Recently, an acquaintance of mine gathered these statistics on the choices available today: 200 cable channels; 255 ways to order a Big Mac; 19,000 possible combinations for coffee at Starbucks and 78,998 for ice cream and toppings at Cold Stone Creamery; and more than 500,000 mathematical possibilities for pizza in America.
Now add the amazing variety of cultures around the world, each with its own wide range of choices and traditions and practices, and it is clear that we live in a pluralistic world gone crazy — a world awash in choices, options, alternatives, and which calls to us, “Come, follow me.” One of our long-time philosophy professors at Covenant College speaks of the “recommendations” that come at us from all directions, recommendations about what to like, what to think, what to buy, what to believe, and how to live. Some of these recommendations are relatively innocuous, like “buy Adidas”; some are more important, like “vote for me rather than my opponent”; and some are deadly serious and carry huge consequences, like “follow my religion” or “believe this about sex.”
At the heart of true education is learning to hear these voices clearly, to recognize their sources, and to respond in godly ways, whether in school, at work, at church, in a recreational context, in a relationship, or in those moments of utter personal privacy when no one is watching.
While our choices today may far outnumber those in previous generations, this challenge of discerning and responding biblically has been around since creation. Our first human parents faced it: a choice between two recommendations, as it were — one from the God who had created them and expected them to obey Him, and the other from the enemy of God who wooed them into doubting God’s words and choosing their own way in place of His.
This is the focus of Jude’s short letter, which he tells us isn’t the letter he first intended to write: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Jude is compelled to address the very problem we are discussing here: recommendations coming to his readers from “certain people” who “have crept in unnoticed” and “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4).
Notice that Jude isn’t writing to them about voices calling from outside the visible fellowship of faith. These people have “crept in unnoticed,” that is, they are inside the congregation of God’s people. In other words, the problem of pluralism is not just “out there” in the world; it’s also “in here” even among those who call themselves Christians. In fact, the deadliest recommendations may come from those who claim to be fellow believers, because they masquerade as people of the light, they use “Christian” vocabulary, and they assert that their views are faithful to our most holy faith.
Jude directs some of the harshest language in all the Bible at such people: they are blasphemers, children of Cain, waterless clouds and fruitless trees, ungodly and loud-mouthed boasters. God has already designated their condemnation. And yet Jude’s burden for his readers is to urge them to contend — to fight earnestly — for the faith once for all delivered to the saints — to reject recommendations that would lead them away into unbelief and unholiness.
What is this faith once for all delivered? For Jude’s readers and for us, it is clearly a reference to our faith laid out in the Word of God written in ages past and now faithfully delivered to us. It is “once for all” revelation from God, gloriously complete in providing all we need to know about God and His plan, purpose, and expectations for His creation.
Jude gives his readers two clues for recognizing these false teachers and their recommendations: they pervert the grace of our God into sensuality, and they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 4). While this short list is not exhaustive, it provides very helpful tests.
First, does a particular viewpoint rationalize sexual sin, in this case by co-opting the very grace of God? Beware, Jude is saying, of any teaching or perspective that would use the grace and love of God as the means for justifying sexual sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
Second, does a particular viewpoint diminish the exclusive glory and truth of Jesus Christ as the only King and Savior? Beware, Jude is saying, of any teaching or perspective that undermines His deity, diminishes His uniqueness, doubts His kingly claims over the creation, or adds or subtracts from His Gospel.
For the Tabletalk readers of my three sons’ generation — your choices are many, and recommendations are coming continually at you for what to think, to love, to look at, to believe, and to hope for. With joy and tears I urge you to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, written for us in the Holy Scriptures and able to sustain and strengthen you until the day of our Lord’s return.