Pastor Scott Andrews | March 6, 2022
As many of you know, I am a big fan of John Piper. If you don’t know of him – he was the lead pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for over thirty years before retiring just a few years ago (2013). He continues to be in high demand, regularly speaking at national conferences, and is also a prolific author. He is also the founder of Desiring God Ministries with lots of biblical resources on their website – lots of articles and books. Included on that site is every sermon Piper ever preached at Bethlehem Baptist and beyond, from 1980 to the present. You can look up those sermons by Scripture reference, which I occasionally do. If, for example, there is a challenging text, I’ll go to the website to see how Piper dealt with it.
All that to say, I went to desiringgod.org to see what he had to say about the book of Jude. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but sermons on Jude 1-4, and 17-25. Incredibly, not a single sermon on Jude 5-16. Yes, I am publicly calling out John Piper – you big chicken.
We are in week seven of what has become an eight-week study of the book of Jude. Yes, eight weeks for 25 verses. I would point out, however, we did four weeks in those very difficult verses 5-16, apparently too difficult for John Piper. And we will end up doing four sermons on verses 1-4 and 17-25. In other words, four sermons for 13 verses, and four sermons for 12 verses – fairly balanced.
But, having preached through those difficult verses, I for one, and I suppose most of you, are glad to be out of 5-16. You’ll remember in verses 3-4 Jude said he wanted to write about our common salvation – who knows, he could have written II Romans – but circumstances prevented him from doing so. Namely, false believers who we found also to be false teachers/shepherds had crept into the church, living ungodly lives and apparently spreading ungodly teaching to support those wicked lifestyles. So, Jude took those guys to task in verses 5-16. We noted that he was not writing to them, but about them – and he didn’t have many – actually, any good things to say about these guys. You can go back and listen to those four sermons – but I suspect they won’t be the most listened to sermons of my preaching career.
But finally, we get to verses 17-23 today. Having called out these false believers in every way imaginable – he finally turns his attention back to his readers. We read the first three words of verse 17, But you, beloved… And we take a deep breath. In fact, you should know the word you is in the emphatic – it appears first in the sentence. Let’s read the text, remembering Jude is writing to us, in a sense, encouraging us how to contend for the faith. Read 17-23.
What a great text, with lots of encouraging but challenging truth. Never more needed than in our culture today. Here’s the outline:
- The Prophecy of the Apostles (17-19)
- The Encouragement to Believers (20-21)
- The Encouragement About Believers (22-23)
We remember in verses 14-16, Jude recorded a prophecy found in I Enoch, then applied it to these false believers/teachers. Now, he reminds his readers of a prophecy – words spoken beforehand by the apostles regarding these false believers in verses 17-19, and applies it to them.
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, some read that and want to suggest these apostles were dead and gone, suggesting that Jude, the brother of James, didn’t actually write the book – that it was written sometime later – perhaps as late as the second century. But that is begging a lot – Jude is simply saying, the apostles all spoke about the coming of these false teachers – you heard it. There’s no indication they’re dead and gone – Jude is simply saying – you heard them say this. Which tells us, the readers were actually contemporaries of the apostles, so it couldn’t be the second century.
Anyway, the apostles, most agree, consisted of the Twelve plus the Apostle Paul. And a cursory reading of NT books reveals that the apostles did regularly speak and warn of false teachers – wolves in sheep’s clothing – rising among them. 22 of 27 books in the NT warn of false teachers. Some were quoting Jesus who said the same thing:
In Matthew 7 – “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit….”
Paul said in Acts 20 – “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”
John said in I John 4 – “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Peter said in II Peter 2 – “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
Sounds just like Jude. In fact, II Peter 3 says the same thing Jude says, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts.…”
The point is, the apostles did regularly talk about false prophets and teachers arising – many coming from and right into the church – with destructive teachings – and notice Peter said by doing so, they were bringing swift destruction upon themselves. So this is not new – it had been promised from the earliest days of the church by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And what does Jude say the apostles said? “In the last time (that’s an interesting phrase – it’s usually in the last days – but it means the same thing. Remember, the last days or last time extended from the time of Jesus until His return) In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” Ungodly is a word Jude uses many times in this short letter to describe the words and actions of these false believers. The word mockers speaks of those denying the truth of Christ and His gospel – and the holiness required of God’s people. They mock. They scoff, they dismiss it. Did God really say? Is that what it really means? Why? So they can follow their own ungodly lusts – their own sinful desires. You see, in order to live in licentiousness, you must deny what the Lord, His apostles and the Scriptures say.
