March 5, 2023
The relativism of our age would have us think that we can believe whatever we want and do whatever feels good. In contrast, Jude, writing nearly twenty centuries ago, appealed to believers to contend for the faith and to beware of those who were distorting the Gospel by exchanging its freedom for license. Alistair Begg reminds us that Jude’s appeal, while unpopular, is just as critical today. Genuine Christians must stand firm for “the faith,” neither adding to it nor subtracting from it, trusting that true freedom is found in Christ alone.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, as we turn now to the Bible, may the Spirit of God quicken our minds, stir our hearts, direct our wills, turn us afresh to Christ and to all that he has accomplished once for all. And in his name we pray. Amen.
Well, I invite you to turn to the letter of Jude, where, having made our way through verses 1 and 2, we come now to verses 3 and 4. And so let me read Jude 3–4. I hope you know that it’s the second-last book of the Bible. If you get to Revelation and go back one, you’re there.
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For 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.”
Let me just read it to you in Phillips’s paraphrase:
“I fully intended, dear friends, to write to you about our common salvation, but I feel compelled to make my letter to you an earnest appeal to put up a real fight for the faith which has been once and for all committed to those who belong to Christ. For there are men who have surreptitiously entered the Church but who have for a long time been heading straight for … condemnation I shall plainly give them. They have no real reverence for God, and they abuse his grace as an opportunity for immorality. They will not recognise the only master, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
One of the privileges and challenges of pastoral ministry is the opportunity to spend time in hospitals. I think probably pastors spend more time, outside of those who are medical practitioners, than any other people in the world. And no matter how many times I visit a hospital, I am always alarmed by hearing “Code blue.” It usually just comes with some kind of warning sound, and then it identifies the location in the building requiring an urgent response, acknowledging that there has now been a medical emergency. And every hospital, it would seem, has its own mechanism, its own policy, for making sure that a hasty response can be made—a hasty response to be made in hope that the patient will survive. Someone has to be bold enough to sound the warning, breaking into the normal course of events, because of the gravity of the situation, because of the prospect of death.
And the more I read Jude this week, the more I said to myself, “You know, this transition here from 2 into 3, from 3 into 4, is in some ways a spiritual code blue”—that he has said to himself, “You know, I was intending to write to you in a more leisurely fashion about all that is ours by way of common salvation, but I have dropped everything, because what I want to say to you is a matter of urgent necessity.” And what he’s actually doing here is sounding a wakeup call to a church—or, if you like, to churches (we don’t know the exact destination)—to people who have, half-asleep, allowed people to creep in unnoticed into their congregation; not just “certain people” but “ungodly people” who, Jude says, have an evil agenda.
And so, consequently, those to whom he writes this letter are facing a peculiar challenge that is not an external challenge, but it is an internal challenge. In other words, it’s not that they’re on the ramparts, as it were, of the citadel, looking out at those who are attacking them from the outside, but rather, Jude says, “If you want to know how a church will collapse, it won’t be as a result of what happens from the outside.” The Bible bears testimony to that. The blood of the martyrs has proved to be the seed of the church throughout all of church history, from the Acts of the Apostles and on. No, the fact that there is no church left in Ephesus, the fact that there was no church left here, the fact that the church crumbles in Scotland, the fact that places that were once known as citadels of the truth no longer have the same vibrancy is not because of the secular culture, but it is because of an internal collapse. And it is that reason that he writes in this way.
Now, he loves the people to whom he writes. He’s the shepherd of the sheep. He refers to them immediately as those who are “beloved in God,” and he uses that word throughout the letter: “Beloved, [though] I was very eager to write to you…” You will find it again and again. He, as the writer, along with the readers, finds himself as a partner in the salvation that they enjoy. And it is because of that that he makes this appeal. It’s important that we get this picture clearly in our minds, I think. Perhaps I belabor it; I hope not. He’s not writing, here, a gentle suggestion. This is an urgent cry. In the code blue—at least, I think, at the Clinic—they have a thing called the crash cart. And when the code blue sounds, someone gets that crash cart and gets there as fast as they possibly can. Jude says, “Exactly. That’s what’s going to happen.”
