20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
(Jude vv. 20-23 NIV)
In our last time together, Jude turned his focus to his readers and reminded them (and us) that these false teachers are not some new revelation from God as they claim to be. In fact, they are not from God at all. Jesus and the apostles (especially Peter) had warned of both their coming and their motive.
In today’s passage, Jude is still addressing his readers, those who are committed to following Christ. Jude begins with the word “But” again, marking a change in direction, a contrast to what he was talking about in verses 17-19. Jude turns his focus from the negative to the positive, encouraging and motivating his readers to keep their focus on the Lord, and proactively help others.
In verses 20 – 21, Jude instructs us to keep ourselves in God’s love. The idea of “keep” is not a passive hoarding, like putting important documents in a safe or hiding money in a mattress or in books. Instead, the idea of “keep” is an active pursuit, to keep connected to someone, to remain in relationship to someone.
Jude’s imperatives are in direct contrast to what the false teachers were doing in verse 19. So how do we keep ourselves in God’s love?
Jude lays out three essentials:
- building yourselves up in your most holy faith
Simply stated, this is spending time in God’s Word. Notice that Jude says this is a “building up” exercise, not a “tearing down” (causing divisions among God’s people) exercise as contrasted by the false teachers (v. 19).
- praying in the Holy Spirit
What is prayer? Talking to God. Is Jude requiring some form of speaking in tongues or being “filled with the spirit”? No. Is Jude excluding that activity? No. Rather, Jude is telling us to pray with the connection and the power that comes with God’s Holy Spirit indwelling us. This is in direct contrast to the false teachers that did not have God’s Spirit in them (v. 19).
- wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life
Jude encourages us to keep an eternal perspective, looking beyond our life in the “here and now” and focusing on the final goal of spending eternity with the Lord. This requires patience, perseverance, faith, and hope. This is in direct contrast to the false teachers that seek their immediate gratification and follow after their natural instincts, especially in the sensual and sexual areas of life (v. 19).
In verses 22 – 23, Jude encourages us to look beyond our own spirituality and seeking after God to help others along their spiritual journey. God did not design us to live our lives disconnected from others. Rather, we are to live in community, as salt and light to those around us, to be an encourager and to be encouraged by others as we all focus on the Lord and our connection to Him.
As we look into verses 22 – 23, we need to recognize that Jude is not judging these folks in the church that needed the believers’ help. Jude is not saying if they are followers of Christ, or if they are not. Frankly, Jude probably did not know if they were or were not followers of Jesus – he simply saw the need to offer them the help and hope of the Gospel.
Let’s look briefly at the three groups of folks that need help, and our responsibility to the Lord and to them:
- Be merciful to those who doubt
These are folks that are “on the fence” – they see the truth of God’s Word and the reality of Jesus, but are still drawn to the offer of immediate gratification and an easier life proclaimed by the false teachers. They are confused and have questions about both, and they have not fully committed themselves to either Christ or the false teachers.
And what is our responsibility to these doubters? To offer mercy to them. We are not to shun, ignore, belittle, or harshly rebuke them. After all, we had questions about putting our faith in Christ, and God graciously and mercifully answered our questions along the way – why would we do less for someone else on their journey?
- save others by snatching them from the fire
These folks are no longer on the fence – they are convinced and have decided to actively follow the false teachers. These folks know the truth of Christ, but are caught up in the thrill of the promise, not realizing that they are in grave danger. A small child is pulled toward the allure of a fire but does not understand the danger associated with getting too close. The child’s parents must watch out for the child’s well-being and rescue the child from harm if it gets too close.
Jude is saying the same thing for us. We must watch out for those who are pulled in by the empty promises of the false teachers that lead to death. We are not to write them off, but rather proactively seek them out as “lost sheep” for their own good. Jude is not saying we have the power to save people and give them eternal life – only God through Jesus can offer eternal life. What Jude is saying is that God uses us as part of His plan to bring others to Himself, including those in danger of false teaching and its deadly consequences.
- to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh
These folks are not only convinced of the promises of the false teachers – they have become “evangelists” of their heresy, actively trying to convince others to follow. Jude acknowledges that this is very dangerous, and should not be taken lightly.
To rescue people who are caught up with the false teachers is basically marching into the enemy’s camp in broad daylight and taking back those who have strayed from the truth of God’s Word and His ways.
Jude says that we are to approach these folks who are now teaching others with mercy, and fear. We are to treat these folks with mercy, but go in the fear of the Lord, lest we are convinced of their evil ways and renounce Christ.
Jude says we are to hate anything evil that might rub off on us as part of that interaction with the very folks we are reaching out to. If you’ve ever had to do a really dirty job, when the job is done, the first thing you want to do is take a shower or bath and put your dirty clothes in the wash. And so it is with our spiritual lives when God calls us to seek out those who are deep in sin with false teachers and are convincing others to follow their evil ways.
May we seek Christ and Him only in our personal lives and walk, spending time in God’s Word, in prayer, and keeping an eternal perspective.
May we also seek the spiritual well-being of those around us who are confused by false teachers, convinced by the false teachers, and committed to the false teachers of our day.