Don’t miss that. They can give – or you may give – all kinds of justifications for sinful behaviors – but in the end, they are mocking God’s word so they can live in their ungodliness, following their own sinful lusts. Sexual pleasures. You would be amazed at the stories I’ve heard – well, actually, you’ve probably heard them too. This is why we are involved sexually. This is why I’m leaving my spouse for someone else. This is why I act this way – it’s the way God made me, and He wants me to be happy, right? Not primarily. He wants you to be holy, which leads to true joy. In the end, all ungodly lusts lead to destruction.
In verse 19, apparently because he hadn’t said enough about these guys, Jude says these are the ones who cause divisions, are worldly-minded, and are devoid of the Spirit. Notice, again, Jude’s love of triads – he says three more things about them:
First, they cause divisions. We talked about that last week, so I won’t belabor the point. But, remember, spiritual maturity based on a commitment to Christ, His word, and His people produce godly unity, not divisions. Beware of any teaching that polarizes believers – that causes disunity rather than unity. You say, wait a minute – there are lots of beliefs that believers disagree on. True – we can agree to disagree on certain interpretations, but it need not divide us. We can and should agree on the core, orthodox teachings of the Christian faith. Further, any teaching that denies that the truth of Scripture and thereby divides is what Jude is talking about.
Second, they are worldly-minded. This is an interesting word – it only appears a few times in the New Testament. One is in James 3:14-15, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart [stop right there – that sounds like divisive, arrogant, self-centered people that Jude is talking about] if you have jealousy and selfish ambition, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above [that is, from God], but is earthy, natural [there’s the word], demonic.” To be worldly-minded is to have a natural mind, one controlled by natural sinful appetites. It is not a spiritual mind.
We see the word again in I Corinthians 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him…” Why? Because he is a natural man. It speaks of being worldly-minded – so focused on things of this world that there is no thought or even understanding of the things of God. You do understand, the things of this world, the things of the natural, sinful person stand in direct opposition to God.
Third in the triad makes this clear – they are divisive, worldly, and devoid of the Spirit. That is a significant charge – an indictment. Paul tells us over and over that everyone who is a child of God – truly saved – has the Spirit of God. For example, in I Corinthians 12, only those who have the Spirit of God can say Jesus is Lord. It’s more than just saying the words – it’s living the truth of the words – that Jesus is the Lord of your life. You can’t do that apart from the Spirit.
Paul says, further, that anyone who does not have the Spirit does not belong to God – he or she is not a Christian. So for Jude to say, these certain men are devoid of the Spirit, he making a clear declaration that these men were not Christians – not believers. It’s not that they were just confused about some things – no – to live licentious lifestyles and encourage others to do the same is to demonstrate you clearly do not know Jesus – He is not the Lord of your life.
But you, beloved – bringing us to our second point – The Encouragement to Believers – that’s not who you are. You’re not divisive, not worldly, and not devoid of the Spirit. Verses 20-21 tell us, rather, what to do regarding our own walk with the Lord – our commitment to Him as Lord of our lives, and seeing that relationship maintained – more, even grow.
Verses 20-21 go together – and the main verb, which is a command, is found in verse 21 – keep yourselves in the love of God. This is a battle – stay faithful. This command is supported by three participles – three “ing” words that carry imperatival force. So the main command is to keep ourselves in the love of God, but we do that by building, praying, and waiting. Let’s look at each of those, starting with this, keep yourselves in the love of God.
That’s confusing at first glance. Verse 1 told us we are the called, beloved by God, and kept for Jesus. Clearly, those were divine actions – in other words, these are not things we do, but things God does – He calls us, loves us, keeps us. Further, we’ll see when we get to that glorious doxology, Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory with great joy. So here’s the difficulty: which is it – does God keep us, or do we keep ourselves in His love?
The answer is yes. Many point out this is a perfect example of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Yes, ultimately, God is the One who called, and having called us, will keep us. He is able to keep us from stumbling. He who began the good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ. Our ultimate salvation is secure.
