Some of you, like me, can remember when the seatbelt law came into effect. Some people had a hard time accepting the law that you have to wear seatbelts. One man, a New Zealander named Ivan Segedin took it to an extreme. The police ticketed him 32 times over five years for failing to use his seat belt. Even though this was costing him big money, he refused to buckle up.
Finally, instead of obeying the law, the man decided to rely on deception. He made a fake seat belt that would hang over his shoulder and make it appear that he was wearing a seat belt when he wasn’t. His trick worked. He didn’t get anymore tickets. But then he had a head-on collision. He was thrown forward onto the steering wheel and killed. His fake seat belt couldn’t save him.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: When tested, what’s fake won’t save you.
We’ve been looking at the book of Jude. Jude wanted to write a letter to the church about our common salvation. He wanted to major on what’s real about our faith: the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man, and who died for our sins and rose to give us new life. But Jude knew there was a problem. He’s writing to a church that has fake seatbelts in use. He’s writing to a church that’s left this common salvation, this faith once for all delivered to the saints, and has instead substituted fake teaching. If you haven’t been here, I hope you’ll take a chance to read the entire book. Jude’s explained why this is a problem we need to be concerned about.
By the way, this is not just a problem for them. Charles Colson, president of Prison Fellowship, says, “Most Christians do not understand what they believe, why they believe it, and why it matters.” For two years, Colson asked mature believers to name the fundamentals of the faith. Most of them, he says, looked surprised and perplexed. They came up with a short list. Colson has stopped in the middle of some of his speeches, and asked the audience, “What is Christianity anyway?” At one church in the Bible belt, there was silence for what seemed to be a full minute before three or four painful answers. Colson concludes, “Our ignorance is crippling us.”
Remember: when tested, what’s fake won’t save you. So today we come to the end of Jude. Jude has been explaining why it’s so important that we don’t accept false teachings. But Jude doesn’t spend all of his time condemning false teachers. Today he’s explaining to us how we can respond to false teachings. He says we need to take three steps to hold on to what’s real. Here’s the first:
1. Don’t be surprised by false teachers.
Throughout this letter, you get the impression that Jude is not conveying new information. He’s reminding us of something. For instance, in verse 5 we read: “I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it…” (Jude 1:5). Then we read in verses 17-19:
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.” (Jude 1:17-19)
What he’s saying is that we need to remember that this is to be expected. Don’t be surprised. We have been adequately warned. For instance:
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons… (1 Timothy 4:1)
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2 Timothy 3:1)
I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. (2 Peter 3:3)
All throughout the New Testament, we’re warned that in the last days - the days between Jesus’ death and resurrection and his coming again - false teachers and scoffers will periodically appear. It is expected. Not only that, but they won’t come from out there. They will arise from within the church. Scripture consistently warns us to expect this and to guard against it, because it’s going to happen. Jude says: don’t let it surprise you.
The other day I was at home when I heard someone at the door. I had just made myself very comfortable, which is usually when I hear someone knock at the door. So I got up and grumbled and opened the door to see who was there. I didn’t recognize him at first, which made me squirm when he kind of grunted at me and pushed past me to enter the house before I invited him in. He was already in my house when I remembered who he is, and that Charlene had told me he was coming at that very time. If I was smart I would have called to remembrance that he was expected, and that he was going to come into my house whether I invited him in or not.
Jude is saying something similar. False teaching is coming whether you’re prepared for it or not. You can get comfortable and be unprepared when it comes. But if you’re smart, you’ll remember that you’ve been told to expect it, and you’ll be prepared to deal with it when it comes. Don’t be surprised, he says, by false teaching.
2. Keep yourselves in God’s love.
This is fascinating. How should we respond when the false teachers come? We know they’re coming. Do we go on the defensive, building moats and walls so that the false teachers can’t get in? Do you go on the offensive, attacking at the first sign of false teaching? There is room for this, but the first thing he says is this: keep yourselves in the love of God. Secure your own spiritual position. Before you can address the false teachers or the false teaching, make sure that you are secure. He writes:
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. (Jude 1:20-21 ESV)
I want you to notice a few things here.
First, there’s only one command here: “keep yourselves in the love of God.” He then describes some steps we can take in order to keep ourselves in the love of God: building ourselves up in our most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; waiting for Christ’s return. We’re to do these things in order to keep ourselves in God’s love. By the way, it’s a good description of some of the things that we need to build into our lives if we’re going to keep ourselves in God’s love. We do well to devote ourselves to growth in the faith, to prayer, and to live in light of Christ’s return.
Second, this is not a command to individuals; it’s a command to a church. He doesn’t say to keep yourself in the love of God; he says to keep yourselves. I need this reminder. We don’t do this alone. We are responsible to do this together. One of our main purposes as a church is to keep ourselves in the love of Christ.
