Acts of the Apostate

The book of Jude is one of the least-read books of the Bible. It could be because it is so short (only one chapter long); or it could be due to the fact that it is hard to find being right after 3John and before the Revelation; or it could be because it has serious warnings about the fate of those false teachers.

Regardless, it is a short but important book, so we will look at it today. The author describes himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James”. In the New Testament the only “James” well known enough to go by that name alone is the Lord’s half-brother. Therefore, it is safe to understand that this is the same family mentioned in Matt. 13:55, where the people say, “Is this not the Carpenter’s son? Is not his mother Mary? And his brothers James, Joses, Simon and Judas?”

James became THE leader of the Jerusalem church and it was he who Peter was influenced by to begin to have gentiles circumcised, until Paul argued with him about grace and “withstood him to his face”.

 Jude opens the letter by directing it “To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:” These are the called ones (kletois) klay-tos which in Paul’s writings signifies that group of people chosen by God. It is nearly synonymous with Christian in the New Testament. So these are those who are called by the Father and kept by the Father for his Son Jesus Christ.

In John 17:9-10 points this out in Jesus prayer for the disciples. “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. And all mine are yours and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” We believe because the Father has made it possible through the Son, Jesus Christ, who purchased our salvation on Calvary by taking upon himself the just penalty for our own sinfulness; it is by that redemption that we are able to be indwelt by The Holy Spirit of God, who has made us the new temple not made with hands.”

The Greek text has the implication that we are kept by the Father for the Son, in that the Father preserves the Christian. So while we believe, we are kept by the power of God. In Romans 8:35-39, Paul asks the rhetorical question,

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written:

‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Number I

Jude goes on to state the reason for writing.  “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the [c]saints.”

The common salvation that he talks of is that fact that we are in the process. We have been saved in the past by the work of Jesus on the Cross, we are in the process of being saved now and in the future we will be glorified when God redeems the universe with the New Heavens and the New Earth. We are not going to be floating on clouds in the heavenly realms forever; far from it. We are called to eagerly await the redemption not only of those who will believe, but also of the creation.

We are called, said Jude, to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. When it says earnestly contend, it has the idea of an intense wrestling match; not WWE wrestling, but more like Olympic or collegiate wrestling. In those matches, the competitors use every muscle in their bodies to try to gain an advantage. They use physics as well as strength and at the highest levels. The Greek text shows the word as “epagonizesthai”, part of the word where we get agony from, but it here is a continuous, on-going struggle.

The faith-and the word itself has been polluted over time, means the body of Christian truth that has been handed down from the beginning: it is non-negotiable, never changing and cannot be compromised. The faith does not mean having faith in yourself, believing that things you want to have will come to pass, or that you have faith in faith. While Hebrews says “Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen”, it was specifically referring to those things regarding the promises of God in scripture, that our salvation will come to full fruition, not that we can rub the genie in the lamp and get our goodies.

We are called to be the truth-bearers to our families, our cities, our jobs and our countries. We are not to expect to be the same as those who are outside the Church, but neither are we to look down on those who we are trying to win. We are to be good citizens and good neighbors, but we are to bring to bear the light of the truth that we have received from Christ.

We are to neither compromise the truth to be popular, nor water it down to make it sound like something that it is not so we can have a bigger crowd. Speak the truth in love.

Number II

“For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that [e]the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, [f]subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after [g]strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

We have to remember that the state of humanity without God is in rebellion towards Him. That is why it is so difficult to get people to acknowledge the truth. In the Book of Judges we are told that “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Without acknowledging that truth comes from God and that there are some things that are universal and non-negotiable, we wind up just as they were in Judges. Man is not the measure of truth, and every day that we go by we find that things may be getting more and more advanced technologically, but they are at the same time getting worse and worse morally. We find people having less respect for authority, crime becoming more and more outrageous and younger and younger people perpetrating them.

Jude gives three examples of rebellion against God; Those who rebelled in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, the angels who rebelled in heaven and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Understand that when he talks of saving them out of Egypt, it was not personal salvation for all. No, no. Salvation is always by individual faith. And these were those who did not believe. But the Covenant promise was to Abraham and his seed, that he would be the father of a great nation, AND that from him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

The angels who kept not their estate, but rebelled against the God who made them and fell are now bound until a later time. There are fallen angels who are at work in the world as demons today, and these are reserved until the end of time, when they will be judged before the end.

The cities of infamy were so lost, so depraved that God could not find twenty people to spare it, and the men of the city wished to have relations with the angelic beings (who appeared to be men) and so the term “going after strange flesh”. Most appearances of angelic beings they are spiritual beings, but in a few cases they have solid bodies, can eat and drink, and in the case of the fallen angels, intermarry with humans, though some dispute this particular meaning.

Nevertheless, they were judged and fire and brimstone fell from heaven on the cities.

Number III

“Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. 11 Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. 12 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, [m]doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the [o]black darkness has been reserved forever.”

