Jude, Jesus Christ’s servant but James’ brother, to the called ones, who have been loved by God the Father and are certainly kept for Jesus Christ. 2Let mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.
3Beloved, although making every effort to write to you concerning our common salvation, I have necessity to write to you, so exhorting you to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints 4because certain men have weaseled in, those who long ago had been marked out beforehand for this condemnation, ungodly ones, who are altering our God’s grace into sensuality and are denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.
Jude 1–4 (author’s translation)
When I go away on vacation, I usually end up watching shows about people buying homes that need work and then renovating them into something really nice. Whether it is for real or just a way to force some sort of plot into a program about fixing a house, oftentimes they unexpectedly find some kind of significant damage hidden in a wall or tucked away in the pipes. This development always means that they have to redirect budget and efforts away from what they had originally intended to renovate and into fixing what would be disastrous damage unless repaired.
As we turn to Jude 1–4, we see that concern about doctrine that leads to immorality already emerge even in this salutation and introduction. The main point is that the whole church must be committed to sound doctrine if we are to live in the way that befits those who belong to Christ.
These four verses set up a contrast among the people belonging to this church that drives the focus and concern of Jude’s whole letter. The problem that characterizes this contrast is that “certain men have weaseled in,” and Jude’s phrasing tells you about how much he thought of them. The contrast is then between, one the one hand “the called ones,” (v. 1), and on the other, “ungodly ones,” (v. 4).
Now, two questions arise from thinking about this problem of the ungodly ones: what role did they have in the congregation and what was the specific nature of their error? Most commentators think that these ungodly ones were false teachers, so, those promoting an error within the congregation. On the other hand, a few point that Jude never says that these heretics had any sort of ecclesiastical office.
Still, Jude did say in verse 12 that these heretics were like shepherds feeding themselves rather than the sheep. Although I think it is correct that these people were not official office bearers, I do think that they were promoting their teaching in this church. They seem to be new arrivals who had started trying to teach, maybe like rogue Sunday school teachers or something. They likely wanted to have office but had not obtained it yet. They were in this sense false teachers.
Further, it seems the problem was moral. Since the church’s early centuries, we have used the theological word “antinomian,” which means literally “against the law,” namely opposing the abiding validity, the remaining obligation, of God’s moral law. These interlopers in Jude’s church were antinomians.
As we unpack this letter, we will see that the main problem was one of authority. As the false teachers altered God’s grace and denied Christ’s mastery and lordship over his people, it did not seem that they had distorted Christology in the sense of denying Christ’s deity or true humanity. Rather, their perversion of the truth related to Christ’s authority. They claimed that God’s grace in Christ meant that they could live in any way that they wanted. God’s moral law no longer applied to people forgiven by Jesus.
Here is where we get this essay’s title. On the one hand, the ones who belong to Christ are called. The New Testament understanding of calling is effectual, namely that God summons unbelievers to faith so that their doubt is shattered and they embrace the truth. Because we are effectually called, we fully belong to Jesus, as Westminster Shorter Catechism 30 says that the Spirit applies redemption to us “by working faith in us, thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.”
Then there are those in the church who buck against Christ’s authority. These false teachers claimed to have new revelation and better insight into Christ’s grace, insight to know that we can live however we want. Likely, these false teachers did not attempt to teach against the true doctrine of Christ’s lordship but rather denied it practically. The contrast is between belongers and buckers, the called and the ungodly.
Since we are dealing with Jude’s address to the church, we must ask what causes this contrast. Jude was not concerned about the church as the called and the world as ungodly, but about how the ungodly were promoting false teaching in the church. So, if the church is not the community entirely pure from those who reject Christ, what is the cause of the divide between the called and the ungodly.
The answer is built into the labels themselves. God’s calling ultimately distinguishes those who belong to him from those who rebel against him. Nevertheless, God’s choice also stands behind those who remain under his wrath or apostatize from the covenant community. After all, Jude 4 says that “certain men have weaseled in, those who long ago had been marked out beforehand for this condemnation,” meaning God appointed these ungodly people for hell.
In an age when Western Society seems proud of its rejection of God, thinking itself more rationale than theistic cultures, Christians should find some comfort in this doctrine of reprobation. Unbelievers do not have the upper hand on God. People often think they can choose to put off coming to faith as if it is something that they can decide as they please. If you think that God is simply ready to have you whenever you might decide that you are ready to have him, you are mistaken. In eternity, God considered humanity fallen in Adam and chose some for salvation. The rest he appointed to damnation. Jude is very clear that God is the one who has chosen some for destruction.
