The first time William tried to kill himself was a complete failure. He walked out onto the docks and intended to throw himself down and drown himself, but he lost his courage. William had been forced into a career of practicing law which he had no desire for and the next day he would face a public examination for a position as Clerk in the House of Lords, and he could not bear it. He went home and attempted to sleep, but awoke in a fit of self-loathing and attempted to stab himself in the chest with a pen knife—but the blade broke. He then attempted to hang himself from his bed frame—but the frame broke. Finally he was able to hang himself successfully from his door frame till he lost consciousness—then the rope broke. As he collapsed onto the ground, he entered into a convulsion of self-hatred and despair he did not know was possible.
William was admitted into an asylum shortly after by his father where the presiding doctor charged with caring for him was a Christian and shared the gospel with William and gave him a Bible to read. One day, while reading the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and then Romans 3:25, William was born again. Here is what he wrote in his journal: “Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel…my eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport; I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder.”
The conversion of the great hymn writer and poet, William Cowper, is one of my favorites. He was soon befriended by John Newton, and together they wrote some of the church’s most beloved hymns we still sing today, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, There Is a Fountain, etc. And yet, William’s life was not filled with sunshine. It would be nice if after he was converted his problems with depression and doubt went away, but he struggled with them for his entire life and twice more attempted (unsuccessfully) suicide. What should we think of a Christian who continues to struggle with doubt?
Today, we are going to continue our sermon series on dealing with doubt by looking at the small book of Jude where the church has been under attacks from false teachers which have left some in the church uncertain about their faith. As we read this short letter, let’s draw our attention to the danger of false teaching and the response the church must have.
1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
The message of Jude could be summarized as this: We must contend for the faith against false teaching for one another with mercy and fear.
Contending for the Faith
Jude opens his short letter with a call to contend, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” (Jude 3).
“Faith” here doesn’t refer to the capacity to believe, but the content of belief—the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude has in mind the body of Christian teaching that faithfully preserves the gospel. And notice that this command is given to the whole church. So, the members of Jude’s church are being exhorted to work hard to defend Christian truth—this isn’t just a matter for pastors or theologians or professors, but regular church members. So, as we apply this to ourselves today that means that God is summoning you, Quinault Baptist Church, to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Against False Teaching
Jude demonstrates the need to contend for the faith immediately in verse 4, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ,” (Jude 4). Certain people have infiltrated the church surreptitiously, like burglars creeping into a home at night, but rather than stealing the family jewelry they poison the food in the pantry. They want to warp and malign the grace of God into sensuality—they want to lead the Christians to see that the free grace of God is actually a license to indulge the cravings of their sinful flesh. And in so doing they deny Jesus Christ, the one Lord and Master.
This is what Jude spends the majority of his time addressing in this letter. In one of Jude’s more evocative verses he paints this word picture in our mind: “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever,” (Jude 12-13).
Months ago, I was out on a boat in the ocean with my father, fishing in some kelp beds for rock fish. The sea was remarkably smooth, so when it came time for us to leave, we were able to open the motor up all the way and move along at a good speed, making a beeline back for marina. But, after a few minutes of driving an alarm started to go off that the motor was overheating. A piece of kelp had been sucked up into water intake and water couldn’t cool the engine down, so we stopped and raised the motor to clear the blockage. But almost as soon as we stopped and let the tide push us off our course a bit, we noticed what we couldn’t see while flying along: just a few feet away from us, right where we would have been driving, there was a rock hidden by the water. Normally the waves would have pulled the water back so we would have seen it, but had we kept driving at full speed, it would have ripped the bottom half of our boat off. There were only a few inches of water, a thin veneer of safety, that covered the deadly peril we were blind to.
This is what Jude warns us of. Jude’s images here convey the hidden, deceptive nature of false teaching: a waterless cloud may look like it contains rain; greedy shepherds may appear to care for the sheep; a tree may look like it has fruit, until one gets closer and sees that the branches are barren, dry, and dead. A thin veneer of what looks like life that hide a deadly peril.
