and inside the Church. In this message from the book of Jude, Alistair Begg underscores that commitment to the Gospel must never be marked by proud indifference. We must contend for the Gospel, but our efforts must be motivated by love for God, concern for our brothers and sisters, and compassion for the lost.
Jude, verse 1:
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
“To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
“May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immortality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
“Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’ But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. [They] are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
“It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’ These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Gracious God, with our Bibles open before us, look upon us in your grace, we pray, so that we might, beyond the voice of a mere man, hear from you—that you might conduct that divine dialogue whereby your Spirit engages our spirits in a way that is frankly supernatural and beyond our ability to contrive or even fully comprehend.
Speak, Lord, in the stillness
While we wait on thee;
Let our hearts be hushed
For Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.
Well, I want you to know that I’m going to take a little time “waggling on the tee,” as our good friend Dick Lucas refers to it—swinging the club around in midair, as it were, before actually beginning to hit the ball. I want you to know that so that you won’t become unduly discouraged, saying, “Are we ever going to get to the text?” We will eventually get to the text, but I reserve the right to do a little waggling before we begin.
Inevitably, there was a silence in the reading of the Scriptures—the normal silence that accompanies the reading of the Scriptures, and then, I think, an extra silence as many of you were saying, “You’re really going to do Jude? Why would you do Jude, and why would you do it now?” And if any of you even came close to thinking along those lines, you realized that part of your reason for doing so is because although this is a very short letter—just one page, not as short as 3 John or Philemon, but short nevertheless, twenty-five verses—it is arguably the most neglected of all of the New Testament letters. And I think the very solemnity of it that comes across in public reading is clearly one of the reasons for that neglect. I confess to being part of that neglect. After thirty-eight years in pastoral ministry, I don’t believe I have a single sermon preached on the letter of Jude. And by five o’clock this afternoon, you may wish that I had left it exactly in that way.
But I wanted to do something that was fresh for me, and this is definitely fresh for me, and timely. “Well,” you say, “of course the Bible is timely. It’s always timely.” Don’t be pedantic; I understand that. I mean peculiarly relevant, because of the nature of the times in which we find ourselves. Because this particular letter is of vital importance when certain circumstances intersect with the prophecy that is contained in it of these significant and peculiar times that will come upon the church—when there are scoffers following their own ungodly passions and, in doing so, are seeking to unsettle and undermine the faithful.
I found it worthwhile to consider the parallels between the condition of evangelicalism today as we know it and the period of theological declension that was faced by Spurgeon at the end of the nineteenth century. If you have read much of the Down-Grade Controversy, you will know that the book of Jude certainly has something to say. Spurgeon was confronted by a period when the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture was being vigorously attacked. The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement was being ridiculed in large measure. And when he might have expected that the church, including his own brother, who was also his assistant minister, the Reverend James Spurgeon—when he might have expected that people would close ranks and hold the line, instead he realized that there was amazing capitulation to the pressure of liberal scholarship that was coming largely from Germany but was being aided by much that was taking place in the UK. And Spurgeon recognized that two things were happening: one, that God was being robbed of his glory, and that men and women were being robbed of their hope.
He spoke about this and wrote about it quite clearly. I quote him:
These destroyers of our churches appear to be as content with their work as monkeys with their mischief. That which their fathers would have lamented they rejoice in. … Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith.
The church throughout all of history has triumphantly survived the attacks which have come from the outside. The church throughout history has scattered itself in ruins when the declension has come from within.
Now, the candor of Spurgeon is regarded as inappropriate in many circles, particularly today, and the pungency of Jude’s little letter fails certainly to abide by the demands of political correctness. If you were paying attention, as I’m sure you were, as he introduces us to these people, or “certain people”—whom he doesn’t identify by their names, which I think is very helpful—these people he describes as “waterless clouds,” “fruitless trees,” “wild waves,” “wandering stars,” “unreasoning animals,” and “loud-mouthed boasters.” Maybe he could have been a little clearer for us so that we could understand just exactly what he was up against!