False preachers are to be avoided at all costs. Their sayings may be pleasing to listen to, but they are deadly poison. In verse 4 he says that they “crept in unaware” among the believers. Paul uses the same Greek term to speak of the Judaizers who had infiltrated the congregation to spy on the freedom of the Galatian believers. It is these which the NASB translates “those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation,” which implies that they were considered reprobate and lost. They also denied the Lord Jesus, likely by either denying his deity or by downplaying his saving works.

Likewise, they pretend that they can say anything and do anything without consequence, even when speaking about heavenly beings. Here, Jude speaks that Michael did not slander devil when contending for the body of Moses, but said to him ‘The Lord rebuke you’.

It reminds me of the passage in James where he states that “You believe in God; good! The demons believe and tremble.” The implication is that they at least still fear God while we humans, both in the church and outside it, have forgotten that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Now we use the name of God as an adjective, adverb, exclamation or curse word. We don’t fear God nor do we fear the spiritual world we cannot see.

Most people have fallen away from the idea of hell and judgment because they can’t see God who is love, sending anyone there. However, if we understand the Bible, we understand that we are all fallen and in opposition to that which God desires until he brings us into his family by opening our blind eyes and putting flesh on our dry bones.

Only God can do that.

But we get caught up in the things of the world. 1John tells us that we are not to get trapped by the things of this world.

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

Where do you stand today? Are you influenced by the things around you and the desire for success? Have you been in church all your life but never given a thought to what you really believe? Does your life lack the fruit of the spirit that the kids sang about last week, but you know that you are more likely to bring forth wrath rather than gentleness, pain rather than joy and quarrels rather than peace?

Ask yourself this question: do you believe you are as sure of heaven right now as if you were already there, and on what basis is that assurance based? Christianity is not praying a prayer one time and walking an aisle long ago or any of those things. Christianity is Jesus Christ dying on the cross and rising from the dead to pay the debt for sin that we could not and our resting in that comfort for what He did on our behalf.

Adrian Powell is an Associate Editor for Church of God Ministries and Senior Pastor of Faith Community Church of God in Grove City, Ohio. He has been published in numerous periodicals, newspapers and blogs, and has authored two books; “The Jubilee Harvest” and “Resident Aliens: A Living Faith in a Hostile World”, available at Amazon.Com.

Misunderstanding Holiness

Too many people who self-identify as Christians fail to take God’s holiness seriously. Far, far too many of those same people think that God is similar to what a human is, just with superpowers.

They fail to understand that there is a more substantial difference between humans (as the created “creature”) and the Creator. We are made in His image and likeness, but that does not mean that we are the same as God.

Theologians describe this difference as one of “analogy”, in that the only way that we can truly comprehend the nature of God is by analogy, because the nature of God is so very different that the nature of humans.

We can see this in the struggle for holiness in the life of the Christian.

We cannot call someone who is not a Christian a person who struggles with holiness, because their nature continues to be one that is totally at odds with God, and therefore is not capable of being able to not sin. Luther put this in Latin with the formula, “Non posse non peccare”.

The Christian, however, being redeemed, revived by the Spirit of God and being given a new spiritual nature whereby the Spirit dwells within us, is “able to sin, and able to not sin” (Posse peccare, posse non peccare).

Once we reach glorification, either after death in the intermediate state or the resurrection at the return of Christ, we will be in a state like that of Christ, not able to sin (Non posse peccare).

The mistake we make is sometime using the language of glorification while we are still living on this side of the veil. We pretend that we are not able to sin any longer. This cannot be supported by scripture nor life experience.

Some reduce their definition of sin to that of “Any willful transgression against the law of God.” But sin is also defined as any FAILURE to do what we ought to have done, as well as thinking thoughts we ought not to have crossed our minds.

We try to downplay the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:17-48, where he shows that the thoughts of our heart are sin as well as the deed. So, when we understand that as the standard, we find the reason the reformers said that “The life of a Christian is a life of repentance.” To live is to repent of your attitude as well as your actions.

When we understand that, and take seriously the absolute holiness of God, we should take more care of our lives than before, and keep our lives “Coram Deo”.

What the Future May Hold

It has been a little more than a year now that Lynn and I have accepted the call to serve here at Faith Community Church of God. We have been thrilled to make new friends and rekindle old relationships, but most of all we love the challenge of leading people into a closer relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

There is an old saying in ministry, that preachers are called, “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That means calling everyone to look with a critical eye at their walk with Jesus Christ and observe whether or not you are at a higher place and closer to Him today than you were 1 year, 5 years or 10 or more years ago. Because as disciples of Jesus Christ we are to grow in both the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our cue is to be taken precisely from Scripture, specifically Matthew 28:18-20, where Jesus gives the Great Commission. When He says, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations (people of different cultures and ethnicities), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

We are not supposed to wait for people to come to us, we are told that because Jesus has all power, we are to go make disciples, baptize them and teach them all things we have been commanded. It is not a request, it is a command!

