Jude now broadens his approach to the dilemma of false teaching that has crept into the church. Previously he had instructed the believers to keep themselves in the love of God by doing three things; 1) building themselves up in the most holy faith; 2) praying in the Holy Spirit and 3) waiting for the mercy of Christ. He was addressing those who are called, beloved, and kept, (vs 20). Now he transitions again to what you might classify as “others.” I use this term because I am not sure of a better one. Maybe to explain is that within the church you have the false teachers and true believers, but you would also have people that would fit into another category. Just because someone has sat underneath false teaching for years and has been led astray from these false teachings does not then mean that they can never be a true believer. Or that. We often think that conversations are what happens when a person who has never stood foot in a church, then becomes a member of the church. But the reality is that we can have people who have been baptized members of a church who become Christians. This happens in Presbyterian churches but also in Baptist churches as well. As we are told in Romans 10, faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17). I have heard stories of people serving in the church and finally they understood the gospel as they had never understood it before. Jude then does not want to merely place people into two categories he has this third category of ‘others’ and he gives us one way we should deal with them, through mercy, but how we show mercy to the ‘others’ is different.
I. Mercy on doubters
The first category of the ‘others’ is that there are some people who doubt. We must understand the bases of this mercy is not defined by what we want it to mean. This is why I do not like the term ‘others’ because it seems to place them far away from true believers, but Jude had told them that true believers are waiting for the mercy of Jesus Christ (vs 21). Therefore, we should be showing others mercy because we have been shown mercy. That we are children of wrath, dead to our sins, but it is because God is rich in mercy, and because of the great love which he has shown to us we are made alive in Christ (Eph 2:1-6). When we understand this truth that we are not special because we have done something, it is that because of God’s mercy and love we are made alive in Christ then what we do as Christians is show forth this mercy and love which has been given to us. Christians should be known for being the most loving, merciful, gracious, and kind. Because we have received all of this from God. I have pointed this out before, but sadly those who hold to the doctrines of grace can sometimes not show forth this grace in which they teach.
True believers should show mercy on those who have questions and doubts. I have come to a firm understanding that Christianity has questions that hard to be able to answer, or even difficult to understand, but at least we have some answers. We should never be afraid of questions. It is a part of human nature to ask questions, but of all the world views and religions I believe Christianity has the best answers to the toughest questions. That everybody should be able to answer these big questions such as where did we come from? Why are we here? Is there anything after this life? Because how you answer these questions affects how you live this life. Never be afraid to ask questions. Now, I might have the answers, but I know that the Bible has many answers we never think about, but even if we do not have all the answers, we have a God who knows even if we do not. Now, sometimes I find that people like to ask questions but in reality, they are not looking for answers they are looking for excuses. They are happy to live their life as they wish without seeking to find the correct answer. But we should show mercy to those who doubt.
II. Save others from the fire
The second category that Jude mentions is that we should save others from the fire. Now in Jude and throughout the bible, the fire is eternal judgment. Jude used this reference in verse seven when he refers to the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah who served as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. The image is quite a vivid one of someone in the or near the fire and we are to snatch them out of the fire. It is used of a wolf coming and snatching a sheep (John 10:12). Or when the religious leaders ought to be able to snatch Jesus away (John 6:15). To some we might need to sit down with them and as we show them mercy, we do so answering their questions that they have as they wrestle with doubt. While. On the other hand, we need to be very clear that this is what awaits you. There is more of a connection to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah than just the connection to the fire of punishment. If we remember the story of Sodom Gomorrah is more than just God’s wrath poured out but also God’s grace to save at least one believer, righteous Lot (2 Pet 2:7). We see in this story that God sends two angles to be able to rescue Lot and his family. Now we need to understand that six people are mentioned that are specially called out to be saved from this fire; Lot, his wife, his two daughters, and his sons-in-law.
“Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.” (Genesis 19:12–14)
His two sons-in-law do not heed his warning. But even though Lot we find out was slow to leave, the urgency of leaving the city was an important part of the warning given to Lot.
“As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.” (Genesis 19:15–16)
Lot was slow in leaving; He lingered. JC Ryle says, “He was slow when he should have been quick,—backward when he should have been forward,—trifling when he should have been hastening,—loitering when he should have been hurrying,—cold when he should have been hot. It is passing strange! It seems almost incredible! It appears too wonderful to be true! But the Spirit writes it down for our learning. And so it was.” But we see the mercy of God is greater than the stubbornness and sluggishness of Lot. What do the men do to Lot, they do not leave him to perish in his slowness. They seize him and his wife and daughters, and we are told this is because the Lord was merciful to him. When we think about showing mercy, we need to understand the urgency and the severity of the situation. We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
We must understand that wolves will try and snatch us away from Christ but in all of this, we see that we snatch people from the fire but no one can snatch Christ’s flock from his hand (John 10:28-29). Our role in all of this is not to play the role of God and edit the role of heaven, but we can warn people of the sin or false teaching that they might be following and explain what the Bible teaches of those who follow a false gospel which is not the good news. In the case of Jude, a graceless and Christ-less gospel, which has no good news within it.
III. Mercy with fear
The last category that Jude lists is that we would “show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” This is the most serious of the three categories, but also I believe we see can see the gospel in this passage as well. We will be with the great warning that we see in this passage. A part of showing mercy is not merely loving and accepting a person in their sin, but we can show mercy with fear. Now commentators can be divided over the interpretation of what it means “with fear” is it a fear of condemnation or a fear of God with reverence and awe? I think such divisions are often not helpful. When Isiah was confronted with the thrice holy God, his response was that of awe and reverence but also fear of his sin as he confesses, I am a man of unclean lips. And I am always interested in how this interpretation affects what we are to do, I guess the emphasis on how we show mercy might change but I think that both are appropriate. We are to hate the garment stained by the flesh. Now, this is a foreign concept to us, how can we show mercy by hating the garment stained by the flesh? Again, we need to be reminded that Jude is telling the church to contend for the faith. The condition this church is found in is that they are believing a false gospel, following, and listening to false teaching. They are departing from the faith that has been delivered to the saints. They are calling their perverted grace and it is licentiousness. Like the church in Corinth who were boasting of this false grace, they should be mourning.
“It is reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1–2)
When we truly understand the gospel, we understand that sin and rebellion is the reason why Christ hung upon the tree, if we downplay sin we downplay. What Christ has done for us. That we are saved not only from our past sins but also from sin. Paul continues,
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11–13)
We could spend more time on this topic, and I think it is important for us to understand the effect of the sin of one member of a church and the effect it has. As Paul mentions a little leaven placed in the dough makes the whole dough rise.
But how then is this section of Jude a reflection of the Gospel? The truth is that we all have garments stained by the flesh. No one is perfect. That this connects to another passage found in Zechariah 3,
“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebukes you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.” (Zechariah 3:1–5)
We see that the remedy for this is to be found in not denying the stained garments but having our garments removed and we are given Christ’s righteous robes. Satan will accuse us and often those accusations are true. Martin Luther would respond, “When Satan tells me I am a sinner he comforts me immeasurably since Christ died for sinners.” That there is hope for those whose garments are stained. Joshua was given clean and pure vestments. Or even a couple of pages over after Jude in Revelation chapter 3 (maybe even Sardis is the church Jude is writing to),
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:1–6)
That we see in all of these three categories the mercy of God is to be shown in different ways. We show the mercy of God that we wait for. In all of these, we look to Christ, the one who will present us blameless before God the Father. We never deny that there are sin-stained garments in the church but we cannot love them, we must get rid of them, either by the grace of the gospel or the truth of the condemnation that waits for those who do not look to Christ.