The Divisions False Teachers Create
The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the second half of Chapter 14.
Previously: Merely Natural: Scoffers Without the Spirit
But you, dear friends, remember the words foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires.” These people create divisions and are merely natural, not having the Spirit. (Jude 17-19 HCSB)
Jude writes that false teachers “create divisions” (v. 19). The Greek word apodiorizo refers not only to divisions, but to the motives behind them and the results they produce. The term means “to make a distinction.” It describes these interlopers as ones who present themselves as superior to other leaders in the church. Marvin Vincent, the Presbyterian minister best known for his Word Studies in the New Testament, writes that these false teachers “draw a line through the Church and set off one part from another.”
In this regard, they are like the Pharisees, lovers of money who, while listening to Jesus, are “scoffing at Him” (Luke 16:14). Jesus tells them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly admired by people is revolting in God’s sight” (v. 15).
The religious leaders demonstrate hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing another. Jesus tells the crowds not to do what the scribes and Pharisees do because “they don’t practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them. They do everything to be observed by others: They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people” (Matt. 23:3b-7).
Finally, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day concoct their own twisted view of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus warns His disciples to “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” meaning their false teaching (Matt. 16:6, 11-12).
Apostles in disguise
Unfortunately, this “yeast” rises in the early church and manifests itself in many forms. Paul, for example, is forced to defend his true apostleship against those who have come into Corinth behind him, professing to be “super apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11). Paul calls them what they are: “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13). Specifically, he identifies three areas of false teaching; the “super apostles” preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
The “dreamers” about whom Jude writes are cut from the same cloth. Their arrogance, flattery, self-indulgence, and corrupt doctrines create strife within the body of Christ. Imagine the questions their false teaching has aroused among new converts and poorly grounded followers of Christ:
- “Can I truly compartmentalize my life in such a way that my sensual appetites don’t affect my spiritual walk?”
- “Is the grace of God a license to indulge my baser desires?”
- “Does my freedom in Christ mean there are no consequences for my behavior?”
- “Are the apostles’ doctrines outmoded?”
- “Which teachers should I follow?”
- “Should I rebuke demons – or even curse the Devil?”
- “Are prosperity and good health signs of God’s blessing?”
- And many others.
It may be that the false teachers compete with one another for prominence, much as some modern-day television evangelists attempt to out-sensationalize one another in a battle for ratings – and revenues. Paul faces a similar situation in Corinth, where some are saying “I’m with Paul,” “I’m with Apollos,” “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.” Such divisions grieve the apostle, who writes, “Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction” (1 Cor. 1:10).
There may be a tendency in some local churches to exalt one leader over others and, perhaps unintentionally, to surrender extra-biblical authority to that man or woman. The cult of personality is dangerous for a congregation. And it’s damaging to the venerated leader, who may succumb to pride, ultimately shipwrecking his ministry, not to mention the spiritual confidence of others. Jude sees this danger, and he exhorts his readers to avoid the divisions caused when God’s people idolize anyone claiming divine authority.
As the apostle John warns, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit [a person claiming divine gifting for service], but test the spirits to determine if they are from God” (1 John 4:1).
Edward Pentecost writes, “Wherever there is the authentic, the counterfeit will appear; this happened in the early church. False apostles and teachers began to appear, and it was necessary to develop a system to protect the church against false prophecies and forged letters. Since Christ had committed ‘the faith’ to His Apostles, one of the main tests in the early church was, ‘Is that what the Apostles taught?’ When the church assembled the New Testament books, it was required that each book be written either by an apostle or by someone closely associated with an apostle. Apostolic teaching was, and still is, the test of truth.”
How can Jude say false teachers are unbelievers?
Jude describes false teachers as “merely natural, not having the Spirit” (v. 19).9He seems to be stating plainly that these professing Christians are unbelievers. How can he make such a judgment? Doesn’t Jesus say, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matt. 7:1)? Isn’t God the only one who may rightly search the hearts of people (Jer. 17:10)? How can Jude possibly know that these interlopers are lost? Isn’t it possible they are merely deceived, or backslidden?