But if you find that that makes you salivate, if you find that those designations get your juices going and that it makes you want to get up and take on all these people, I want to issue a word of caution to you. I want to say to you, beware, if you find in yourself a rising spirit immediately of denunciation rather than a deep, heartrending sense of the awfulness of what happens when circumstances at a period in history are aptly described by many of these phrases. Because Jude, as a little letter, neglected as it has been, has nevertheless proved to be a happy hunting ground for contentious people. Just the very verb “to contend” brings out the worst in all of us who feel that way: individuals who are always spoiling for a fight, people who are antagonistic, belligerent, combative, and just generally disagreeable. The letter of Jude is usually not neglected by those folks. They are the only ones who have really preached on it, and they’ve only really preached one part of it—just the part so that they could keep saying, “Contend, contend, contend, contend.”
On one of my earliest visits to America—probably when I was only twenty years old—I heard someone defining the theological and sociological environment of the day as a place that was “going to hell in a handbasket.” I had never heard such a thing in my life. I’m not sure yet exactly what a handbasket is. And it was striking to me that the person could not pronounce the word hell properly. And in fact, he said, “It’s goin’ to hail in a handbasket.” For the first three or four times, I didn’t even know what it was he’d said. I didn’t know that he was mentioning these things at all. But the thing that was most disconcerting to me—and I remember it as clear as if it was day—is that this individual seemed really happy about it; that he didn’t say it with a notion of sadness, there was no tear in his eye, there was no apparent concern for those who were included in the handbasket.
In other words, he missed entirely the tone of Jude’s letter. Because the tone of his letter is not one of condemnation; it’s one of consternation. And I found it helpful, just as an exercise, to write my own summary of the letter, to see if I understood exactly what it was he was saying. This is what I wrote down. It’s not particularly good, but it helped me:
I’m writing like this not because I want to but because I must, and because I love you and long to see you—long to see you kept and keeping on. Let me remind you of these sad and powerful examples from history; they make my point. Remember, we were told to expect this kind of thing, so keep your chin up, stay steady, be gracious, save others, rest in God. He has everything under control.
Then I just sang to myself, “Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song … make it better.”
You see, the intentionality of the author of Scripture is important, isn’t it? We don’t have recordings, we don’t have the tone of voice, we don’t have gestures, we don’t have eyes, in the way that we are able to respond to one another at a time like this.
So, to the text. Enough waggling on the tee; let’s get to the text. Let’s hit the ball. I’m not going to try and outdo Jenkyn on Jude. If you have Jenkyn on Jude, you know it’s a vast tome. I’d be surprised if anybody’s read it all the way through. If you have and you can tell me honestly, I will give you a free book from the bookstore—one that’s on the budget bin. As a Scotsman, that’s all that I can offer you. So, I am not going to try and outdo Jenkyn on Jude. I’m not even going to try to attempt the fellow here in the Cleveland area who took four years to expound these twenty-five verses. I’m not sure there were many in his congregation left. I think his wife left, actually, right around verse 4. A lady of discernment.
So, selective, not exhaustive. All right? I have three points that I hope to get through. There’ll be no time for the last one; I can guarantee that. So don’t be unduly concerned. I like people to be prepared so they know what’s coming. So that, first of all, we’re going to notice a warm greeting, and then the second one… I can’t remember it myself. I’ll find it when I come to it on my notes. Sorry.
First of all, then, a warm greeting, all right? I want you to get the winsomeness. I want you to understand, I think, the essential tenderness that is easily missed when people move directly to the verb “I want you to contend.” If our eyes immediately go there and we jump quickly over the early material, then we make an important mistake.
Now, strictly speaking, this man’s name is Judas. When you read of him in the Gospels, he is referred to as Judas, but most Bibles, actually… I think only the Revised Version keeps that. Most Bibles refer to him by this abbreviation—namely, Jude—and they do so, I think, obviously, so as to make sure that nobody thinks that he is to be confused with the notorious Judas Iscariot.
When we get a tiny glimpse into the home from which this individual came, we’re glimpsing the home of Jesus in Nazareth. And you will recall that when Jesus returns to Nazareth, on the occasion that he reads from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, part of the response of people is to say, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James … Joses and Judas and Simon?” And so, here we have this writer of this letter growing up in the same home as Jesus himself. We know that like the other members of the family, this did not bring about salvation, if you like, in the life of Jude. It’s a remarkable thought, isn’t it? That somebody actually grows up, eats breakfast, lunch, dinner, hangs around with none other than the Messiah of God, and refuses to believe in what it is he says. The Bible tells us that it is only after the resurrection that those members of his physical family actually believed in him.
