We are looking at the short letter of Jude. In the introduction we saw how encouraging it is from the start. It talks of our calling, being kept for Jesus, a shower of mercy, peace and love, the salvation we share. It encourages us to contend for the faith - a faith once for all entrusted to us.
At our live gathering in May we used those themes to encourage one another - we still have posters in our building that we produced that morning. Jude wants to continue with that encouragement, yet he now switches track. In verse 4 he warns the readers.
His talk of 'infiltrators' make it sound like a malicious plot. In some contexts that is exactly what happens: situations of persecution require churches to be on their guard, weary of secret police pretending to be interested in faith and working under cover in their gatherings. So in some countries you simply cannot give out open invites to Christian meetings, and have to be suspicious of newcomers.
Yet that is not what Jude is writing about. Instead he is referring to people who become part of the church, join with activities, even appear to do discipleship ... and yet do not actually 'get it' when it comes to the heart of the Christian faith. If you stripped away the veneer you would sadly find that the Lordship of Jesus is not there in their lives.
In our live gathering in May we saw in the opening verse that Jude declares himself as a 'servant of Jesus' before anything else. It reminded us how making Jesus 'number one' in our lives sets the parameters and directions for our whole lives, and transforms the way we live. There are two classic errors people can make when it comes to faith. The first is to equate following Jesus with 'living by law' - thinking that God has laid down rigid rules that He expects you to follow or live up to. People making this mistake fear that any failure will be pounced upon.
Many Western Christians live with this error, turning grace into law and projecting onto themselves all kinds of guilt because we can't adhere or live up to the standards. Yet the Kingdom of God, entered through belief in Jesus, is a grace economy. We enter and take part by God's grace, not our effort, or any kind of us earning it. The Son sets us free, free to live life to the full by His grace. The error of living by law leads to stunted growth for believers.
Yet the opposite error is also classic, and says: "If there is no law, then I can do whatever I like!". This is the error of 'license'. Paul hits on this in his letter to the Romans (see chapter 6), writing against the false logic that 'sin becomes okay'.
The correct way is not law or license or somewhere in between. It is to receive grace through Jesus, grace that gives us a fresh start and enables us to please God. It provides for us to live out the new covenant made through His Son, and living that out will have an ethical dimension - there is a morality to live and pay attention to. In the grace, with the Spirit helping us, God lays on our heart this way to live, and it becomes our joy to follow it.
Jude verse 4 hits on this 'error of license' for those among them, because whilst the error of law leads to stunted growth, the error of license ultimately denies the Lordship of Jesus - which is much more serious. For us as a church that operates (like many others) a open 'come and see' and 'come and journey with us' approach, we have to be wise to the risk of carrying people along who might get this fundamentally wrong. We have our open approach deliberately - it opens the way for people to see us modelling our faith and be won for Christ, but we do need to be aware of how this might be mis-understood.
That is why Jesus said 'Look for the fruit' - genuine fruit of the Spirit at work in a person's life. It is therefore not simply how much they are taking part in activities, nor even 'ticking the boxes', or even looking as if they could start leading groups etc. Instead it is looking for (perhaps more subtle) signs that the Spirit is at work as they submit further to the Lordship of Jesus.
So a practical approach? First self-examine! We shouldn't start pointing the finger if we need to re-calibrate ourselves. That's why we set the key question of asking ourselves how we continually return our lives to seating Jesus as number one. With the continual re-calibration we learn to live by grace, and what that means in ethical and moral decisions and attitudes. Second we pray for spiritual discernment. This is vital for leaders. We want to see what is happening in the spiritual in someone's life, rather be blinkered with just outward appearance. Thirdly keep coming back to the fruit question. What fruit is a person starting to exhibit, and what does that reveal about their underlying values, and therefore does this ultimately trace to Lordship of Christ of license?
God has a calling for us as a faith community, a calling rooted in Jesus. It is not a rigid law system, but neither is it an 'anything goes' club that fools with the right noises or words. Just as a scientific instrument requires careful calibration and periodic re-calibration, we must keep our calibration rooted in Jesus and His proper grace way of living.