June 25, 2023
“Did God really say that?” Such challenges to God’s word began in the garden of Eden and continue to this day. In his letter to the early church, Jude identified telltale signs of false teachers who distort the truth, cause division, and lead others astray. Walking us through Jude’s warnings, Alistair Begg explains that life and peace are only truly enjoyed when we experience Christ’s forgiveness. God’s indwelling Spirit enables believers to understand and obey the living, unchanging Word of God—and to recognize its counterfeits.
Sermon Transcript: Print
And now we return to our studies in the letter of Jude, which, if you’re unfamiliar with your Bible, then it’s the second-last book of the Bible. So if you get to Revelation and turn left, you will eventually meet Jude. And we’ve been studying this for some weeks now, and some of us are very keen to get to the end, but we’re not quite there. So let me read the verses that are ours to study now this morning, verses 17–19.
And Jude writes, “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.”
Father, as we turn now to your Word, we pray that the Spirit of God will illumine it to us and bring it home to our hearts and lives in a way that causes us to have a divine encounter with you, the living God, that brings us both to faith and to trust and to obedience. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, I think we are all aware of the fact that in the last few days, for whatever reason, there has been an increased interest, a renewed interest, in the press and in the media on what actually led to COVID—on the question of the Wuhan leak theory. And President Biden has been called on to speed up the declassification of US intelligence so that we might know exactly, to the degree that it is known, what was going on. Of course, opinions are divided, and the information is scant. It is quite unthinkable that it would have been something that was done deliberately. However, if it was something that was done haphazardly or carelessly, it would not in any way mitigate the impact—the devastating physical impact as a result of this virus taking hold not only in a small space but in an entirely worldwide space.
Now, the reason I mention that is because what we’re actually dealing with in Jude is a virus. It is a virus that Jude says is now present in the church, those to whom he writes—“these people,” whom he has already described, who are “pervert[ing] the grace of … God,” suggesting that the grace of God provides a license for them to do as they please, to believe what they want, and, in a far more devastating way, to be the catalyst for encouraging others to imbibe this dreadful potion. And he’s not writing about it, as we’ve seen, in a theoretical way. He’s not suggesting that this is a possibility that may happen. If you have the text in front of you, you will see that he says in verse 4 that these “certain people have crept in unnoticed.” They are actually there.
And he is prepared to use very striking, forceful, unequivocal language, because he cares so much for those to whom he writes. Any notion that they might have of him being a kind of cranky individual or a fault finder or somebody who just wants to look for bad things all over the place is completely set aside by just paying attention to the tone of his letter. Notice in verse 3, he refers to them as “beloved.” “I love you folks,” he says. “I was planning on writing to you about the vastness of our salvation, but I felt constrained by the circumstances to take on the particular responsibility of pointing out what is being faced by you.” And you will notice that here in verse 17, he once again is addressing them in this kind and beloved way: “But you must remember, beloved…”
Now, we ought not to be surprised by this. In the same way that our bodies are prone to disease, so the body of Christ is also prone to disease—that the body of Christ is susceptible to that which may be planted within it unwittingly but purposefully, unaware of it in terms of the immediacy of what’s going on, often taking a little time to finally expand and explode in such a way that everyone has occasion to say, “How did this ever happen?” And the fact is that silently and in a creepy way, these individuals were present.
One of the books that I’m reading this week is about a fellow called Peter Erdő, who’s a bishop—a Roman Catholic bishop, actually—from Hungary. And I wanted to read about him for a variety of reasons, and it’s a fairly straightforward book. And it’s in the form of a dialogue, and the person asks him at one point, “Now, when you went to seminary, were you aware of the fact that the Soviet spies were actually in the seminary?” And he said, “Well, yes, we actually were.” Well then, in that case, they were ahead of what many a place experiences, in that although these individuals have crept in unnoticed, the people are naive to their presence. “And so,” Jude says, “I’m going to have to insist on this: that you fight with everything in you to contend for the faith that has been entrusted to us, that is to be guarded by us and is to be cherished by us.”
Now, he’s about to make the transition from this great word of warning, which has really begun in verse 5 and all the way through to 19. But before he gets to 20, to the encouraging side, the positive side of things, he takes a final glance, if you like, at these individuals. He wants the people to know about their character, and he wants to know about the devastating impact that it will have upon them if they succumb to the teaching of these people.
