To be honest I ended up preaching Jude by accident. We had a couple of spare weeks before our main autumn series started and Jude seemed to fit. Given that it is not the easiest letter I thought I probably ought to tackle it myself rather than give it to one of our younger preachers. What I hadn’t quite expected until I preached it was quite how contemporary it would feel.
In many ways, I wish that weren’t the case. Rather like Jude himself, I would much rather write and preach about the wonderful salvation that Jesus has brought. But- sadly- contending against false versions of Christianity is a regrettable necessity. And it is the form in which Jude faced this that is the peculiar challenge of the current time.
Roughly speaking false teaching in the New Testament falls into three areas. There are heresies concerning the person of Jesus- perhaps denying his deity or humanity. This seems to lie behind 1 John and took on modern form in the 1970s with various church figures writing “The Myth of God Incarnate”. Secondly, Paul often has to battle against those who doubt the sufficiency of Jesus’ work and want to add to it- by getting people circumcised for instance. Some of the Reformation debates about the Mass would fit into this category. Finally, though, for Jude (and 2 Peter) the issue is a perversion of grace- where grace becomes a basis for immorality rather than power to change. And that feels like 2019, particularly in the area of sexuality.
The problem is that it is subtle. So when you hear something written in the context of sexuality discussions- “God loves you just the way you are so you can be yourself” it has the smell of grace. It is the kind of tweet you might be tempted to like. And yet it is pretty close to the heresy that Jude critiques for it is a perversion of grace. It is effectively re-writing John Newton to sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved somebody who was actually alright anyway.” It ignores the fact that God’s wonderful grace comes to change and transform us, to teach us to say no to ungodliness rather than to tell us it is fine to be ourselves. And that is a different perspective from false grace.
Given that Jude exposes a contemporary problem we need to pay attention to the antidotes at the end of his letter.
We need to encourage young people particularly to build themselves up in the faith. I am troubled by the number of younger Christians I see who swallow a perversion of grace. And I am more than ever convinced that “warm thoughts about Jesus” aren’t going to be sufficient in themselves to guard against that. We do need to talk about the fall that leaves us desperately sinful, we do need to say that God’s goal for us is to be married to Christ forever rather than having an easy life now and we do need to teach the full nature of God’s grace. The last of these is important. It is tempting to react against a poor rendering of grace by arguing for more law. That’s just a different heresy. What is needed is full orbed, big grace where God loves us so much (despite our sinfulness) that He isn’t content to leave us as we are but is committed to change us into completely new people. We need to build ourselves up in that sort of faith. And lest that feel dry it must be coupled with warm, devotional prayer in the Spirit.
And we’ll need the right sort of community. We have to be clear that these issues matter. We can’t agree to differ- there are reasons Jude talks about fear and fire. And yet we want to be merciful to those who doubt. We want to be a safe place for those who have got questions and uncertainties. My own story is of the sufficiency of God’s grace to keep me and transform me in the midst of sexuality struggles. I am grateful beyond words for those who listened to me carefully and gently in some of the more painful moments. I want us to be that sort of community for others- whatever their particular issue and doubt. Here is a useful goal- seek to make yourself a person whom people can approach with questions.
My suspicion is that these challenges will get harder in the years ahead. We need to be ready. But, ultimately, our hope is in the one who is able to keep us from stumbling and present us before His presence without fault and with great joy.