When others leave the faith

I heard it again Sunday morning.

While visiting another church (a “kindred spirit” church that I frequent as often as I can when I am on vacation on a Sunday), I heard of two more men who are in the process of leaving the faith.  They are turning their backs on what they know is true and are willfully engaging in patterns of sin.  Like believers in the early church, they are “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).

These kind of people, Jude says, “creep into” the church.  They are initially “unnoticed.”  And they are destroying themselves and they will destroy the church if nothing changes.

In some ways, it’s all very discouraging.  We’ve heard these stories before.  In fact, the litany of ills in the early church addressed in Jude’s letter sounds much like the warning Paul sent to Timothy (2 Tim. 3).  They are ungodly, perverted, rebellious, ignorant, corrupted, grumblers, self-seeking, arrogant, mockers, divisive, worldly-minded, and without the Spirit.  And that’s only a partial list.

So what are we to do?

Jude offers four instructions for when others leave the faith.

Keep yourself in the love of God (v. 21).  By building up your own faith and praying (v. 20), feed your own soul on the truth of God so that you will remain true to your love of God and the Gospel.  Do not leave your first love — Christ — and do all you can to preserve and stimulate your affectionate commitment to the Lord.  And trust and keep look for the mercy He will show you through the provision of eternal life.

Have mercy on those who are doubting (v. 22).  Not all who sin are outright rejecters of God.  They are confused.  They are questioning.  They are wavering and they need compassion and help.  Help them.

Correct those who are ensnared by false teachers (v. 23).  The greatest tragedy of unfaithful teachers is not that they destroy their own faith, but that they destroy the faith of others.  This is the group that Jude has in mind who are in “the fire.”  They are being deluded by false teachers and if they are not corrected, they will endure the wrathful fire of God for eternity.  So when you see these who are being led astray, correct them and draw them back to Christ and the genuine gospel.

Be fearful in your correction (v. 23b).  Those who are in unbelief must be treated with and offered mercy — yet that offer of mercy must also be done with fear, lest the one offering the mercy himself is drawn into the deceit and led astray (see a similar principle in Gal. 6:1ff).  The polluted life of the apostate might spread its influence to the mercy-offering evangelist; he must cultivate a godly fear, being aware and wary, of that potentiality.

What should we do when others leave the faith?  We might condense these four instructions even further:  guard your own heart to maintain and keep fervent in your love for Christ, and work carefully, strategically, and mercifully to evangelize those who are leaving the faith.

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