First, we should note that Jude describes these particular false teachers as “natural.” Literally, this means “animal-souled” and stands in contrast with “spiritual,” or “having the Spirit.” The apostle Paul describes the unbeliever as a “natural man” who “does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Clearly, these New Testament authors are depicting people outside the kingdom of God. Jude’s use of the term psuchikos – soulish, sensual, animal-souled – depicts them in sensual rather than spiritual terms. As John MacArthur states bluntly, “His [Jude’s] materialistic description exposed them for who they really were – religious terrorists who lacked such internal qualities as a proper self-perception, the ability to reason, and a true knowledge of God. Even though the false teachers claimed a transcendental understanding of God, they did not know Him at all.”
It may help our understanding to consider the three-fold nature of all people. God created us with body, soul, and spirit. The body, of course, is the physical part of us. Through our five senses, we relate to the natural world in which we live. Next, there is the soul, which is the unseen, conscious life consisting of mind, emotion, and will. Finally comes the spirit, the innermost part of us with which we relate to God, who is Spirit.
The “natural man,” as Paul and Jude depict him, is certainly alive in body and soul, but spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). That is, he can think, emote, and make decisions. But because he has rejected Christ, the Holy Spirit does not inhabit his human spirit. Therefore, his life is directed by what he experiences through his five senses, what he thinks about, and what he reasons from a mind that Satan has blinded and the Spirit has not renewed (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:4).
In essence, the “natural man” is only two-thirds alive. Being spiritually dead, he cannot know God or benefit from God’s presence in his life. It takes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit to make a person fully alive and able to live in a manner pleasing to God (John 3:3, 5; Rom. 8:9; 1 John 3:24; 4:13). Paul makes this distinction between the believer and the unregenerate person in Titus 1:15-16: “To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work.”
All right, you may say. So unbelievers are spiritually dead, natural, animal-soulish. But that doesn’t address the issue of how Jude, or any other apostle, could know that a false teacher is lost. How can they make such judgments? Several observations may prove helpful.
First, Jude and other New Testament writers pen their words under the divine direction of the Holy Spirit. Concerning the doctrine of inspiration, it is biblically faithful to say that the words of Jude are not Jude’s alone; they are the very words of God. Jude determines that the false teachers about whom he writes are outside the kingdom of God because the Holy Spirit already has made that determination and thus inspires Jude to confirm it in writing.
Second, the oft-quoted words of Jesus – “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matt. 7:1) – should be taken in context. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against hypocritical judgment. Only when we remove the log from our own eye are we sufficiently clear-eyed to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.
Jesus’ command does not preclude discernment. Immediately after Jesus says, “Do not judge,” He warns, “Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs” (Matt. 7:6). Not much later, He warns, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit” (vv. 15-16a). How are we to identify those who oppose the gospel or peddle false doctrines unless we “judge according to righteous judgment” (John 7:24)?
We are to be discerning (Col. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal. 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matt. 18:15-17). And we are always to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Finally, we may discover that certain people are unsaved based on their fruit – that is, their words and deeds. Some may boldly proclaim their defiance against Christ and their rejection of His finished work on the cross. Others may expose their need of redemption by professing Jesus, while revealing an unbiblical view of who He is and what He accomplished through His earthly ministry. Still others, like the false teachers to whom Jude refers, infiltrate the church and claim divine gifting for service. But their arrogant words and false doctrines, and their self-indulgent lifestyles, belie the depths of their depravity.
Gentleness and respect
Christians always should stand boldly in the truth. At times, this means confronting false teachers in our midst. Even so, we should defend the faith with gentleness and respect, keeping our conscience clear so that when we are accused – of judging falsely, for example – those who denounce us are put to shame (1 Peter 3:16).
We may think a landowner’s tree is dead when it bears no fruit, and our role as neighbor is well-served when we point this out. But we have no right to make firewood of the tree. Who is to say the gardener won’t dig a trench around it, and fertilize its soil for one more season? Perhaps next year it springs to life, or failing to do so, the landowner cuts it down (Luke 13:6-9).
Ultimately, final judgment is in the hands of Jesus (John 5:22). Only He knows when individuals have filled up their measure of sin, thus passing the point of no return (Matt. 23:32-33; 1 Thess. 2:16). A person may offer clear evidence that he is lost, and it is no sin for us to grasp the obvious. However, we move beyond the bounds of judging rightly when we conclude he has fallen so far that he cannot be redeemed.
Jude declares the false teachers of his day to be “merely natural, not having the Spirit” (v. 19), confirming the reason they were “designated for this judgment long ago” (v. 4). Under divine direction, Jude reveals the condition of their hearts and their ultimate destiny, a judgment God determined in eternity past.
Next: But You, Dear Friends: Hating the Garment Defiled by the Flesh