There’s one more thing I want you to notice. Jude addresses his letter in verse 1 to “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” If you are a Christian, you are somebody who’s called, and who’s kept for Jesus Christ. You’re being guarded and kept by and for Jesus Christ. But here in verse 21 he says, “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Which is it? Are we kept, or do we keep ourselves? Yes. God has done everything we need in the Christian life; we need to respond. God keeps us; we keep ourselves in what God has done for us in Christ. It’s a beautiful picture of the Christian life. God has done it all: we need to keep ourselves firmly planted in what God has done.
What he’s saying, essentially, is to keep yourself anchored to how God has loved you in Jesus Christ. “Moving ahead in the Christian life often involves looking to the past…The foundation must be secure before the building can go up. We can never grow away from our roots; we can only grow through them” (Douglas Moo). The best thing we can do in a world of fakes is to make sure that we have what is real. The best antidote to false teaching is for us to continually be keeping ourselves in God’s love, to continually be growing into the truth. So don’t be surprised; secondly, keep yourselves in God’s love.
3. Reach out to those who are going astray.
Finally, Jude gets to how to respond to the false teachers and those who are being led astray by them. He’s spoken honestly and directly about the danger. Having been reminded to expect that false teachers will come, and having been encouraged to keep ourselves in God’s love, Jude now tells us what we are to do with the false teachers. He divides them into three groups and says:
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. (Jude 1:22-23)
There are three groups we need to be concerned with:
First, he addresses those who doubt. He’s probably talking about some in the church who have started to be swayed by the false teaching. They’re wavering in their commitment to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They have doubts about the Bible, about the Christian faith. They have questions. They want to know if the Bible is true, if we can trust what we’ve received. Jude says: have mercy on these people. Be helpful to them. Build relationships with them. Your relationship with them should be characterized by mercy. I’m sure you can think of people who fit into this category. You have the opportunity to invest in their lives if you have mercy on those who doubt.
Second, he addresses a second group. He says, “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” These people, it would seem, have gone further down the road with the false teachers. They’re in danger of judgment, characterized by fire. Some have been so influenced by false teaching, Jude is saying, that they are teetering on the edge of hell. We need to snatch them and save them before it’s too late.
When we encounter someone who has departed the faith, we can’t just give up on them. God does restore people. One pastor had a friend who walked away from the Christian faith and began living a very immoral lifestyle. He went and visited his friend. Afterwards he was so drained that afterwards he pulled out this verse and with tears in his eyes reminded himself that God still does save wayward sinners, and that his counsel still might bear fruit in his friend’s life. Jude calls us to do this. When people walk away from the faith, they’re in danger of judgment. Contend for them. Save them by snatching them out of the fire.
Then there’s one final group. He says, “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” By the strength of the language it seems like Jude is talking about the false teachers themselves. They’ve abandoned themselves to false teaching, but they’re not beyond redemption. Jude says to show mercy to them. Pray for them. Treat them kindly. But also be cautious. Be on guard. He talks about the garment stained by flesh. He’s talking about the clothing worn closest to the body. This is pretty graphic. He’s talking, in essence, about clothing that’s been stained with human waste. Show mercy to them, he says, but be cautious. As one person put it:
One is working on the edge of the fire, so to speak. Not only are those being rescued at risk, but the rescuers are endangering themselves. Sin is deceitful enough that those trying to help others could themselves get trapped. That is no reason not to “show mercy,” but every reason to have fear. (Peter H. Davids)
When responding to false teaching, you need to do some triage. Your response will differ depending on which type of person you’re dealing with. Reach out to those who are going astray, but be wise in how you do so. Pay attention to the danger that you could be in as you reach out to those who are going astray.
We really need this book. We need this because he’s addressing an ongoing problem. We will face the same issue that Jude addresses. We need to be able to recognize false teaching, and to know how to respond. Today he’s reminded us how we are to respond to false teaching. Don’t be surprised. Secure your own position by keeping yourselves in God’s love. And then reach out to those who are going astray. This, Jude says, is how we’re to respond when we encounter false teaching.
Let me remind you why this is so important. We can’t afford the luxury of fake seatbelts. Remember: when tested, what’s fake won’t save you. We need what’s real. We need the real gospel, but we also need to know what to do when we encounter what’s false.
What I love about Jude is that he finishes by tethering us to God. At the end of the book he reminds us that, although we have a role to play, our hope is not in our ability to hold on to God, but in God’s ability to hold on to us. At the end Jude reminds us that although we have every reason to doubt ourselves, we have no reason to doubt the one in whose love we are kept. So Jude closes with a benediction that tells us that God accomplishes for us, and what we offer him in response.
First, what God accomplishes for us: “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…” Then, what we offer to God in response: “…be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Here we have, in the middle of the danger that we too could stumble, the assurance that God is able to keep us from stumbling. We have assurance that God is guarding us. As Paul said: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
We face a danger, and the danger is real. When tested, what’s fake won’t save you. But there is someone who’s real, and when he grabs on to you you’re safe forever.