Now, again, it is important that as a pastor, the pastor has care for the flock—any time you think about this and the responsibility of it, how important it is to know the needs that are represented by God’s people. John Owen in an earlier era, writing to ministers about what he referred to as the effective performance of our primary pastoral duty—How are we to be effective in this responsibility of teaching the Bible? And he says it is vitally important that the pastor has spiritual discernment as to the needs and nature of the congregation, with reference, he says, to temptations, to their light or darkness, to their growth or decay, to their flourishing or their withering. “He who doth not … consider these things” will “never [preach] aright [to] them”—so that we’re not preaching over the tops of our congregation’s heads. We’re not introducing them to theories of our own. We in pastoral ministry have the responsibility to lead, to feed, to watch, and to warn.
And in the same way that it was a challenge to Jude to write as he wrote, so it is a challenge to me to preach what he wrote. And what does he say? Well, first of all, he recognizes the real danger of forgetfulness. The Bible has a lot to say about remembering, about fastening our minds on things. “But you must remember, beloved,” he begins in verse 17. He’s already reminded them back in verse 5. He said to them there, “I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it…” “I need to just keep telling you these things.”
It seems to me that that is a large part of the responsibility of the teacher—instead of when young men come to me and say, “And so what are the differences over all these years, and what are you doing now that you didn’t do then, and what did you do then that you aren’t doing now?” I find it very, very hard to actually answer those questions with anything sensible, because I basically say, “Well, I’m trying to do better now what I was doing then—that is, to fulfill the responsibility: to love people, and to teach them, and to remind them.” It’s pastoral ministry. Peter, as the pastor, writes in 1 and 2 Peter along these lines. He says, “I’m stirring you up by way of sincere reminder. I intend always to remind you,” he says, “even though you know these things, even though you’re firmly established in the truth, so that in years to come,” he says, “you will remember this.”
So it’s vital, you see, that the readers of Jude’s letter, which is all about the gospel—and that includes us, because we are readers of Jude—it’s vitally important that they and we understand the message of the gospel; that we understand the nature of truth, because it is only in being made aware of the truth that we would be able to identify error. You don’t learn how to deal with counterfeit money, apparently, by spending your time looking at lots and lots of counterfeit bills. You learn how to identify the counterfeit by embedding in yourself a complete understanding of what the true actually looks like.
And so, the reason for Jude’s concern about “these people” to which he refers is that those to whom he writes may not succumb to that error—that we are dealing here with the material that has been entrusted to the apostles. Remember, Jesus said, “I’m going away, and the Holy Spirit will come, and he will lead you into all truth.” And the truth of the gospel, embedded in the hearts and minds of the apostles, is then inscripturated for us and given to us in the Scriptures. And when Peter refers to it, he says if you want to know what has happened in the delivery of Scripture, it is this: “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Bible is not a collection of sort of religious documents all tagged together, having a strength in and of itself, a literary strength. You hear people say, “Well, I love the literature of the Bible. Don’t know a thing about what it means, but I do love the literature of the Bible.” Well, that’s at least a start.
But whether we love the literature of the Bible or not, we know that God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. And therefore, the warnings of Jude are vital for us. When Paul left the Ephesian elders, he warned them, “From among your own selves will arise wolves who will draw people away from you.” They must have said to one another, “I don’t think that will ever happen here.” But it did happen. Peter says the same thing.
The apostolic predictions must be remembered, says Jude. What did they say in their predictions? Well, verse 18 tells us: “They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers.’” Now, people are asking at the moment, because of the chaos of our world, “Do you think this is the last time?” Answer: yes. Why? Well, because the last time began with the incarnation of Jesus and will end with the return of Jesus. But if you’re asking me, Do I think it is the last time of the last time of the last time?—well, I’m going to take a pass on that one, because apparently, Jesus said nobody knows these things, and so it would be really alarming if I could answer it unequivocally for you.
There is no doubt, though—and Jesus makes this clear, Matthew 24—that the forces of evil will be more visible and more audible in the prospect of his imminent return. And for that reason and in light of that, it is of absolutely crucial importance that the people of God are standing firm on the truth of the Word of God. Because the battleground actually, in every generation, is the battle for the Bible. It’s what begins in Genesis 3, when the serpent comes, and clear instruction has been given by God to Adam and Eve: “You can enjoy all this, but you can’t touch that.” And the Evil One comes, and what is his opening gambit? “Did God really say …?” And then he perverts it. He says, “Did God really say that you’re not allowed to eat of any of the trees?” Well, God never said that at all! The subtlety of it and the innuendo of it and the creepy dimension of it is to be found in the scoffers who will be arriving.
