Remaining in God while living in the midst of the ungodly
The Epistle of Jude, written nearly two millennia ago, highlights a problem that the Church has encountered since its inception and will continue to encounter until the coming of the Lord. For this reason, it may seem like Jude wrote with incredible foresight. In actuality, the problem he describes, and the solution he offers, are simply relevant to every era of man. And while other letters in the new testament were directed to an audience comprised of a specific church or localized group of believers of that epoch, Jude’s audience is not confined to a time, a heritage or a geographic location.
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, to those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.
Jude then begins his warning. What follows in the next fourteen verses is a description of the ungodliness among us, the Church. Yes, Jude makes it clear that the ungodly people he describes are “certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago [and who] have secretly slipped in among you” [v. 4]. This is a view of sin infesting the Church, a disease seeking to spread to those who do not keep watch. Though it may seem like a harsh comparison, Jude likens the ungodly within the Church to the fallen angels, the demons whose aim is to lead us to destruction [v. 6]. This highlights the seriousness of this evil, which is not to be taken lightly.
Jude then speaks of the destruction awaiting those who do not truly believe in God. He recalls biblical examples of destruction brought about by evil living, such as Sodom and Gomorrah [v. 7]. He lists the fatal errors of the ungodly, namely the defiling of the body [v. 7-8] and attempting to exercise the judgement that belongs only to God [v. 9]. The picture he paints is one of people without foundation or direction, having a sole focus on self and no hope to emerge from the darkness in which they are destined to remain eternally.
These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
As Solomon wrote, there is nothing new under the sun [Ecc. 1:9]. This condition within the Church is not new today; neither was it new in the days of Jude. In fact, a prophecy regarding the ungodly and their fate was told as early as within seven generations of Adam.
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
But to what end does Jude go through this dissertation? If this is a warning, what is the warning? If he is teaching us how to identify the ungodly among us, there must be a reason. That reason echos the words of Jesus himself when he told us to be vigilant to recognize the ravenous wolves that camouflage themselves among the sheep [Matt. 7:15]. The metaphor is one of the predator and its prey. Like the fallen angels who are doomed to darkness, followers of the great deceiver who also seeks to devour us [1 Pet. 5:8], the ungodly within the Church also seek to lead God’s children astray toward destruction.
Thus, Jude’s impetus for writing this letter is the preservation of the Church. He works toward this aim through practical instruction on the manner in which we are to remain inside the love of God and outside the clutches of the wolves. The last nine verses of Jude’s epistle provide a roadmap to help us navigate through the traps that will be set before us as long as there are wolves roaming among the sheep. But this is not merely instruction; it is also encouragement.
Jude begins the second section of his letter by reminding his audience that these times and this issue were foretold by the apostles [v. 17]. This should be no surprise for us. While this condition is no doubt disheartening for the true believer, it is by no means a novel revelation. While the Church remains awaiting the return of Christ, it must watch for those who wish to interfere with its work and purpose. “In the last times, there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires” [v. 18]. These are the times in which the Church now resides.
The ungodly here are given three distinct characteristics [v. 18]. Firstly, they cause division. This should be expected as God calls the Church to oneness, to unity. If our enemies can divide us, they can dilute our power. If unity is required for the Church to operate as God intended, to fulfill his calling upon it, then division keeps that calling from being realized.
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Secondly, they follow their natural instincts. This is no reference to our instincts to forage for food and find shelter. This is a distinction between the natural and the spiritual. What is natural for fallen man is to behave in accordance with his sinful nature. “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” [Pro. 14:12]. This way seems right to those who are blind and have not had their eyes opened by the Lord [1 Cor. 4:4]. They do not walk according to the spirit, and this is because of the last characteristic.
Thirdly, they do not have the Holy Spirit. This makes them no different than the world. They live according to the flesh because they do not carry God’s spirit. And by their fruit we will know them. If they do not understand this now, there will come a day when it will be revealed to them. The Father knows his own and cannot be deceived.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
By God’s grace, we have instruction on how to overcome the wolves in our midst by living in a godly manner. Jude directs us to build ourselves and pray in the Holy Spirit [v. 20]. This is a call to encourage ourselves and encourage others, building the Church in both of those ways. His instruction to pray in the Holy Spirit means to allow God to lead our prayers instead of allowing our flesh or our minds to direct them. We have two communions here. We are to commune with each other, the greater Church, and with God in prayer. This spiritual maintenance of our critical relationships, with God and with our Christian brothers and sisters, is key to living rightly among evildoers.
Jude then instructs us to keep ourselves in God’s love as we wait for Christ’s return [v. 21]. To remain in God’s love is to keep his commandments [John 15:9-10]. And how does this help us? It causes the joy of Jesus Christ to be in us and causes our joy to be complete [John 15:10]. Additionally, we are to be merciful to those who are overcome with doubt [v. 22]. That mercy is to be mixed with fear, which is a healthy cautious understanding of the power of deception and temptation [v. 23]. In God’s power, we are to be merciful to those who have lost their way while also being mindful to keep the distance required to avoid being led astray ourselves.
There is, however, some great encouragement in the midst of these warnings. Jude instructs us to snatch some from the fire that awaits them [v. 23]. While some may veer from the narrow path, God equips us and allows us to intervene and help bring them back into the fold. This is a glorious privilege and a rather empowering instruction. We should anticipate the opportunity for God to work through us to call back his lost sheep. That He would allow us to have a hand in adding in number to his kingdom speaks of God’s true desire not only to work for us but also to work with us.
The book of Jude is one of warning, but it contains a silver lining. God does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves as the wolves roam around us. He provides instruction on how to keep his Church united and keep ourselves abiding in him. In his joy and under his protection, we can be merciful to those who have been deceived while avoiding deception ourselves. Not only that, God invites us to help rescue those who have strayed from his path, sharing in this miraculous work. Be encouraged that God makes a way for us to live in peace and power while the wolves surround us, even allowing us to rescue some from the grip of deception and destruction.