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 first half of Chapter 15: But You, Dear Friends: Hating the Garment Defiled by the Flesh.
Previously: The Divisions False Teachers Create
But you, dear friends, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on some who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; on others have mercy in fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. (Jude 20-23 HCSB)
Fans of the phenomenally popular sit-com Seinfeld may recall the episode that first aired April 15, 1993. “The Smelly Car” revolves around a parking valet’s excessive body odor, which attaches itself to the interior of Jerry’s BMW. The malignant scent clings to Jerry’s clothing, and it lingers in Elaine’s hair, ruining her romantic life.
Exasperated, Jerry tells his friend Kramer, “Don’t you see what’s happening here? It’s attached itself to me! It’s alive! … This is not just an odor – you need a priest to get rid of this thing!”
Determined to get satisfaction, Jerry drives back to the restaurant where the valet soiled his car and demands that the maître d’ pay for detailing. When the maître d’ refuses, Jerry locks him in the car until, overcome by the stench, he relents. Jerry has the car thoroughly cleaned, but to no avail; the B.O. remains. So, he tries returning the car, but the dealership won’t take it back due to the invasive stench.
At last, Jerry drives into a rough neighborhood, leaves the car unlocked, and sets the keys in plain sight. At this point, he just wants to be rid of the vehicle at any cost. A young thief waits for Jerry to walk away, then seizes the opportunity to take the BMW for a joyride. Once inside the befouled car, he changes his mind.
Co-writer Peter Melhman reportedly got the idea for the episode from the real-life experience of a friend.
It’s not uncommon to find ourselves in situations where flop sweat, the smoke of burning trash, or a run-in with a skunk produces a malodorous companion to our hair and clothing, attracting unwanted attention and requiring a thorough remedy. The polluting effects of soiled garments are in Jude’s mind when he writes the final verses of his epistle, for he warns his readers to beware of the collateral damage done by those engaged in ungodly behavior. He instructs followers of Jesus to “have mercy in fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (v. 23).
Fortunately, the One who is able to make us “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy” (v. 24), is the same One who walks through a Babylonian furnace with three Hebrew men and delivers them safely without so much as a hint of smoke on their clothing.
A defensive perimeter
Now that Jude has equipped us to recognize false teachers by what they say and how they live – and to rest assured that God deals harshly with them – he caps his epistle with practical advice.
Jude begins the final segment of his letter with four exhortations for erecting a defensive perimeter around our spiritual lives: We are to build ourselves up in our faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep ourselves in the love of God, and expect the mercy of Christ for eternal life.
Next, we are to deal shrewdly with those who have surrendered ground to false teachers in the church. Some are in doubt; some are in peril; and some have become a danger to the rest.
Finally, as we see in the next chapter, covering verses 24-25, Jude offers a rich doxology that exalts God, who protects us from stumbling, and ensures that we stand blameless and joyful in His presence one day.
What do we do about false teachers?
Thomas Schreiner writes, “Jude recognized that his readers would not continue to be devoted to the faith if they concentrated only on resisting the opponents, as important as that was. The readers must also grow in the Christian faith themselves and keep themselves in the sphere of God’s love.”
Jude directs us to build a defensive perimeter around our spiritual lives. There are four key elements.
Build yourselves up
First, Jude encourages his readers to stay doctrinally strong, “building yourselves up in your most holy faith” (v. 20). That “faith” is the same as “the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” (v. 3). Right actions spring from right beliefs, which are based on a right knowledge of God’s Word. This means “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15b KJV). In practical terms, spiritual edification must be grounded in a study of God’s Word.
Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “And now I commit you to God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). And he writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The idea of building is a consistent one throughout the New Testament. Consider:
- Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:15-20).
- The church is the sanctuary of the living God (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
- Believers are members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-22).
- Christians are “living stones,” being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:5).
Further, Paul writes that the only foundation of the church is Christ. We must build on that foundation to receive a reward when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:10 – 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:1-10). If we build on that foundation with gold, silver, and costly stones – that is, good works grounded in sound doctrine – we receive a reward. But if we build with wood, hay, or straw – dead works rooted in the flesh – our works are consumed in the fires of judgment. Our salvation remains intact, but we exit the judgment like a man escaping a house fire with only the shirt on his back (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
Every Christian builds upon his or her faith in Christ. But whatand howwe build depends on our grasp of the Word of God. And, in the end, it all passes through the purging fires of the believer’s judgment. The good is purified; the dross is destroyed.
