Jude 20-23 Believers guide to living in apostate times

Home >  Full Study List >  Jude 20-23 Believers guide to living in apostate times

Bible Study Series: The Book of Jude - The Acts of the Apostates

Bible Study: Jude 20-23: Believers guide to living in apostate times

By Fraser Gordon

Bible Study Message Jude 20-23 Living in apostate timesPreviously Jude wrote about sensual people who cause trouble in our fellowships, causing divisions, mocking the return of Christ, not having the spirit. Today I want to look at verses 20-23. This is the believers guide on how to deal with those that are apostate. In the previous verses Jude used different examples of what apostates are like, now he's going to address the saints.

Build yourself up

Jude 1.20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,

Jude is writing to the saints in the church that were dearly loved, and that's what the word beloved means, to dearly love.

Ephesians 1.6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

Ephesians brings out that we have been placed in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the same love that the father loves His Son is now attributed to those who put faith in Jesus Christ. We are looked at by God as beloved. That means dearly loved. A wonderful truth is that the father loves us with the same love that He loves His Son. Jude starts from here. All his instructions to the saints on how to protect themselves from the contamination and error of false teachers and false prophets start from this point of being dearly loved.

Then Jude instructs the saints to build themselves up. Salvation is God's part, He had to do a work through His Son on the cross for you and me. We can't add to that work. We couldn't play a part; it could only be done by God through the Lord Jesus Christ. So salvation is all of God's part of the equation and all we do is look at His work, recognise we are a sinner and take it by faith. We can't add to it, all we can do is say thank you Lord for the death that you died for me and receive it by faith. Our part of the equation is to apply everything the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us and build ourselves up. We can apply ourselves to our Christian faith and build on what has already been established.

Philippians 2.12 work out your own salvation with fear and with trembling

So how do we do that? Building on our faith includes studying God's word the bible. All the books are about the Lord Jesus Christ, it's all about Him. Do you remember the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? When they were walking with Christ He opened up the scriptures to them. Starting in the Psalms, the prophets, and then all of scripture; Jesus said they all spoke of Him. That would have been an amazing Bible study as Jesus opened their minds to all the scriptures they had known for such a long time.

The part we play is building ourselves up by applying God's word to our life. A good example of this is Nehemiah, who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem which were in ruins. It pictures for us rebuilding the walls of our salvation. Nehemiah had a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other because his enemies were trying to stop him rebuilding the walls. It's a great picture of what we need to do in our own Christian life. We should apply ourselves and build on what God has done for us. We need a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. This building up is vitally important for us and Jude encourages us to apply ourselves to our Christian faith.

The parable of the seeds is another good example. The seed that was sown among the rocks couldn't take root and all the weeds grew up around it and choked its growth. This is a picture of the world's influence on the believer, choking the growth so it won’t grow. We need to continually build on all that God has done in our lives.

The foundation on which we build

Acts 20.27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. 32 So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

You see, nothing is new. What was happening to Jude was happening to Paul. In this passage Paul knows that after he departs savage wolves would come in not caring for the flock. Men would rise up speaking perverse things, trying to draw away the disciples. Just as it was with Jude, so it was for Paul. False people crept in causing division and strife, leading people into error. But in verse 32 Paul commends them to God and to the word of His grace. The word of God is important for our foundation. The foundation on which we build is vital. It has to be built on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The grace of God toward us. This foundation, Paul says, is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. The word of God is vital. 

The Spirit of truth

The next thing Jude writes in verse 20 is ‘praying in the Holy Spirit’.

Ephesians 6.17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints--

The Holy Spirit has been given to us. Jesus said in John 16.7 ‘for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.. He is our helper, comforter and the Spirit of Truth. It is the Spirit's role to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ to us. It's amazing how the Trinity works. The Father glorifies the Son, the Son lived His life to glorify the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ and conforms us to the image of His Son. Not one member of the Trinity seeks glory for Himself. They all seek glory for another member of the Trinity. It's beautiful when you look at it.

Jude encourages us to pray in the Holy Spirit. It's interesting that His role is to guide you into all truth. Praying in the Holy Spirit is not just for yourself, it's prayer for the whole body of believers. In Ephesians 6 it says be watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints– It is always about others. It is the Spirit leading us to be watching those who are in our fellowships, those in our family of God. It's His role to use us to watch and pray for them as He leads. This is what we need saints. We need the word of God on one hand, and the power of the Holy Spirit on the other. Be in tune with His leading.

Abide in my love

Jude 1:21a keep yourselves in the love of God,... 