And he realizes that those to whom he writes are going to need backbone if they’re going to be able to heed this appeal. In fact, the word that he uses there—“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about [this] common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you”—is a word that we find frequently in our New Testament. Perhaps we would know it best in Romans chapter 12 and at the beginning of that verse, “I beseech you therefore, brethren…” “I beseech you. I urge you.” That’s what he’s saying here: “I appeal to you—appealing to you because you’re going to have to contend for the faith.”
Now, that word, again—that verb—is a very striking verb. It’s a long word in Greek, but at the heart of it you would find agony. Agony. The verb actually is agōnízomai. It comes in the different tense here. But he’s saying, “There’s going to be something that will really stretch you. This is going to demand exertion. You’re not going to be able to take this stand in a kind of willy-nilly fashion. You’re going to have to be prepared to stand for the faith.”
Now, you’ll notice: “the faith.” In other words, he’s not talking there about the fact that they believe this faith, subjectively. He’s talking about the faith objectively—in other words, an objective body of truth that is unchanged and unchanging; that it has been expressed, settled once for all, and entrusted to these believers.
In the [seventeenth] century, Thomas Manton wrote a commentary on Jude. I asked my assistant the other day, “Would you just go and find the first four verses that Manton did on Jude? Just the first four verses. I don’t need very much.” She came back with 170 A4 pages, which was Manton’s exposition of verses 1–4. The entire commentary… There’s still another twenty-one verses. I said, “Stop immediately! We will run out of paper.” So you think about it: there he is in the [seventeenth] century. And at one point in the commentary, speaking of “the faith,” he says it is “not a thing invented, but given; not found out by us, but delivered by God himself, and delivered … to our custody, that we [might] keep it for [eternity].” He died in 1677, urging the church in his day to make sure that they contended for the faith. Had he and others of the Puritan writers not done so, then the story of the subsequent four hundred years would surely be vastly different.
And that’s what makes it so crucial in every generation. What is happening in the teaching of children in the rooms right now is crucial in relationship to what he’s saying here. This is not just a “big people” story. It is a story that must be conveyed from the very beginning, with the children, that they might grow up, as we say in the baby dedications, “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The apostolic gospel—this once-for-all gospel, this faith—isn’t a loose association of ideas. It’s not a concept that can be reimagined and can be reconfigured in relationship to the peculiar challenges of the day and of the time.
There is only one gospel. We just sang it, didn’t we? I wonder: Did you find yourself just maybe wiggling just a little bit, if, like me, as you read the local newspaper, you said to yourself, “Well, I wonder if I should go to the interfaith open house planned at the Solon mosque this afternoon”? I did wonder that, actually, I must tell you. But if I go, and if they ask me, then if I’m going to contend for the faith, it’s going to be quite a challenge, isn’t it? Unless, of course, you believe that faith is just whatever you want it to be—that, after all, “we have faith,” the broadcasters say, “and we follow them with our prayers.” Nobody knows who they’re praying to or what they’re praying about—nothing at all! It just sounds fairly good. That is not what he’s addressing here. This is a matter that is absolutely crucial.
It’s the kind of thing that you get where Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, where we have the great chapter on the resurrection: that Jesus has triumphed over the grave. He’s the only one that has done it. Muhammad didn’t do it. We would have to say that. And they would have to be honest and tell me, “No, I know he didn’t”—that he was buried in Mecca. Jesus was buried, but they could never find him, because he rose again. Either that is part of the faith… “I would remind you, brothers [and sisters], of the gospel I preached to you”—1 Corinthians 15—“which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” That’s striking! He’s not actually just disbursing some vague notion about religiosity or spirituality or whatever it might be—many of the sort of contemporary ways we look at these things. No, it’s very, very different from that. And the thing that makes it so striking is because of the relativism of our age. Because the immediate reaction of friends—understandably, because of the way the last fifty years or so has gone—people will say, “Well, surely that can’t be the case. Aren’t we agreed that all faiths are equally valid? Aren’t we happy to accommodate everyone and anyone? Surely no one is going to claim once-for-all authority.”
