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Remembering, Building, Showing Mercy

Series: Jude

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 30, 2004

Jude 1:17-23

Turn with me to the book of Jude, right at the end of your New Testament before the book of Revelation. We’re in the fourth of five studies in this book today. We’re in the meat, the heart, of Jude's argument. In Jude 3 and 4 he had told this congregation of Christians that he wanted to urge them to contend for the faith and to beware of false teachers.

In verses 5-16, he expands on that warning against false teachers and brings a negative admonition to this local congregation and to all Christians to be on guard against false teaching. We live in a day and age where the world teaches many crazy things, but you can find much false teaching even within the church, and so Jude's warning is timely. But in verses 5-16 he doesn't present a positive program. He tells you negatively to beware of false teachers, but he doesn't tell you positively how to prepare for false teachers. That he does here in verses 17-23 today.

You’ll see that this section falls into three parts: In 17-19 he gives a call to remembrance, in verses 20 and 21 he gives an exhortation to growth that has four parts to it, and then in verses 22 and 23 he calls us to show mercy. And so in a very complete and positive way, Jude gives us instructions on how we cannot only survive in the context of a world where the Christian church is filled with false teachers, but where we can thrive and grow in grace in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before we hear God's word read and proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You that You have given Your word to us. And it not only corrects us and reproves us and rebukes us, it also trains us up in righteousness; it equips us for every good work. And so we pray, as we have heard Your warnings and hearkened to them, we would also now listen to your positive exhortations and not simply be hearers but also doers of the truth. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the word of God:

“But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ 19These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. 20But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

You just heard a warning about false prophets from a preacher you respected–in this case, a brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, a faithful disciple and pastor of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. What are some of the possible reactions? You could face the reaction of discouragement: “The Lord Jesus has done all this to rescue sinners, and false prophets have entered in even to His church?” It could be very discouraging. On the other hand, you might be frightened of falling into the trap of false teaching: “Lord, false teachers are all around and so many have been led astray. What's going to keep me from being led astray?” Or you might be so concerned about false prophets that you became harsh in your dealing with the brethren, perhaps people who had fallen unwittingly under the influence of less-than-biblical teaching. And you could be censorious and sharp in your judgment against them. All of those things might happen if you were listening to a message about false prophets.

Well, Jude knows that and so he has a positive section designed here to teach us how we are to respond in a day and age where not every voice in the church can be trusted. And you see three things that Jude says for us positively here: We are to remember; we are to grow; and we are to show mercy. Through that three-fold pattern he expects Christians to grow even in the context of a church where not all teachers are trustworthy.

I. Christians are to remember biblical admonitions regarding false teachers (17-19) [An exhortation to remember apostolic warnings]
Let's look at each of these exhortations. First, in verses 17-19 his exhortation to remember–He calls us here to remembrance. “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is an exhortation to us to remember the apostles’ warnings against false prophets. And so Jude is telling us here that Christians are to remember the various biblical admonitions regarding false teachers.

Turn with me to Matthew chapter 24. Jesus gave these kinds of warnings to His disciples before His death and resurrection and ascension, and you get one example of these in Matthew 24:11. Jesus tells His disciples, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” So before Jesus’ own death and resurrection, He's already warning His disciples about false prophets. And if you’ll turn forward to Acts 20, and especially verses 29 and 30, you’ll see a similar warning from the Apostle Paul. Paul, in Acts 20, is meeting with the Ephesian elders in the port city of Miletus, and he says, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And then look especially at verses 29 and 30, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” And Jude could've pointed to other passages. There are many passages in the New Testament that give this warning. We could've turned to 1 Timothy 4:1, or 2 Timothy 3:1, or 2 Timothy 4:3, or 2 Peter 3:3. The New Testament is replete with warnings against false prophets, and Jude is saying, ‘Remember those words, friends.’

Now why is he saying that? Because it's discouraging to see false prophets in the church. You think, ‘Lord, in the midst of this fallen world, you would think that at least the church could be a safe place.’ The Lord Jesus and His apostles say to the disciples, faithful disciples, ‘Recognize that there's never a time when you’re completely safe from false teaching. You've got to remember and be on your toes.’ Jude is telling us this so that we're not discouraged and so that we are ready to stand watch against false teachers.

And in verse 19 he goes on to give some further description of what these false teachers are like. You’ll remember back in verses 8-13 he had given a fairly extensive description of the character and the teaching of these false teachers. Well, he gives you some more description here in verse 19, “These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.”