Now, the way in which he describes himself, “a servant of Jesus Christ and [a] brother of James,” I think I find quite remarkable. I think most of us would have done it very differently. We would have been wearing a baseball cap that said, actually, on the front, “I am a brother of Jesus of Nazareth, and you should talk to me, and I can tell you all kinds of things about him.” But that’s not what he says. No, he says, “I am a servant of Jesus Christ and I am a brother of James.” Christopher Green has a wonderful little sentence where he says, “No-one is too privileged to be exempt from the need to be converted.” “No-one is too privileged to be exempt[ed] from the need to be converted.” And for Jude, the family connection is obscured by the wonder of salvation: that he has now become the recipient of the very grace that is poured out in Christ, and he describes himself as “a servant,” or a slave, of he to whom he was a physical half-brother. It’s quite an introduction, isn’t it? Making it clear that he shares this common salvation that he references in verse 3, and he shares it with those to whom he writes, identifying the recipients of the letter by means of these three verbs.
Incidentally, as we go through this, you will notice, as you read it for yourself, that he is a big fan of triplets—that he is quite masterful in putting things together in threes. And if he had had a ministry, it would not have been called 9 Marks; it would have been called 3 Points. If he had lived in the ’70s, I can guarantee you that his favorite group would have been Peter, Paul, and Mary. And you will find as you go through that he does it again and again.
And here is the first of them: called, loved, and kept. Called, loved, and kept. “To those who are called”—identifying the fact that the initiative of God goes way back, as he calls out a people for himself. Calling men and women “out of darkness into his marvelous light,” calling them together, in order that eventually there may be that company that no one can number that is made up of people from tribes and languages and tongues and so on from all around the world. “I’m writing to those who are within that great continuum of God’s electing purposes.”
Called and loved—or “beloved.” And you will notice the preposition, “beloved in God.” “Beloved in God.” He’s saying more than simply that he is beloved by God, but actually caught up into God—included, made one with him. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous … [run] into it and [are saved].” And the hint that he gives here he’s going to come back to before he ends as he urges those to whom he writes to keep themselves in God’s love.
In fact, the verb to keep is an important part of understanding Jude. He uses it here: “kept for Jesus Christ” or “kept by Jesus Christ.” And he’s going to go on and mention this again. And it is in keeping, isn’t it, with the concern of God in his dealings with his people? It is in keeping with Christ’s prayer, in his High Priestly Prayer, for those who were his own: “Keep them in your name.” And so, before he warns his readers, like a good pastor, he provides them with warm encouragement, covering, if you like, the tenses of their salvation: “You have been called,” he says, “by the initiative of God. You are presently beloved of God, in Christ. And you are kept for, or you’re kept by, Jesus Christ. You’re kept for a wonderful future that just awaits you.”
And then in verse 2, he prays for them. And his prayer reinforces what he’s just said, and once again, another set of triplets: “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” The mercy to which he’s going to return in verse 21: “Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life,” so that it is a mercy that is discovered. And then in verse 22, it is a mercy that is then to be displayed—verse 23, I should say: “Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear.” He doesn’t say that this should be added to them but “multiplied” to them. Mercy.
Peace. “May you know peace,” he says. Now, think about it: he’s speaking about peace in the context of the gloomy darkness of angels that have been chained for the prospect of an empty eternity, peace in the context of eternal fire—“a punishment of eternal fire,” in verse 7.
“May you know mercy. May you know peace. May you live in love.” The love of God for his own, so that it may be underscoring and undergirding them, assuring them of all of God’s provision and protection.
Well, that’s really all we need to say concerning the warmth of his greeting. A warm greeting: “I’m a servant of Jesus. I’m a brother of James. You’re called, you’re beloved, you’re kept for a great future. And I am praying for you that you might know mercy and peace and love.”
Then and only then does he make this necessary appeal. A necessary appeal. Instead of writing about salvation in general, which is something that he says he had been keen to do, he instead must address a particular issue.