Pray in the Spirit
Second, Jude encourages us to pray in the Holy Spirit. This is not a reference to speaking in tongues, which would limit such prayers to those the Spirit has so gifted. Rather, it means to pray in a manner consistent with the Holy Spirit’s will.
Praying in or with the Spirit (or spirit) is mentioned three times in Scripture. In his commentary on the gift of tongues, Paul writes, “I will pray with the spirit [note the lower case, indicating the inner person, not the Holy Spirit], and I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with my understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15). Paul does not forbid the Corinthians to pray or sing in unlearned languages (v. 39), but he argues that it’s better to include the mind and thus understand what is being communicated so as to benefit the congregation (vv. 15-19). This clearly is a different context than the one in which Jude writes.
The second reference to praying in the Spirit/spirit is Eph. 6:18, where Paul writes, “With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and stay alert in this, with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” This passage identifies the Holy Spirit’s role as our helper in prayer. As Kenneth Wuest points out, all true prayer is exercised in the sphere of the Holy Spirit, motivated and empowered by Him. “That means that if the saint expects to really pray, he must be Spirit-filled or Spirit-controlled. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is the prerequisite to effectual praying…. We pray by means of the Holy Spirit, in dependence on Him.”
The final reference to praying in the Holy Spirit, of course, is Jude 20. Praying in the Spirit here means praying in harmony with the Word of God, and with the will of God, for the glory of God. The Lord reveals His will in His Word (see, for example, Deut. 17:19-20; Ps. 119:11, 105, 130; Matt. 4:4; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), but often we lack the ability to apply His will to circumstances in our lives.
That’s where the Spirit helps us. He intercedes for us before the Father with sympathy and urgency (Rom. 8:26-27). Writing to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts his readers to put on the full armor of God so they may stand against the wiles of Satan. He follows this immediately by writing, “With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and stay alert in this, with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). The Holy Spirit teaches what we are to pray for, and how.
Praying in the Holy Spirit means praying according to the leading of the Spirit. Warren Wiersbe points out, “As Christians, we may pray in solitude (Matt. 6:6), but we never pray alone; the Spirit of God joins with us as we pray because He knows the mind of God and can direct us…. When the believer is yielded to the Spirit, then the Spirit will assist him in his prayer life, and God will answer prayer.”
Put another way, praying in the Spirit includes realizing that our prayers are carried along by the third person of the triune Godhead, in the name of Jesus Christ, to the throne room where the Father sits in glory. “True prayer,” writes Samuel M. Zwemer, “is God the Holy Spirit talking to God the Father in the name of God the Son, and the believer’s heart in the prayer-room.”
In his classic book, Prayer Power Unlimited, J. Oswald Sanders writes, “In this prayer life, the believer has the aid of two Advocates who continually make themselves available and plead his cause…. The Son of God intercedes for us before the throne of glory, securing for us the benefits of His mediatorial work…. The Spirit of God is Christ’s Advocate in our hearts to meet our deepest needs.”
Sanders lists six ways the Spirit helps us in prayer:
(1) He introduces us into the presence of the Father (Eph. 2:18).
(2) He overcomes our reluctance, working in us the desire to pray (Zech. 12:10).
(3) He imparts a sense of sonship and acceptance that creates freedom and confidence in the presence of God (Gal. 4:6).
(4) He helps us in the ignorance of our minds and in the infirmities of our bodies, as well as the maladies of the soul (Rom. 8:26).
(5) He takes our faltering and imperfect prayers, adds to them the incense of the merits of Christ, and puts them in a form acceptable to the Father (Rev. 8:3).
(6) He lays special burdens of prayer on believers who are walking in fellowship with Him (Dan. 10:2-3).
Keep in the love of God
Third, Jude urges his readers to keep themselves in the love of God. Of course, God always loves us. His love is unconditional and enduring. In verse 1, Jude tells followers of Jesus they are “loved by God the Father.” As the apostle John notes, it is “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The word translated “propitiation” is hilasmosin the Greek and conveys the idea of satisfaction. That is, while God’s justice demands satisfaction for our sins, His love provided that satisfaction in the sacrificial and substitutionary death of His Son on the cross, thus restoring a peaceful relationship between holy God and sinful humans.