Now, let me tell you something—and you can read history and find this out. The shift from “the faith,” the faith, to “faith” signals the beginning of the end of any church or any denomination or any intellectual institution. Read history, and realize that, with some help from Scotland, I have to let you know—that with some help from Scotland, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale once began, at the very core of it, with the training of ministers for the gospel, for the one gospel, the faith “once … delivered to the saints,” “once for all.” That’s where they began. Today, without being unkind in any way, they are far removed from their roots in historic orthodoxy.
Now, this is what Jude is saying here. This is his appeal: “I appeal to you, I beseech you, that you will contend for these things, that you will be prepared to make a robust statement in the time in which you live.”
Now, the attack that comes is multivarious but largely on two fronts. People would attack it by way of deletion: “We don’t have to be so bold. We don’t have to be so firm. We believe in the resurrection, but we don’t need everybody to believe in the resurrection. We believe in the purity of the Scriptures, but people have various ideas of the Scriptures.” And so it goes on. And any part of the overarching truth of the gospel that is embarrassing in a culture will—unless people are absolutely convinced and prepared to contend—will gradually slip away. You see it classically at the moment… And we mentioned it before, and we’re coming to it in verse 4, because the issue is immorality. The issue is sensuality. Can it possibly be that the Church of England, the church of Bishop Ryle of Liverpool, the church of Thomas Watson, that the Church is actually saying, “These things don’t matter; these things we can play fast and loose with”?
By addition it is tampered with. Many of you come from a Roman Catholic background. I know that because you tell me. And in conversation with our Roman Catholic friends… Because people write to me all the time, because they listen to it on the radio. And by and large, they write to say, “You know, you’re a fine fellow, Begg, until we don’t like you.” And most recently, they didn’t like me because they heard what I had to say about the nature of Communion.
Now, loved ones, we need to understand this: that Roman Catholicism has two foundations for authority—sacred Scripture and tradition. Both Scripture and tradition. And in their catechisms, they affirm that both Scripture and tradition must be honored and accepted with “equal”—equal!—“sentiments of devotion and reverence.” Now, Luther… Luther then realized that he was going to have to choose between the teaching of the Church and the teaching of the Scriptures. Because the Roman Catholic Church taught and teaches that only the Church can interpret the Scriptures for the not-so-bright members of the congregation. That’s number one: only the Church can interpret it. And secondly, it believes that the Spirit still speaks through the Church, thereby making the door open to ex cathedra statements by the pope, by the bishops, adding to the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. Where else do you think we get purgatory from? There is no basis in the Bible for purgatory at all. What is happening? It is the tampering with the faith, either by addition or by deletion.
Now, just before I came here, I found a piece by a gentleman I’ve never met before. Michael’s his name. He’s the president of the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut. And he actually took on the question of Prince Charles, now King Charles, “the faith” versus “faith”—the big question in the coronation: What does he really mean when he says what he says in the coronation oath? But this fellow has deconstructed it to this point: he says,
If King Charles must become defender of something, … make him Defender of Humanity, Defender of Human Dignity, … Defender of Justice. But all that may [be just] a grade too steep for the new monarch to climb. It is very good that the king, when he was Prince of Wales, not only extolled the virtues of environmental health, but also led initiatives to combat climate change. [And] as a lover of the environment, King Charles III might still serve the world well, were he to at least become Defender of the Earth.
And people will read that, and they’ll go, “That makes perfect sense!” After all, he just wrote a book for children, so that children may, from the age of three, four, five, be confronted by the great apocalyptic catastrophe that is apparently before us if we don’t all turn immediately green. So you’ve got children going to their beds at night saying, “Will the Cuyahoga River swallow us up? What is going to happen to us? Will I be awake in the morning?” “Yes,” we can say. Why? Because we have a Bible. Set the Bible aside, and you may find yourself wondering along with your children.