Now, I wonder, would you agree with me that it is important here not only to catch the tone with which he addresses the entire letter but also to pick up on the sense of reluctance on his part to do what he’s now about to do? It’s not as if you have this picture of him getting up early in the morning and saying, “You know, I just can’t wait to get out there and write this letter about contending for the faith!” No, he’d been waking up in the morning saying, “You know, I can’t wait to expand on that little triplet that I had about mercy and about love and about all of God’s peace. I was going to write to you about this salvation that we have in common.” But the NIV has it, “I felt I had to write.” The ESV, as you will see it if you have the text in front of you: “I found it necessary to write.” And J. B. Phillips: “I feel compelled to make my letter to you an earnest appeal.” All right? So this is not something which is so much rising from within him as it is that which is coming to him as a necessary response to, on the one hand, his concern for those to whom he writes, and also for the well-being of the church beyond those to whom he writes. He’s not giving a suggestion. He’s not saying, “I have an idea for you to consider.” He is making an appeal, and he’s making a particular appeal, a pointed appeal, for them to stand for the gospel. “I am writing to you, I felt it necessary to appeal to you, to contend for the faith.”
It’s not dissimilar to what Paul says when he writes to the Philippians, as he says, “I’m praying for you, that you might be standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” and then he adds, “and not frightened by anything in your opponents.” There’s a wonderful practicality in that, isn’t there? As if somehow or another we just stand up there: “Oh yes, we’re so strong, we’re so bold.” Actually, we’re scared half to death! He says, “I’m going to pray for you that you will stand firm, that you will unite together, and that you will hold true to the gospel, and that you won’t allow your opponents to unsettle you and frighten you.”
Now, notice the definite article here: “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend”—not “to contend for faith” but “to contend for the faith” and “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” In other words, he says, “What I’m writing to you about, the issue under concern here, is the gospel that saves us—this gospel that has been delivered to us, that we must believe if we are to be redeemed, and that we must hold to if we’re going to proclaim it in all of its usefulness.”
When you listen to some people speak, they create the notion in our minds, if we’re not careful, that somehow or another, in these early days, the writers of the letters and so on didn’t have much idea about the gospel at all. In other words, not in terms of an objective gospel. And of course, that is just absolute nonsense.
Let me just give you, for example, Galatians 1, to which your mind will probably inevitably go. Paul writes, “I[’m] astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” In other words, “You already know the gospel. You already know the faith. It has been proclaimed to you. It has been delivered to us.”
John does the same thing in his little letters. Two John 9:
Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we[’ve] worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
That’s an unbelievable statement. And it is a statement made on the strength of the fact that the gospel—the objective reality of the truth of the gospel—was understood. Therefore, it could either be upheld and adhered to or it could be deviated from and it could be rejected. He says, “You folks are living in a period where you see this happening all around you. And so I want to remind you that what I’m talking about here is objective. It is once for all. It is yours, as the saints,” which is just a synonym for Christians in this context. “It is not to be tampered with. It’s not to be diluted. It’s not to be distorted.”
It’s quite remarkable when you receive these packages from UPS and FedEx. What an amazing organization that is. And often, if you pay a little extra, it comes, you know, with a man blowing a trumpet or something. It’s quite fantastic. But they make sure that it’s there, and they give you a tracking number, and they’re all over you all the time—Amazon as well—making sure: “We just shipped it. It’s being shipped. It’s moving along. It’s now in Ohio. We’re moving towards you.” It’s like, “Man alive, this is just a book, you know. I don’t need all of this information.” “Oh no, we want to make sure that it’s absolutely in your possession. Would you email us when you get it? Would you let us know? Will you fill in this questionnaire and tell us how wonderful we are at getting this thing to you?” You’re like, “Goodness gracious, this is fantastic!” If only the church of Jesus Christ was remotely concerned about getting the gospel safely into the hands and hearts of men and women!
That is the concern of Jude: “This has come by special delivery. You did not invent this gospel. This is the gospel of God. He delivered it to you. You signed for it. You signed up for it, you signed up to it. And I have to remind you of this. I was going to write in a much broader way about salvation, but I’m writing now about a very specific thing. I feel compelled to do so.” That’s what he’s saying. And this gospel is, then, to be not only preserved but proclaimed. What God has said, he has said, with nothing to be added. What God has done, he has done, with nothing else required. That is the gospel.
And at the heart of this is surely the issue of the atonement itself. That little phrase “once for all” should send all of us immediately flipping back to the book of Hebrews and realizing again that the writer of the Hebrews is driving a stake through this. Again and again, he’s saying to his readers, “You must understand this”: Christ, when he “had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins … sat down at the right hand of God,” thus negating any other addition to the “once for all” penal substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Christ himself. This is not theological lumber. You know this, brothers. And this in Jude’s day was clearly an area of attack. And unless I am misreading all of the literature, it remains an area of attack.