Jude’s instruction, then, seems to be that we operate in the sphere of His love as obedient children. It’s within that sphere that we experience divine blessing. Paul encourages Roman believers about the triumph of their faith in God, whose love has been poured out in their hearts through the Holy Spirit. He goes on to remind them that “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Rom. 5:5, 8).
Later in his epistle, Paul brings the believer’s triumph of faith to a climax by asking and answering a key question: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? … For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Rom. 8:35a, 38-39).
Jesus tells His disciples, “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.” As a result, “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-11).
The depth of our love for Jesus is measured by the degree of our obedience to Him. If we remain in His love, taking up our crosses daily, and being led by the indwelling Spirit, we bear much fruit for the kingdom of heaven and enjoy divine blessings. However, if we become disobedient children, we move from blessing to chastening, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us: “And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly, or faint when you are reproved by Him; for the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:5-6).
The Lord’s chastening matches our measure of rebellion. It is intended for our good as He conforms us to His image. And it serves to protect His kingdom from internal corruption. For some, the still, small voice of the Spirit is sufficient to prompt repentance. For others, rebuke comes through Christ’s servants in the form of personal intervention or church discipline. Paul, for example, confronts Peter about his duplicity with respect to treatment of Jewish and Gentile believers (Gal. 2:11-15). And he instructs the church at Corinth to remove from fellowship a man having sexual relations with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5:1-5). Sometimes, the chastening is severe. Peter delivers words of death to Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). And Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that failure to conduct a thorough self-examination before partaking of the Lord’s table may result in sickness, and even death (1 Cor. 11:27-32).
Thomas Schreiner writes, “God keeps his own, and yet believers must keep themselves in God’s love. Jude represented well the biblical tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. On the one hand, believers only avoid apostasy because of the grace of God. On the other hand, the grace of God does not cancel out the need for believers to exert all their energy to remain in God’s love.”
Expect the mercy of Christ
Jude tells us to expect the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. The New American Standard Bible challenges Christians to be “waiting anxiously.” The New Revised Standard Version urges us to “look forward to” the Lord’s mercy, while The Message has Jude telling readers they should be “keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready.”
The bottom line is that all Christians should live in the light of eternity, eagerly awaiting the return of our Lord. At the circumcision of Jesus, Simeon takes the child in his arms and offers prophetic praise to God. Luke describes Simeon as “righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation” (Luke 2:25b). Immediately after this, a prophetess named Anna steps forward and speaks about the Lord to all who are looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).
After Jesus’ death, Pilate grants Joseph of Arimathea permission to bury the crucified body of the Savior. Mark depicts Joseph as “a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43a). No doubt, righteous Israelites faithfully anticipated the coming of the Messiah, and they rejoiced in His appearance as Jesus of Nazareth.
Today, Christians look back, with grateful hearts, at the finished work of Christ on the cross. Equally important, we keep our arms open and outstretched as we anticipate His glorious return. Calls to wait expectantly dot the New Testament epistles. Paul admonishes the Corinthians to “eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7b). He reminds the Philippian saints, “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). And he applauds the Thessalonians for turning from idols to God, and for waiting “for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:10).
Further, Paul tells us there is a reward – a “crown of righteousness” – reserved for the day of judgment for “all those who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). And he urges Titus to consider how the grace of God instructs us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts, and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, “while we wait for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Jude, in the context of his letter, conceives of mercy as something future – something yet to be received at the coming of the Lord. This does not negate the benefits of His present mercy; rather, it stresses that at His coming, when we are glorified and the effects of the Fall are reversed, we possess the full and final benefits of His mercy. This includes both the removal of what we actually deserve – everlasting separation from God in hell – and full conformity to His image.
We see Jesus as He is, and we are like Him, reflecting His holiness, purity, and love. We serve Him on a fully renovated earth and experience sinless perfection throughout the coming ages. This is true life, everlasting life, as God created it and intended it to be. The fallen world in which we live is crumbling beneath the weight of sin. It cannot endure. But the One who became sin for us tells us to wait, watch, and be ready. “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace,” He tells His disciples. “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Next: Under the Spell of False Teachers