God's abundant love has been poured out on us like the rays of the sun. Our part is to keep ourselves in God's love. The Father's love is never ending, but our responsibility, just like building ourselves up, is to keep in that love. Don't hide away or do things that would hinder or bring discipline. In John 15.9 Jesus said “I also have loved you; abide in my love”. That word abide means to rest on, remain in, be steadfast in. An example of this is the prodigal son. He was always loved by his father. But there was a time in his life that he didn’t benefit from that love. The love for the father was always there and we see that he was always watching for his son's return. The prodigal son only benefited when he came back, not while he was doing his own will and making his own decisions. So how do we keep ourselves in God’s love? Well, obviously reading the bible is a big part of it. We always need to remind ourselves of God's promises to us. We need to acknowledge sin and keep short accounts with God. Always acknowledge the condition you are in and the things you do apart from the Lord Jesus Christ in you. We need to thank him for his death, we always need to be reminded saints, that we are sinners saved by the grace of God. The righteous for the unrighteous, the just for the unjust. That we might be brought near to God.

Let us apply ourselves

Hebrews 12.1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The first instruction the writer of Hebrews gives is to lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us. Lay aside everything that is a hindrance to you going forward in your relationship with God. What is it for you? It will be different for all of us. We need to apply ourselves. As Jude says build yourself up, keep yourself in the love of God. We can only do that as we wholeheartedly desire to serve Christ.

Philippians 3.7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him…

Paul's desire is that he would know Him, Christ Jesus.

…and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Both these scriptures in Hebrews and Philippians will help keep us in the love of God. Forget everything that has happened to you in the past. All of that is done and is rubbish. Now lay hold of your new position in the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me’. The Lord has a purpose for you and me. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them Eph 2.10. He has bought us with a price and we are to get ‘hold of that for which Christ has got a hold of me. Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’. For every single believer no matter where you are in your Christian life, you have an upward call of God. God has called you and He has a plan and purpose for your life. How do we keep ourselves in the love of God? We apply ourselves, we push forward, we lay aside all hindrances that cause us trouble and we ask the Lord to take our life and do whatever He chooses. First and foremost build yourself up, pray, then keep yourself in the love of God.

Jude 1.21b looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

This is speaking about the second coming. You see, it's mercy that saved us in the beginning and it will still be mercy when He returns for His church. It is all the mercy of God. Saints, always look for Christ's return.

Jude 1.20-21 are his instructions for the saints, get this right and then you can deal with the next two verses. These are instructions on how to deal with others. First though, we need to get our own house cleaned up before we start to worry about our neighbours house.

Those who are led astray

Jude 1.22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction;

Jude now writes on how to deal with believers who have been led astray. We need both mercy and compassion in dealing with others. Making a distinction, I believe, means there are different groups. There will be people that have doubts and we need to instruct them gently, with mercy and compassion. We are to get alongside and lead them in a way that they can receive the truth. Believers hear all sorts of things, they doubt and are easily led. They're not seriously sinning, they're just led astray. Have compassion, make a distinction, be merciful and gentle with these people. Use the word of truth to guide them back on to the straight and narrow. Then he brings in another group.

Jude 1:23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.

This group is a little bit more in error. Jude writes about saving them by snatching them out of the fire. This group is probably involved with seriously false doctrines. First he says to save them with fear. We cannot approach people in pride saying you're way off track. We are all prone, saints, to be led astray. The old quote. “But for the grace of God go I” is very true. We need to recognise our own failings and weaknesses to get things wrong and be led astray. We are not to go in pride claiming to be something greater, but instead realise that like sheep we can all be easily led astray.

So, on the first group, have compassion and be gentle, making a distinction for those that doubt. But this next group, pull them out of the fire as if you are snatching them away. Pulling something out of a fire requires a quicker, aggressive action. I've just come back from a week's mountain biking with my wife and a few friends. When we go down some trails I'll say to my wife, ‘follow me on the left, it's an easier way down, there's no danger here’. The first group is like that. We are leading them gently to a safer route toward heaven. At other times I might stop on the edge of a cliff or a steep down and stop my wife saying, “if you go over there you go to your peril’. The second group is like that. More action is needed to pluck them away.

Zechariah 3.1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?" 3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. 4 Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, "Take away the filthy garments from him." And to him He said, "See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes."

The brand that was plucked from the fire is actually Jerusalem. The Lord is saying to Satan that yes, Jerusalem is in ruins, but I've chosen her. God snatches Jerusalem out of the fire and restores her for His own purposes. Interestingly, Joshua was wearing filthy garments while Satan was accusing him. The Lord removes his iniquity and clothes him with rich robes. 