Because, as we’ve seen in the letter, they’re marked by certain things. They rely on dreams; they follow their “ungodly passions.” And basically, they have an approach to the Christian life which says, “My feelings trump the facts.” In other words, “It’s my experience of things that allows me to adjudicate on what should happen or what shouldn’t happen. My experience, my subjective response to truth, is the issue, not the objective reality of the truth itself.” So language then is made to mean different things.
And you can see this evident in churches, in mainline churches in the British and American world. Over a period of time, pastors in those churches decided that the best thing they could do if they were going to reach the world was to get rid of all the hard parts. If you get rid of all the hard parts, then the people will say, “Well, that’s nice. We got rid of all the naughty bits, and now I can come and have a great time.” Well, guess what? People then discovered there’s nothing left when you take away the hard parts. It must be the hard parts that make sense of it.
So, for example, the pastor talks about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and naive and unwitting people sit there and think he’s committed to the doctrine of the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. But actually, if you ask him in his study, he’ll tell you that no, no, what he means by the resurrection is the resurrection that took place in the hearts of the disciples. They had their own kind of little mini, subjective resurrection, but Jesus was not raised from the dead. Well, the average sensible person realizes you could shoot right through that. It has no basis in it at all.
But think about it in contemporary terms, with the manipulation of language that is represented in the culture and is embedded in the church. So notions… If you take, for example, a word like phobia, which means an irrational fear of something. That word has now been transmuted to be used as the response of anyone who makes a moral jurisdiction on anything at all. So if you make a moral response—say, “Sorry, that is immoral”—then it is a phobia. And phobia is, of course, then attached almost directly to bigotry. And so before you know where you are, you’re on the receiving end of the absolute deconstruction of language, and you have no basis upon which to make meaningful dialogue. You end up with the chaos that we have.
No, you see, if I could say one thing to you, it would be this in relationship to this: the blessing that attends our faithful interest in the Bible is a blessing that is found nowhere else. You see, I’m a pastor, but I’m first of all a Christian. I need to read my Bible. I need to read my Bible. I need to read my Bible when I don’t want to read my Bible. Why do I need to read my Bible? Well, because it is food for my soul.
If you’re reading M’Cheyne at the moment, you know you’re in Psalm 119. Weren’t you challenged and encouraged this week, a couple days ago, when we read, “The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep your words”? (“You’re my portion. I promise to keep your words.”)
When I think on my ways,
I turn my feet to your testimonies.
I hasten and [I] do not delay
to keep your commandments.
Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
I do not forget your law.
At midnight I [cry out to you from my bed]
because of your righteous rules.
When you’re lying there going, “This place has gone completely off the rails”: “O God, your rules are righteous. Let the scoffers come, and let the scoffers go, but your Word is the living and abiding Word of God.”
Now, the challenge of it in terms of this context is a real challenge. Because the people who make these calculations tell me, tell us that in an encounter such as this, as I speak to you now, those of you who have not already drifted into the second sphere of anesthesia, those of you who are still relatively compos mentis, those of you, you will by lunchtime have only retained 30 percent of what you have heard—30 percent! Less than a third. And by the time it gets to Saturday night, before you’re ready to come back next Sunday, it will be down to 5 percent—5 percent!
So, what do we know? Well, we know a number of things; that unless a congregation, unless individuals become men and women of the Book on their own, in their home, there is no way in the world that a twenty-five-, thirty-three-minute address on a Sunday morning, unfollowed up by any activity in the rest of the day, will be able to sustain an army. You can’t march on an empty stomach. And so when people say, “I think Begg is just being alarmist about this thing”—well, read your Bible. Read your Bible.
Now, verse 19: “You’ve got to remember, the scoffers have said that their ungodly passions are the driving force for them, and,” he says, “let me just tell you three things. It is they who cause division.” (Don’t be alarmed because I said “three things,” as if we’re just starting. We’re not just starting.) First of all, “It is [those] who cause divisions.”
How do they cause divisions? Well, they cause divisions by perverting and distorting the truth. He says in verse 10 that they “blaspheme” the things “they do not understand.” In other words, these individuals are looking for a theology that will fit their ungodly desires. Their desires are not under the lordship of Jesus. They’re not under the authority of God’s truth. They are making their own plans. They’re fulfilling their own passions. But they are not antireligious. They’re not anti-Bible. That’s what makes it so scary. They are people who would be teaching Bible studies. They would be coming into the church and saying, “You know, I have a very nice Bible study that I could teach. It’s on such-and-such.” Be very careful! Be very careful! Why? Well, look what he says: these are the people “who cause divisions.” They manipulate the Scriptures to support their instinctive behavior.
