Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Themes from Jude

Finished teaching the last lesson in my study of the epistle of Jude last Sunday. An incredibly powerful, challenging and necessary little letter that has caused me to stop and think more deeply about the church, the state of the church, the priority of truth in the church and the seriousness of error. Through the study, several key themes have emerged, and I summarize them here.

  1. Truth Matters. This is a phrase that's been used many times by many people, and it still rings true. Truth does matter, since ideas have consequences and actions are always based on beliefs. But in the epistle of Jude I see another aspect of this statement: truth matters to God. The bulk of Jude's letter expresses the heinous nature of apostasy in the eyes of God. The repeated statements regarding the fore-ordained condemnation by God on apostate teachers, and the swiftly coming judgment that He will execute on them, both drive Jude's point home. We must value God's revealed truth not just because of the consequences of following that which is not true, which are dire. But we as Christians must value God's revealed truth, the gospel of Christ, because God Himself is concerned with truth, and in fact is the Truth.
  2. Fight for the Faith. This is the central command and major point of Jude's letter, as expressed in v. 3 where he says he writes "appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." And the rest of the letter lays out the reason for contending, and those who we are to contend against. As the next verse says, "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.". The fight for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the purity of the foundational teachings passed to us from the apostles is largely waged within the visible church. The greatest threat to God's revealed truth comes not from atheistic, agnostic, mystical or pagan attacks from without, but from apostates within. And contending for the faith means recognizing these apostates, pointing them out for who and what they are, and doing so publicly and boldly. It means sometimes causing conflict and divisions within the visible church, to preserve that which defines and sustains the invisible church. It means knowing the truths of the faith once for all handed down to the saints well enough to recognize falsehoods and to speak against them with the truth. Sadly, this is an unpopular position in the postmodern church. We are ill equipped to contend for the faith, and in fact most do not want to or see the need to. I would refer those people to point number 1 above.
  3. Apostate Damage Control is Critical. The last section of Jude's epistle makes it clear that fighting for the faith means more than just pointing out the apostates among us and their teachings. It means more than just avoiding those apostates teachings ourselves to as to build ourselves up on our most holy faith as the foundation for our lives. It also means engaging in search and rescue operations for those who have been taken in and led astray by apostates and their teachings. "And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh." Jude commands us here to go after those who are wavering in their faith because of the influence of false teachings and mercifully restore them to the path of Christian truth. He tells us to drag others back to the truth by force, who have been led to embrace the false teachings. And even to the point of engaging in mercy missions to rescue those who are completely entangled with and stained by embracing the teachings of apostates, and doing so fearfully and carefully to keep ourselves unstained by these things. It's not enough to stand for the truth of the gospel by pointing out and calling out the false. Contending for the faith also means seeking rescue and restoration of those who have been damaged by the false. This is hands-on, person to person business, the messy stuff. But if we truly love Christ and His truth and His church, and are zealous for His glory, we will not shy away from this duty.
Powerful stuff, this. Challenging commands, these. And more necessary in the 21st century than even when first delivered in the 1st. Read. Think. Pray. Ponder. And contend.

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