Jude against the Libertines, Part One
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, March 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
The epistle of Jude, written sometime in the second half of the first century, is particularly relevant for us today. As part of the New Testament canon, it is the Spirit-inspired, infallible, inerrant word of God, given for us to live by. In this brief epistle, Jude writes to deal with an emergency situation: the heresy of libertinism was slipping into certain congregations.
Although Jude was the brother of Jesus Christ, he refuses to identify himself as such. Instead, he calls himself the slave, or bondservant, of Jesus Christ, and the brother of James, who was the well-known pastor of the church of Jerusalem. Though Jude and James did not believe in him initially, after Christ's resurrection, they believed and worshiped him as their Savior, God, and King.
Libertinism can be defined as autonomy, practical atheism, or antinomianism. Anti-nomos means "against law." But the law of God is an expression of God's very nature; thus, Paul tells us the law is holy, spiritual and good. So when somebody is antinomian, he is, in fact, anti-God, anti-kingdom, and anti-order.
Antinomians, or libertines, want absolute freedom without any restraint of God's moral law. Thus, they negate the rule of God and affirm self-rule. Their philosophy is: "I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it how I want to do it, and who are you to tell me anything?"
Libertinism is a perversion of the gospel. Libertines say, "Our souls are saved by grace, so what we do with our bodies, which will only perish, does not matter." The modern form of libertinism makes such statements as, "Yes, Jesus is Savior but he does not have to be Lord of your life. Salvation can be yours simply by giving mental assent to certain facts about Christianity. You do not need repentance or saving faith or any change in behavior. You can continue to live as before and still be a Christian."
Libertines use the forgiveness of Christ as an excuse for sinful behavior, saying, "Our sins were taken care of at the cross, once and for all. There is now no more penalty for sin; therefore, we can sin all the more and still go to heaven." Their motto is, "Where sin abounded, grace increased all the more." Thus, they say, "Since our salvation is by grace through faith plus nothing, won't we bring even more glory to God and his sovereign grace by continuing in sin?"
Libertines accept the indicative of pardon that the gospel offers but reject the imperative of a holy life that it demands. They reject, as it were, the latter half of every Pauline epistle, in which the apostle speaks of the ethical life which comes from right doctrine. They regard themselves, not Jesus Christ, as Lord, rejecting God's moral law as the guide for Christian conduct, and following their own appetites and lusts.
In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan speaks about a libertine friend who gave himself up to all manner of filthiness, while laughing at Bunyan's exhortations to sobriety. Bunyan writes, "When I labored to rebuke his wickedness, he would laugh the more." Martin Luther also had a friend, John Agricola, who became a libertine and taught that Christians are entirely free from the moral law and are not required to keep the Ten Commandments. .
Types of Libertinism
There are various types of libertinism. One is called "Spirit-centered" libertinism, or false charismatic libertinism. Its adherents say, "We are led by the Spirit: why should we study the Scripture or be governed by it? Don't we have the fresh, new revelation? We are beyond the written, objective word of God."
Paul addresses such people in 1 Corinthians 14:37: "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted"-in other words, if he claims to have received a private revelation and therefore does not have to listen to the apostle's letter-"let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored." And in Galatians 5:13 he admonishes, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love."
Another type of antinomianism is "Christ-centered" libertinism. Its followers say, "Because we are in Christ, God sees no sin in us. Thus, we can sin all we desire."
A third type, the one most popular in today's evangelical world, is called "dispensational" libertinism. Its adherents say, "We no longer live in the dispensation of law; we are now in the dispensation of grace. Thus, keeping the moral law as the guide to Christian conduct is not necessary at any stage in our Christian life."
Oh, what a happy condition! According to these libertines, we are saved to sin all the more! Imagine if your child is a libertine. What would he or she say to you? "Dad, Mom, you have no right to tell me how I should live."
Libertine theologian Walter Rauschenbusch says in his Theology of the Social Gospel: "The worst thing that could happen to God would be to remain an autocrat while the world is moving toward democracy." He predicts that God would be dethroned.
