Persevering in the Faith
Persevering in the Faith
June 15, 2008
Two Frogs In Cream
Two frogs fell into a can of cream,
Or so I’ve heard it told;
The sides of the can were shiny and steep,
The cream was deep and cold.
“O, what’s the use?” croaked No. 1.
“Tis fate; no help’s around.
Goodbye, my friends! Goodbye, sad world!”
And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number 2, of sterner stuff,
Dog-paddled in surprise,
The while he wiped his creamy face
And dried his creamy eyes.
“I’ll swim awhile, at least,” he said—
Or so I’ve heard he said;
“It really wouldn’t help the world
If one more frog were dead.”
An hour or two he kicked and swam,
Not once he stopped to mutter,
But kicked and kicked and swam and kicked,
Then hopped out, via butter!
—T. C. Hamlet
I’m sure many of you have heard this poem by TC Hamlet, but it perfectly illustrates how perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds can be lifesaving. Many times we as believers have been tossed into the midst of life and given a choice: sink or swim. Scripture promises that we will face many trials, testing, and refining of our faith. We have not been promised earthly wealth or success, but a joy that surpasses all understanding. If we are living according to the will of God, which is His Word, then we will face trials. We will be accused of being narrow-minded. We are not safe from persecution. 1 Peter 3:16 states (ESV) ”having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 2 Timothy 1:8 also states (ESV) ” Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” Thus, we will face adversity. We will be bombarded by slander. This is unavoidable. We will also combat false teaching. We are in the midst of a unique time in history. At no other point in the history of the world are the written thoughts, ramblings, slander, and heresy of so many available to so many. We are constantly inundated with information. We are bombarded with thought. Much of the so called “Christian” literature makes promises contrary to scripture; they are teaching apart from the standard of God. Step into most any Christian bookstore, log on to Amazon.com, peruse the 1-800-buythischristianbook catalog, and you face a difficult choice. Who do I trust, what do I claim as right, how can I discern the differences in this teacher and the next? These questions are not unique to this decade, this century, or even this millennium. The earliest Christian followers had to prepare themselves, and combat false teachers in the infancy of Christianity. They were facing the choice of following the Apostles (and even which one), or those claiming divine inspiration within and outside the church. Without history and tradition to bolster their choice they could only cling to one foundation; the Word of God. The Books of Moses and the Law, and the very words and teachings of Christ would be their foundation and bedrock; supporting and reassuring them in times of rumbling. But, how can we plan or prepare for the inevitable? What steps can we take to persevere? How do we develop spiritual discernment?
In his letter to the beloved of Christ, Jude warned the early church that(verse 4)“certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” His letter was well timed as the warnings that Peter gave to the church had been fulfilled. 2 Peter 2:1-2 states “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” These false teachers were teaching a gospel apart from the gospel of Christ. Their teaching was ripping the church apart and destroying the reputation of the Christian witness. The church was also under great strain and persecution from Rome; the empire seeing the church as a threat to its practice of polytheism and order. Therefore, the church could be seen as young, fragile, and on the precipice of falling apart. Thus, Jude’s warning and teaching was vital to the Christian church at such an early stage in its existence. His purpose in writing, however, was not only in warning early believers of the apostates that had infiltrated the church, but to prepare them for battle. Jude, in his letter to the beloved of Christ, gives Christians 2 strategies for persevering in the midst of false teaching. It is with these strategies that we can prepare ourselves for the battle that is being waged for truth in the church today.
Our text for today will be Jude 17-25. By the way, if you do not have a copy of God’s Word with you today I invite you to use the one provided for you in the pew. The book of Jude can be found on page 882. Also, if you don’t personally own a Bible we ask that you take that one with you as a gift today. In the front of this copy it has a help in getting started reading God’s Word, and will help you in understanding the importance of scripture….Jude 17-25 "But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." The first strategy for a believer to persevere in the midst of false teaching is continuing to grow in their walk with God.