Are you still with me? Calvin says if we consider what schemes the Evil One employs to divert the faith, “what was a useful warning in the time of Jude, is more than necessary in our age.” What age? The [sixteenth] century. Loved ones, you are sensible people. You have to read your Bibles. You’ve got to think this stuff out. But I would wager that evangelicalism—of which we are a part if there is such an ism—evangelicalism is probably more nontheological at this point in history than at any other point in history. More nontheological—so that you will even find those who are supposed to be the teachers of the faith in seminaries, teachers of the faith in churches playing fast and loose with the very issues. It’s one of the reasons that Jude is one of the most neglected books in the Bible. Philemon only has about the same number of verses, but people are much keener on Philemon. It’s cozier. This one is hard. This is uncomfortable. This is a code blue. This is Jude saying, “Contend for the faith.”
I’ll just come back to the question of the interfaith open house, which is, of course, a nice and a wonderful thing and an obvious thing for a new congregation to do. And we recognize that, living in democracy, as John Stott taught me so clearly, that we believe in social tolerance—that we believe different things; we dress in a different way; we observe different functions. We believe in that. That is part and parcel of our lives: social tolerance. We believe in legal tolerance—namely, that people have the same rights to propound whatever view they have, be it spiritual, economic, political, or in whatever way; the big issues of free speech. We believe in legal tolerance. But we don’t believe in an intellectual tolerance, which pares everything down to the lowest common denominator and says that five hundred feet above sea level is whatever you want it to be, or that a man is whatever you want to conceive him to be, or that marriage is whatever you have decided you’d like it to be. Code blue.
Well, that’s the appeal in verse 3. Now we come to these “certain people” in verse 4. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that he just refers to them as “certain people”? I’m sure he could have named them. For whatever reason, he chose not to. Probably a good reminder to us: this is not a personality issue. And the men that we’re about to meet in verse 4 will actually be very likable people in our culture, very likable people in an evangelicalism that has become nontheological: a sort of “Happy time for the family, raise your teens, figure out your finances, and try your best to have a nice day, and be as positive as you possibly can, but whatever you do, don’t start into any of this stuff. No, no. Uh-uh.” No, they’ll be very likable.
And, in fact, if you’re going to take the side of Jude here, then I need you to know that you’re actually going to be unpopular. Unpopular. Which is a real challenge for some of us. It’s not a big challenge for me; I’m used to being unpopular. But the fact of the matter is that it is when push comes to shove. The Iron Lady is long gone. Speaking in political terms, not spiritual terms—I wrote this down a long time ago—she said to people that she had met with, “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” If you simply set out to be liked—if being liked is the issue—then you’re going to have to fudge on things, let go of that, agree to that, and enjoy being affirmed, and recognize that actually, you’ll be accomplishing nothing.
So, the appeal is on the basis of the reason. “Why are you making this appeal?” Answer in verse 4: because of this internal opposition. Surreptitiously, crafty folks “have crept in.” They’ve “crept in unnoticed.” In other words, presumably these were itinerant preachers. These were people who had begun to make a name for themselves and would be able to be attractive to those who were seeking to follow the things of God. But these are infiltrators who have ingratiated themselves. By the time we get to verse 16—sometime in 2024 at this rate—but by the time you get to 16, you get a flavor of that: it says that these “are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain [their] advantage.” Creeps. “Oh, he’s a very nice person.” “No, she’s a lovely lady.” “Oh, no. No, no, I think she would be very good for the Bible study.” “No, I think he’d be perfect. Perhaps he should become an elder.”