What is the real truth about libertines? They are not Christians. The Bible describes them as false prophets, slaves to sin, dogs who return to their own vomit.
What are some of the things modern libertines would teach? They would say that premarital sex is great, because by engaging in it, one glorifies God's grace. Living together without marriage is permissible; in fact, marriage itself is seen as old-fashioned and not to be bothered with, as in some Scandinavian countries where only thirty percent of couples are legally married. Divorce is encouraged; pornography, adultery, homosexuality, group sex, wife-swapping, incest, bestiality and even rape are acceptable behaviors that can bring greater glory to God's grace. Drug use is okay; lying and stealing are all right; and disobedience to parents, teachers and pastors is absolutely fine. Blaming others is especially good, because libertines believe that no one should have to repent of anything. In fact, libertines will say one should avoid reading the Bible or going to a church where the Bible is faithfully preached, because such a church will only put guilt on a person. At the same time, they will heartily recommend false charismatic, "user-friendly" churches, especially ones with a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy about the lifestyle of their members.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jude mentions some defining characteristics of the libertines:
They are contemptible. Verse 4 begins: "For certain men. . ." tines anthrí´poi. By using this term, Jude is expressing his utter contempt for these people.
They are condemned. Verse 4 continues: "whose condemnation was written about long ago." The libertines are condemned by God to hell, and this condemnation, Jude says, was predicted long ago in the Holy Scriptures. In 2Timothy 3:6 Paul says of such people: "They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women." They cannot take control over men or women who are rooted in the word of God. They target a certain type of people-the weak-willed, those who are "loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." Romans 16:18 calls such victims "naí¯ve."
Second Timothy 3:8 continues, "Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth-men of depraved minds who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone." As Jude says, their destruction is written about in the Scriptures.
They are deceptive. Jude says in verse 4 that these libertines "have secretly slipped in among you." That does not mean they sneaked in through the back door of the church. It simply means they verbally agreed to everything the church required, while never intending to obey its rules or keep their vows.
In Matthew 7:15 Jesus Christ described such people as "wolves in sheep's clothing." They appear to be born-again, and may even seem to be very spiritual, but the truth is, they are wolves whose intent is to deceive. Sadly, such people can even be preachers and elders. Second Corinthians 11:13 says, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."
They are godless. "Godless" is the key word in this epistle, appearing six times, in verses 4, 15 and 18. It is the key idea of libertinism. Like the fool of Psalm 14, the libertine says in his heart, "There is no God." When God is denied, his law is negated; thus, there are no constraints upon man. When God is not, man is free to do everything he wants.
Paul addresses this godless condition in Romans 1:18: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness [asebian] and wickedness [adikian] of men." Godlessness, the negation of God, is the philosophy governing the heart of an antinomian person; its consequence is wickedness, the commission of evil deeds. The Bible declares the wrath of God is revealed against such people.
They change the grace of God. More accurately, libertines corrupt the grace of God. They degrade God's grace, misrepresenting it as something other than it is. For example, in Romans 5:20, Paul preaches the great gospel of grace: "Where sin abounded, grace superabounded" (author's translation). Paul glories in the grace of God. But he understands people will degrade and corrupt this grace, so he goes on to ask in Romans 6:1-2, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" The answer: "By no means!"
They are immoral. Jude clearly identifies how these people corrupt God's grace by changing it into "a license for immorality." As we said earlier, antinomians declare, "God has saved us by grace; therefore, we can sin all we want." A number of sins are listed in Galatians 5:19-21, including several sexual sins: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like."
Do you now see why such a Christianity will be popular? This is a Christianity that says, "Don't ask, don't tell." This is a church that says, "We have no requirements and no membership. You can come and you can go. Nobody is going to ask you what you did or tell you what you should not do." It is the church of the wide gate and the broad way.