Jude brings this out wonderfully in verses 20 and 21, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life." Jude is here describing the roll of sanctification in our life as believers. In order to discern, combat, and defend against false teaching you must be striving after sanctification. Sanctification is just the fancy term given for growing in your faith. After salvation, your growth in Christ is continual. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology defines it as “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” He sees three stages of sanctification: 1. Sanctification has a definite beginning at regeneration or salvation 2. Sanctification increases throughout life 3. Sanctification is completed at death (for our souls) and when the Lord returns (for our bodies). Sanctification is a continual process. And here, Jude is concerned about the second stage of sanctification; the increasing freedom from sin and striving towards Christ-likeness. So, how are we to put this into action? How do we grow in sanctification? In what ways do we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word? Jude has given us four ways we can actively pursue sanctification, thereby preparing us to live as Christ in the midst of false teaching.
We are first called to build “ourselves up in your most holy faith…” Simply put this is the studying of the Word of God and learning how to use it. It would be difficult to spot false teaching if your knowledge of the truth was lacking. How could we, as believers, spot doctrinal error without being immersed in the Word? By what standard should false teaching be held if that standard is unknown? In a recent article on counterfeit money the U.S. Secret Service gave the following advice to spot bogus money.
* Inspect the paper. Genuine paper is 100 percent cotton rag with a distinctive texture. Embedded in the paper are very tiny red and blue fibers.
* Clarity and detail are the trademarks of U.S. currency. For instance, the small sawtooth points designed as the outermost edge of the circular Federal Reserve and Treasury seals are clear, sharp, even, and unbroken.
* All the numbers and letters on currency have a unique style, with even spacing and a sharp, clear image.
* Compare the suspected counterfeit bill with one that you know is real. Look for differences--not similarities--in color, size, uniformity, and printing quality.
Notice that recognizing counterfeit bills does not begin with a description of various counterfeiting techniques, but that knowledge and familiarity with the original is the key to finding and recognizing the fakes. This is exactly where we must begin in battling false teaching in the church. Without a correct understanding, familiarity, or knowledge of the true Word of God we will have insufficient preparation in battling heresy. The familiar text of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 illustrates this point: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” We are called to a life of studying the Word of God as it has been “breathed out by God.” John MacArthur writes, “So identified is God with His Word that when Scripture speaks, God speaks.” Our own Baptist Faith and Message defines scripture as “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” One word that I would give you in encouragement is to strive, not for intellectual perfection in study, but consistency. Do not become discouraged. In a recent interview Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, was asked what one thing he’d learned after years of reading the Bible and how to read the Bible well? He said, “That’s it’s more important that I keep doing it than what I get out of it at any particular time… a lot of young Christians…just get discouraged because they’re not always having a super experience. That’s where I would look at them and say, ‘Just keep going. Aim at obedience in a long direction set in a pattern for decades. If you just keep going you’ll gain so much by consistency and faithfulness that there’s no way you can gain just by sudden experience.’” Jude is clearly calling us to faithfulness in building up our most Holy Faith, the studying and application of God’s Word.
Secondly, in looking at actively pursuing growth in our walk with God, Jude calls us to a life of “praying in the Holy Spirit.” Jude does not have in mind speaking in tongues or a new type of prayer language, but praying in such a way that is consistent with the will of the Spirit of God. George Lawrence Lawlor in his Translation and Exposition of the Epistle of Jude, states that this is, “praying out of hearts and souls that are indwelt, illuminated, and filled with the Holy Spirit.” This carries with it two different aspects. First, as believers, we have, in the Holy Spirit, an intercessor who pleads on our behalf before the Almighty God. We see this in Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Even though God is revealed through scripture, as we have seen before, we are not always capable of discerning how to apply it to our life. Thus, the Spirit intercedes, or pleads, for us; asking on our behalf that which we were incapable of understanding. What an amazing gift? John A. Whitmer, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary states it well, “It is not that the Spirit helps in those occasional times when Christians are weak; their state is one of weakness and the Spirit continually helps them.” In our continued weakness the Spirit is pleading on our behalf. The second aspect of our “praying in the Holy Spirit” is found in our own prayers and can be understood in light of 1 John 5:14-15, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” We see here that the promise of his listening to our requests carries with it a condition; we are to ask “according to his will.” That sounds great, but how are we to discern the very will of God? In what way can we know for sure that our request is “according to His will?” By the very reading, studying, and application of God’s Word we were called to implement in the “building yourselves up in your most holy faith.” Jude’s progression from building to praying is only natural because they are interdependent; each is necessary for the other. Jude understands rightly that the will of God is present in His Word. Apart from God’s Word, how are we to discover, discern and understand the will of the Father? We can’t! It is only through the direct application of Jude’s call to building up that we can follow through on his call to pray in the Spirit. Therefore, as we grow in our understanding and knowledge of His Word, our prayer life will grow in rightly pleading in the will of the Spirit before God.
