Don’t Ignore the Warning

“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6)

There’s a game that I think every guy out there plays, but we just don’t talk about it too often. I don’t know if there’s a name for the game, but maybe we should call it: “How far can I go?” The way you play the game is simple, when the gas light comes on in your car, you ask yourself, “How far can I go before I REALLY have to put in gas?” 

Usually, you can play this game in your head, estimating your mpg, the distance to home or the closest gas station, and work out your chances of making the destination. Nowadays, your car will probably tell you your “miles to empty” estimate, taking all the fun out of the game.

Still, we all play it, and every now and then, we lose. I lost once. I was working as an admissions counselor for Sterling College, and was coming home late at night from a High School play in far western Kansas. I left Dodge City heading east, thought I could make it home. When the light came on 30 minutes later, I knew I was in trouble. It was after 10:00, there were few stations between there and Sterling, KS, and this was long before cell phones and 24/hr pumps. The light was steady at first, but then started flashing, and finally, heading uphill into Stafford around 11:30, the car sputtered and died. I had ignored the warning lights too long, I lost the game.

In our passage above, Jude continues to warn the church of the dangers of false teachings that would twist the Gospel into a license for immorality.  In the previous verse, Jude used the illustration of how many of the Israelites, having been delivered out of Egypt by the mighty hand of God, persisted in unbelief and refused to obey the Lord. Because of this, they died in the wilderness, and never knew the promised rest of the Lord.

As a second warning light, Jude now turns to the angels. Maybe its best to clear up some common misconceptions. When people die and go to heaven, they don’t become angels. Angels are beings that were created to serve in the presence of God. They don’t earn wings when bells ring, nor do they waft on fluffy clouds strumming harps. Angels are ministering spirits (Heb 1:14) who are often tasked with communicating God’s word to His people (Matt 1:20), or executing God’s will (see Revelation). Angels were given positions of authority, serving for the glory of God.

And yet some of these angelic beings abandoned their position, their proper dwelling place, and have rebelled from God’s reign and rule. There is a lot of speculation about these fallen angels. Is Jude referring to the original downfall of Satan and his league of angels, alluded to in Isaiah 14:12-15, and referenced symbolically in Revelation 12:7-12.  This is often referred to as the great “civil war” of heaven, in which proud Lucifer sought the glory of God for himself, and with his angels, was cast out of heaven.

Others speculate that Jude is referring to the passage Genesis 6:1-4 which speaks of the “sons of God” who lusted after the daughters of man. As we read in Genesis, these “sons of God” (a title for angels also used in Job 1) took wives for themselves from the daughters of men, and they became, or their children were, the Nephilim. Whereas Lucifer’s fall was the result of his pride, these angels fell in their lust.

What’s most telling here, whether the cause of the angel’s downfall was pride or lust, is that these heavenly beings, who once beheld the light of God’s glory, were now bound to utter darkness and reserved for judgment. There is a clear play on words that the ESV lets slide: the angels did not keep their position, so God has kept them in chains. 

The warning is clear, “the pride that knows better than God and the desire for forbidden things are the way to ruin in time and eternity” (William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude). If God did not spare the unfaithful in the wilderness who saw first hand His mighty power but refused to believe; if God did not spare His angels who abandoned their position of authority because of their pride and lust; what hope is there for those who, having tasted the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, then abandon him for immorality and disobedience (Hebrews 6:4-8)?

Christians, the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has borne the wrath of God’s judgment for all those who believe and trust in Him.  The punishment for sin has been taken away, the stain of sin blotted out, and the mercy of forgiveness is freely offered. We may, we will, continue to experience the discipline of God hone we stumble in sin (Hebrews 12:3-11), but this discipline is ultimately meant to correct and sanctify God’s people, that we may learn to die to sin and live for Christ.

But the warning remains. Those who do not trust in the grace of God in Jesus Christ are still in their sin, and will stand before the judgment seat of God, right there with the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, and the angels who left their post. Those who claim to believe in Jesus, but twist His grace into a pass for immorality, those who deny Him as master and Lord through their disobedience, they too are bound for destruction.

Jude once again sounds the warning. The lights are flashing. It’s time to repent and believe.