Jude is issuing a really strong warning. He’s not unique in this. And that’s why I want to remind you of the second letter of John, where, in the course of his letter, he writes to his readers, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching”—that is, the teaching the faith once delivered—“do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”
So the issue is very clear. These individuals would not be coming to the church families that he is writing to saying, “At eleven o’clock in room 203, we’re going to have a séance.” No, they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t be saying, “If you meet me in the hallway, we’ll be down in the Commons, and as soon as we’ve had a coffee, I’d love to read your palm, and I brought my tarot cards with me.” No, that would be fairly straightforward, wouldn’t it? Even the least theological would say, “Wait a minute; I don’t think that’s supposed to happen here.” No, they won’t be doing that. No, they’ll be suggesting that they ought to teach a class. They’ll be ingratiating themselves in such a way that people, blind people, will not understand the disguise.
“But,” says Jude, “you should know that this will not take God by surprise.” That’s the second phrase there in verse 4, isn’t it? These people “long ago were designated for this condemnation.” Or in the NIV it says this “condemnation,” or the results of this kind of activity, “was written about long ago.” And I think we’re going to see something of what that means by the time we get, for example, to verse 11, where he’s going back in time, and he says, “Woe to them!”—in contemporary terms—because what they’ve done is “walked in the way of Cain,” and they’ve done this in relation to “Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.” We’ll have to unpack that later on when we come to it.
But for the time, what he’s saying is “When this occurs, don’t think for a moment that God, as it were, looks over the ramparts in heaven and says, ‘Wow! How in the world?’” No. No, these certain persons are “ungodly people.” Their character will be revealed in their behavior, and their behavior will be an evidence of their beliefs.
What do they do? Well, they “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality”—one—“deny[ing] our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”—two. In other words, he says, “Beneath their pious skins, they are shameless characters. Their presentation will appeal to people who are happy to go to the broadest perspective possible on what it might mean to speak of the faith. But,” he says, “don’t be deceived by it, because their strategy is to replace the grace of God with license.” With license.
Just in passing: when Paul is tackling the issue in Galatia, the challenge to the gospel there is legalism—saying, “You’re not a true Christian unless you have this and this and this, unless you do this and this and this.” And Paul has to write Galatians to say, “Stand fast in the freedom with which Christ has set you free.” It is the flip side of it that is here in Jude. These people are not saying, “You need to tighten up.” These people are saying, “You need to lighten up.” In fact, when Kenneth Taylor paraphrases it, the phrase here—what is it?—that they “pervert the grace of … God into sensuality,” Taylor’s paraphrase says something like “They say we can do what we like without fear.” “We can do what we like without fear.” The issue, in technical terms, is antinomianism. Nomos is “law.” Anti- is “against.” They are against any notion of the law of God. And the word that is used here for this “sensuality” is a graphic word. Aselgeia it is in Greek. And it covers the full range of things. It’s not specific; it’s general: sensuality, debauchery, sexual permissiveness, and so on.
So, what they actually do is they take the gospel call to sinners. What is the gospel call to sinners? “Come as you are.” Right? “Come as you are. You don’t clean up and come. You come dirty; I’ll clean you up. Come as you are.” And they change that to “You can stay as you are.” “You could stay as you are.” That’s what they’re saying: “Oh, you could still sleep with the lady up the street. No, you could still do that. Of course you can! I mean, it might be a little tricky for a while, but there’s always forgiveness.” They don’t worry about that kind of thing. That’s what’s involved here: the gospel perverted, changed into a smokescreen for immorality.
Consider the collapse of largely apparently significant evangelical pastors in the last twenty years. We don’t need to go beyond that. And what’s involved in it? Aselgeia. Immorality. Sensuality. Debauchery. Saying to people, “Hey, it doesn’t matter.” At the worst states in history, temple prostitutes: it’s part of the deal. Areas of the darkness of medieval Christianity bearing testimony to this. And waking up in the twenty-first century and saying, “Nothing has changed at all.”
You see what their message is: “God loves us. Everything goes.” That’s not the grace of God. When they ask the question “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”—Romans 6:1—the answer they give is “Yes!” And Jude says, “You’d better be really careful here.”