Listen to Spurgeon, at the same time as I referenced earlier. He says, “I have always considered, with Luther and Calvin, that the sum and substance of the gospel lies in [the] word Substitution,—Christ standing in the [place] of man. … I,” writes Spurgeon “deserve to be lost for ever; the only reason why I should not be damned is [this], that Christ was punished in my [place], and there is no [reason] to execute a sentence twice for sin.” And the Baptist Union of England rose up against this strange, dogmatic Spurgeon man, that he would hold to such a view.
Well, it’s all around us, brothers. I’m not the prophet of doom. I don’t aspire to the role, but I remember… In fact, I had a text just from somebody this afternoon, it made me think about it—being told about a very large church in the Great Lakes area where the pastor expressed his desire to have some visiting musicians soften the words of their song. What song? The song that had the line “The wrath of God is satisfied.” “For on the cross where Jesus died the wrath of God is satisfied.” And the pastor said, “If you don’t mind, we will simply excise that line and place something else there instead.” The folks involved had enough guts to say, “Well, let’s just not sing the song at all, because if you take that out, you have destroyed the song of all of its significance.” It would be wrong for me to take you forward from that, but let me tell you that the pastor’s contemporary views on morality have inevitably followed from his views on theology. When you go wrong on the doctrine of Scripture, when you go wrong on the doctrine of the atonement, it is only a matter of time before everything else flows from it. I say that not with happiness but with sadness. And church history, when we read it, right up to the present day, bears testimony to what happens when men drift from the moorings of authentic, historical Christian faith, when they begin to view Christianity as a process towards an understanding of God. When that happens, virtually any view may be entertained, virtually any view may be tolerated, just so long as the insight does not claim finality.
Did any of you get up at four fifteen? There must be some noble souls here who got up at four fifteen a couple of weeks ago to watch the funeral service of Margaret Thatcher live. Please, please, please, there must be someone who was up with me? You miserable philistines, all of you. I watched, on black-and-white TV, the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965. I’m not sure that I had heard Bunyan’s hymn before that day. I was so gratified to discover that the Iron Lady included it as one of her funeral hymns as well:
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
It’s a magnificent hymn. Bunyan in his day is in jail for those convictions. Whitefield in his day is scurried and chased by his own denomination for these convictions. Spurgeon stands out as a man of conviction in a context where the theological climate was trying to collapse everything into one great mess of consensus.
Is it outlandish to say that contemporary evangelicalism stands like the armies of Israel, confronted by Goliath and waiting for a shepherd to step forward and address the issue? The armies of Israel, all dressed up, nowhere to go. All dressed up, and no one prepared to fight. We daren’t cloak our cowardice with the ill-fitting garments of correctness.
“No,” he says, “this is a necessity. This is the reason I’m giving you this appeal to contend for the faith—a faith that was once for all delivered to us as the believers in Jesus. And let me tell you,” he says in verse 4, “here’s the reason certain people have crept in. They’ve crept in.” It’s a very interesting verb, isn’t it? It’s an important verb. They’ve “crept in unnoticed.” They don’t come in through the front door: “Hello! We’re here to challenge the sufficiency of Scripture this morning, and we would love to just have an opportunity. If you could give me five minutes at the conference, we’d like to do that.” No, they don’t do that at all. No. No, if you’re trying to surprise somebody, you creep in.
I actually tried to creep in the other morning. I was in Michigan ten days ago; in fact, last Tuesday, it must have been. So last Monday I was there. And I was supposed to come home a quarter to two, and I didn’t like the idea, and I found that there was a flight at quarter to six in the morning—which meant getting up at four o’clock, but that was okay, because it filled me with a sense of anticipation. I said, “How wonderful is this? I will tell my wife that I’m coming home at four o’clock in the afternoon. I will arrive early in the morning. I’ll be able to creep in and surprise her.” And as I sought to execute my plan and open the door, the alarm went off, and she had set the alarm, and I’d set off the whole entire neighborhood. And I didn’t know the number to switch it off, and it was a fiasco. Here was I, I said, “Oh, this is good. This will be good. This is good.” And she’s like, “Why did you come home just now?” you know, “And why don’t you know the thing?” And I’m like, “Why did I come home just now? This is a mess! Sheesh!”
