Dark and gloomy as the picture has been drawn for our warning by the pen of inspiration, there is yet no cause for despair. “Upon this rock,” said Christ, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The final result is sure. Victory will rest on the blood-stained banner of the Prince of Peace. In the hour of His triumph His faithful ones will share in His glory. In the present moment of their trial and His rejection they have an abundant solace and cheer, for they know that the power of Satan and his doctrine of error will never vanquish the truth.
The saint of God needs to daily build himself up on his “most holy faith” (Jude 20). It is the revealed will of the Lord that is referred to here, as in verse 3—”The faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” On it the believer rests. Assured that it forms a foundation impregnable by every attack of men or demons, he is now to build himself on it. This building implies continual feeding on the Word, that the soul may be nourished and the spirit edified. Linked with this we have prayer in the Holy Spirit—not perfunctory saying of prayers, but spiritual communion with God, bringing to Him every need and every difficulty, assured that He waits in grace to meet the one and to dissolve the other. Praying in the Holy Spirit can only result from a walk in the Spirit. For if there is no self-judgment, prayer will be selfish. We will ask and receive not, because we will be asking that our own lusts may be gratified. When Christ is first in the soul, and the heart is finding its delight in Him, the Holy Spirit will Himself give us the petitions that God delights to grant.
A definite command follows: “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (21). Notice, it is not, “Keep God loving you.” Such a thought is opposed to Him whose nature is love. The cross demonstrated that love to the fullest. Daily the believer proves His lovingkindness. Nor did the apostle exhort us to keep loving God. The divine nature in every believer causes us to love Him who has saved us: “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Rather we are told to “keep ourselves in the love of God.” It is as though I say to my child, “Stay in the sunshine.” The sun shines whether we enjoy it or not. And so God’s love abides unchanging, even if we do not stay in the conscious enjoyment of it. Let nothing make the troubled soul doubt that love. Circumstances cannot alter it. Difficulties and failures cannot strain it. The soul that relies on His love will be carried in triumph above the conflicts and discouragements of life.
In the second half of verse 21 we have another exhortation. We are to look for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to await His mercy unto eternal life. We have eternal life now, by faith in Him who is Himself life eternal. But we are going on to a place where life will reign, and where everything will be suited to the life we already have by the Spirit. And so the trusting soul looks up in hope and waits in patience for the return of the Lord.
Verses 22-23 tell us how to deal with bewildered souls led astray by the wicked deceivers against whom we have been warned. “And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” There is considerable manuscript variation here. In addition to the King James version, the following is suggested: “And some convict, when contending; but others save with fear, snatching them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” There is not much difference in the meaning of the exhortations. Both direct that a godly discrimination be used in dealing with persons taken in error. A hard and fast rule for treating all alike is contrary to this verse, and to the tenor of Scripture.
Undoubtedly souls have been driven more completely into evil systems by the harshness of well-meaning but unwise persons who so feared contamination with the error that they did not seek, in a godly way, to help the deceived one before refusing him their fellowship. The instruction in 2 John 10 applies to a willful teacher of what is opposed to the doctrine of Christ. Such are to be shunned, and even refused a common greeting.
Other methods apply to dealing with those who are often entrapped in error through ignorance. Admittedly these persons have followed their own corrupt will or they would have been kept in the truth by God’s power. Often what is needed is to deal with the sinner as to his ways, rather than the teaching he has accepted. When there is self-judgment the Holy Spirit can be depended on to do His work of guiding into all truth.
Others need to be snatched from the fire. Energetic effort should be made to warn and deliver these souls before the evil gets so firm a hold on them that it is too late for them to seek blessing. But in every instance the believer needs to remember that unholy teaching is defiling and leads to unholy living. Care must be exercised lest, in seeking to aid another, the believer himself becomes ensnared by the evil influence. In so doing he will be unfit to help others because his own fellowship with God in the truth has become marred.
Truth is learned in the conscience, and only as one walks carefully and soberly before God is there security from error. Because Hymenaeus and Alexander did not maintain a good conscience, they shipwrecked their faith—as have untold thousands besides (1 Timothy 1:18-20). When the Spirit is grieved by a careless demeanor and wreckless living He no longer confirms that soul in the truth, but actively convicts the conscience of the sin and failure that have dishonored the Lord. Therefore, if there would be growth in the knowledge of His Word, there must be a walk in the power of the Spirit ungrieved.
So, in seeking the recovery of those who have erred from the truth, the Spirit’s ministry to the conscience must not be lost sight of. Otherwise while we may be able to reason with them from Scripture as to the error of their beliefs, the state of their soul may be lost as ever. When the deceived one is dealt with in the fear of God, and holy faithfulness, his restoration to fellowship will be the first step sought. Then he will see more clearly the seriousness of the evil teaching that led him astray. But in all this the believer always needs to have godly concern lest he himself becomes defiled when seeking to recover another from defilement. This is what is especially emphasized in Jude 23.