“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ Jude 1:3-4
As we discussed earlier, the premise of the Epistle of Jude has already been outlined in the salutation (Jude 1:1-2), where holiness is established as the ongoing work of God in the life of a Believer (i.e., one who has been saved, one who is “born again” John 3:1-21, esp. vv. 3-7).
Now, as the body of Jude’s Epistle begins, in vv. 3-4, Jude explains the reason for the emphasis on holiness (set apart for the service of God). Specifically, Jude is concerned that false teachers have infiltrated the church and are leading Believers into sin in two distinct but closely related ways outlined in v. 4:
- “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness”
- “denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
To understand Jude’s distress, it is helpful to first explore the significance of grace and its role in the life of a Believer.
1. GLORIOUS GRACE
1.1 GROUNDS for GRACE
In the early church, grace was a wholly-new, groundbreaking concept. Every other religion had rules/laws that had to be observed for one to be considered a faithful follower (e.g., Judaism had the Mosaic Law). Christianity is different. Christianity says, man cannot be saved by faithfully observing a moral code.
Firstly, a suitable moral code by which to serve God, must come from God Himself. Therefore, all man-made moral codes are disqualified. Secondly, when God provided His moral code (the Mosaic Law) man was unable to observe it faithfully (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16, 3:11, Hebrews 7:9). And thirdly, man cannot of himself attain righteousness sufficient to appease God, even if he could follow God’s moral code faithfully (Isaiah 64:6).
Consequently, man can only be saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) through faith. Specifically, grace means that (when one professes faith in Jesus Christ for salvation) God places His own righteousness on helpless man to save man from God’s impending judgment of man’s sin. Grace, then, enables man to achieve what he could not attain by himself. Thereby, grace supersedes ALL moral codes as the way to obtain salvation (or sanctification).
1.2 GUIDED by GRACE
Now that we have established a working definition of grace, let us explore its impact on the life of a Believer.
The removal of the Law as the way to salvation creates a challenge for Believers, which can be expressed in the form of a question:
“What is required of me if there are no laws to follow?”
This issue was addressed very soon after the fall of man. Adam and Eve were not given any rules to follow after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, and mankind quickly sank into a sinful state (Genesis 3-6).
One man, however, got it right: Enoch. Enoch walked with God. Without a moral code (i.e., without The Law), Enoch found the key to righteousness: Enoch had a relationship with God (Genesis 5:24). And that, indeed, is what God has always desired (Micah 6:6-8).
Moral codes do not place man’s focus on God, they oblige men to focus on their sins (Romans 3:20, 5:13, 7:5-9). Grace liberates us from a focus on our sins and prompts us to focus on God: to develop a relationship with God in the absence of laws, as Enoch did.
This new emphasis on relationship over rules is illustrated in the passages below:
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
…Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? …What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? ” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:9-12, 15a, 19
The key point in both passages is “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient”. The Christian navigates life by expedience, not by law. What is expedient for a Believer is whatever the will of God in the circumstance is. A Believer must be guided by a desire to glorify God and to edify his brother.
It is important to note, however, that the verses also make it clear that some things are never expedient, e.g., thievery, adultery, drunkenness, homosexuality, extortion.
How can a Believer distinguish between those things that are expedient and those that are not? The answer lies in studying Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17) under the tutelage of The Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
Scripture summarizes the points made in this section as follows,
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
…for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now [that you are saved by grace through faith] yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” ~ Romans 6:11-15, 19b
2. GARBLED GRACE
Thus far we have established a working definition for grace (God enabling man to live in righteousness) and we have examined the impact of grace in the life of a Believer (Believers live by their relationship with God, not by the law; Believers seek to Glorify God and edify their brethren). However, the transition from law to grace is a stumbling block for many and thus provides an opportunity for false teachers. This is the issue that concerns Jude.
Those who stumble on the foundation of grace, do so in one of two ways. Firstly, some revert to the imagined comforts of legalism: they re-create/re-introduce laws to govern themselves and others. This problem was dealt with extensively in the Epistle to the Galatians, which revealed that even the apostle, Peter, stumbled in this area (Galatians 2:11-21).
Jude, however, is concerned with the other way in which people stumble when dealing with grace, namely, “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness”; and its consequence, “denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ”. Having examined some of the key aspects of grace in the life of a Believer, we can now explore the implications of Jude’s warnings.
