“We must not only be True. We must be Beautiful!”
American theologian and philosopher of L’Abri fame in the Swiss Alps, Francis Schaeffer, asked long ago, in the light of the rise and decline of Western culture, ‘How should we then live?’ We ask the same question decades later concerning Christian living in a rampant libertine culture. Jude reminds us in v. 17, “… remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the end time scoffers will come living according to their own ungodly desires…'” (CEB). Then in v. 20ff Jude gives us God’s five-fold strategy for faithful living in a secularized world. ‘But you, dear friends…’ :-
- ‘Build each other up on the foundation of your most holy faith…’ [cf v. 3, ‘I… urge you to fight for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s holy people.’] What did Jude mean by ‘most holy faith?’ It referred to the unique Christian revelation, handed down by the apostles to the Church of all ages. From other NT references it’s clear that this faith required some study (Acts 2:42), in order for believers to grow in faith and be of use to others (Heb. 5:11-14). This faith, outlined in the Bible and fulfilled in Jesus, is ‘holy’ because it is ‘utterly different,’ entirely set apart from all others and beautiful. ‘It is unique in the message it teaches and in the moral transformation it produces’ (Michael Green). You and I today need to read the Bible text in a Christo-centric way, in dependence on the Holy Spirit and in the communitas of fellow believers. How many Christians in the West still do that? I submit a small minority! The ugly consequences are there for all to see…
- ‘Pray in the Holy Spirit…’ v. 20. For the battle against false teachings is not won purely by argument but by revelation in answer to prayer: cf. Eph. 1:14ff; 2 Cor. 10:3-5. Today many ‘come of age’ Christians’ have given up on prayer, just like the libertines of Jude’s day. But to outrun the scriptures and prayer is to outrun Christianity (M. Green). Followers of Jesus have the Holy Spirit within, in contrast to the false teachers of Jude’s day (v. 17-19) and their post-modern counterparts. As to ‘praying in the Holy Spirit,’ most Bible students agree that it does not refer primarily to ‘speaking in tongues’: Rom. 8:18ff sheds some light, v. 26-27 (NLT), ‘And the holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.’ The wordless sighs and groanings of a humbled heart mean so much to the Father and are surely signs of ‘praying in the Spirit!’ In summary, the person led by the Holy Spirit in his/her prayers as in all else, certainly prays in the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who brings us into relationship with the Father as ‘Abba’ (Rom. 8:15).
- ‘And keep each other in the love of God…’ v. 21. It was God’s love that first drew us to him, and now we need as a body to remain within that unique love at all times. God’s love is always present with us, but we can cut ourselves off from it by disobedience! (1 Cor. 13 addresses the divisive Corinthian believers). I.o.w. believers must at all times cultivate, in company with one another, their love-relationship with God. As the false teachers demonstrated in Jude’s time, it’s possible to turn one’s back on the love of God. Jesus indicated that ‘abiding in’ God’s love is dependent on keeping his commandments (Jn. 15:9-10). [NB, as ecclesia we cannot separate the word ‘love’ (so easily bandied about today) from the Person of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. Love in its essence is at all times cruciform. Sadly today’s society and much of the Church has divorced ‘love’ from history and eschatology (‘the end things’): resulting in mere sentiment and do-goodism]
- ‘Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give you eternal life…’ v. 21. This means to keep God’s bigger kingdom-picture in mind at all times. Jude’s assemblies had to keep alive in their hearts the fire of Christ’s return and hope. When too much attention is paid to future hope, believers tend to become so other-worldly that they are not of much use in this world. However, if the future hope is soft-pedalled, the Christian faith becomes a mere religious adjunct to social services. Christians become irrelevant, discouraged and irresponsible.
- ‘Have mercy on those who doubt. Save some by snatching them from the fire. Fearing God, have mercy on some, hating even the clothing contaminated by their sinful urges…’ v. 22-23. It is of God’s mercy that we are not consumed. Even ‘man come of age’ cannot survive without God’s mercy, manifest on the Cross. ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’ (Lk. 18:13) is our cry at all times. To reject this, is colossal arrogance and raw rebellion on our part.
So wrote CT Studd (1860-1931), English international cricketer, Cambridge graduate, millionaire and missionary to China, India and Africa. What he wrote, he lived (1). We all have to give attention to those in danger of being excluded from the kingdom of God. Surely those who’ve experienced God’s mercy must be merciful to others. When our friends are still in two minds, that’s the time to humbly but clearly present the inescapable truth to them. Those blase toward the Gospel, need a more direct approach.‘When there is a danger of fire, we hesitate not to snatch away violently whom we desire to save; for it would be not enough to beckon with the finger, or kindly stretch forth the hand!’ (John Calvin) It’s become a cliche, but remains true that we must ‘hate the sin, yet love the sinner’ (a very tricky balance in today’s ‘pc’ world). And as Michael Green reminds us, ‘one of the best ways of discovering the true value of any new theology is to test it in active Christian evangelism.’ Evangelism has always suffered when theology has gone wrong – I’ve asked many a time, where are our Christian witnesses and gifted evangelists (Eph. 4:11ff) today!? still awaiting responses…
My reader, graciously adorn the above biblical principles in your individual/corporate life, remembering that these are useless without our ‘absolute surrender’ (Andrew Murray) to the beautiful Lord of the Church!
And a reminder, what is impossible with humankind (escaping legalism and libertinism) is gloriously possible with the God of the Bible! Note Jude’s magnificent doxology-benediction in v. 24-25 below…
(1) My son, while at High School, wrote Studd’s words on his school satchel. The result was being summoned to the Head Master’s office! As a young adult, my peers and I witnessed in the city square and in down-town cafeterias. Despite our bumbling efforts, there were a few who came to Christ!
I like the emphasis of this version, Erroll: “Build each other up… keep each other in the love of God…” Whereas the KJV has, “building up yourselves… keep yourselves…” Indeed, as you wrote, “Love in its essence is at all times cruciform.” Thank you for that. “We love because He first loved us.”
Thanks for your ‘up-building’ comments as always, Alan. Warm Advent and New Year’s greetings! (DV)
Warm blessings from a cold clime to you as well, Erroll.
Beautiful. I notice you wrote this on the shortest day of the northern hemisphere – and thus – no doubt, it must have been the longest day where you are – the longest day of daylight – whereby may the light of Christ ever brighten your worship of Him so worthy of it. Happy New Year.
Thanks for those heartening comments and good wishes, Rusty. A happy New Year in Christ, my friend!
That quotation from Studd is very powerful. How much more courageous and effective the church would be if we all concurred!
As I reflected on it, I recognized that (consistent with Schaeffer’s observations), evil forces currently seem on the advance. That means that even when we remain “static” where we are, we are still growing closer to the frontlines of Hell.
The choice that’s growing more evident is between steadfastly standing our ground and resisting and rescuing those serving darkness… or retreating. Retreating offers the illusion of safety, but is cowardice.
Still, even those weak in faith remain our sisters and brothers. They require our ministrations and God’s grace, rather than our condemnation. We really are, as you point out, in the healing business… of legalists, as well as libertines.
Thanks for your thoughtful responses, Rob. Couldn’t agree more. Regards!