Now, I think it’s more than possible (in fact, I think it’s probable) that “these people” to whom he’s referring would be accusing those to whom he is writing—to the faithful, to the orthodox—that they would be accusing those folks of the very thing of which they’re guilty. Does that make sense? Yeah? So you got these people, about whom he writes; these people, to whom he writes. Right? And these people would be saying to these people, “You orthodox people, you are the problem. You are the cause of division. You people who make a fuss and a bother about ‘contend[ing] for the faith … once … delivered to the saints,’ you people need to realize that society has moved on. It has moved on philosophically. It has moved on morally. It has moved on in every which way. And so, if you want to be relevant, if you want to be accessible, if you want to be acceptable in a world with new views on everything, then you are going to have to give up on this stuff about truth unchanged and unchanging.”
“Is that you,” Elijah, “the troubler of Israel?” “You troubler of Israel!” What does he say? “I am not the troubler of Israel. You are the ones that are troubling Israel, because you have rejected the commands of God, and you follow the idols of your day.” That’s what’s happened. And that’s what was happening in Jude’s day. And loved ones, that is exactly what is happening in our day: the divisions. The divisive person is the one, says Jude, who parts from the word of Christ and not the one who holds to it.
Then they are inevitably of the world. They’re “worldly people.” Well, we have to be careful. Jesus prayed for his followers that they would not be taken out of the world but that they would be kept from the Evil One. James, when he writes, says that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God. Paul writes to say, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind[s].”
In other words, the true believer has been unearthed from the power source that was once his, where he was driven by his own agenda, his own personal longings, desires, foibles, whatever it must be. He lived in darkness, and Jesus came and transferred him into another kingdom so that he was light in the Lord. He was once dead, and he made him alive. He once was thinking only about himself and about how he could make sense of his life, and now he’s become a person who has been made a new person from the inside out. And Jude is writing to them, and he’s saying, “These people are not those people. These people are working from, if you like, an inner spring. And that inner spring, that agenda, that driving force is a godless agenda where self and selfish desires actually reign.”
It’s such a sad place of life as well, isn’t it? Worldly people without God, without hope in the world, trying to make sense of our world within the sphere of our own little world; finding our identity in our success materially, athletically, intellectually; saying, “This is it, I’ve made it, I understand it,” and yet all the time just becoming increasingly a crumbling relic. I don’t recommend it, but the Arnold Schwarzenegger documentary is a classic illustration of that. “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, or the strong man boast in his strength, or the rich man boast in his riches, but let he who boasts boast in this: that he knows me, the living and true God.” And how is it that God would come close to me? Because he comes close to me in Jesus, and only in Jesus, and only in the cross. These people had nothing, nothing to say for this.
And thirdly and finally, they were “devoid of the Spirit.” You can’t live in defiance of the lordship of Christ and be filled with the Spirit. These people were just logically empty people. They were interpreting things in light of their dreams, which, in their own minds, allowed them to justify their behavior—and, at the same time, even worse, to make their behavior the kind of pattern for other people that they would like to influence.
And again, I think the same would be true. I bet these people were saying, “You know, you ought to come and join us. We have the Spirit. You folks don’t have the Spirit.” You have people tell you this? It happens to me. Over the whole period of my life, I’ve had a ton of times. I can think of them all. People will come and say, “You know, Begg, I know you believe the Bible, but what you really need is this. I know you’re being a follower of Jesus, but what you need is this. We could help you with this. You are stuck in that wretched believing-the-Bible stuff. If you would join our group, man, let the good times roll! We can indulge ourselves, because we’re free. If you would get this…”
In small ways you can see it as well. I always smiled when… My father was a member of the Christian Business Men’s Committee. So Christian businessmen got together and had breakfast and encouraged their friends to consider the gospel. And then along comes the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship. I’m like, “What was wrong with the ordinary gospel to start with?” Now, I wouldn’t want to overdramatize that, but it’s the same kind of thing: “Oh, you’ve just got the gospel, like, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved’? You ought to get our thing. Our thing is much better.” I bet that’s what these characters were doing: “You need the Spirit to set you free from that dogma. You need the Spirit.” And what Jude is doing is he’s turning the tables on them. He says, “No, no, no. You’re the ones that caused the division. You’re the ones that are following your own animalistic instincts. And it’s you—it’s you—that don’t have the Spirit.” What a prophetic word!