I looked for it this morning; I was excited to find it: as I was rereading my notes earlier on, I said, “You know, there’s a great quote from Sinclair Ferguson that we got when we did his book Devoted to God in our elders’ meeting.” Here it is, writing about this antinomos:
We live in an antinomian world ….
… We frequently hear that God loves us the way we are. …
… The truth is that since the fall of Adam God has loved only one person the way he is. We have lost sight of the fact that it is the way we are by nature that put Christ on the cross. The biblical perspective is quite different: God loves us despite the way we are.
That’s not just a subtle distinction. That is absolutely foundational. And that was what these folks were up against, and that is why he sounds out this note.
Now, I’m not going to belabor it by going to contemporary illustrations. You can make the application yourself. And you will see how the moral and the doctrinal interface with one another: they “pervert the grace of … God into sensuality”—they change the tune—and they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” In other words, they do what we’re tempted to do, and that is change our view of God to fit our immoral choices. I mean, I either, confronted by the truth of God’s Word, have to bow down underneath it and say, “Jesus is my Master, and he is my Lord, and he is my King, and I don’t have an option,” or I have to reconfigure somehow or another. I’ve got to go somewhere where somebody tells me, “No, this is perfectly okay.”
You see, the great threat to the authority of Scripture comes not only by, you know, the addition of dogma in any form, but also, probably the great challenge to the authority of the Scriptures in your life and mine is the authority of our experience: “I know God says it’s wrong, but I’m sure he understands. After all, it just feels so right.” If I had a dollar for every time I had somebody in my study explaining that this was the reason that they were leaving their marriage partner, I’d be pretty rich: “I know God says it’s wrong, but I’m sure he won’t mind. After all, it just feels so right.”
The bottom line is this—and we’ll have to come back to this. But we have no basis at all… If we’re genuine Christians, we have no freedom to believe anything other than what Jesus taught. What Jesus taught he then gave to his apostles. The apostles then wrote it down in the Scriptures. They not only gave the revelation of who Jesus is and what he has done, but they gave the interpretation of that revelation: “Christ died”—revelation—“for sins”—interpretation—“according to the gospel”—explanation. We have no right to believe anything other than Jesus taught, and we have no freedom to behave in any other way than what he demands. How crazy would we be to step outside the borders of Christ’s protective love? It’s because he loves us so much that he wants to hold us together in that way.
Well, Jude the shepherd can’t sit idly by and watch the invasion and destruction of the flock. He offers not helpful advice but a strong, striking, prophetic word from God through him to the saints, urging them to wake up and “contend for the faith.” A necessary message, I think.
Father, thank you for your Word. Help us not to make application of this that takes us beyond the boundaries of our own lives. We are susceptible to denying you as our Master. We routinely seem to find it intriguing that we might be able to just minimize some of your straightforward demands in order that we might be able to justify our experience. Lord, grant that in tackling these issues, or being tackled by these issues, that we may have the gentleness and meekness of Christ and yet the boldness of those who took their stand in their day. We hear you say to us, “Wake up. Get up. Get on.” And we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Jude 1 (ESV).
 Romans 12:1 (KJV).
 Thomas Manton, A Practical Commentary, or an Exposition with Notes on the Epistle of Jude (London, 1658), 143.
 Ephesians 6:4 (KJV).
 1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (ESV).
 Michael P. L. Friday, “King Charles Should Abolish the Term ‘Defender of the Faith,’” Baptist News Global, September 14, 2022, https://baptistnews.com/article/king-charles-should-abolish-the-term-defender-of-the-faith.
 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. John Owen (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1855), 427.
 2 John 10–11 (ESV).
 Jude 4 (NIV).
 Jude 11 (ESV).
 Galatians 5:1 (paraphrased).
 Jude 4 (paraphrased from TLB).
 Romans 6:1 (KJV).
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2016), 172–73.
 1 Corinthians 15:3 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.