I want to concentrate on that first one, but let me say this: They’re worldly-minded. They present themselves as super-spiritual, but actually they are consumed with the things of this world. The largest gathering, the largest church in America today, is a church devoted to health-and-wealth teaching, the idea that God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy, that He wants us to have much of the things of this world. And the irony of it is that the name of that church is “World Changers”…but there's no world changing in that church. That church is going after the world as hard as it can. And so even though the teacher there presents himself as super-spiritual, there's nothing spiritual about him. He's worldly to the nth degree.

Notice also that we're told that these false teachers are devoid of the Spirit. They claim to be filled with the Spirit, to have spiritual powers, and yet, Jude says, ‘No, they’re devoid of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit isn't there. They make much of their supposed gifts of the Spirit but the fruit of the Spirit is not there. They’re not spiritual.’

But notice especially what he says about them, “These are the ones who cause divisions.” I want to zero in on that because in every generation it seems that those who are seeking to be faithful to the word of God, to hold fast to the historic, biblical Christian doctrines which have been handed down to us by Jesus and the apostles–those very people have been accused of being divisive by those who want to bring innovations of man-made opinion into the doctrine and life of the church. The people who are bringing the innovations present themselves as winsome, open-minded, seeking to liberate us from the narrow-mindedness, from the meanness and the pettiness of these Bible-thumping fundamentalists who want to hold on to the truth of God's word.

And I want you to note what Jude says: ‘It's not those who are holding fast to the truth that cause divisions; it's those who bring their own human invented imaginations and opinions and attempt to hoist them on the church that cause division.’ And that's so important for you to know.

Many of you don't know it, but in this room there are a number of men…part of what we often call “the greatest generation,” who were significantly involved in the formation of our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. And let me tell you that one of their foremost concerns was that we would be in a denomination of churches that believed in the Bible as the holy, inspired, inerrant word of God, the only rule of faith and practice. But let me tell you…the men who were leading the charge for change in their church in their day accused them of being divisive for standing on the word of God. Don't you believe it for a minute. Those who stand on the truth of God's word are not divisive; it is those who depart from the truth of God's word who bring division in the church. By the way, you ought to talk to some of the people here who were involved in those days. We’re growing up now, a generation of folks who don't remember those days, and you would do well in heading Jude's counsel here to speak to those men and women in this congregation who remember what it was to attempt to establish a church and a denomination based on adherence to the Bible as the supreme authority, the inerrant word of God.

Jude is saying here, ‘Don't be surprised and don't be unduly discouraged by the presence of false teachers. Don't forget the word of God. This is just what Jesus told us would happen.’ That's the first thing he says: Remember the word of God.

II. Christians are to take care to abide in the love of God (20-21)
Secondly, if you look at verses 20 and 21, he exhorts us to grow. You know, some football coaches will say, “The best defense is a good offense.” And the idea being your defense can't get scored on if it's not on the field. If the offense is out there doing what it's supposed to do, the other team's offense can't score on your defense. Well, that's something like what Jude is saying. One of the best ways to defend against falling into false teaching is to attend to the positive things of the Christian life…and so he gives us a four-fold direction for growth. Do you notice it in verses 20 and 21? –Doctrine, prayer, experience, and hope. He exhorts us to grow in doctrine, prayer, experience, and hope. We are to take care, he says, to do these things.

Exhortation to grow in doctrine
Look at verse 20, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith.” That is a call to build ourselves up on the teaching of Scripture, on Bible truth. The “most holy faith” doesn't refer to our faith in Christ, but the faith once delivered, the truth of the gospel and of God's word. And so Jude is calling us to build ourselves up in the Christian life basing that being built up in the Christian life on holy Scripture, the apostles’ teaching, sound Christian doctrine. The Christian life is to be built upon the foundation of the authoritative and sufficient holy Scripture, the word of God, and the doctrines of that word.

And so Jude says, ‘You wanna resist false teaching? Then be devoted to doctrine. Desire to grow in grace.’ You can do this no matter how young you are in the Christian church. You may be a communicant who just a few months ago became a member of this church. You can devote yourself to doctrine. You can go back and look at that Children's Catechism that you memorized at age six and you've forgotten it all now, and you can go back and look at those questions. Those questions are glorious, biblical examples of the truth summarized for Christians. You can go back and rehearse those things to yourself and relearn those things. You might be ninety or a hundred years old: you can still devote yourself to learning Bible truth.

