If there is one thing that Jude is trying to communicate with the Church today it is this: We need to be very careful who we listen to. His short letter is filled with warnings and cautions of the false teachers who have crept into the church to “twist the grace of God into sensuality and lead us to deny our Lord and Master Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Jude draws from the history of the people of God to illustrate the coming judgment upon these false teachers (those who were destroyed in the wilderness, the angels kept in bondage until the judgment of the great day, and, most vividly, Sodom and Gomorrah); all to show that while these teachers may gain a foothold now, their judgment is not asleep (2 Peter 2:3).
The problem for the church, then and now, however, is how do we identify these false teachers? Obviously they didn’t march in, set up camp, and say from the get-go, “We’ve got a different gospel we want you to hear!” No, they crept in unaware, starting with elements of truth, slowly twisting it to their ends, and over time, were led the church from the faith that had been entrusted to them. Knowing they could not destroy the church from the outside, like Balaam (Num. 31), they devised a way to bring it down from within.
Here in verse 8 then, Jude gives us 4 Marks of False Teachers that can help us identify their teaching so that we may contend for the faith.
- Setting aside the Word of God – Jude’s first mark of the false teacher is that they rely on their dreams. This goes back to Deuteronomy 13:1-3, in which Moses warns the people saying, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you live the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
This is the most important way in which false teachers operate. Like the serpent in the garden, they know the word of God but twist it, obscure it, and even ignore it altogether, preaching instead their own words and revelations. One may be so bold as to say, “I have received a word from the Lord,” and that “word” may completely contradict what we read in the Bible. Other times it may be more subtle. You’ll see preachers quote numerous authors (some of whom aren’t even Christian), holding worldly wisdom on the same level as God’s Word, or may go 10 to 15 minutes through the message without referring to scripture.
This is the clearest evidence of false teaching, when the teacher relies on subjective experiences (dreams, visions, etc) or sources outside of God’s Word for the foundation of their truth. Paul warned the Church about this also, when he wrote in 2 Tim 4:3-4 that “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Let us be sure that those who are teaching in the Church are teaching God’s Word and are not wandering from the truth.
- Promoting Self-Fulfillment as Our Greatest Good – The second mark of false teaching in Jude 8 is that they defile the flesh. This word “defile” means to stain or make unclean. Usually this refers to the sexual immorality which would render an individual ceremonially unclean, but it is not limited to that. Those who chased after false gods were defiled (Ez 37:23), and if you did not follow the dietary customs you were defiled (Ez 4:14). To borrow from Paul’s rebuke in Romans 1, this would those who, “though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give their approval to those who practice them.”
So what does this look like today? Obviously, you have those who will tell you that the old moralistic teachings of the Bible don’t really apply today, and will promote all sorts of godlessness from the pulpit, all in the name of love and grace. It is that cheap grace that offers forgiveness without repentance, grace without sacrifice, salvation without the cross.
But on a more subtle level, you will have those who say that how you live is more important than what you believe, that love and relationship with God is more important than the truth and righteousness of God, and that our worship and teaching should be designed to help a person feel God rather than know God. This kind of approach to God is dangerous because it elevates the individual’s subjective experience of self-fulfillment over and above the objective truth and reality of God’s holiness grace. It places the focus of worship and faith upon a person’s feeling of closeness to God, rather than resting and relying upon Christ alone for our assurance of salvation. When we make an idol of our own experience, we defile ourselves and cannot draw near to God (Heb 12:15-17).
- Rejecting Established Authority – Next, these false teachers reject authority. Whether Jude is referring to the authority of God’s Word, the authority of the apostles, or even the authority of the elders in the local church is not stated. Regardless, the meaning is clear.
One of the fastest ways to corrupt the teaching of the Church is to completely remove it from history. Many today will approach tough questions as though they were facing a new problem for the Church; as if 2,000 years of history would have nothing to say. They reject any confessional standard, any historic, orthodox faith, only to recycle old heresies. You see modern “evangelicals” embrace universalism, Pelagianism, Gnosticism (follow the links for some insightful articles), and other ancient teachings that the Church has historically rejected. This is not to say that we should elevate tradition to the level of God’s word, but a post-modern, deconstructionist rejection of historical Biblical principles is the speedway to destruction.
- Thinking they are above temptation and spiritual attack – Finally, Jude says that these false teachers “blaspheme the glorious ones.” He goes on in verse 9 to explain this by contrasting the archangel Michael’s dealings with the devil, how he did not pronounce a blasphemous judgment upon him, but spoke only of the Lord’s coming judgment (“The Lord rebuke you”).
While this is a little more nuanced, what Jude is saying that the false teachers, being filled with pride, believe themselves to be above temptation and spiritual attack. 2 Peter 2:10 puts it this way, “bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones.” So many of the false teachers today are focused on self-promotion and building up their empire of influence that they will, as the ESV commentary says, “recklessly dismiss any thought that these demonic forces have power or that their willful sins will open them to demonic attack.”
This is, admittedly, a lot to pull out of one verse, but Jude’s warning is serious and must be heard. And this is still relevant for the Church today. I’d encourage you to read this article on the teachings of Bethel Church/Music and particularly Bill and Beni Johnson; they seem to be checking off the list of markers here in Jude 8 – even blaspheming the angels.
The devil wants to destroy the faith of the Church, and will use whatever means possible to do so. We can rejoice in that Christ is victorious, and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church (Matt 16:18), but we must stand firm, be on guard, and watch for these false teachers who will come into our midst.
May God grant His Church the grace and faith to persevere.