In his discourse on the last things, our Lord in answer to the three-fold question of the disciples about the destruction of the temple, the sign of His coming, and the end of the age, began by telling them to “Watch out for those who would mislead you.” We learn that deceivers,
namely false Christ’s and false prophets will be with us throughout the course of this present evil age till the Lord returns (Matthew 24).We can mark it that wherever the truth of the gospel is presented, Satan the father of lies and arch enemy of Christ and His people, will be doing his utmost to undermine that truth.
Satan is the supreme leader of the forces of evil. The words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower to the allied forces just prior to the invasion of Europe(D-Day) are worth noting. Concerning the enemy, Hitler’s evil Third Riche, Ike warned that they were “…well trained, well equipped, battle hardened, and savage fighters…” The same can be said of the devil and his evil cohorts
who are bent on destroying God’s world and God’s people. We would be fools not to take seriously the reality of this titanic spiritual battle that rages all around us. The apostle Paul spares no pains to present the facts of this cosmic fight
and calls us to arms (see Ephesians 6:10-17).
The Epistle of Jude is unique in that his ‘letter of instruction’ explodes with the why and how Christians must take this great spiritual battle seriously. Jude wrote to warn Christians concerning the dangers posed by deceivers who were
among them. Throughout his letter, Jude calls attention to the doctrine and life of these false professors of the faith. These warnings are followed by exhortations intended to affirm and bolster the people of God in their like precious faith.
After some further introductory comments, we shall go verse by verse through this important epistle and consider a sacred salutation, a compelling contention, riveting remembrances coupled with appalling apostasies, and a Biblical building plan.
When you read through the letter, have you stopped to wonder how people get caught in perverted versions of the gospel? Let me offer a few brief observations before we get into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of Jude’s letter of instruction.
Spiritual error occurs when there is a lack of adequate faith in the divine inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures. This is very prevalent in the times we live in and has made great inroads into the churches. Here we must look at a defining event from the halls of church history. We turn to the late 19th century “Downgrade Controversy.” Every doctrine of the historic Christian faith was challenged. The doctrines of Christianity were dismissed as old-fashioned, untrue, anti-intellectual, or in need of a ‘make over.’ We call it the Downgrade because everything concerning the tenets of historic Christianity was sliding fast downhill into a chasm of modernism. Christianity was being redefined to fit into a world view that made human reason the final authority as to what is truth.
This is where the great Reformed Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon fought his last battle for the truth of the gospel in the late 1800s. Spurgeon saw it and warned his fellow evangelicals yet few followed him in the defense of the ‘ancient paths’. It wasn’t long before the “law and the testimony’ was silenced and the “light of dawn” dissipated from many a denomination and seminary (Isaiah 8:20).
Spiritual error also occurs when there is no creedal test (confession of faith) to determine what we are to believe, how we are to conduct ourselves as Christians, and who should preach/teach in the churches. I for one fear churches that have no confession of faith – no outline of what they believe – no standard of ‘faith and order.’ With no such ‘doctrinal check’, it opens wide the door to allow the entrance of error.
Some ten years ago I relocated to another state and began the search for a new church home. One church I visited on several occasions called itself the “Blank Blank” Bible Church. Soon I learned it held to no confession of faith and had no official ‘faith and order.’ The pastor began with a Biblical topic and before long was lost in a forest of error. Now don’t go about saying the author believes that all non-denominational or independent Bible Churches are apostate if they have no written ‘faith and order’! There is much truth to the saying, let another’s shipwreck be your beacon. Take warning by the ill of others. There can be no need for your vessel to feel for the rock by itself when you see that another ship has struck upon it. I am always wary of those who say, “We have no creed but Christ”!
By and by the pastor was found teaching things contrary to the foundational truths of the historic Christian faith. If there was a doctrinal check perhaps he would have been called to task by the leadership and/or the more discerning members of the church. When Edward Irving (d.1834) began to teach things like the sinful nature of Christ’s flesh, the doctrinal standards of the Scottish Presbyterian church acted as a fence. Irving hopped over the fence and the alarm went off. Irving was brought before the Presbytery to question his unorthodox teaching and measures taken.
This particular pastor had abandoned some of the very foundational truths of Scripture – the resurrection in particular. He taught the resurrection was not physical but spiritual. Moreover that it had already occurred (just like Hymenaeus and Philetus in 2 Timothy 2:17-18!) He taught a different view about the return of Christ. It too already had happened! The Scriptures declare that “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven (Acts 1:11). “…then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory…” (Matthew 24:29-31). Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him…” (Revelation 1:7). Did this occur in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as he asserted?
He had deserted the belief in hell and eternal punishment for the catchy sounding belief known as conditional immortality. It teaches the annihilation of the wicked. When the unsaved die you cease to exist. What saith he Scriptures?
Where there is no creed – no doctrinal check - no confession of faith - truth dangles at it were at the edge of a cliff and in danger of falling into a deep chasm of darkness.
Ours is a day marked by relativism and pessimistic existentialism. As for the former, every tenet of the historic Christian faith – every foundational truth – is under attack. We are told there are no absolutes. There is no such thing as revelation, divine revelation to be exact. If there is then it is one of many revelations you can choose from if you care. Truth is only relative. In other words truth is whatever you think it is or want it to be. The truth of the Scriptures is either rejected, ignored, or replaced by inoffensive generalities. There is the use of the principles of flexibility and remolding, often using evangelical terms for unorthodox beliefs.