They deny Jesus Christ as Lord. The most serious charge against the libertines is also found in verse 4: "They deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord." With these words, Jude is affirming his brother to be King, God, and Lord. But the libertines, like the subjects in the parable of Luke 19, say, "We don't want this man to be our king" (v. 14). They reject the right of the Lord Jesus to demand their obedience. Paul says in Romans 1:5 that he "received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith." The gospel calls people to come to Christ, confess him as Lord, and render him obedience. Jesus himself said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).
Libertines remove that requirement for loving obedience. They reject Jesus Christ, the Sovereign, the one who received all authority in heaven and on earth, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. They reject his authority to govern their lives and tell them how to live and which way to go. Consequently, they also reject the authority of any of God's delegated authorities, including parents and ministers.
They are rebellious. Jude associates libertines with the Israelites who were redeemed out of Egypt, but later destroyed because of their unbelief. He associates them with the angels who rebelled, and, therefore, were condemned, and with the Sodomites, who opposed God's order, practiced rebellious perversion, and were therefore set on fire by God. Jude associates them with Cain, who rebelled against God's counsel and murdered his own brother, and with Balaam, the greedy seducer. Finally, he associates these antinomians with Korah, who rebelled against Moses and was destroyed.
They are dreamers. In verse 8 Jude refers to the libertines as "these dreamers." He is speaking about false charismatics, those who claim private revelation and reject the objective revelation of the word of God. Such people reject the preaching of the gospel and any counsel that comes from the Scriptures. They say, "We are no longer bound to this ancient Book. We have new and fresh revelations that are coming to us. We have dreams!" They believe they are superior to Bible-believing Christians and reject all authority except their own.
The New Testament makes many references to these dreamers. Paul says in Colossians 2:18, "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize." In other words, don't be under the influence of these pretenders. "Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen." This is private revelation-"The Lord told me; therefore, I need not listen to anybody else."
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Paul says, "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy. . ." A libertine would say, "I received a prophecy!" Many churches major in prophecies, telling people what to do, whom to marry, and where to settle, because "the Lord told me to tell you." (PGM) Naí¯ve people like such "prophecies": "Oh, God told someone about me! That is wonderful. I really want to do it."
The Old Testament speaks about such libertine dreamers. Deuteronomy 13:5 says, "That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord." Another example can be found in Job 4, where Eliphaz wanted to add greater authority to what he was telling Job: "A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end" (vv.12-15). What is he implying? "I had a dream! I had a special revelation, so you had better listen to me."
We have dreamers in modern times too. Be very careful when someone says, "The Lord told me." He is trying to manipulate and control you, and, at the same time, empty your pocket! I believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but I do not believe in foolish, modern manipulation of those gifts.
They reject authority. Verse 8 says about these libertines, "In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies [and] reject authority." The meaning of the Greek word is that they set aside, nullify, and invalidate all God-established authority, which is exactly what the devil did. In Genesis 3, when Satan came to Eve in the garden, he told her, in essence, "Go ahead and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; you will surely not die." He cut off the life-giving authority of God in order to establish his own authority, which brought death.
Libertines reject authority! They tell young people, "Don't listen to your parents. They don't know anything. They are just old-fashioned. Go ahead, do what you want! But don't ever tell your mother or father about it. Just forget about them. Don't even think about them."
In 2 Peter 2:10 we are told, "They despise authority." Libertines reject authority, cutting it off and speaking despisingly of it. This should come as no surprise, for if they deny the Sovereign Lord, the King of kings, they will naturally despise, nullify and invalidate all his authority, thus promoting sin.
They slander. In verse 8 Jude tells us these dreamers also "slander celestial beings." The Greek word for celestial beings is doxas, or "glorious ones."