But that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility. The NT is filled with commands to persevere. To continue to follow Christ. To not give up. To keep ourselves in the love of God. We don’t just let go and let God – no, we hold on. But the good news is twofold: first, the very fact that we persevere and pursue Christ is evidence that we have been born again. That we truly belong to Christ. And second, the ability to pursue Christ is because we are not devoid of the Spirit – we have the Spirit in us to pursue sanctification. We remember the words of Paul in Philippians 2:13, that it is God who is at work in us both to will and work for His good pleasure. So, who gives us the will to work according to His good pleasure and purposes? God. Who does the work? We do – empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The work of sanctification – that is, growing in Christlikeness – is defined as the work of the Holy Spirit within us with which we cooperate. It is ultimately God’s work, but we work, enabled by God’s power. God’s action is always decisive – what He determines He will do. Our action is always dependent – dependent on God to do what He both willed and promised.
Now, there’s a lot of discussion about keeping ourselves in the love of God – is this God’s love for us or our love for God? It seems clear throughout Scripture that God’s love for His people never changes – that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. But, our love for God…keep us in the love or loving God – well, that requires God’s work in us, and our submitting to that work. Either way, the truth is, God does the work – He loves us and we love Him – because of His work. We love Him because He first loved us. So, what are some ways we can be involved in keeping ourselves in the love of God? Three ways:
First, building yourselves up on your most holy faith. If we’re not careful, we can just glide over that command, but it is loaded with truth. Notice the word, building. The Scripture often refers to the church of Jesus Christ – this fellowship of believers – as a building. Lots of verses we could go to, but consider I Peter 2:5, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter then goes on to talk about Jesus being the precious cornerstone. Ephesians is full of this truth. We remember the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, “Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
The point is, we together are a building and building in which the Spirit dwells. Notice the plurality that is used everywhere – we together are living stones, together being built into a dwelling place for God. Build yourselves – plural – up on your most holy faith. We are far too individualized in Western culture – it’s Jesus and me. We need each other to make a building. A single stone is not much of a building (contractor). We build ourselves up together – we are a body together. We speak of edifying one another – and remember, even that word speaks of a building – an edifice, you see. No one is expected to build himself or herself up by himself or herself. Yes, pursue a personal relationship with Christ – but that is best done in community.
So, we build ourselves up together – in what? The faith – this faith that was once delivered – once for all handed down to us. We don’t look for something different or new or progressive that leaves Christ and the gospel. Listen, this so-called new or emergent or now progressive faith that questions the orthodox truths of the Christian faith held for two millenniums is to be rejected. As Alisa Childers says – it is not even the gospel, it is another gospel. People all over are deconstructing or reconstructing their faith. And seeking you join them. No, we build on the faith we already have. And notice also, it is the most holy faith. That’s a dig at these men who were seeking to introduce ungodliness, unholy beliefs and behaviors. No – we cling to the faith handed down to us and grow together into a holy temple. It’s not legalism – it’s sanctification.
Next participle – we are praying in the Holy Spirit. Some suggest this may be a charismatic expression of praying in tongues. Might be – but not all of us have that gift, and it would seem odd he is encouraging believers to exercise a gift they don’t have. More likely, it refers to praying subject or submissive to the Holy Spirit, such that He is the moving and guiding power. That means we are aware that He moves us to pray, enables us to pray, and empowers our prayers. It is a submission to His total sovereign and good care of our lives – even when we pray. We pray by His power and in His will and for His purposes.
Perhaps I was too hard on John Piper at the beginning, so let me quote him from his sermon on this text. We focus on prayer because “…prayer is the breath of the Christian life and because almost nothing decays so fast in the fallen human heart as the desire to pray. In other words, nothing is more vital than prayer in Christian existence, and few things are more vulnerable to neglect.” My brothers and sisters, pray in the Holy Spirit.
And all the while, thirdly, we are waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Jesus Christ to eternal life. Please notice something: God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all mentioned. All three are involved in your perseverance. Notice also, faith, hope (that is waiting) and love are mentioned. So we need the love of the Father, the hope for the mercy of Jesus Christ at His return, and the empowered prayer of the Holy Spirit to build our faith.
