Loving the Same Old Thing (Jude 17-25)

We inhabit a world drunk on its own sense of progress.  We believe that the latest is—almost by necessity—superior to what came before.  The line for the latest iPhone or technological gadget testifies not merely to our desire to ride the wave of the latest trends, but also our fears of being left in the lurch when the wave passes us by.  And the same applies to questions of morality.  Our world is on an unending quest to remain on the cutting edge of moral debate.  After all, our modern-day prophets insist, no one wants to be left on the “wrong side of history.” 

The argument, of course, is that when Christians cling to Biblical values, they do so at the expense of the forward march of human progress.  Christian values are sneered at as “behind the times”—outdated, unrealistic, unnecessary. 

In Jude’s day, the church was confronted—nay, surrounded—by those who insisted that the latest ideas were the right ones.  Something called Gnosticism was on the rise—a belief system that stressed personal spirituality while downplaying the significance of life in the here and now.  To focus on the world around us…well, that must have seemed crude and backward to a people that was increasingly infatuated with elevated, spiritual language. 

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 

Jude reminds his readers that while they have good reason to be sad, they’ve no reason to be surprised.  There will always be those who live in ways that contradict Biblical values.  And in today’s world, we see this in the continual march of progress. 

In his book called Heresy, Oxford professor Alister McGrath writes that when he surveys all of the false teachings within Christianity, he finds as a common thread the desire for novelty, a yearning to break free from what came before.  C.S.  Lewis alludes to this same principle in his novel The Screwtape Letters, wherein he satirizes the ways that Satan tries to control God’s people:

“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’…If they must be Christians let them be Christians with a difference.  Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring.  Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. 

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.” (C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters p. 135)

In other words, the myth of progress is really nothing more than curiosity run amuck.  For what are we really saying?  Are we really willing to say that our understanding of morality is evolving?  Because such an evolutionary view would mean that our culture today is superior to our culture of yesterday—and are we really so willing to say that one culture is superior to another?  Wouldn’t that simply smack of the same arrogance that Christians are allegedly guilty of?  But of course, such arguments dissipate into the ether of a world where feeling has become believing, and discourse has been relegated to the level of emotion rather than reason.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Jude focuses on encouraging his readers to remain strong.

20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh  24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,  be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

If we follow Jesus, we need to expect that things will go badly.  We follow a man who divided more than he united.  He eventually died—through God’s plan, yes, but instrumentally through the hands of a people who’d had enough.  His closest followers would share in these sufferings.  Martyrdom became the seeds by which the early church would flourish.  And if we follow Jesus today, we do so by cultivating a deep and abiding passion for the “same old thing.”  I love the old hymn writer who sang,

“I love to tell the story
for those who know it best
seem  hungering and thirsting
to hear it like the rest.” 

What else is there apart from the gospel?  May we never get bored with the message of God’s love, of Christ’s sacrifice, of the Spirit’s guidance. 

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On Whose Authority? (Jude 1-16)

Bible readingIt’s become almost cliché to say that we live in a post-Christian culture.  Though western society has never embraced a single religion, our arts and laws have nonetheless been shaped by values traceable to Christianity.  But now, religion is seen as the problem, not the solution.  Christianity in particular seems a throwback to a set of outdated laws right up there with racial segregation, sexual repression, and moral regression.  So in today’s world, morality is in the eye of the beholder.  There are no absolutes, only personal perspectives. 

In his carefully-research Souls In Transition, sociologist Christian Smith sat down to interview a variety of young adults to gain a better understanding of their religious and moral beliefs.  What he found was striking:

“…when we interviewers tried to get respondents to talk about whether what they take to be substantive moral beliefs reflect some objective or universal quality or standard are simply relative human inventions, many – if not most – could not understand what we interviewers were trying to get at.  They had difficulty seeing the possible distinction between, in this case, objective moral truth and relative human invention.  This is not because they are dumb.  It seems to be because they simply cannot, for whatever reason, believe in – or sometimes even conceive of – a given, objective truth, fact, reality or nature of the world that is independent of their subjective self-experience and that in relation to which they and others might learn or be persuaded to change.” (Christian Smith, Souls in Transition, pp. 45-6)

In other words, it’s not that these young people are saying, “There’s no absolute truth.”  They lack even the category to understand the nature of truth.  If we were to attach a technical word to this, we’d say that they lack an understanding of authority.  What is “authority?”  Authority asks and answers the question: “How do I know this is true?”  It’s the reason we trust sources like CNN or Fox News over Wikipedia, or the reason we filter our friend’s social media posts through sites like Snopes. 

Think of it this way: if I post an article on social media claiming that…I don’t know, eating more bacon will help you lose weight, will that change your lifestyle?  Your answer should be, “That depends.”  If you click on the article and see that it links to something like baconlovers.com, you might suspect a hidden agenda.  You don’t trust the authority of the claim.  But if the link takes you to a site that documents data from the American Medical and American Heart associations, you might be more inclined to buy a pound or two of bacon from the store (bad news: I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure this is untrue).  So authority will have a drastic impact on the way I live my life.

Christianity’s most radical claim is not merely that God exists; it’s that he communicates.  Christianity insists that the Bible is the revealed Word of God.  To obey the Bible is to obey God.  Therefore, the Bible has authority over my life like no one else can. 

The book of Jude was named for its author, who also happened to be the half-brother of Jesus.  Jude never believed that Jesus was the Messiah—at least not until after Jesus was resurrected.  In his commentary on Jude, Thomas Schreiner suggests that perhaps James—one of Jesus’ other siblings—was instrumental in Jude’s conversion (cf. 1 Cor 15:7).  The point is, Jude’s belief was anchored in the historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead:

 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Jude had a very specific purpose in writing.  His concern was for false teachers who might infiltrate the Christian community and steer the people away from the truth of the gospel.  The first half of his letter is devoted to this central crisis:

 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.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved3 a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds,  swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead,  uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame;  wandering stars,  for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires;  they are loud-mouthed boasters,  showing favoritism to gain advantage.

Again, in his commentary on Jude, Thomas Schreiner suggests that even though we can’t perfectly identify the people Jude speaks of, we can create something of a “composite sketch:”

  • reject authority (“despise dominion,” v. 8)
  • deny the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 4)
  • criticize the angels (“speak evil of dignities,” v. 8),
  • rely on dreams and/or visions (“filthy dreamers,” v. 8),
  • turn grace into license (“turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness,” v. 4)
  • are ungodly (v. 4)
  • commit and promote sexual immorality (“defile the flesh,” v. 8),
  • are ultimately said to be subject to future judgment (“their judgment was spoken of long ago,” v. 4).

(Thomas Schreiner, 1,2 Peter, Jude, p 437). 

I don’t know about you, but I find this oddly reassuring.  Why?  Because it means that men like this don’t simply occupy the halls of academia, but in our classrooms, workplaces, and neighborhoods.  And this also means that regardless of how challenging it seems to be to reach a post-Christian world with the gospel, it’s not a new challenge—nor an insurmountable one.  Instead we can be thankful that God’s truth does not depend on our belief, but solely because he spoke it into reality.  And it also means that if we follow Jesus, we are continually called to live and believe under a system whose authority is radically different from our own—or from others.   Over the next few days, we’ll look at the ways that Christianity’s authority—namely, the Bible—calls us to live in holiness, in purity, and in joy.