Sermon: Perseverance

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

That’s 2 Timothy 3:16: All-Scripture is God-breathed. The words we hear in the Bible, every one of them, are God’s Word. Even as Paul or Peter or Matthew or Jeremiah or Moses put ink to papyrus, God’s Spirit was at work, breathing the very breath of God into them. When we hear Scripture, we are hearing the word of the Living God spoken to us. And when God speaks, something happens. God’s word accomplishes something.

Say it with me again: All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

When we hear God’s word read, we are hearing the very words of God. And when God speaks, things happen, “Let there be light” and there was light, “Lazarus, come out” and a dead man was raised to life, “Get up and walk” and the lame man stood, took his mat, and walked home, “Your sins are forgiven” and they were. God’s speech is an action, it has an effect, as Isaiah 55 puts it, it does not return empty. Perhaps years of sitting and hear the Bible read each week has numbed us to what is truly happening when we come to worship. Author Annie Dillard wants us to see a different picture. She says,

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

I like that. We should wear crash helmets to church, grab life preservers, and lash ourselves to our seats, but when we come and sing in praise of the living God, when we come and pray in the name of the only true God, when we come and listen to these God-breathed words, God himself promises to be at work.

And that reality is something both wonderful and dangerous. We all ought to wear crash helmets.

This morning, I want to invite us into a way of reading scripture that keeps us mindful and open to all that God is seeking to accomplish in us through his word. It is a way of reading scripture that takes its cue from 2 Timothy 3:16. Say it with me again:

All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

We will be using this scripture as a lens through which to see another: the book of Jude. If you would like, you can turn there and follow along – Jude is the second to last book in the Bible, right before Revelation. It’s short, only 25 verses, but it is thick.

After we hear God’s word, we will look for the four uses God promises are present in all of Scripture – teaching (what story does this tell?), reproof (what sin are we called to confess?), correction (what promise are we called to claim?) and training in righteousness (what act of obedience are we to perform?).

This will be our window into the book of Jude. So let’s strap ourselves in and prepare to hear God’s word. Please pray with me:

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher,  and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the letter of Jude:

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James, to those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord.

Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority, but abandoned their proper dwelling – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority, and heap abuse on celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil over the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct – as irrational animals do – will destroy them.

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm – shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted – twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them, “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These people are grumblers and faultfinders, they follow their own evil desires, they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times, there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” There are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts, and do not have the Spirit.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire, to others show mercy – mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

And to him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our savior be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord  before all ages, now, and forevermore. Amen.

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Teaching. In other words, what is the story in the book of Jude?

We don’t know much about Jude. In verse 1, he tells us he is the brother of James, which if that is the same James who wrote the book of James and is referenced in the book of Acts, that would also make Jude the half-brother of Jesus. Jude would be one of the siblings of Jesus who did not believe him while he was alive, but came to faith after the resurrection. Presumably out of humility, Jude doesn’t mention this, only calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ.

We also don’t know much about the recipients of Jude’s letter. We know they were Christians – Jude says they are beloved of God the Father and, in verse 3, expressed a desire to write to them about the salvation they shared.

So Jude is writing to a group of Christians. He tells us why in verse 3: Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. While Jude wanted to write about salvation, something happened that caused him to change what he chose to write about.

Instead, he urges these Christians to contend for the faith. They are to contend – the word here is epagonizesthai, the root that we get the word ‘agony’. They are to defend and struggle for the faith and that struggle may be costly and painful. And they are to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. This is a way of speaking about the doctrines set out in Scripture, the Bible. It is through these God-breathed words that have been entrusted to God’s people that we know the faith and can contend for the faith.

The need to contend, the need to fight for the truth of the Christian faith arises because false teachers have entered into the church. The majority of the rest of the letter details both the errors of these false teachers and the serious consequences of their teaching, but it is summed up in verse 4: For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

The primary charges against these false teachers is that they have perverted the gospel and in doing so, denied Jesus Christ. At some point, God’s grace had been proclaimed to this congregation. God’s amazing grace – the kind of grace that saves a wretch like me, the ‘i once was lost but now I’m found’ kind of grace. God’s grace – the ‘grace that is greater than all our sin’ kind of grace. Free pardon and forgiveness – the ‘come all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest’ kind of grace. At the some point, God’s grace was proclaimed to the community, and sinners came to know Christ – they came no matter their background, no matter their past, their sins, the regrets, they came and received grace.

It was beautiful and exactly what the gospel is all about. But then something happened. Jude says these false teachers are those who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality. They took the proclamation of God’s free forgiveness as an excuse to keep on living in sin. Having heard God’s promise of forgiveness, they saw it as permission to live however they wanted. In particular, the word here for ‘immorality’ suggest sexual sins. They effectively said, “God is gracious, I can do with my body whatever I want.”