This is essentially Bible logic. People would recoil from this and say, “How could he possibly say this? After all…” We’re just making obvious deductions. “When the Bible is declared outmoded, the resurrection denied, the saving death of Jesus watered down or the biblical guidelines on sex and marriage made amenable to people’s greed, and all in the name of ‘where the Spirit is leading us,’ we can be sure,” writes Dick Lucas, “that the Spirit is not leading us at all.” Because the work of the Spirit of God is to magnify Christ and to drive home the authority and the sufficiency and the inerrancy of the living and abiding Word of God.
Now, what is Jude doing here? He’s appealing to them. He’s appealing to them to contend for the faith. The appeal has not been rescinded, and the need remains. Any reading of church history points to the fact that at certain points along the journey, there has always been the need for someone to stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute!” In my lifetime—actually, from the inception of my life, 1952—Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave an address to the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and he said in introducing his talk, “For the last thirty years”—so, since 1922—“I would not have chosen such a course for myself. A great deal of my time has been taken up with the task of maintaining and defending the evangelical faith.” He had to make sure that the people under his tutelage understood the truth of the gospel.
Five years previously, in 1947, he had been here, speaking at Wheaton College, giving an address entitled “Truth Unchanged, Unchanging.” You can find it. You can read it. And he says to the students, “The modern world is desperately ill.” This is 1947. “The modern world is desperately ill … [people are now] perhaps more unhappy than [they have] ever been.” “Young people,” he said, “there is only one cure for the world’s sickness, only one thing that can give to a man or a woman rest and peace. That is to know that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, has forgiven me.” Has forgiven me. Not “has made forgiveness possible” but “has forgiven me”—that he came to die for my sins, that he has clothed me in the righteousness of Jesus and has promised to present me faultless before the presence of his glory on that great day.
That is essentially the gospel. That is not something that is achieved by us. It is something that is received from him. And receiving God’s promises is not simply credence. There are many of you here, I am absolutely convinced, are very, very clear about the fact that you believe what Jesus said about himself. That’s credence. You believe the promises. But to be converted is more than credence. It is to be committed to the one who has made the promises.
And that is the fundamental question: Do you believe? Do you believe? You, you, you. Not “Do you believe there is a forgiveness?” Jesus said, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So do you look on the Son? What is your only hope in life and death? That’s what we sang earlier on. Were you singing the truth of your own personal faith? Or is it just credence?
We’re going to sing a final song, which is basically a song of testimony. It’s the testimony of a believing person who anticipates standing before God. And the question would be “You know, what are you going to say? What is your argument for a welcome rather than a banishment?” And the hymn writer says, “Well, I only have one argument, and I only have one plea.” So let’s just have a moment of silence, and then we’ll stand and sing.
Perhaps this morning, some who will in the singing of this hymn move from credence to commitment will find in the affirmation of each chorus their own personal profession of faith. Once we recognize that we are sick and in need of salvation, either we go to God to save us, or we continue trying to save ourselves.
Lord, accomplish your purposes as we stand to sing and end our time together. Amen.
 Jude 8, 10 (ESV).
 Jude 4 (ESV).
 Jude 3 (paraphrased).
 See Robert Moynihan and Viktoria Somogyi, Guarding the Flame: The Challenges Facing the Church in the Twenty-First Century; A Conversation with Peter Erdő, trans. Christopher Hart-Moynihan (Charlotte, NC: TAN, 2019).
 Jude 3 (paraphrased).
 “The Duty of a Pastor,” in The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 9:456.
 2 Peter 1:12–15 (paraphrased).
 John 16:7, 13 (paraphrased).
 2 Peter 1:21 (ESV).
 See Psalm 119:105.
 Acts 20:30 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32.
 Genesis 2:16–17 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 3:1 (paraphrased).
 See Jude 8.
 Psalm 119:57 (ESV).
 Psalm 119:59–62 (ESV).
 Jude 3 (ESV).
 1 Kings 18:17–18 (paraphrased).
 See John 17:15.
 See James 4:4.
 Romans 12:2 (ESV).
 See Colossians 1:13.
 See Ephesians 2:12.
 Jeremiah 9:23–24 (paraphrased).
 Acts 16:31 (ESV).
 Dick Lucas and Christopher Green, The Message of 2 Peter and Jude: The Promise of His Coming, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1995), 217.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Truth Unchanged, Unchanging (London: Fleming H. Revell, 1950), 95.
 Lloyd-Jones, 95. Paraphrased.
 John 6:40 (ESV).
 The Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1.
 Eliza Edmunds Hewitt, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (1890). 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.