Therefore we must contend for the faith—we must know the faith well enough that we can recognize false teaching and respond to it. The fruit of false teaching left unchecked leads to destruction. Be wary of a kind of tolerance that denies that we should be careful with our theology. It may be tempting for us to assume that if someone is sincere in their belief—even if it is a belief we disagree with—that their sincerity alone makes their belief permissible. Who are we to say that someone else is wrong? They don’t seem like their harming anybody. But that’s the whole point of Jude’s letter—they are hidden reefs. A wolf in sheep’s clothing doesn’t immediately look like a wolf, but let’s not wait till it begins to devour sheep before we call it what it is. So we must contend for the faith against false teaching.
For One Another
You may have noticed that the letter of Jude has a fairly bleak evaluation of the spiritual outcome of the false teachers, which may lead us to wonder: well, then what’s the point of contending for the faith? It doesn’t seem like we are going to change their mind. Maybe. Maybe not. But Jude turns our attention to a different primary audience to consider when thinking of contending for the faith—one another.
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life,” (Jude 20-21).
The main command here in this verse is “keep yourselves in the love of God.” How do we do that? Well, first remember that the book of Jude opens with this reminder: “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ,” (Jude 1), and closes with this, “Now to him who is able to keep you…” (Jude 24). Keeping ourselves in the love of God is similar to how my son keeps his hand in mine when we cross the street. I tell my son to hold onto my hand, but I am really the one holding onto him. So we keep ourselves in the love of God as those who are already kept by Him. Second, I think this verse means basically the same thing that Jesus meant when He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” (John 14:15) and, “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” (John 15:9-10). True love of God manifests itself in a life that desires to obey God.
But here Jude gives us three specific ways we can keep ourselves in the love of God: (1) building yourselves up in your most holy faith, (2) praying in the Holy Spirit, and (3) waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Waiting for the mercy of Jesus simply refers to the particular mercy of His second coming. Praying in the Holy Spirit is the ordinary prayer of a Christian (in contrast to the false teachers who are “devoid of the Spirit” vs. 19). Building yourselves up in the faith is a construction metaphor for the holistic call to grow as a Christian. And it is that command that maybe helps illustrate more than the others what Jude has in mind for his church. If you want to build a building you need many different building materials all together. And if you want to build your faith you need many other Christians in your life. Peter tells us, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house,” (1 Pet 2:5) and Paul similarly says, “In [Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit,” (Eph 2:22).
All of the commands given here in Jude are plural, addressed to the whole church—not to individuals pursuing them individually. Sometimes it can be tempting to approach your growth as a Christian the way you approach going to the gym to exercise. You go there with the intent of focusing entirely on yourself: how can I became stronger, thinner, more healthy. Maybe you even put in headphones so you don’t have to interact with other people.
Is that what Christianity is like? No, Christianity is a team sport. Could you imagine a professional athlete showing up at practice with his headphones in, intent on only focusing on his own skills and refusing to play with the team? It wouldn’t matter how strong or fast or talented that athlete was—if he couldn’t play with the team, he can’t play the game well. And friend, unless you are linking arms with other Christians as you pray, and wait, and build one another up in the faith, you have fundamentally misunderstood what our faith is. This is why our church practices church membership—membership is a way for us to formally link arms together and commit to one another, make ourselves accountable to one another. It is, in fact, one of the best ways we can contend for the faith for one another, it is a way we try to fulfill what Ephesians tells us:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Eph 4:11-16
The church is inoculated to false teaching through the ministry of speaking the truth in love to one another. I need your words of truth to keep me from being deceived by the winds and waves of doctrine. The church is the petri dish in which faith grows, but it is also the fortress in which it is protected.
With Mercy and Fear
“And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh,” (Jude 22-23).
We must contend for the faith against false teaching for the sake of one another—we must do it, because false teaching destroys and deceives and God has placed us into a body together where we must help one another. But what happens when false teaching has crept in and it has begun to take hold in the hearts of the members? How should we respond? With mercy and fear.
Jude doesn’t say, Shame those who doubt, but have mercy on those who doubt. Which only seems surprising if you believe that you don’t need mercy. How has God shown you mercy?
– Before the foundations of the earth were laid, he set His love on you, for mercy.
– He made you and brought you into an incredible world full of wonders.
– He did not immediately send you to hell when you rebelled against Him.
– He did not remain aloof and distant in heaven, but came down to earth and became a man.