We are not to clean people up before we bring them to church. We are not to have people drop their bad habits before they come to church. We are not supposed to get people to change their lifestyle before they come to church. We are not supposed to be hypocrites inviting another hypocrite to church. We are to look to the savior who paid our debt and imparted to us grace that we didn’t earn and the participation in a Kingdom we didn’t deserve.

If we cannot understand that, perhaps we need to look at the cross again. The church is not a place that we go, it is the people who have been redeemed. We are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, “but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (Phil. 2:3)

We cannot do the work that only the Holy Spirit is qualified to do. The Holy Spirit will convict, convince and redeem the worst sinner and bring them to faith. We cannot do that. We can only obstruct the work of the Spirit if we try to convict people of their sin, because sinners know they are sinning, and that’s why we cannot convict people of their sin. We cannot convince people of the truth of the Gospel if we are constantly putting ourselves in the place of the Person that the Father has given authority to convince people that they need Christ, that Person of the Holy Spirit.

This is what Pastor Rick Thomas has written about the church. “We must constantly remind ourselves that the Church exists because people need to know that our sinfulness has eternally separated us from God; and that the only remedy for such spiritual estrangement is to turn from our life of sin and trust–from the heart–in what Jesus Christ alone has done on behalf of unworthy sinners like you and me.”

John Sanders of Landmark Missionary Baptist Church speaks to how we should reach out to others:

How We Talk
1. Be gracious. We are to guard what comes out of our mouths. Our wise walk should lead to wise words. “Let your speech [conversation] always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:6). It is important that we communicate with words of grace when we speak with those who don’t know Christ. Unfortunately, many times, believers go off on people who are living in sin. Or, we begin ranting about a moral issue in our culture, forgetting that there may be someone listening who is caught in that particular sin. When we’re filled with anger and rage, people feel judgment and not hope.

We need to be more like Jesus. Even when He dealt with sin, He spoke words of grace as the story of the woman caught in adultery shows, not condemnation. Those who are involved in sexual sins or addictions, including homosexuality and pornography, need to know that the grace of God is sufficient, even for them. But they cannot, no, will not know if we beat them over the head with our self-righteousness.

2. Be appetizing or tasty. Our conversation needs to be “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). Salt enhances flavor and makes food appetizing. “Salty speech” in Paul’s day referred to witty and clever discussion. It was the opposite of being boring or monotone. When we talk about our faith, how can we not be interesting?

In other words, we must not take it upon ourselves to interfere with the work of the Holy Spirit by allowing our personal feelings about politics, ethnic status, sexual sins of any kind or the behaviors of a personal nature (smoking, drinking, drug use, homosexual behavior or any other sexual promiscuity) to become an obstacle to someone hearing the Gospel.

We need to take the advice of Thumper’s mom from the Disney movie, Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

If we are to grow, we need to look around each week and see more and more people who we haven’t seen before. We need to look around each week and see different people we haven’t seen before. We need to look around and be surprised at the people we see!

We can only accomplish this if we have the Mind of Christ and look at the world, our city and our family the way that Jesus does. We must always have in mind not what pleases us, but what pleases God.

If we have that in mind at all times, we will be gracious to those outside the church, loving to those inside the church and understanding to those who may disagree with us, regardless of the subject.

By doing this, we will show the love of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor A.

La Amistad and President Trump

In July of 1839, Mende captives from Sierra Leone staged an uprising on the schooner “La Amistad” to try to return to the African continent from which they had been taken.

Deceived by the crew, they were boarded in the waters off Long Island and put on trial. Their case wound its way to the Supreme Court of the United States before they were finally declared to have been kidnapped and victims of the illegal African Slave Trade.

What allowed thirty-five of the original 53 Mende captives to return to their homeland, beside the help of the United Missionary Society and its founder, African-American Congregational Minister James W. C. Pennington, a former slave himself, was the fact of the captives having had due process extended to them, though they were not at that time citizens of the United States.

As one of the foundational principles of American Jurisprudence, the suggestion by a sitting President of the United States that anyone found crossing the boarder would be summarily captured and immediately returned without a hearing is contrary to our ideals and does violence to the American system of justice.

Additionally, it is contrary to the message of the Bible contained in the writings of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. The Law and the Prophets in numerous sections give voice to the idea of being gracious to the “Stranger and Alien in your land.”

One of the most famous and favorite parables of Jesus was that of the so-called, “Good Samaritan”. Understood in historical context, it would be more akin to telling the story of the “Good North Korean” or the “Good Terrorist”.

What we don’t understand today is that to a First Century Jewish person living in Judea, the idea that a Samaritan would do anything of worth was mind-blowing. They could not wrap their heads around it. But that was the point of the parable.

We are called to care for those who we are least likely to want to care for, because that is what grace is about; showing unmerited favor to those who don’t deserve it.

The Book of James likewise gives advice that should be taken seriously today in the current climate of animosity and discord. James writes, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in a word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so. (James 3:2,5-6,8-10 NKJV)

We should all take the advice of the Apostle, and do what we can to season our words with grace, particularly those of the household of faith.