But the reason that I couldn’t creep in is because the alarm was set. And unless the alarm is set theologically in the hearts and minds and convictions of the people of God, then all kinds of people can creep in. They’re creeping into the Christian colleges in America. I visit them all. They are creeping in. They are there as members of the faculty. They are there in the administration. They are present. They are creeps! And they are creeping. And they have crept in unnoticed. Why are they unnoticed? Because people are not paying attention to a gospel once delivered to the saints. “Oh, don’t be so hard-hearted! Don’t be so definitive! Don’t be so dogmatic! Don’t be so old! Don’t be, don’t be, don’t be.” Listen: “unnoticed.”
So he says, “These certain people shouldn’t actually unsettle you, because they haven’t taken God by surprise.” That’s the significance, I’m sure, of “long ago” they “were designated for this condemnation.” When you read the middle section of the letter, you realize the way in which he goes back to the past and reinforces this. He doesn’t name them; they’re “certain people.” It’s pretty good that he doesn’t name them, because I think it helps us to realize that the application goes on and on and on. If we had all these names, we’d say, “Well, this applied particularly to Mr. So-and-So,” but it doesn’t. It applies to “certain people.” Creeps. “Long ago … designated for … condemnation.”
What are they marked by? Well, notice, they are “ungodly people.” They are ungodly people. Isn’t it amazing how the vocabulary of evangelicalism shifts? You heard anybody described as ungodly lately? “The trouble here is that he is ungodly”? I’ll tell you why you haven’t: because you haven’t heard many people described as godly—having the characteristics of God, having the characteristics of mercy and of peace and of truth and of righteousness, so that the antithesis is obvious. But you see, the closer the church lives to the knife-edge of that, the more it is indistinguishable from the spirit of the age. But not here; he says, “You’ll be able to identify them; they are ungodly.”
These are the kind of individuals who would have used Bible terminology. They would have been well received at conferences. They would have been speakers at the conferences at the time. But he says that you can’t take them at face value. “And I’ll tell you why,” he says. There are two things that mark them out. Their godless opposition is marked by the fact that, number one, they “pervert the grace of … God into sensuality.” They “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality.” This is a sermon all on its own. It’s not going to be preached, so don’t worry. I’m as keen for dinner as you are. When sin is dealt with lightly, when freedom is expressed as lawlessness, when we dismiss the concerns of our forebears, when we dismiss the concerns of the earlier generations for purity and for holiness as simply being the legalistic tendencies of some old crazy people who are close to dead, then, my loved ones, we are closer to this perversion than we ourselves are prepared to admit.
Did you get Spurgeon’s quote earlier on? He says that these people rejoice in things that their forefathers would have found lamentable. Lamentable! Now, not lamentable, not even tolerable, but acceptable! They pervert grace, the great word of the gospel: that when I’m down and broken and “when [life] has plunged me in its deepest pit, I find the Savior there”; that he stays with me, he restores my soul, he lifts me up, he keeps me on; the good work that he begins, he brings to completion. All of that grace they pervert. They ask the question of Romans 6, and they answer it wrongly: “[Should] we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” They say, “Yes, of course you should. Of course you should! You don’t need to worry about that. You sleep with your girlfriend; everybody sleeps with their girlfriend. What are you talking about? What do you mean it’s a problem for you to leave your wife? Don’t you realize how many people do this? What do you mean?” These are the people. They pervert the grace of God.
Ralph Davis, who was here a few years ago and did a quite remarkable job, is so helpful to me in understanding, you know, the uses of the law: not only as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but once we have been pointed to Christ, that we’d be returned to the law to frame our way of life. Listen to him on this:
I know some Christians have allergic reactions when they are told they are subject to God’s moral law. This, they fear, is legalism and an effort at salvation by works. But that fear misunderstands the function of the law. The law comes in the context of grace. Yahweh lays down the pattern in Exodus. He delivers his people, then he demands. He works his redemption before he sets down his requirements. He first sets Israel free, and then tells them how that freedom is to be enjoyed and maintained. Glad obedience to God’s moral law is simply our logical act of worship.
You’ll be hard-pressed to get many of the faculties of Christian colleges to come anywhere close to affirming a statement like that. And I’m not trying to be alarmist and say bad things about those places.