These false teachers taught grace, but a cheap grace. Grace as license, permission, unfettered freedom to live selfishly and destructively. Grace that used God and then ignored him. It is the grace Dietrich Bonhoeffer rejected when he said,

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness with requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Jude says that history and Scripture tell us that grace does not work that way. Jude’s citations are complicated – most of them come from Scripture, but a few come from other sources, places Jude believes still speak truth, even if the whole book is not inspired. But let me sum up Jude’s argument. God judges sin. Again and again, those who presume upon God’s grace, without truly believing it in their hearts and letting it change their lives, they are described as ungodly and receive the just punishment for their sins.

This was true of some of the Israelites after being rescued from Egypt. This is even true of the angels who fell and away judgment. This is true of Sodom and Gommorah who gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion and were destroyed.

This is the story Jude tells: God’s incredible grace, freely given, surely promised, but a grace that can easily be perverted as an excuse to our own way, to live for ourselves. And Jude tells us that this perversion of grace will fall under God’s judgment.

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Reproof. We have heard the story of Jude, but where are we convicted and called to confess our sin. Let me suggest at least one place. The false teachers that Jude describes are not limited to the first century. Still today, there are teachers who proclaim a cheap grace, who either minimize or redefine sin in way that make us more comfortable – sometimes it’s sexual sin that gets redefined, other times it is greed, or gossip, or division. And every time God’s word proclaims something a sin and we say, ‘nah, probably not’, we have a sin to confess. Every time we move from a posture of seeing our sin and crying out to God for forgiveness – every time we move from that posture to one that takes a decision and says ‘that’s not really that big of a deal, God will forgive me anyway’, every time we do this, we have moved into the realm of cheap grace and have a sin to confess.

In the face of false teaching that minimizes or redefines sin, we can be tempted to go along, but we can also be tempted to stop preaching grace. We don’t want grace abused, so we protect it, surround it with all sorts of commands, requirements, and red tape. But then grace stops being grace and it starts becoming law again. And every time we set a requirement for grace, we have a sin to confess before God.

We need a different way. How do we, as Jude admonishes, contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people?

Let’s say this together one last time: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Normally, we would look at correction and training in righteousness separately, but today we need to look at them together. We need both the promise and the call to obedience.

Jude tells us the story of false teaching that perverts the gospel and rejects Jesus Christ. It proclaims grace, but turns it into permission to sin and results is judgment. In light of this, we have sins of our own to confess, ways we twist the gospel in one way or another in our lives.

But at both the beginning and the end of this short letter, Jude gives a promise – that God will preserve us, keep us in the faith through the fight until the end – and Jude gives us a command – to persevere, to keep going, to stay true to God and to the gospel.

We are given both the promise and the command of perseverance. And we need both.

We are given a promise: in verse 1, Jude describes the faithful as those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ. In the face of false teaching, in the face of temptation, in the face of all the challenges that they and we will the face, the promise is that God will keep us for Jesus Christ. It is not our faith, our strength, but God’s faithfulness that will get us through to the end. And at the end, in verse 24, Jude says, to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Christians who have walked long in this faith know that it is God who keeps us from stumbling, it is his promise that gets us through when we would surely fail. They – we – know from our own lives the truth that the Canons of Dort speaks of when it says,

Because of these remnants of sin dwelling in them and also because of the temptations of the world and Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in this grace if left to their own resources. But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening them in the grace once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to the end.

In the embrace of faith, God does not let go. He lovingly holds on to us until the end. He is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. That is the promise of the perseverance of the saints.

But Jude also issues a command. He calls us to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. He also says that we are to build ourselves up in the faith and keep ourselves in the love of God. There is the gift of perseverance (correction), but also the call to persevere (training in righteousness).

Even as God promises to keep us until the end, to keep us from falling into error, to keep us from fleeing from his grace, to keep us from falling away from the faith into unbelief and ungodliness, God also calls to stand fast, to remain true, to build ourselves up. Perseverance is both a gift and a task. God’s promise is sure, his grace is free and sure. But, as Herman Bavinck says it, “[God] does not, however, do this apart from believers but through them.” It is through these warnings, through even the examples of judgment we see in Jude that God leads us to persevere in the faith.

We can trust God not to let go, even as we willingly and wholeheartedly live for him.

The book of Jude is a tour de force in understanding Scripture. He quotes Old Testament, New Testament, and non-Testamental books to weave together the truth of God’s grace and judgment, God’s overwhelming free forgiveness and the call not to pervert it. Jude tells us a story that teaches us, that convicts us of sin, and ultimately gives us both the promise and command to persevere.

May each of us continually contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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