Jude: Anything Goes…Not!

Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

The short book of Jude has so much in common with 2 Peter that it seems to me like one must be quoting the other, or perhaps the two authors worked together.  Jude’s warnings against false teachers and the metaphors he uses to describe them are almost word-for-word the same as those found in 2 Peter 2. Both letters are concerned with the problem of antinomianism, the idea that Christians were not subject to any moral or ethical constraints whatsoever. They were free to do absolutely anything they wanted to. Because of their faith in Jesus, God’s grace would cover any sin they might commit.

Both Jude and Peter say in no uncertain terms that this is not true. It is a perversion of the gospel of grace to say that “anything goes”, and God is not pleased with those who take that position. The Christian may no longer have to follow every detail of the Mosaic law, but he does have to follow the law of love. I believe that is what Jesus meant when he said he came not to abolish, but to fulfill the law and the prophets. The law of love is a principle rather than a set of rules; one that transcends time and place. If you follow the law of love, there are things you cannot do. You can’t murder  You can’t steal. You can’t seduce your best friend’s partner. You can’t lie or gossip in ways that result in harm to others. You can’t be greedy.  The law of love doesn’t abolish, but expands the scope of moral behavior, as Jesus taught when he equated the kind of anger that leads to hate with murder. A Christian today might be able to eat bacon-wrapped shrimp, but he shouldn’t use social media to spread lies or to harass people.

The “intruders who pervert the grace of God into licentiousness” that Jude condemns so strongly seem to have been the sort who used people for their own personal advantage. “These are grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage. ” Jude compares them with some notoriously evil figures in Israel’s past: the people of Sodom who sought to entertain themselves by gang-raping visitors; Cain, who murdered his own brother in a fit of jealous anger; and Balaam, who betrayed his own people for financial gain. He warns that people who misuse other people will not get away with their bad behavior forever. God’s love and God’s justice are two sides of the same coin, and God acts to rescue the abused from their abusers.

Jude reminds me that we are free to operate under the law of love, but we are not free to do anything we want without regard for other people. And that’s good news to me.

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Peter: The End is Near

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

The two letters of Peter are quite different in content and style. Most scholars believe that while 1 Peter was written by Simon Peter during the time of Nero, 2 Peter was written, perhaps by a student of Peter, many years after his death. While 1 Peter is primarily concerned with how believers should conduct themselves during a time of intense persecution, 2 Peter is concerned with false teachers, probably antinomian Gnostics, who promulgated licentious lifestyles. The writer of 1 Peter expects the imminent return of Jesus while the writer of 2 Peter hypothesizes reasons for its delay.

It is upsetting to me when I hear people claim U.S. Christians are being persecuted, because I think such talk does a disservice to all those who have faced and are facing real persecution. I like Benjamin Corey’s essay on this subject. The people to whom 1 Peter was intended faced the very real possibility of being fed to lions in the arena, or set afire to illuminate Nero’s gardens at night. I doubt they would have much sympathy for people who complain because someone says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.Furthermore, complaining and raising a fuss about persecution is doing exactly the opposite of what Peter advised.  Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings…Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.” Instead, Christians should endeavor to live good lives, and by doing so they will not only increase the likelihood of their own survival, but also may draw those outside the faith to God.  Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge..For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish..”

By the time 2 Peter was written, Nero was gone and active persecution of Christians had died down, at least temporarily. Now the early church faced a different and perhaps more dangerous problem. Jesus had not returned as expected, most of the original apostles were gone, and the original good news of the gospel was being challenged by new teachers with unorthodox ideas. The author of 2 Peter writes, Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” and rebukes false teachers who equate liberty with license and who take advantage of and exploit people in order to feed their own greed and passions.He has some pretty harsh words for people like that: They are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm…they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption”  By contrast, genuine faith is marked by spiritual growth that demonstrates positive qualities:“For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Although the two letters of Peter were written in different times and had different concerns, they are consistent in their message. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. It is not so much a question of how that might happen or when it might be as it is what we are doing in the meantime. And again, the message is pretty clear on that. We are to follow Jesus, and he’ll take care of the rest.

And that’s good news to me.