Jude is exhorting all of us to be built up on the truth of the faith, the truth of Scripture. You see, the safest Christian is the one who has a desire to grow in the truth of the Christian faith. So there's the first of Jude's four-part positive exhortation: Be built up in doctrine.

Exhortation to grow in prayer
Secondly, notice praying in the Holy Spirit–Jude exhorts us to prayer. We need the power of God to persevere. We’re dependent upon God to persevere. We need the grace of the Holy Spirit to persevere. How do we get it? We get it by prayer. Prayer is a means of grace, and under God's guidance and influence according to His word, with faith and fervency and constancy we will persevere even in the midst of false teaching.

And so Jude exhorts us to prayer. Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 6 when he tells us that we need to put on the armor of God so that we might resist the arrows, the darts, of the evil one. And prayer, of course, is one of the great pieces of that armory. We are to pray in the Holy Spirit. People of prayer will not easily be led astray. Healthy, regular, biblical prayer is an index of a healthy Christian life. Matthew Henry once said that “those who live without prayer live without God in this world.” And you show me a Christian who is prayerless and I’ll show you a Christian who is vulnerable to the teachings of false prophets. But if we are living a life of prayer, we are living in dependence upon God and His grace and mercy, and then we are ready for battle with false teaching.

Exhortation to grow in experience
Thirdly, notice that he exhorts us to experience: “Building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God.” He exhorts us to keep ourselves in the love of God. Not only to cultivate love to God in our souls, but also to live in the sphere of God's love for us, to dwell on it, to delight in it, to draw on it, to be cheered by it. When you are awash in the sense of God's grace and love for you, you are not vulnerable to the false teachers fake pitch. The Christian who knows the love of God experientially, the Christian who appreciates the love of God manifest in the expensive gift, the costly gift of His own Son so that we might enjoy life with Him forever–the Christian who knows that love of God experientially is not vulnerable to the false teachers’ sales pitch.

A couple of years ago, I picked up the phone without looking at the caller ID and I was ear-to-ear with a telemarketer, and he was here to sell me a credit card. And here was his pitch: “We’ll give you a credit card at the rate of 3.99%. You can consolidate. We’ll give you a $20,000 line item. You can consolidate all of your credit card debts.” And I said, “I don't need it.” And he said, “But look! Look at all the money that I can save you every month if you’ll just consolidate all your credit card debt and take this card.” I said, “I don't need it. I don't have any credit card debt.” He didn't have anything else that he could say. His whole pitch was dependent upon me having credit card debt, and there was nothing that he had to offer with me.

It's the same thing with a Christian who knows the love of God. What does a false teacher have to offer to a Christian who is awash in the sense of the greatness of the love of God? What exactly is it that you’re going to give to me to improve my luck? I've got the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ! I've been made a son and daughter of the Most High. I've been brought into His family. I've been given a commission. I've been assured of eternal life. What is it exactly that you can give to improve my circumstance? No, the Christian who knows the love of God experientially is not vulnerable to the false prophets’ sales pitch.

Exhortation to grow in hope
Finally, notice he says, “Hope! Waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” Isn't that an interesting way to talk about the Second Coming? That's what he's talking about, you know. He's talking about waiting expectantly for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, just like John says at the end of Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” Jude is saying that's how we oughtta live. We ought to live saying, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” He's talking about the Second Coming, but isn't it beautiful the way he puts it? “Waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”

Why does he speak that way? Well, my friends, the only way that you could ever wait for the Second Coming anxiously is if you’re waiting for it in the mercy of Jesus Christ, because the Second Coming is the last thing in the world that anybody would want to hope for if you hadn't experienced the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. But if you have experienced the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, it's the thing that you’re waiting for above every other thing. It is the blessed hope. And Jude is saying, ‘Christian, you wait. You cultivate that hope.’ You remember what Martin Luther said? “Almost everything in the world is done by hope.” You cultivate that hope! You live in that hope. You long for the coming of the Lord. What do you do to resist false teaching? You grow. You grow in doctrine. You grow in prayer. You grow in the experience of the love of God. You grow in hope. And that nourishing experiencing of doctrine and prayer and the love of God and hope makes us impervious to the seductions of false prophets. So you remember…you remember the words of God, ‘False prophets are gonna come,’ and you grow. You grow in doctrine and prayer and experience and hope.