God’s sovereignty in reprobation can make many uneasy. Jude’s purpose in drawing upon this hard doctrine, however, was precisely to make his readers uneasy. He did not want to leave these antinomians with any comfort as if God is waiting in heaven, wringing his hands in hopes that they might come to him. God’s choice both in calling and condemning is the cause of the contrast that Jude addressed.
When Jude addressed “the called ones,” he added that they are those “who have been loved by God the Father and are certainly kept for Jesus Christ.” So, to be called is to be loved by God. Calling then originates in God’s love. Nevertheless, some may think this is not all that specific if they do not understand the power of God’s electing love. So, Jude also adds that those who are called and loved by the Father are kept for Jesus Christ.
We must linger on this thought because this letter is fundamentally concerned about perseverance. Yet, even from the outset, Jude grounds his exhortations to persevere in the gospel reality that God keeps those whom he calls. He keeps them for Christ in that, as John’s Gospel repeatedly affirms, the Father has given the elect to the Son and no one can snatch them out of his hand. Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
These added descriptors, “loved” and “kept,” have significance that is subtle but very important. Although the labels of “called” and “ungodly” mark a difference in themselves, we see a more substantial but also less obvious contrast. For the called, being “loved” and “kept” are things which happen to someone. God performs these actions upon the called. On the other hand, for the ungodly, altering God’s grace into sensuality and denying Christ are actions that they do. The ungodly are the actors in these deeds. The difference between active and passive, between doing and receiving may be subtle, but it means everything.
You see, the difference between Gods’ people and the ungodly is not fundamentally that God’s people are better behaved. Rather, the difference is that God has set his love on them, changed them, and is preserving them in faith until Christ’s return. Christian identity is not in how good we are but in what God has done for us.
Sometimes people do not want to become Christians because they know it means a change in the way that they live. It is true that Christians are called to live differently from the world. But Christians are not defined by being different from the world. Rather, we are defined by being loved by God, and by how God in that love keeps us in faith and increasing holiness until the day that Christ returns for us.
Christian, you are God’s not because you are holier, not because you are smarter, nor because you are more willing to do the right thing, but because God has called you in love that he freely set upon you and because every day he preserves you in faith.
Commission in the Contrast
Nestled within this startling contrast is Jude’s primary exhortation: “Beloved, although making every effort to write to you concerning our common salvation, I have necessity to write to you, so exhorting you to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
There are three things to consider here. First, Jude has a common salvation with his readers, with all Christians. There are no degrees of being a Christian. Being a Christian is not like being hungry. You can be sort of hungry or very hungry. Being a Christian is more like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. So, these ungodly people who have abused grace to endorse immorality cannot appeal to something like “carnal Christians” who do not have a good handle on their sin, or a “second blessing” that makes Christians achieve the next level in faith. Salvation is common to all believers.
Second, there is an objective thing called “the faith” and it has been delivered to us. There is a body of doctrine, a set content of theology. The fact that it is delivered to us means that we cannot invent it. Our beliefs must be received from outside ourselves. They must be delivered, namely delivered to us in God’s Word. The church summarizes the Bible’s teaching in our confessions so that we can continually receive that which has been learned. Jude has no room for basing your faith on “what you know in your heart” or “what you feel has to be true,” since that very well could be something other than biblical faith. Christians go to Scripture, read in light of church history, and preach the tried-and-true gospel because the faith has been delivered and it does not change.
Lastly, because there is “the faith,” Christians are commissioned to contend for it. Distorted doctrine produces distorted morality. They are linked. So, we teach the truth and exhort in ethics hand-in-hand because they are connected. Jude went directly for the doctrine of predestination within the first four verses because theology matters and is a means to bring about a sincere faith, which shows itself in love.
The most fundamental truth for which we contend is the gospel. Christ died for the ungodly, so that we could know the forgiveness of sins. While we were the enemies of God, Christ died for us. But by faith, he has raised us to new life, so that we are no longer what we once were. Although we must be diligent to contend for the faith, we must not worry about our eternity. God has called us, because he has loved us, so he will keep us for the day of Christ.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
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