Jude is not finished though, look back at verse 21. We have been exhorted to building ourselves up in our most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. The third aspect of sanctification, as given in his epistle, calls us to “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Jude is not here referring to salvation, for we see in his greeting Jude says, “…To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” The word “kept” here referring to our security in salvation. However, we are called to literally remain in the love of God. Does this sound familiar? Look at John 15:9-11, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” There are two parts to abiding in God’s love. The first is connected with obedience to God’s commands. We are called to obedience, obedience as modeled and perfected by Christ. Secondly, by this obedience we have the joy of Christ as given by the Father. Therefore, Jude is literally calling us to obedience. J. Vernon McGee states this calling beautifully, “you cannot keep God from loving you, although you can put up an umbrella or a rock so that you will not feel the warmth of God’s love. Jude is saying, ‘keep yourselves out there in the sunshine of God’s love.’ Let His love flood your heart and life.” The umbrella or rock is our disobedience; which can keep us apart from God and His blessings. Therefore, just as building ourselves upon our most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit is necessary for sanctification; we must also abide in God’s love, resting in the easy yoke of his commands.
The final step of sanctification as seen in the epistle of Jude is a call to wait “for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” The word used for “waiting” is literally anticipating, looking expectantly, or welcome. We are called to live expectant of the coming of Christ. His return is imminent, and the hour is near. We are to live in anticipation that Christ will return as promised. This should give us great hope in the life we are living that the fullness of sanctification is near. As we saw earlier in Grudem’s definition, part three of sanctification is completed at death (for our souls) and when the Lord returns (for our bodies). Romans 2:7 says, “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” Also, look at 1 John 5:13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Living in expectation is hopeful living; being reminded of the fullness of God about to be displayed in the last times. William MacDonald, in the Believer’s Bible Commentary, says, “In days of darkness and apostasy, we are to keep the light of the blessed hope burning in our hearts. It will prove a comforting and purifying hope.” It should also serve as a reminder for obedience. Look at Titus 2:11-13, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Thus, keeping ourselves in the love of God, we are actively and rightly anticipating Christ’s imminent return. MacArthur states, “On that great future day, all of us who have trusted in Him will experience Christ’s final mercy and enjoy the fullness of eternal life as we experience the resurrection and glorification of our bodies.” Thereby, we have the full realization of the coming of the Son, the completion of our sanctification.
The first strategy in persevering in the midst of false teaching is continued growth in our walk with God. Jude has called us to study diligently the Word of God, pray in the Holy Spirit, abide in the love of God, and anticipate the coming of Christ. It is interesting to note the Trinitarian theme present in this first strategy. Jude has systematically presented the work of the Trinity in the life of a believer. The Spirit of God, our intercessor, the Father, our loving Master, and the Son, our redeemer. As redeemer, Jesus is shown in two different roles; the saving and beautiful Word of God, and as Conqueror and Sanctifier. However, Jude’s call to persevere in midst of false teaching does not center on the believer alone.
The second strategy for a believer to persevere in the midst of false teaching is developing compassion for the lost and wayward. Verses 22 and 23 of Jude are as follows: “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Compassion for the lost is just as much an attribute of Christ as obedience and faithfulness. Thus, it is only a natural progression from sanctification, or the believer’s work toward Christ-likeness, to developing compassion for the lost. Christ’s earthly ministry on earth was directed towards those who would be judged guilty before Holy God and condemned eternally to the lake of fire; thereby separated eternally from the Heavenly Father. The very joy and security that we are blessed, in anticipating the coming of Christ, should also prick our compassion for those separated from this very hope. Therefore, Jude moves from our anticipation of Christ’s triumph to a call for mercy on those who are lost or wayward. The discerning believer is now charged with reaching out to those under the influence or grip of these false teachers. In doing so, Jude identifies three groups in need of mercy: the doubting, the burning, and the committed.
