“For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4).
This fourth verse of Jude raises several questions in my mind and shines God’s light on my motives and ministry.
The first question that pops into my mind when I read this verse is: How do ungodly, condemned false teachers slip into a church? Shouldn’t they be easy to spot? I can only guess that while they were wolves they wore some impressive sheep disguises. They presented themselves in a way that would allow them to gain entrance to the flock. Where ever that happens, carnage is sure to follow.
When I meditate on this passage I am confronted with questions about my own integrity. Am I wearing a mask? Am I presenting myself to be something I am not? Am I pretending to be something I am not? Do I use dishonest practices to gain people’s trust? Is my inner self consistent with my outer appearance? In what ways can I be more consistent?
The second question confronting me in this verse involves my understanding of the whole concept of godliness and ungodliness. Those who had slipped in were called “ungodly.” In meditating on this passage I have spent considerable time trying to sharpen my focus on what it means to be godly versus ungodly. My understanding is that being godly is about being God-like. The real significance of sharpening my understanding about these terms is that they reveal my thoughts about God. Thus, who I label godly reveals what I think about God. As my knowledge of and relationship with God deepens, it should be translated into my lifestyle. Increasingly, I want to reflect God.
The third question confronting me in this verse involves my understanding of grace. The godless teachers Jude mentions have changed the concept of grace. Perhaps this is one way they are not like God. God’s concept of grace is that it leads to repentance and new behavior. The ungodly ones, however, have changed the concept of grace into something that excuses immoral behavior, even justifies it.
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.
12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
13 while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
This passage has me asking God to examine my ministry. Do I appreciate grace as a motivation for holiness, or do I view it as a license? Does lifestyle or behavior matter? Do wink at, even revel in immorality in my own life? Is grace a license for immorality in myself or others?
Finally, this passage reminds me of the centrality of Jesus Christ to my faith. I am reminded of John’s letters in which he draws lines of fellowship using the simple standards: Do you love? and Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God, God in the flesh? As I consider the centrality of Jesus to the faith, I am convicted that I cheapen belief in Jesus when I make peripheral issues into fellowship issues.
I’ll give an example that is fresh on my mind (and one that is really easy for me to talk about since it’s about what someone else has done). A Christian expressed to me that he could not have fellowship with me because my church family allows the children to be dismissed from the worship assembly for what we call “training for worship.” This Christian has made training for worship equal to the deity of Christ in determining fellowship parameters. I think this cheapens Jesus.
But I really don’t want to spend my time whipping up on my Christian friend. I need to ask myself if I have cheapened Jesus by making some pet issue of mine as important as belief in Jesus as the Christ. It is much easier for me to see the inconsistencies in others than in myself. When I slow down long enough to ask God to examine my heart, God lovingly reveals my own inconsistencies.
Help me to know You, that I may be like You.
Help me to know You, that I might recognize You in others.
Help me to know You, that I might notice when You are missing in my life or in the lives of others.
Forgive me for misusing Your grace.
I just seem to invent ways to justify myself.
Sometimes I get very creative.
Sometimes I just lack integrity.
Help me to find integrity and have a life that is fully integrated with my beliefs.
May Your grace and kindness lead me to repentance.
Forgive me for not taking sin seriously.
I thank You for Jesus.
God, I want my life and my teaching to reflect my belief in Jesus as Christ.
Forgive me when I denigrate Jesus by equating my opinions and traditions with my belief in Jesus.
I want the lines of fellowship that I recognize to be drawn by You.
God, I want to be like You.
In Jesus’ name,