Called, Beloved, and Kept

A few years ago I began a subscription to a news magazine. It is a trusted source for in depth articles and commentary on current news and politics. I am a digital subscriber to the magazine, which means I get direct access as soon as the magazine is published without having to wait for shipping; plus I have access to their online content, so I can stay up to date on the daily news that breaks between publications.

When ever I get correspondence from the magazine, I am addressed as a “valued subscriber.”  They are indicating the nature of our relationship. They value my contribution (money) which supports their publication. But as soon as I stop paying, that relationship is finished. They may continue to send me appeals to renew my subscription, but unless I act, I lose all the benefits that once came with my subscription. They relationship is dependent entirely upon my contribution.

I draw out what we all know to show the power of how Jude addresses the audience of his letter.  In my last post, I examined how Jude introduced himself at the beginning of his letter. How he identifies the audience says so much more.  He is writing to those who have been called, those who are beloved in God the Father, those kept for Jesus Christ.

Jude is addressing a particular congregation, but we don’t know which congregation, or where they were. We can assume that there were some Jewish believers in the church because of Jude’s heavy use of Old Testament illustrations, but that’s really all we know. 

To address his letter to the called, beloved, and kept, then, opens this letter to every believer, even to believers reading today. These three descriptors, called, beloved, and kept, make up the essence of our identity as believers.

We are called.  The word literally means to be invited, but we know from reading God’s Word that is carries much more significance.  Jesus said, “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14).   To be called is to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the invitation to believe in Him, to trust in His righteousness, His perfect atoning sacrifice, His redeeming grace. Many will hear this call, but not everyone will respond, not all will believe.  

But those who do believe, those who do answer the call, do so because of the inward, effectual call of the Holy Spirit, who unplugs our ears that we may hear; who opens our eyes that we may see; who moves our hearts to repentance and love; and who gives life to our souls long slain by sin that we may respond to that call.

This is what it means to be called.  Ephesians 1 tells us that we were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. We have been called out of the kingdom of darkness and called into the kingdom of light. We have been called out of sin and death and into righteousness and life in Christ. This is the working of the Holy Spirit who calls us to new life. We are the called.

We are also the Beloved in God the Father.  Again, this is amazing.  We know, from the testimony of scripture and the witness of our own hearts that we, apart from God’s grace for us in Jesus Christ, were enemies of God and deserving of His wrath and judgment. We were, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “dead in our trespasses and sins… by nature children of wrath.” There was nothing in us that was lovable. “But,” as Paul goes on to say, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).

This too is our identity. Not only have we been called (invited and chosen), we have also been loved by God. This love of God is a mercy, for we could not earn it, deserve it, or expect it. This love is eternal, as Eph 1 goes on to day, “In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will…” God did not have to be convinced to love us, Jesus didn’t die to pacify an angry God. Instead, God proved His for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Being beloved by God is closely connected to the foreknowledge of God that we read about in Romans 8:29, “For those he foreknew, he predestined…” This foreknowledge is not just having an abstract general awareness of something before it happened. It suggests an intimate, personal knowledge, a loving relationship. This is the love of God for His people. We are the beloved of God the Father.

Finally, we are those who are kept for Jesus Christ. Think of an inheritance, a savings bond that is growing to maturity, a bride that is kept in purity until the wedding day. This is who we are. We are kept, held fast, preserved, secured as the treasure of Christ. This is our great comfort, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, that I, “with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.”

This is who we are: The Called, The Beloved, and The Kept.

Notice how little your own activity is mentioned here. In fact, notice how Jude’s address is inherently Trinitarian (while he may not come right out and say it). We are called, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are beloved by the Father. We are kept for Jesus the Son. Our salvation, our identity in Christ, is rooted in the Father’s love, in Christ’s redeeming work, and in the Spirit’s uniting us to Christ and applying His redemption to us.

This is the one work of God for us, and because it is God’s work, it is sure and secure. This is who we are; who God’s Word calls us to be.  It’s even all the past tense to show that what God has determined is certain.

If you are in Christ, you are called, beloved, and kept. Don’t look elsewhere for your identity, don’t seek any other source of confidence or value. You are called. You are beloved. You are kept.

Rejoice in your salvation!

SDG