It is startling to learn that the Downgrade Controversy we mentioned began with the publication of a hymn book. The hymnal used these subtle principles to attack the very foundational truths of Christianity. For example, there was no clarity and no direct distinctiveness concerning the Divine nature of Christ, or His vicarious sacrifice, or His work as Mediator. The same was true concerning the Personality, office, and work of the Holy Spirit. It was worded just right so that it would cause no concern whether you loved the gospel or not. But words do matter!
Concerning the later, existentialism, it is a philosophy of human existence. It looks at the ‘essence’ of what makes us human. Feelings are made the basis or the standard of human truth. Man in the words of one of its earliest proponents is a "useless passion." Human life is meaningless. We live in a indifferent and impersonal universe. Fredrick Nietzsche who coined the phrase “God is dead” believed this time and the world is the only time and world. There is no God and life is meaningless. When there is no meaning then nothing matters.
The popular music group the Beatles were influenced by such a ungodly philosophy which is reflected in songs like Eleanor Rigby and Nowhere Man. He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody. Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me?
This “ism” creates its own morality and becomes defiant towards traditional conventions and authority. One writer in his treatment of existentialism points out what was happening in the 1960s when this philosophy began to spread its wings. There were those who wanted a world of nothing but love. The songs of the day abounded about love. All you need is love. The generation of no restraints wanted a world that included “free love” but without personal responsibility – same is true in our day. They wanted a world with no killing except of the unborn – same is true today. They wanted a world free of toxic substances except they used toxic substances on themselves (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pills) – same is true today.
These anti-Christian philosophies compete for our minds and affections. We must guard the truth by proclaiming it and living it – not hide it or compromise it. Otherwise we can fall into grave errors and the name of God will be blasphemed among all peoples.
Consider the Gnostics which threatened the foundations of Christianity in the mid second century. Knowledge for these people was the way of salvation. They claimed to have this ‘secret knowledge’ given by our Lord to his apostles. In turn the secret knowledge was given by the apostles to the Gnostics. Taking bits and pieces from pagan philosophies and religions, the Gnostics believed the physical (world, body) was evil. The body was the ‘prison house’ of the soul and the soul needed to be released from this bondage to evil. Only then can the soul find its rest in the “Divine One.” Salvation was only for the soul.
From an ethical standpoint, this view gave them license to sin in every size, shape, and form because what you did didn’t affect the soul. Sounds like one of the many ungodly philosophies that surround us today like Hedonism. Get all the gusto out of life now! If it feels good then do it! Man’s ultimate purpose for living is to be found in enjoying pleasure and avoiding pain. That is a tragic philosophy of life because sin only destroys happiness and life becomes an appetite that can never be satisfied.
Consider Jim Jones. On Nov.18, 1978 he and some 900 followers committed suicide in Guyana by drinking poison laced punch. Over 200 children were among the victims. Jones was a communist. In addition to studying the writings of Stalin he also read Hitler. Despite his background Jones became a student pastor in a mid western United Methodist church. Jones left because the church would not let African Americans into their fellowship. He was influenced by faith healing services at a Seventh Day Baptist church. He thought that healings which attracted many to the services would be a good way to finance his social agenda.
Jones believed social change could only come through Marxism and pushed for it in the context of religion. He eventually founded the People’s Temple. Over time Jones became involved with some cults while in Brazil. It wasn’t long before he called traditional Christianity a "fly away religion" which repressed women and blacks. He called God a "Sky God" and was critical of the Bible in his speeches and writings. It is alleged that the Jones vowed to destroy the Bible which he called a "paper idol."
Last thing I want to call attention to is the social gospel. Many mainline denominations who wear Christian labels have the social gospel as their creed. The social gospel is a direct result of the world view known as humanism. Three of the principle tenets of humanism are: 1) the natural world is the only world we can know and where everything that there is, is found in the here and now. There is nothing more. 2) Perception, intuition, and divine revelation must be tested by reason. The surest way to arrive at truth is rationally. 3) Mankind is the only source of morals and values. The highest of human achievements is to improve the lot of humanity.
The humanist says there is no real divine revelation. There is no supernatural. No miracles. All that stuff about God inspiring the Bible, the parting of the red sea, Elijah’s encounter with the prophets of Baal, the miracles of Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice, his bodily resurrection – its all a bunch of nice stories that were embellished or worse never really happened. We will see that the false teachers Jude calls attention to denied the second coming of our Lord. It is not going to happen they say.
But we humanists have no problem with the ethical teachings of Jesus. Who can disagree with such wonderful teachings? Buddha would have no problem nor would Mohammad with the Golden Rule. Nor do we humanists? The social gospel says the values and ethics of the New Testament are fine but the supernatural is a bunch of hooey. The social gospel puts man at the center and man on the throne. The social gospel is simply the undermining of the revelation of God about Himself, His authority, and His claims upon us as our Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge.
When the Bible is not the book we believe and obey we are on the high road to error both in belief and practice. Absolute truth and Divine authority does matter.