So, that’s number one. And number two, which is really the end: they not only “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality,” but they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Their opposition isn’t simply sensual; it’s actually heretical. It’s heretical. “You can’t say heretical.” I just did!
What are they saying? What’s he saying? He’s saying these individuals refused to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is sovereign, that Jesus Christ is the Master, that Jesus Christ is Lord. And so, what they actually end up doing is revealing a problem which is both moral and theological. Jesus is the sovereign Lord. Therefore, the Christian has to believe everything that Jesus taught and the apostles taught. He has to believe the Bible. He has to then behave in a way that the Bible says he or she must behave. Why? Well, it’s a logical deduction from the person of Christ. He’s the Master. He’s the Lord. So when we sing, “Jesus is Lord,” it’s not an expression of our devotion. It’s a statement concerning the identity of Christ himself. So either we bring our morality into conformity with the truth of the gospel, or we fiddle with the truth of the gospel to manipulate it in such a way as to accommodate our morality.
That then leads you to the third point—which I said there wouldn’t be time for—and that is, he provides a chilling reminder. A warm greeting, a necessary appeal, and a chilling reminder. I’ll leave you to unpack this on your own, ’cause it’s really hard, and I don’t know what to do with it. You see he’s got another of his threes: he says, “Let me talk about the people of Israel. Let me talk about the angels. Let me talk about the cities of the plain.” Actually, he has nine illustrations; they’re all three, three, three as he rehearses—extrabiblical sources and so on. He says, “Do you want a chilling thought?” He says, “Listen to this one: the people of Israel enjoyed the exodus—and none of them went into the promised land, because they didn’t believe.” Actually, Caleb and Joshua did. They were on the far side of the exodus, and they never made it in. There are people in our churches that are on the far side of the cross, but as Calvin says, all that Christ has done for us is of no value to us until we’re in Christ. It’s a chilling thought, isn’t it? The people in the wilderness. The angels of heaven, dissatisfied with their appointed role, rebelling; attempting to find freedom, they end up in chains. And the cities of the plain, highlighted by Sodom and Gomorrah—a beautiful place, the kind of place where everybody should get up in the morning and bless God for his works of creation. Instead, they got up in the morning, and they became proud, and they became rebellious, and they rebelled against God’s natural order. And the little section ends with those two dreadful words: “eternal fire.”
That’s a chilling thought, isn’t it? And so masterful is Jude that he starts with all those wonderful affirmations and the warmth of conviction concerning who they are in Christ, a necessary reminder so that they don’t lose their way and get caught unawares, and then, just in case they might be prepared to think lightly of it, he says, “And let me give you a little history here, to help you.”
Well, may God help us to understand this as we think about it more.
O gracious God, thank you that your Word is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. Thank you for the privilege of these hours together. Thank you for the clarity of your truth. We freely confess that any failure to grasp it is our failure. Grant that everything that is true and of yourself might be worthy of our further pondering. Anything that is unkind or untrue or unnecessary or unhelpful, just help us to banish it before we even start our meal. But Lord, confirm your purposes in us, we pray. Raise up a mighty army in the day. Forgive us for our cowardice, and forgive us for our contentiousness—and help us to understand the difference. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 Emily Crawford, “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness” (1920). Lyrics lightly altered.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “Another Word Concerning the Down-Grade,” The Sword and the Trowel (August 1887), https://archive.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/dg03.php.
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Hey, Jude” (1968).
 Mark 6:3 (ESV).
 Dick Lucas and Christopher Green, The Message of 2 Peter and Jude: The Promise of His Coming, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1995), 167.
 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV).
 See Revelation 7:9.
 Proverbs 18:10 (ESV).
 John 17:11 (ESV).
 Jude 1:3 (NIV 1984). Emphasis added.
 Jude 1:3 (Phillips). Emphasis added.
 Philippians 1:27–28 (paraphrased).
 Galatians 1:6 (ESV).
 2 John 8–11 (ESV).
 Hebrews 10:12 (ESV).
 C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, vol. 1, 1834–1854 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1899), 113.
 Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, “In Christ Alone” (2001). Lyrics lightly altered.
 John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress (1684).
 Spurgeon, “Another Word.”
 Stuart Townend and Mark Edwards, “There Is a Hope” (2007).
 See Philippians 1:6.
 Romans 6:1 (KJV).
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.1.1.
 See Psalm 119:105.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.