The defiled garment

Lot was snatched from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah so that he was not consumed. Even though he was rescued quickly, his garments were defiled. When you look at Lot's life Sodom and Gomorrah had an influence on him. Jude writes of the same thing in verse 23 hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. This is a lot more serious. Not only is the person defiled, but what they are wearing is also defiled. God had no tolerance for sin whatsoever. The word for garment is ‘chiton’ it means in the garment or the garment that was worn closest to the skin. The picture here is that these people are so corrupt and in sin that their very clothes are defiled. So what is this a picture of?

Jude would have been familiar with the book of Leviticus. If you don’t know where it is, turn your Bible on its side and look for the cleanest book, the one that you spend the least amount of time in, that will be Leviticus. If you've ever studied it there are wonderful truths to be gleaned. Most Christians don't spend much time there because it's hard work, but all scripture is God breathed. Chapter 13 of Leviticus is about leprosy, and leprosy is a type of sin. When leprosy was on the skin of a person, it had to be examined by the priest. Then in verse 47 it is also on their garments. God took sin seriously, even to the point the garments that were contaminated were judged.

Leviticus 13:47 "Also, if a garment has a leprous plague in it, whether it is a woolen garment or a linen garment, 48 whether it is in the warp or woof of linen or wool, whether in leather or in anything made of leather, 49 and if the plague is greenish or reddish in the garment or in the leather, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in anything made of leather, it is a leprous plague and shall be shown to the priest. 50 The priest shall examine the plague and isolate that which has the plague seven days. 51 And he shall examine the plague on the seventh day. If the plague has spread in the garment, either in the warp or in the woof, in the leather or in anything made of leather, the plague is an active leprosy. It is unclean. 52 He shall therefore burn that garment in which is the plague, whether warp or woof, in wool or in linen, or anything of leather, for it is an active leprosy; the garment shall be burned in the fire.

Everything had to come before the priest. If you had leprosy you were examined by the priest whether you were clean or unclean and your garment also. It's a picture of sin which spreads and is so corrupt that it spreads even to your clothing. It had to be identified by the priest over a period of seven days and he would watch it. If it started spreading in the garment it was an active sin and had to be judged. The garment would be burned in the fire. God took sin very seriously.

Jude writes of how we are to hate even the garment defiled by the flesh, which is the natural man - all that we are apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. This same thought about the garment is also found in Revelation where John writes to the church of Sardis. This church represents the Reformation period, where there was a split within Catholicism and Protestantism started to rise. But it also has an application for today.

Revelation 3:1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

The church in Sardis thought they were alive. ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive. They had a big ‘name’ yet Jesus responded to them saying, ‘but you are dead’. Jesus saw through it all. The church thought they were alive. They thought they had a name that was important and recognised. But Jesus knew their real condition was that they were dead just like many in the church today who want to be recognised and seek celebrity status. The historian Herodotus talked about the history of Sardis and what became of it. He said the church became lax in its moral standards and was open to all licentiousness. It became like the world. This was the reality of Sardis; they were open to everything and all licentiousness just like the world around them. But yet in verse 4 there were a few, a small remnant, that had not defiled their garments. Jesus said “They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy’. In other words, they hadn't become like the others who wanted a reputation, who thought they were alive, but actually were dead. These people refrained from the world's influence on them. They held fast to their relationship with God and were saved by the mercy of God. They had clean garments of salvation.

The world's influence on this church is the same for us; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. All that is the world's influence. But some in this church were able to separate themselves from the world and remain pure, not having their garments defiled. Jude writes about these false people who want to have a big name. They all want to be recognised and be seen as being alive just like Sardis. But God sees through it all. He says they are dead. Jesus then goes on to tell them “Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain’. Remember the things that you heard in the beginning, hold fast to it and repent.


Jude encourages his hearers to get right with God. Build yourselves up, be in tune with what the Holy Spirit has to say, and keep yourself in the love of God. If we get all that right, then we will be in a position to deal with this other group of struggling Christians. Christians that are elitists, those who have doubts, those who are led astray, and Christians that are deeply rooted in false doctrine and sin - snatching them from the fire. The important thing is that first we do what Jude says in verses 20-21.

Father, we thank you for your word. We thank you that it is alive and real. We ask that the Lord Jesus would take it and apply it to our lives. We thank you for the importance of building ourselves up, of applying ourselves to working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Father, we give our lives to you today and ask that you lead us in your will and in all of your plans and purposes. Father give us wisdom, mercy and compassion for those around us that have been led astray, that are deceived, and for those in false doctrines. We ask for the mercy of God upon us as we share with them. We thank you for your work in our life and for the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Next time saints we'll finish this great little book with Jude’s wonderful doxology in verses 24 and 25. 

God bless.