Some prophets and apostles use powerful language. Take Jude. You stand amazed at such a passionate, thunderous denunciation of men “marked out” for “condemnation”. Apparently some bad fellows had quietly slipped into the church and had “given themselves over to sexual immorality”, “gone after strange flesh” and would suffer “the vengeance of eternal fire”. Jude pulls no punches. He calls them “dreamers” who “defile the flesh, reject authority and speak evil of dignitaries”. Just look at some of the labels Jude dishes out: “brute beasts” who “corrupt themselves”; “wind-driven waterless clouds”; “fruitless trees, twice dead, uprooted”; “raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame”; “wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever”, etc. Imagine a minister using this sort of language today! People in the pew would be indignant: That’s no way for a minister to speak! Tone down your language! We need to show love! We’re living in the time of grace!
Yet Jude’s powerful epistle is the Spirit-inspired Word of God. And that is something we may never forget. Indeed, Jude is using some of the terminology Peter used (2 Pet. 2). And if this sort of passionate terminology is verboten today it must mean that either Peter and Jude saw heretics and ungodly people infiltrate the church in a manner which has not repeated itself, in which case that which they said does not apply to the church today, or we have forgotten to be as absolute in our thoughts and speaking and therefore also in our condemnation of sin as they were. For that’s also possible: that the same heresy and ungodliness still raises its ugly head within the church, but that we have become much more relative and milder in our assessment and criticism of evil. [i]
Now, when you consider both those possibilities do not forget one thing. If it only applied to one particular form of ungodliness at that time, why did God retain this letter for His church of all ages? So let’s not say too quickly: these letters had relevance only to the situation at that time. For God Himself ensured that these words were directed to the entire church, also of later centuries, and therefore also to us today.
To quote Holwerda: “Have the ungodly improved significantly since the days of Peter and Jude so that we can be milder today in judgement of their sin? I fear that to be untrue. Rather, I’m afraid the opposite is true. Not the ungodly have improved; but the church, which had the words of Peter and Jude in her Bible, has deteriorated. She has fallen below the standard of the apostles and is no longer familiar with the clear antithesis of the first church, much less with her hard and laden words of judgement. It is time that we as church repent and rise again to the standard and therefore also the style and manner of Peter first and then Jude.”
In essence the men who had infiltrated the church said that Christ had liberated us, had set us free from all restrictions so that now we can really start to live. Grace, according to them, is satisfying the most elementary urges of life; capitulating and giving in to one’s desires without restrictions. Just like brute beasts, says Jude, who also give free play to their natural lusts. Eating, drinking, sexuality—without any norms. That is living, real living in Christian liberty, according to these imposters.
They changed God’s grace into a license for lewdness. They changed Christian liberty into an excuse to engage in animal-like lusts. Passionately, they preached the way of lawlessness and for that reason Jude says: raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame. Their teaching, and its results, leads to vileness and filthiness.
“Now I understand Jude’s passion and zeal, his laden tone of urgency, for in this whirlpool of so-called Christian liberty, the true freedom in Christ will inevitably drown and go under. Now I understand the words of the Apostle Peter: the dog is turned to his own vomit again and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”[ii] Who can speak genteel words when, in the church, the lifestyle of the world is tolerated?
Is the mentality and attitude of such imposters unknown to us? For example, how many are there who have interpreted the freedom which we have in Christ be gluttonous: excessively eating and drinking to their heart’s content. People who profess to know what a good life is all about. People who pursue a life with little work, big wages and a maximum of recreation and amusement. How many are there who have already exchanged the emphasis and value of work for that of amusement? They live for this life and have changed the freedom in Christ into something they desire; therefore, they shall fall from one diversion into another. Movies and cinema? Night clubs? Premarital sex? Of course, we only live once, don’t we?
And it all starts so sneakily. Remember, the men who promoted this sort of licentiousness had “crept in unnoticed” (vs 4).
The late Peter ‘t Hart, in a speech on the Epistle of Jude illustrates how the slide away from the faithful service of the Lord so easily creeps into our churches. Says Peter ‘t Hart:
“Who are these godless men that Jude speaks about? They’re not atheists, they say they believe in Jesus of course! They want to be members of the church of course. They come to church of course. They may even be active. And yet, they turn the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ into a license for immorality, lewdness, corrupt living, doing what pleases your sinful senses, and they are clever enough to find some smart answers like: Doesn’t the Bible say that you should use a little wine?
They are not born again; they are unholy, because in doctrine and in life they really deny Jesus Christ as the only sovereign Lord over their life and life-style. They go by what feels good to themselves. They are not ‘square’ like so many of these ‘fundamentalist’ church members: loosen up a bit, man: all this strict living is not what freedom is all about! Why should we have to come to church every Sunday; why can’t we enjoy a bit of God’s creation, travel around Australia and the world; you only live once, you know. If you don’t do it now, you will never do it. What if I visit places that are a bit iffy, what if I leer at someone from the other sex, and have a bit on the side; that won’t harm anyone. Why shouldn’t I join in when the world has so much to offer; there’s money to be made, but not if you want to stick strictly to your rules. What the taxman doesn’t know doesn’t harm him. What if I like my bottle, what’s wrong with that; who say says I haven’t got it under control? We are free to do what we want, and don’t let these elders spoil your fun. They have their opinions, we have ours. Or maybe it’s an elder who is saying it.
In word and deed, they twist the grace of God and deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the whole of their life. Certain men … their identity might be a bit difficult to pinpoint. Don’t try to look into their hearts, don’t try to discover if after all they might do some good to some church members, but have a hard look at how they live and what they say and how they sideline themselves from the true believers and from the real activities of the congregation. Their senses are dulled, their discretion is ruined, their rebellious nature is evident, they cannot be reached with appeals to the Word and to the Commandments of God. They are a law in themselves.
They ‘slipped in unawares’. As far as that goes, the church may not be to blame for their presence. But the church was warned that they would come, and when they came, the congregation did not recognise them. That is their weakness, that is their sin. They are allowing this to continue. Church discipline is not being applied, while the godless life of some of their members should have been more than obvious.
As far as these people themselves are concerned, be assured that God will deal with them. Look, their doom is sure.” [iii]
To be continued
[i] Prof. B Holwerda, on Jude vs 11, in Tot de Dag Aanlicht (Till the Day Dawns – a book of sermons), pp. 274-292, (translated)
[iii] Spoken to a Women’s League Day in 2007. The late Br Peter ‘t Hart was a mission worker amongst the Australian Aborigines for years, a teacher at the John Calvin School, an elder in the church and a fighter for the truth.