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 Christian values are sneered at as “behind the times”—outdated, unrealistic, unnecessary.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.