The book of Jude is startlingly relevant in a time when many claim to be Christians. We find ourselves asking, “Who is really a Christian?” Just because some claims to be a Christian does not mean they are a genuine follower of Jesus. In fact, some people distort our faith for their own gain, leading to their own destruction and the destruction of others. How can we know who is a true believer? Jude wants to help genuine followers of Jesus spot imposters, and contend for their own faith, unmoved by this opposition.
Jude was the brother of Jesus and of James, though he refers to himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). The opening verses of most New Testament letters give the “credentials” of the person writing. In Jude’s mind, it is a higher credential to be a “servant” of Jesus than a relative. He tells his reader from the very first line of his letter that our relationship to Jesus is not determined by our history or our family but by whether we willingly serve him as our Lord.
Jude writes to those who are “beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). From the first line, he identifies true followers of Christ as those who are loved and who are kept. True Christians are marked by what God is doing in their lives. They belong to him and not to themselves.
Jude urges his listeners to “contend for the faith” even among those who claim to follow Jesus (Jude 3). Jude says that this “faith” or common belief was given “once for all to the saints” (Jude 3). It is fixed. It does not change to suit our time and culture. While our understanding of the faith deepens and grows over time, what we believe does not change and is not negotiable. The faith Jude refers to was “delivered to the saints” by the Lord Jesus himself, and his apostles (v.3, 17). The faith we are to contend for is faith in all that Jesus and his apostles have spoken and affirmed—in short, we are to contend for God’s Word.
Jude warns his readers that “people have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4). They are operating from within the church to pervert God’s grace so they can continue sinning (Jude 4). These people deny Jesus’ authority and refuse to obey him as their master or king. Instead of following what God has revealed in his Word, they follow their “dreams” (Jude 8) and listen to their “instincts” (Jude 10). Jude says they are like “hidden reefs” and “fruitless trees” (Jude 12-13). They are an unseen threat and a false source of nourishment. They offer lives that look fulfilling but are really vacuous and, ultimately, dangerous.
The faith we are to contend for is faith in all that Jesus and his apostles have spoken and affirmed—in short, we are to contend for God’s Word.
Jude reminds his reader that this problem is not new. Just as Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and destroyed those who didn’t believe Moses (Jude 5, Exodus 12), he will separate his faithful followers from these pretenders. The imposters will face judgement and will be separated completely from those who find their true home in the presence of God. Jude reminds them of this to comfort them. False teachers have always been around. And God has always protected his people.
So, what are we to do about imposters in our churches? We are not to be surprised or worried, but remember that Jesus and his apostles warned us about such people (Jude 17). Then Jude writes, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). Our first priority is to love Jesus—to remember his love for us. We are to follow him as our king. We do this by hearing him speak through the Bible—the witness that has been given to us. We follow him by obeying what he asks of us in his Word. Jude also encourages us to pray in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20) for God’s help. While our efforts at knowing and obeying Jesus are weak and flawed, we can take heart knowing that ultimately God loves and keeps his children.
Finally, Jude urges followers of Jesus to “have mercy on those who doubt” and to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 22). Remember that only God can know a person’s heart and mind. We cannot be sure who is rebelling and who is simply struggling with doubts. We cannot see whether salvation or judgement lies in their future. Our task is to “show mercy with fear” (Jude 22, ESV). We are to hate lies and persist in loving and obeying Jesus. Who knows, maybe even some of those who have “crept in” will begin to know and to follow Jesus.
Jude ends with a comfort—God will help all his genuine followers persevere to the end (Jude 24). Friend, where is your faith today? Do you trust in the faith given to us through God’s Word? Are you contending for it?