Eternal Security and Exegetical Overview of the Book of Jude:
Making Shipwreck of One's Faith in the Book of Jude
Most people argue for or against eternal security, armed with a handful of prooftexts. These prooftexts are lifted from larger contexts which really do not have much to say about whether a saved person can abandon Christ and forfeit salvation. This is one of several articles which attempts to ground the doctrine of security with exegetical sensitivity to a handful of texts which actually do focus on the topic (see the lead article here: http://arminianbaptist.blogspot.com/2015/12/eternal-security-and-prooftexts.html and on Hebrews here: http://arminianbaptist.blogspot.com/2015/12/eternal-security-exegetical-overview-of.html).
In this article, I review the book of Jude. I recommend reading and re-reading this book several times—it is short enough that it takes less than five minutes to read it aloud.
From simply reading the book, we recognize that the apostle is deeply concerned about some false church leaders. The key verse that informs the situation is v. 4: “For certain individuals … have secretly slipped in (παρεισέδυσαν) among you.” The Greek word is the one that stands behind the English word seduce, and NLT graphically translates “wormed their way into your churches.”
These false teachers operate differently from those plaguing the Ephesian church which Paul addressed in 1 Timothy. In 1 Timothy, Hymanaeus and Alexander were insiders, perhaps even placed into leadership by Paul himself. These insiders had made shipwreck of their faith and Paul handed them over to Satan. In that passage (1:18-20) Paul makes the ambiguous statement that he did so to teach them not to blaspheme. The rest of the letter, however, offers no place for their repentance, and no instructions for possible readmission to the congregation is given—we are left to assume their perdition.
The false teachers in Jude are not insiders, but outsiders. The book serves as a warning, then, to churches to beware of such false teachers. See my blog article “Calvinism on the Sly” to see how modern Calvinists have sneaked into Arminian or semi-Arminian churches in the last couple of decades: http://arminianbaptist.blogspot.com/2008/04/churches-beware-calvinism-on-sly.html .
In the case of Jude, the false teachers were antinomian—they taught that grace means that Christians are free to sin as much as they want. The apostle writes, “They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” The apostle associated them with Cain, Balaam, and Korah: “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” Balaam was out for financial gain, and Korah worked the Israelite congregation over to conjure up dissent among other leaders against Moses.
In v. 5, Jude reminds the readers of what they already knew about the Israelites: God “…at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.” This is a significant statement, for through this urgent reminder, Jude recalls the Old Testament principle that people who had been previously “saved” were later destroyed for their unbelief (see also the similar argument in Heb 4). This Old Testament principle is significant in and of itself, but Jude applies it to his New Testament churches. This is the first of several Old Testament lessons in Jude that are retold in order to warn New Testament believers.
The second lesson is similar. Jude points to the fallen angels, explaining that their prior position of security did not keep them from falling into ultimate judgment: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
By “reminding” them of these Old Testament lessons, Jude is issuing warnings to his churches: just because you sit in a favored position does not mean that you cannot forfeit your privileged status. The NLT draws this point out well in its translation of v. 12: “When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you.”
The only clear safeguard against the influence of the false teachers is spiritual growth and abiding in Christ: “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (vv. 20-21).
Jude concludes with some practical advice to the church about dealing with three different categories of people: “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” Especially relevant for our topic of security, Jude urges all effort to rescue “from the fire” those members of the congregation who were most in danger.
As happens elsewhere, these apostolic warnings are followed by an encouraging word. The encouraging word does not negate such warnings. Jude does not conclude his letter by saying, “I have issued you warnings, but these warnings are only rhetorical and not to be taken as real threats.” Rather, the word of encouragement is meant to reinforce the teaching that Jesus protects those who abide in him, and this makes for one of the Bible’s most loved benedictions:
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
Although it is quite short, the letter of Jude is one such example where verses that contradict eternal security are found in a context which actually does focus on continuance in salvation. By themselves, any prooftexts in Jude are not all that impressive. But when taken together with the larger context of Jude, these verses become all the surer guideposts that warn that believers may shipwreck their faith and fall under the severest judgment.