This sermon was originally preached in 2014.
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.
Jude 20-23 ESV
For the past fourteen verses, Jude has delivered a sweeping warning and condemning declaration against the false teachers that have infiltrated the church. His language was swift and harsh, defining the lifestyle of these people so that believers can be aware. Interestingly, though Jude’s purpose for the letter has been to contend for the faith, very few commands have been given so far. His rhetoric against the false teachers has been purely informative, acting as a sort of public service announcement for true believers. However, within these four short verses, Jude issues a number of commands for the Christians. Indeed, building upon the information that he has now provided regarding the false teachers, these are the commands that we must follow in order to properly contend for the faith.
KEEP YOURSELF // VERSES 20-21
“But you, beloved” Jude begins this next section of text with powerful opening words. Throughout the letter, he has referred to the false teachers constantly as “these people”, showing that they were separate from the true followers of Christ. The usage of “but” reveals that Jude is now shifting his focus. He is turning his attention to the “beloved”, to those who are loved by God and kept for Jesus Christ. In turning his attention upon the followers of Christ, Jude is now going to issue four commands that will keep the believer walking in the truth of God.
“building yourselves up in your most holy faith” First, Jude demands that Christians must continually grow in the faith. Being built up in the faith recalls construction imagery. Just as a building must be constructed piece by piece, the Christian faith is built in increments. The Christian’s walk is marked by radical change and rebirth, but the process of sanctification is not instantaneous. God regularly works through processes. Though He could have made the universe instantly, He chose to do so in six days. Likewise, He could make us immediately without sin upon conversion, but He chooses to bring us through the process of sanctification. Therefore, we must not lament that the building of our faith is not completed because it will never be until we are glorified in His presence. Instead, we must continuously “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:14). Also, we must note that this command is not simply for the individual. As the body of Christ, we are called to build one another up. God has ordained that our faith cannot be walked out alone. We need each other. “Community is the soil where faith grows” (Green, 120).
“praying in the Holy Spirit” Next, Jude calls the church to pray in the Holy Spirit. Too often, this verse has been used interpreted by charismatics to mean praying in tongues. However, I do not believe that such is Jude’s intention. Rather, Jude is once more distinguishing between the true believers and the false teachers. While the false teachers are devoid of the Spirit, Christians pray in the Holy Spirit. I believe that this prayer is in a general sense as opposed to being a specific spiritual gift. We know that the Holy Spirit indwells believers (Rom. 8:11) and enables us to call God “Father” (Rom. 8:15). Therefore, if the Spirit bears witness as to our status before God, true prayer then is by the means of the Spirit, as He intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27). It is also interesting that Jude first aims at faith and the Spirit, which are two defining points of being a Christian. Our faith, which is best summarized as the gospel, and the presence of the Holy Spirit are markers of the Christian walk. To separate oneself from the gospel and the Spirit is to deny Christ.
“keep yourselves in the love of God” Grammatically, it seems that this is the focal command of verses 20 and 21. The previous two commands (building up in the faith and praying the Spirit) and the next one (waiting for the mercy of Christ) are all participles to this command. Yet how can this be the central command when the gospel, prayer, and the second coming are so important to Christian life? I believe that Jesus’ message to the church at Ephesus holds the answer. In Revelation 2:1-7, John writes down his vision of Jesus’ letter to the Ephesians. The words begin well with Christ commending their contending for the faith. However, Christ then brings this rebuke against them: “you have abandoned the love you had at first (Rev. 2:4).” Though they were not tolerating the false teachers and joyfully endured persecution, they were forgetting the love of God. Indeed, Paul’s words ring true: “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). The works of God in the life of a Christian displays itself in love. A loveless Christian is a Christ-less Christian.
“waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” One of the most glorious biblical truths is our eternal life with Christ. Though we were once slaves to the power of sin and though we still wrestle with iniquity each day, we hope for better things to come. Namely, we hope in the second coming of Christ. We believe that He will come to earth again to judge the ungodly and to resurrect the saints. The great promise for believers is that this present life is the closest to hell that we will ever come. Whether by death or the coming of the Lord, we will enter into eternal life with Him, forever free from sin and death.
KEEP OTHERS // VERSES 22-23
“have mercy on those who doubt” While the previous two verses covered how a believer must walk in the true faith, these two verses describe how we are to relate to others. First, Jude commands that we have mercy on those who doubt. The doubters here are followers of Christ who are experiencing a season of uncertainty in their faith. Most likely, Jude pictures these as being in danger of deception by the false teachers. Though it may appear that their faith is unstable, this is even more reason to show mercy to them. We do not denounce these men as heretics for questioning aspects of Christianity; instead, we walk alongside them as brothers and sisters, building them up in the faith.
“save others by snatching them out of the fire” Next, Jude calls believers to save some by pulling them from the fire. While the doubters of the last verse were struggling Christians, it seems that those being saved here are both believers and nonbelievers. Though having mercy upon someone implies a form of gentleness, the action of snatching someone from the fire is quite forceful. There is no time for pleasantries when saving someone from deadly flames. Thus, there are certain circumstances that require a level of unabashed action. When we see a brother or sister in faith diving into a particularly deadly sin, we love them most by pulling them from that fire. With one who rejects God, there comes a point where it is best to stop pulling punches, telling them plainly of their present danger. This verse is particularly difficult to live out within our society of individualism and pluralism. Nevertheless, there comes a time when we must tell men plainly words similar to Spurgeon’s:
If you drink poison sincerely, you will die. You must not only be sincere. You must be right.” It matters not how sincere or spiritual one might be in the midst of the fire because sincerity and spirituality will not fend off the flames. O’ that we would love others enough to snatch them from the fire!
“to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” Finally, Jude demands that we display mercy to others with fear. The recipients of this mercy are nonbelievers. He is probably also specifically referring to those who have been completely swept away by the false teachers and maybe even the false teachers themselves. The Christian is never called to physically battle or contest against anyone; instead, we are to show mercy, even to those who have abandoned the faith. However, Jude also warns that we must hate the garment that is stained by the flesh. The stained garment is likely metaphorical of the immorality being enacted by these apostates. Thus, while we are to show mercy, we must take care to not be caught into sin along with them. Paul also gives a similar warning: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Just as we have been shown and eagerly await the mercies of God, so we must also give mercy to those around us.