2.1 GUTTED GRACE
It is tempting to interpret the replacement of the Law with grace as occasion for a “free-for all”. In other words, some wrongly interpret grace to mean they can do whatever they want to do: they focus solely on “All things are lawful unto me…” and ignore “…but all things are not expedient”. Accordingly, since “all things are lawful” they assume that it is acceptable to indulge in their lusts/passions without restraint. Moreover, they teach others to do likewise (2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 2).
This had devastating effects on early church, as many were led back into the bondage of iniquity from which salvation had freed them in the first place. It made the conduct of Christians indistinguishable from the society around them. And totally distorted the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jude therefore, implored Believers to contend, to fight, for the truth of the Gospel message. Otherwise, churches would fail, as they collapsed under the weight of their own immorality. The well-being of the newly emergent church was at stake.
Today, we face a similar challenge. False teachers in the modern church are generally not as blatant as in Jude’s time. However, they are more cunning and, potentially, even more destructive.
One way that the modern form of this teaching takes shape is in the removal/absence of church discipline. Congregations are taught to tolerate serious and often repeated transgressions by both their leaders and fellow congregants/members. The lie taught is that discipline is not necessary since we are “under grace”.
As a result, many church members and church leaders live worldly lives everywhere except, supposedly, for a few hours in church each week, where forgiveness is claimed under grace and discipline is (wrongly) withheld because of grace. And, because of this duplicity/hypocrisy, the Gospel appears ineffectual, ephemeral and impotent.
Grace is not a loophole for immorality: Grace is given to lift us out of immorality, not to enable it. God is gracious and gives grace to His children; but God is also holy will judge unrighteousness.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” ~ Galatians 6:7-8
To wed grace to immorality is to rob grace of its power to uplift and transform us.
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” ~ Romans 5:1-3
God gives us grace to stand in righteousness, not to wallow in immorality.
Rather than turn a “blind eye”, churches must discipline both their leaders and their congregants when they are living openly in sin. And this discipline includes removal from offices held in the church and even removal from fellowship (1 Corinthians 5) until it is clear that the sin is put away (2 Corinthians 2:4-11).
For the church to be strong witness, salt and light in the broader community, the church must also be holy. When the holiness of the church is compromised, the effectiveness of the church is diminished.
More broadly, being under grace does not excuse our laziness for serving God. Being under grace does not excuse our love of money, or our gluttony, or our lack of generosity, or our pride, or our materialism, etc. Rather, Scripture instructs us:
“…not using your liberty [i.e., grace] for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” ~ 1 Peter 2:16
Being under grace does not mean we can live as we please. It is the unsaved, the un-regenerated, the rebellious man that lives as he pleases; not the born-again, child of God.
We must contend for our faith, by fighting for holiness, standing against false teaching and demonstrating, by the lives we live, the truth of the Gospel: that it is possible for a man to live for God, it is possible to be holy.
2.2 GROTESQUE GRACE
Jude’s second concern was that false teachers were “denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” This problem is a natural consequence of “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness”. Since grace disqualifies the law, some argue, wrongly, that the lawmaker is likewise disqualified. The false teaching would then be “Since there are no rules, there is no Rule-Maker (i.e., God); so I will be the rule-maker (i.e., god)”. This was satan’s ploy from the beginning:
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” ~ Genesis 3:5
In arguing that grace meant they could make their own rules, false teachers in Jude’s day were effectively, making themselves equal to God. They were denying the unique authority of God as Creator and of Jesus Christ as Saviour. This is idolatry.
Sadly, just as in Jude’s time, it is common today for both church leaders and laity, to make up their own rules, independently of the teachings of the Bible, God’s Word. This denies the authority and thereby the deity of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
For example, many churches are becoming increasingly accepting of practicing homosexuals as brothers/sisters in good-standing, even though Scripture explicitly declares it abominable to God (e.g., Romans 1:18-30). Similarly, many churches/church-leaders have accepted pre-marital sex as a norm, rather than rejecting it as sin. Again, many modern churches have long gone silent on biblical teaching about materialism; and the oppression of the poor by the wealthy. Thereby, the church tacitly denies God’s authority in these issues. This is idolatry.
The modern church rarely reminds Believers of our obligation to care for the widows and orphans: single-mothers and their fatherless children. Few churches talk about immodesty, gluttony or pride, effectively confirming them as acceptable norms for Believers. Scripture describes it this way:
“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:2-5
To turn ourselves into rule-makers, to deny/ignore the truths in God’s Word, is to deny the deity and authority and power of God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son. This is idolatry.
We must contend for our faith, by fighting for holiness, standing against false teaching and demonstrating, by the obedient lives we live, the truth of the Gospel: that it is possible for a man to live for God, it is possible to be holy.
There is hope for holiness, fight for it.