– He lived the law-abiding life that you and I should have lived yet went to the cross and died the death you and I deserved to die. He stood before the heavenly Father with our rap sheet pinned to His chest and was incinerated by the full and complete wrath of God that our sins deserved, the ocean of hell’s fury swallowed by one man…all for mercy.
– He came to you while your heart was dead to Him and being rich in mercy opened your eyes and made you alive so that you could see His free and full offer of mercy in Christ and receive Him as your Savior. He saves you and declares you righteous, not because of any good works you have done but simply because He is so full of mercy He will take your mere faith in Him and sweep you up into salvation.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” – Eph 2:4-5
So, a Christian is one who has received galaxies of mercy poured out upon them. We were spared, saved, and now have heaven to look forward to…all for mercy. And, so, when we encounter a brother or sister who struggles with doubt, who has had their faith rocked by false teaching, or is simply uncertain about whether or not the gospel is true for them, we extend to them a dim reflection of the blazing sun of mercy we have had shone on us.
Practically speaking, this means…
– We shouldn’t be surprised when doubts arise in the church and we shouldn’t freak out. The truth of Christianity is not dependent on the strength of our faith, like fairies in Peter Pan who can only exist so long as people continue to believe they exist. We are still sinners with imperfect minds living in a world of sin with Satan and his demons actively seeking to undermine the truth. But Christianity is not a brittle, fragile house of cards that is going to topple because of a YouTube video claiming that the Bible is wrong. No, it is an enduring, indomitable, and invincible rock which our God has laid and it has weathered storm after storm, assault after assault, and it will continue to withstand any and all questions and doubts. So we shouldn’t be scared or intimidated that we are going to encounter a question that pops the bubble, but should invite questions and have truth ready to share.
– We should be good listeners. If being merciful means anything, it means that we care about people, so we should ask questions and listen. Showing mercy to those who doubt means we treat doubters like people, not arguments. Often, as we listen we may learn that there is more going on in the heart of our brothers and sisters than a mere intellectual dilemma and therefore needs more than a cold answer.
– We should be patient. When Thomas swore that he would never believe that Jesus had risen from the dead unless he touched His wounds, an entire week goes by before Jesus appears to him and Thomas believes. What’s amazing is that in the span of that week, the other disciples didn’t kick Thomas out. They didn’t cast him aside, they were patient with him. They showed him mercy.
This is what William Cowper found in the ministry of John Newton—a patient, loving friend. In one the letters between them, Cowper wrote this to Newton: “I found those comforts in your visit, which have formerly sweetened all our interviews, in part restored. I knew you; knew you for the same shepherd who was sent to lead me out of the wilderness into the pasture where the Chief Shepherd feeds His flock.” Newton helped lead Cowper back to the Chief Shepherd, Jesus, to receive the food and care he so desperately needed.
We should show mercy on those who doubt, but it should be mercy mingled with fear. Look again at verses 22-23, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh,” (22-23). I don’t think this is referring to three different classes of people, but rather is showing the progression of where doubt unresolved may lead. There are those who have encountered false teaching and it has led them wobbly in their faith, so they doubt. Then, there are those who have persisted and it has led them to the same danger of a precious item falling into a fire—if you snatch it out quickly, it can be saved, even if burnt on the edges.
Lastly, there are those who need mercy with fear, but here instead of the image of fire it is the image of soiled garments. These are people who have entertained the thinking of false teaching long enough that now their lifestyle has begun to mirror them. And so Jude says these people need mercy with fear; we are actually told to hate the “garment stained by the flesh.” The garment here refers to an undergarment, and so Jude is likely trying to literally evoke the image of someone soiling themselves. He wants us to have that same revulsion and hatred towards. These dear brothers and sisters still need mercy—we are not condemning them, we do not think we are more righteous than they are—but we are condemning what they are doing.
Showing mercy to those who doubt does not exclude warning them, particularly if their lifestyle is now adopting practices that mark unbelievers. The fear here that is to temper our mercy is a fear of what sin will do. It is the fear a parent feels when they see their child playing next to a fire, or their toddler playing with a syringe. It is the fear of the deadly consequences of what sin may do.
He that would not be burnt, must dread the fire; he that would not hear the bell, must not meddle with the rope. To venture upon the occasion of sin, and then to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ is all one as to thrust thy finger into the fire, and then to pray that it might not be burnt. – Brooks, Precious Remedies