We long for the mercy of our Lord, bringing us to eternal life. We’ve seen this over and over – one way to persevere is to not be distracted by the things of this world. To not be worldly-minded, naturally-minded, but to be spiritually-minded, recognizing this : here is not the end for which we wait. We wait for the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. What a glorious way to make it through to the end. He will keep us as we stay focused on the Eastern sky – and joyfully, hopefully wait.
Finally, our last point is The Encouragement about or concerning Believers who are vulnerable. In point one, we are aware of false believers who may be in our midst. In point two, we focus on ourselves, collectively, to keep ourselves in the love of God by building on our holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and waiting on eternal life at the return of Christ.
But, what happens if there are those among us who get sidetracked, distracted, or even stumble at the teaching of false teachers? After all, it is all around us. What happens if we find believers right here who are deceived by so-called progressive Christianity, by those encouraging them to live in sin, or to deny or question the orthodox and faithful truths of the Christian faith? Do we just ignore it – to each his own?
No – it is a matter of life and death – eternal life and death. So Jude identifies two or three groups of people – there’s some discussion about that – but believers in the church who have been adversely affected by false teaching. By false believers who have infiltrated the church with another gospel – where sin is no longer sin, the death and resurrection of Christ is no longer necessary, where living a holy life is no longer required. Call it the liberal church, the emergent church or progressive Christianity – the result is the same – the loss of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
And so, I address those of you who are wandering and wondering. Who have maybe thought conservative, faithful, biblical Christianity may have it wrong. Who are wavering, feeling the enticements of sin and so-called freedom that leads only to enslavement and destruction. I am talking to you, pleading with you now. Three groups:
First, verse 22, there may be those who are doubting. Oh, you made a profession of faith, and it was real, or so it seemed. You grew up in church hearing the old, old story – the truth about Jesus and His gospel. But now, in school or in the workplace, among friends, and now even in the so-called church, you are hearing the naysayers. More, those who are deconstructing their faith – fleeing to freedom. Deconstruction has another word – it’s called apostasy. It’s turning from the faith and denying its truth. All done so people can live how they want – in licentiousness, following their own ungodly lusts. And the ramifications are eternal.
On these, Jude says, have mercy. Remember, we are waiting for the undeserved mercy of Christ on us when He returns. Mercy – not giving us what we deserve, but in grace giving us what don’t deserve. So on these who are doubting, struggling, wondering, wandering, have mercy. Demonstrate the love of Christ, call them back, do not condemn nor be overly judgmental. Love and grant mercy.
But, verse 23, others need a stronger response. I always read this verse and see us grabbing some by the shoulders and shaking them, saying wake up. These are those who are not just doubting, but perhaps embracing the lies of the enemy. They are not the enemy – remember, these are possibly true believers. But they are struggling. Buying into the enticements of false teaching, being drawn back to their sinful lusts. For them, we snatch them from the fire.
To what does that refer? The fires of hell, the fires of judgment, per I Corinthians 3? So that all they have done in this life will be burned by fire? In the end, the possibility of apostasy exists. Perhaps they were not true believers but simply professing without possessing eternal life. The point is, we are to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We are to hold one another accountable, loving and snatching from the fire when and where necessary. John Calvin said it this way: “When there is a danger of fire, we hesitate not to snatch away violently whom we desire to save; for it would not be enough to beckon with the finder, or kindly to stretch forth the hand.”
Finally, whether doubting or dabbling in sin, as we show mercy, we do so with fear. That is, we recognize the power of sin, and do what we do, showing mercy, snatching from the fire – all the while hating even the garment polluted by the flesh – that is, the sinful flesh. We recognize we must show mercy, but not be sucked in ourselves – we are fearful of sin and the evil one and the power which seeks to cause us to stumble. Yes – we will get to verse 24, Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling. But, we don’t take sin lightly – we abhor it, knowing of its expressed design to kill us. As Luther said, be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.
I’m done – but listen. We live in a culture that is increasingly antinomian – dismissing holiness as legalism. People think they can live however they want – question whatever they want – even dismiss what they don’t like. But hey, they are okay, because the prayed a prayer. Do not be deceived. For some of you, I want to snatch you from the fire. God, please have mercy on their souls.