III. Christians are to deal with erring brethren wisely and mercifully (22-23) [Instructions for attitudes toward those impacted by false teaching]
And, thirdly, if you look at verses 22 and 23, he gives us some instruction in mercy. He says, ‘Remember, grow, and show mercy.’ He's giving us instructions about our attitude about those who are impacted by false teaching. He's telling us that Christians are to deal with erring brethren wisely and mercifully. And he has three categories of people in verses 22 and 23: In verse 22 he speaks of having mercy on some who are doubting; in verse 23 he speaks of saving others from the fire; and at the end of verse 23 he speaks of having mercy on some with fear. He's talking about how you deal with the doubting, how you deal with the duped, and how you deal with devotees. Let me explain that.

First, the doubting–that is, these are people who have been confused by false teaching. They haven't bought it hook line and sinker, but they've been confused by it. How are we to deal with them? Mercifully–we're not to be harsh; we're to deal with them mercifully. We’re to deal with them wisely and compassionately, distinguishing between the weak and the willful. We’re to have mercy on those who are doubting. We’re to use a loving approach. We’re to have a sense of right occasion. We’re to have a carefully thought out response. We’re to deal with them mercifully.

What about those who've been duped? They have bought into it. They've bought into it not realizing what they bought into, but they've bought into it. They've been duped. How are we to deal with them? Urgently and directly–“Save them, snatching them out of the fire.” This group has already committed itself to false teaching. They've been misled and so we need to deal with them urgently and directly. ‘Save them. Snatch them out of the fire.’

What about those who are far gone? They’re so far into it that there's probably no turning back. Well, what does he say? “Have mercy on them with fear.” They seem gone, but still have pity on them…but also a godly fear. And don't associate with them. Even hate their behavior. He says, “Hate even the garment polluted by the flesh.” There is to be mercy because of God's divine mercy shown to us. You know, one of my favorite scenes from the early chapters of JRR Tolkien's, Lord of the Rings, is when Gandalf the great wizard is talking with Frodo, who is the protagonist of the story. And they’re talking about Frodo's Uncle Bilbo who had not slain one of his enemies. And Frodo says, “It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance.” And Gandalf responds, “Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo?” Gandalf goes on to say, “Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” He concludes by saying, “The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.” And if you know the story, that's exactly what happens. The mercy of Bilbo to that wretched creature ends up saving the day in the end.

It's always appropriate for those who have been shown divine mercy to show that divine mercy to others, even the fallen. Phil Ryken, the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, has written this, “We ought to respond to God's mercy by becoming merciful ourselves. Sadly, we find that there is sometimes an ornery streak in Calvinism. But it seems to me that someone who understands the wonder of God's mercy would seek to become a living demonstration of it. Jesus once said, ‘Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.’ But you know, we could also reverse that statement and say, ‘Blessed are those who have been shown mercy for they will be merciful.’ One way to test your grasp of God's mercy is to ask how you treat other sinners. How do you respond when you encounter a homeless person, or a gay prostitute, or a drug addict, or a drunk, or whatever coworker or family member or even church member is most difficult for you to deal with? Usually our response is to get angry and wonder why those people can't get their act together. That is hardly the response of someone who knows God's mercy, who knows that the bondage of sin can only be broken through the mercy of the cross.” Ryken goes on to say, “I have observed that some Christians are Calvinists when they deal with their own sin, but Armenians when it comes to dealing with the sins of others. Oh, they've learned that the only solution for their own depravity is God's grace, but they still expect others to save themselves. Certainly God holds sinners responsible for their sins, but He also reaches out to them in mercy. If you really understand the doctrine of God's sovereign mercy, you will not be judgmental or proud. You will become a messenger of God's mercy.”

And that's exactly what Jude is saying. ‘Be on guard against false teaching! Care about Bible truth…but make sure that that Bible truth is making you merciful.’ May God bless His word. Let's pray.

O Lord, those who know the love of Jesus will not accept a fake, a substitute. Those who know the love of Jesus will yearn to grow in the word, will live a life characterized by faithful prayer, will grow in Your hope. Those who know the love of Jesus will be merciful. That's what we want to be like, so grant us, O God, that we would remember and grow and show mercy, for the sake of Jesus in whose name we pray. Amen.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus the Messiah. Amen.

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