The doubters can be identified as immature Christians or the newly converted. Peter speaks of “unsteady souls” being easily swayed in his second epistle. False teachers seek the easily betrayed and confused, and prey upon their unsure faith, knowledge, and obedience. Paul in his second letter to the church at Corinth describes the deception: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” In Galatians 3:1-5 Paul is combating the Judaizers, those apostates who taught a gospel of faith and works: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—.” Paul’s compassion for the church of Galatia centers on his desire that they progress and grow in their faith; so as to not become weak and drift from right teaching. Therefore, the church must be alert to those in danger of being deceived by false teaching; building one another up in the faith.
After the doubters, Jude states that we are to “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” Jude foreshadows the eternal punishment by which those outside of Christ’s redemption would suffer. These are the lost; apart from Christ they will be given over to their sins punished to an eternity in hell. They have ignored the clear teachings of Christ and the apostles and clung to their own. But, Jude has called us to action. He gives believers the task of “snatching them out of the fire.” The action of snatching is literally seizing something, or taking something or somebody by force. We are to clearly and boldly proclaim the truths of scripture; giving hope to the lost. Scripture clearly states that all are lost, and all have sinned. No one can enter heaven apart from God and the work of Christ on the cross. In order to find redemption we must acknowledge our sin and seek repentance. Repentance is running away from the old self, and sin, and seeking forgiveness from our sin. Christ must be proclaimed as Lord and Savior. It is by the proclamation of the gospel of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit that the lost are to be grabbed up and taken out of the fire. Jude is borrowing language from Zechariah 3:2, “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’” J. Vernon McGee says, “When God intended to save Jerusalem, He said, ‘I am just taking a brand out of the fire.’ Apparently there is no one who is beyond redemption.” We are commissioned to this task! Are you obedient to his call? Do you show mercy on those being deceived by the great deceiver Satan? Do you boldly proclaim the gospel to the lost? What is keeping you from this calling? What is keeping you from this task?
However, Jude does give a warning. We are to have mercy on all, but to “others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Jude warns we are to reach out with caution those committed to apostasy and opposed to the truths of God’s Word. We are to have fear, a clear understanding that we could fall victim as Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” This is why Jude cautions believers to “hate even the garment stained by the flesh.” He is using a phrase that refers to the undergarments being stained by bodily function. I have a two and a half year old who has just started to potty train. He is just beginning to understand the potty part of this training, but has yet to grasp any concept of the other end. Thus, we still have to change dirty diapers. When approaching the dirty diaper we exercise caution, and I tend to use an even better approach. “Hon, I think your son has a dirty diaper.” I hate handling dirty diapers, and Jude is warning believers about spiritually dirty diapers. MacArthur puts it a little more eloquent: “Just as no one wants to handle someone else’s dirty underwear and be defiled physically, so we should be extremely wary of getting too close to the spiritual defilement of those corrupted by false teachers. Even in bringing the gospel to committed apostates, saints must exercise great caution and wisdom.” Thus, proceed with caution, but with compassion on those who are opposed to Christ.
It is a small book, yet Jude gives such poignant instruction to the church in midst of so much turmoil and deception. False teachers and their deceit surround us in an age that sees a prolific number of information mediums. However, Jude has given us an action plan, a strategy, for meeting the challenge of false teachers. We are to first prepare ourselves, as believers. We are called to be committed to the Word of God, prayer in the Holy Spirit, abiding in God’s love, and living in anticipation of Christ’s return. These are the tools necessary for sanctification and prepare us to carry out Jude’s second strategy; having mercy on the wayward and lost. A life opposed to apostasy will lead to compassion on those in the midst of deceit. Call on the Lord to open your eyes and heart to the lost. Fulfill your call to bring Christ’s gospel to those, as MacArthur states, who are confused, convinced, and committed. It is from a right understanding of righteousness that we are prepared to give right understanding. Cling to the spiritual disciplines and carry out Christ’s commission; that is our call today.
Tan, Paul Lee: Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers. Garland TX : Bible Communications, 1996, c1979