Shipwrecked Faith from a Shipwrecked Church
Reflections on the book of Jude
Acts of the Apostates
These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.
If the Acts of the Apostles show how the Holy Spirit moved in the lives of the early church, then Jude can be aptly called the Acts of the Apostates, and for good reason. Jude is a blunt, explicit warning against those who would burrow into the church unnoticed, under the radar, in stealth, masquerading as true believers and then slowly and deliberately lead the unsuspecting church astray. The book of Jude serves as an “in-your-face” warning against the apostates in the days of the infant, early church, and even more so now. Why now? Because under the mantra of tolerance and cultural sensitivity the church today has let down its guard and opened the gate for any and all who give lip-service to Jesus. And in doing so it has euthanized the watchmen on the wall (Eze. 3:17).
What is an Apostate?
Simply put, an apostate is one who willfully renounces or abandons Christian truth. An apostate openly rejects the faith they once held dear. Apostasy is, in a word, the rejection of Christ by one who had once claimed to be a Christian. A pagan or heathen cannot, by definition, be an apostate. That term is reserved for those who were once part of the body of Christ and drifted away, sometimes violently (1 John 2:19). The term apostate is reserved for those who may have exercised faith in Jesus at one point, yet it was non-saving faith, and did not involve trust, dependence or the confession of Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9). Apostasy is the exact opposite of conversion. It is, as some put it, a form of deconversion.
And apostates are everywhere in the church. They seem to breed like rabbits.
For example, Judas was one of the Twelve, an Apostle, yet rejected Christ, turned his back on the truth, and betrayed the Lord (Matt. 26:14-16). He was an apostate, actually much worse.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul speaks of Hymenaeus and Alexander “whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19-20). They were members of the church yet had become apostates— and so much so Paul was to remove them from the congregation.
Paul writes to Titus about those who ” profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work (Titus 1:16). This is a good definition of an apostate.
In 2 Timothy, Paul again instructs Timothy to “shun profane and idle babblings” (2 Tim. 2:16) because “their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim 2:17-18). Note, they “strayed concerning the truth” and refused to return. And, as you can see, one of the greatest dangers of an apostate is that their false teachings and sinful lifestyle will “overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18). These are the ones Jude passionately warns about.
Probably the best New Testament example of an apostate is Demas. We see him mentioned three times in Paul’s letters and he was obviously, for a time, a trusted friend and fellow minister with Paul.
In Colossians, at the close of the letter, Paul sends greetings from those who were with him, those who were his friends. He sends greetings from Aristarchus, a fellow prisoner with Paul, Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, (Col. 4:10), Jesus, who is called Justus (Col. 4:11), Epaphras (Col. 4:12), and then from “Luke the beloved physician and Demas” (Col. 4:14). This is a pretty impressive crowd that Demas found himself in— even if he was mentioned last.
By the time Paul writes to Philemon the order of names change. Now we have “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers” (Philemon 1:23-24). Demas is now mentioned before Luke which might not, on the surface, indicate anything. But it gives the impression that his status in the heart of Paul and in the eyes of the others may be increasing.
Much time passes and now Paul is facing certain death. His second letter to Timothy is his most personal and reflective. He begins to close the letter with a bold affirmation of how he spent his life for the Lord and the faith he had in the Lord.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
He then speaks from his heart, expressing the personal sadness he feels during these last hours. Paul is lonely and troubled. He implores Timothy to “be diligent to come to me quickly” (2 Tim. 4:9). Why? “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). Demas, one of the trusted faithful, had forsaken Paul! The Greek word for forsaken means “to abandon, desert, leave in straits, leave helpless, leave in the lurch, let one down.”
Another word to describe what Demas did is apostatize. And that makes Demas an apostate.
But why? What compelled Demas to do such a thing? Paul said it was because “he loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). The word for love means “to esteem, love, indicating a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something or someone.” Demas loved this fallen world more than he loved Christ. His desire was to be a friend of this world and not a friend to Christ, Paul and others. And, in doing so, he made himself an enemy of God— which is a frightening thing to do (James 4:4).
We can see individuals, and churches, and entire denominations becoming apostate right before our eyes. Take, for example, the move to change the Bible to suit gender-neutral wording. This is a rejection of Biblical truth for the adulation and acceptance of the world. Once orthodox and conservative denominations now reject Biblical truth and embrace homosexuality because it is politically correct and the darling issue of the media: the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, just to name a few.
In addition to this, the airwaves are full of false pastors and teacher, apostates, who preach a prosperity gospel essentially reducing the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to nothing more than securing my right to health, wealth and a great parking place at the Mall.
But this should not take us by surprise. Paul, in the last letter he wrote before offering his life to the Lord, said these things would be a sign of the end. He said to Timothy, his spiritual son in the faith:
“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (why) For the time will come when they (the church) will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they (the church) will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).
After all, some of the largest churches in America fit this bill.
Acts of the Apostates
Finally, Jude presents the most chilling assessment of the apostate in all of Scripture. Notice how he describes them:
Jude 1:4 – Ungodly men who are marked for condemnation and deny the Lord Jesus. Apostates!
Jude 1:7 – Men who have given themselves over to sexual immorality and homosexuality. Apostates!
Jude 1:8 – Men who defile themselves, are rebellious, and blaspheme those in heaven. Apostates!
Jude 1:12-13 – “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Apostates!
Jude 1:16 – “These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.” Apostates!
Jude 1:19 – “These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” Apostates!
Keep You From Stumbling
The warnings of Jude are just as current today as they were when he penned his short, 25 verse letter. And the encouragement from Jude is probably needed more today than at any other time in the history of the church.
Be encouraged as we dig deeper into the muck of past and present apostasy. Why? Because our Lord soon comes and our redemption draws nigh (Luke 21:28).
Keep looking up to Jesus who, as Jude says, “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 1:24).
Come Lord Jesus.
Coming next – Chapter Three: The Hidden Structure of Jude