My devotional reading this morning was in the book of Jude. It’s a short book packing a large punch. As I read it I wondered how well Jude would be received in our churches today if he preached from his own letter. A number of passages speak directly to my heart, waking me to the need to be constantly vigilant about my work as both a disciple and pastor.
The first is verse 4, which condemns “ungodly people” who have crept into the churches and “pervert the grace of God into sensuality.” This word sensuality is used ten times in scripture and never in a good way. Jesus names it as one of the things that springs out of our hearts (Mark 7:22). Paul likens it to the ways in which the Gentiles walk, in darkness and with callous hearts (Eph. 4:19) and Peter warns of a day when false prophets will rise up and lead people astray, enticing them to follow “their sensuality” (2 Peter 2:2, 18).
I imagine Pastor Jude could have a field-day from a pulpit with this alone. (Imagine that being preached at Annual Conferences this year!) Sensuality could refer to any number of things for us today, but for me it carries with it a caution in all I do, say and think. Am I pandering to the desires of man or am I upholding God’s standard? It’s very tempting to tell people what they want to hear, to itch their ears, so to speak (2 Tim. 4:3). Do I guard my heart from pride? Am I becoming too much a friend of this world, becoming more and more desensitized to the sin which engulfs it?
One example: My wife and I haven’t had television in our home for over two years. There was a time we couldn’t imagine living without it, but today we often wonder how people can live with it. When we do come across it we are often shocked by what we see and the message of sensuality consistently being broadcast. The thing that shocks us is not that it is there, for it’s to be expected in our fallen world, but that for most of our lives we did not see it! Because we exposed ourselves to it so often, and because everyone else seems to do the same thing (it’s almost unAmerican these days to not worship the TV), we were completely blinded to how seduced we had become to the sensual message the world preaches. You deserve it, it whispers. Your right to be happy and free is what counts. Your desires are god…and good. Jude warns against all such sensuality, and calls us to beware of those who would point us to our desires rather than Jesus, our Master.
Another is verse 10. It reads,
But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.
We are destroyed by what we understand instinctively. What a rebuke! I know all too well what my own instincts are like. Sometimes they appear to me (and others) as good and noble. At other times they are not. I can easily fall into the alluring trap where I suspect my ways are God’s ways, or my thoughts are His. This rebuke drives me to pray. And pray much.
James, Jude’s brother, calls those who would make plans to work doing this or that or travel here or there arrogant fools. That’s operating out of instinct, isn’t it? Based on the facts before me, and given my instincts, it might seem a perfectly reasonable thing to do this or that. But James says we ought to say, “If the Lord will it” we will do this or that (James 4:15). Both James and Jude call us to be a praying people, who rely not on our instincts but on God’s wisdom and guidance.
I’ve written about this more fully elsewhere, but I saw this most clearly when my own parents denied me a small gift of money which would have saved my home. I needed just $300 to keep my apartment (I was being divorced by my wife) and therefore a place my kids could visit. I was, however, living in sin at the time, absorbed by my own pride and desires. My parent’s natural instinct was to give me the money to keep me from being evicted, but they prayed first. They sought God’s guidance over their sentimentality, and God’s answer was clear, and difficult: Don’t lift a finger for your son. He’s mine. The hardest and toughest love my parents have ever shown me turned out to be what led to my salvation. Their desire to honor God over their own son was the most loving thing they could have ever done for me.
I believe that over time my desires and instincts are being sanctified, but this does not excuse me from being ever suspicious of them. I think Jude would have us tune our popular hermeneutics of suspicion more onto our own hearts and less onto Scripture.
To conclude, Jude is a powerful reminder of my propensity to turn the grace of God into a spirit of permissiveness for both myself and others as well as a call to fervent prayer, keeping always in mind that my instincts can and will destroy myself and others. Rather than despair over this, I am emboldened by Jude’s closing remarks, which remind me that God promised the last days would be filled with “scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” I need not concern myself with wondering why this happens. I need only concern myself with what I should do: Build myself up in our most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, keeping myself in the love of God and wait upon the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ which leads to eternal life. To have mercy on those who doubt, and save others by snatching them out of the fire (vs. 20-23).
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, 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 (Jude 1:24-25).