New Testament Postcards – 4. Acts of the Apostates
Jude 1 - 25 Begin with a word we don’t often use - “apostate” - noun that describes a particular kind of person. Greek word literally means “to fall away from.” NT - this word refers to a person who knows the truth and then deliberately falls away from it. An apostate knows the truth and intentionally embraces falsehood. In biblical terms, an apostate is anyone who claims to be a Christian and yet denies the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. N T contains many warnings about apostates and the danger they pose. Sermon on the Mount - Jesus spoke of wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7: 15). Apostle Paul picked up on that image and warned the Ephesian elders that after his departure false teachers would come in like ravenous wolves, devouring the flock of God (Acts 20: 29, 30). Apostle John said that there are many deceivers who have gone out into the world. Such people are the very spirit of the antichrist (2 John 7). Cunning Devices There are so many warnings in the NT about apostates that 1 of 2 conclusions must be reached: either the early Christians were a very naïve bunch or the false teachers must have been very clever. While no doubt there are always naïve believers who are easily deceived, I daresay that the greater problem has always been the cunning devices that wicked men and women have used in order to mislead God’s people. The message of the Holy Spirit is very clear. Be on your guard! Keep your eyes open. Watch lest you led astray. Be ready to contend for the faith. No one said it more forcefully than a man named Jude. His message is desperately needed today. What can we say about Jude? It is short, powerful, colourful, direct, pungent, pointed, piercing, and penetrating. In only 25 verses Jude dissects the acts of the apostates, revealing their character, their doctrine, their moral error, and their ultimate destiny He also reveals how believers should respond to moral and spiritual apostasy. Although he pulls no punches, Jude is no angry ranter. He writes with deep concern and real compassion for the people of God. In a handful of verses he paints a vivid picture of the apostates all around us. Then he gives a strategy for victory. 1. Contend for the Faith v. 1 - 3 Jude evidently intended to write a pastoral letter of encouragement, but he felt the spiritual danger was so great that he had to change his mind. The whole theme of the letter is found in one phrase: “Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Every word matters. To “contend” means literally to go to war. The phrase “the faith” refers to the body of Christian truth that all true believers hold in common. It includes the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, the Deity of Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his death and resurrection, his ascension in heaven and his second coming to the earth. It includes the doctrines of salvation, the Holy Spirit, prayer, godly living and the moral teachings of the Bible. In short, “the faith” is what we as Christians believe. This faith has been “entrusted” to the saints of God. God has said to this generation, “I’m going to give you my truth. Can I trust you to take care of it and pass it along to the next generation?” If you and I don’t protect the truth, if we don’t contend for the faith, if we don’t fight for what is right, we will have nothing left to pass on to our children and our grandchildren. Fighting Talk I hear men say, “You can say what you want about me, but don’t talk about my wife and children.” Fair enough. But is there anything as Christian that you will fight and die for? Or have you become so used to sin and compromise that anything goes and nothing makes you angry anymore? There are times when we need to rise up and contend for the faith lest we lose it altogether. This is a command of Almighty God and we dare not ignore it. There are some truths worth fighting for and some things that are so evil they must be opposed - even at the risk of losing friends. 2. Not All Sins Are Equal v. 4 Jude tells us how to spot the apostates. This is incredibly specific. He tells us 4 things about the apostates - They secretly slip in and do their evil work. They do not know God. They deny that Jesus Christ is their Sovereign Lord. They use their religion as an excuse for immorality. Leads us to an important principle. While all sin is evil, some sins are indeed worse than others. I remind you that Jesus reserved his harshest words not for prostitutes or drunkards but for hypocritical religious leaders. It is one thing to prefer the darkness, it is something else to lead others into the pit with you. God will hold guilty the man or woman who in the name of religion leads others astray -Matthew 18: 6. Moving in the Wrong Direction It appears to me our local and national leaders have no shame. They seem determined to lead us into the gutter of moral depravity. Is South Africa really under the judgment of God? If it is, what are we doing living in a place like this? I’d like to answer both questions because I think it’s important for us to have a proper perspective. First of all, in a general sense, the whole world is under judgment for sin and rebellion against God. That’s part of God’s punishment for Adam’s sin. NLT - “the world around us is under the power and control of the evil one” (1 John 5: 19). That explains why in the last days perilous times will come as men and women increasingly turn away from God and run after their own evil desires (2 Timothy 3: 1 - 5). It’s not as if South Africa is under God’s judgment, but Australia isn’t. We live in a sin-cursed world. Every part of is touched by sin and is under God’s judgment. South Africa is under God’s judgment for her sin and rebellion against God. This is truly a wonderful place to live - yet who among us can feel good about the millions of babies slaughtered through abortion, the rising tide of divorce, rape and abuse, drug use and the growing gay rights movement. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14: 34). We could paraphrase it - “Living by God’s standards makes a nation great, but disgrace comes to those who ignore God’s truth.” We as a nation have forgotten God and turned away from his Word. Billy Graham often said, “If God doesn’t judge America, he’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” Same is true of South Africa. South Africa increasingly revels in its freedom by welcoming moral evil. In the name of tolerance we have surrendered at every point to the gay and lesbian minority in our midst. In the name of diversity we have changed our policies in the schools. In the name of open-mindedness we publish stories praising men marrying men and women marrying women. Then we attack and revile those who dare to stand on the Word of God and speak the truth. So, yes, South Africa is under God’s judgment. If that’s true, why should we stay here? I can think of several answers to that question. First and foremost, God has called us here. I believe that we as evangelical Christians are the salt of this nation and the light of this country (Matthew 5: 13 - 16). Salt has many uses, but in biblical times it served first as a preservative against decay. At this particular moment in history God has allowed us to be salt and light “for such a time as this.” South Africa is a better country because we are here and it would be a worse country were we to leave. If you leave here, where will you go to be safe from these problems? You can run from your problems, but you can’t hide forever. If we leave, who will be left to share Jesus Christ with the people of South Africa? That’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? It might be more comfortable to leave, but it’s more biblical to stay and fight for what we believe in and do our best to make this a better place to live. 3. Chin Up and Knees Down Jude’s 2 part strategy for spiritual survival in a day of apostasy – A. Keep Growing in Your Christian Life v. 20, 21 Ground yourself in the Word of God. Then keep on praying. Keep yourself in God’s love by walking in obedience to his commandments. Finally, keep your eyes on the skies as you wait for Jesus to return from heaven. “Chin up and knees down.” That’s good advice for times like these. B. The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Light v. 22, 23 3 separate groups of people. First “those who doubt" - been influenced by the false teachers and moral degenerates. They haven’t been convinced yet, but their thinking has been clouded. Be merciful and gentle with them. Reason with them and lead them back to the truth. Second - fallen prey to the apostates and are in danger of slipping down into the fires of hell. Radical action is needed. They must be “snatched” like a brand from the burning. Gentle persuasion will not be enough. Final group - leaders of the apostates - given themselves completely to false doctrine and moral perversion. Such men and women are so deeply confirmed in their sin that they are both angry and arrogant toward anyone who dares to challenge them. Be careful - show mercy, but watch out that you are not contaminated by their sin. We are never to lower our standards or to socialise with moral evil in order to do the work of evangelism. The danger here is that by lowering our standards we won’t help the apostates but will in fact be dragged down to their level. Simply means that in days of moral decline we should redouble our efforts to win the lost. We are living in the middle of a large harvest field. There are so many lost people, so many confused souls, so many hurting hearts. We’ll never run out of lost people for 100 years. “The darker the night, the brighter the light.” Our opportunities to share Christ have never been greater. People are asking questions today as never before and many people are justifiably worried about the direction South Africa is taking. Every question offers an opportunity to point people back to the only source of infallible truth—the Bible—and to Jesus Christ who is the Truth. Incredibly Exciting Days Let no one be discouraged. Let no heart be frightened. Let every arm be made strong and every soldier of the cross prepare to do battle for the King of Kings. Let us contend for the faith, stand for the truth, pray for each other, walk in obedience and then let’s go out and share the love of Christ with everyone we meet. These are incredibly exciting days to be alive. Only one thing is left to consider – the great benediction at the end of Jude’s letter. 4. The Reason for Our Hope v.24, 25 A. The power of God: “To him who is able to keep you from falling” B. The purpose of God: “To present you before his glorious presence.” C. The promise of God: “Without fault and with great joy.” The letter closes with these stirring words: “To the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” That takes in everything—past, present and future. It covers the entire universe and includes South Africa. That’s why we face the future without fear. Let the people of God rejoice. Be encouraged. Our God is in control. He can keep you from falling in an evil day. He can present you before his presence in heaven. He can wipe away the record of all your faults. This will be done with rejoicing. When we finally get to heaven, we’re going to say “Hallelujah, by God’s grace I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Until then, chin up and knees down. Keep serving, keep smiling, keep praying, and keep on sharing Christ wherever you go. Amen.