To whom does this phrase refer? David H. Wallace says in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary that it is speaking about pastors, and this is also my opinion. We find support in the Old Testament that the word "glorious ones" can correctly be used to refer to pastors. In Psalm 82:6, which Jesus Christ cites in John 10:34-35, the word elohim is used to refer to human shepherds whom God gave to Israel. Now, elohim is a higher word than doxas, so that gives some support to the idea that a pastor can properly be called doxa. But we can go further. In Revelation 1:20 Jesus Christ speaks about seven stars in his hand. Many people interpret these stars to be the pastors of each church. One can therefore interpret verse 8 to mean that libertines slander pastors. This is their job. They lose sleep thinking of ways to slander pastors. They dream about it and do research to find ways to better accomplish their task.
But even if that is not the correct interpretation, and "celestial beings" simply means the holy angels, we still must ask why these people are slandering holy angels. The Targum, the Jewish exposition of the Old Testament, teaches that the law of God was given to us through the mediation of angels, and this view is supported by Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19. So now we understand why these people are slandering the holy angels: they hate the moral law that came through the angels' mediation. As we said before, they are antinomians, against God's moral law.
They are ignorant of spiritual truths. Jude says in verse 10, "Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand." These abusers, slanderers, rejecters of authority, deniers of the Sovereign Lord, were proto-Gnostics, claiming to be superior in their knowledge. But here Jude says exactly the opposite: They are ignorant.
First Corinthians 2:14 says that the natural man does not understand or perceive things that are given through the Spirit of God. That truth is easy to grasp. Just go to a university and tell people about the gospel. Tell them that the infinite, personal God created the universe out of nothing. Will they say, "Thank you for that wonderful truth"? Tell them that God created Adam and Eve perfect, yet they sinned and plunged the whole world into evil, so that we all come from our mothers' wombs as sinners who practice sin every day. Will they say, "Thank you for declaring this profound wisdom"? Tell them that God sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and that he paid for it all. Will they say, "I appreciate that profound revelation. I was trying to find a way of salvation; I am glad you came and told me"?
In the same way, the antinomian libertines claimed to be wise and to have understanding superior to everybody else's. But Jude tells them, "You are ignorant concerning spiritual things. You are the blind leading the blind into the ditch." In other words, he is saying, "You are unregenerate, dead in trespasses and sins."
They reject godly counsel. In verse 11 Jude says, "Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain." In Genesis 4:6 God himself counseled Cain, saying, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" Cain knew what was right. He knew through revelation that he should by faith offer a blood sacrifice. His brother Abel also knew, and did it. But as an unbeliever, a profane person who rebelled against God's revelation, Cain refused to offer the blood sacrifice. Cain's countenance fell out of envy, for his brother's sacrifice was accepted, while his was not.
We must appreciate the fact that God would condescend to come down to rebellious, stubborn, sinful people like Cain. How many of us would do that? But God came down and said, in essence, "I understand your problem. Just do the right thing. If not, sin is crouching at your door, wanting to control you." Did Cain listen to God's counsel? No. In fact, he went out and murdered his brother. He came under the complete control of the sin that God warned him about.
According to the Targum's commentary on Genesis 4:7, Cain may have let the following thoughts govern his actions: "There is no judgment. There is no Judge. There is no future life. There is no good reward to be given to the righteous, nor is there judgment to be inflicted on the wicked." Cain was the first materialist, the first man who said, "There is no God, there are no angels, there is no soul, there is no spirit. There is nothing. Just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
So false prophets, libertines, consciously choose the way of Cain and reject God's word. They make up their own gospel (2 Peter 2:3), a gospel that permits people to sin while claiming to be saved. They are always going about, trying to influence weak-willed men and women-naí¯ve, unstable people. That is why it is imperative that we study the word of God and love the word of God, so that we may be strong in the faith. These people, like Cain, murder human souls. Watch out for them and run from them, for you never know when the earth is going to open up and swallow them.
They are greedy for profit. Verse 11 continues, "They have rushed for profit into Balaam's error." Libertines are greedy people who will do anything for money. They will sell their own mother for a dollar. Balaam's problem was not a lack of revelation, for although he was an unbeliever, God revealed his will to him and enabled Balaam to prophesy his truth. You see, if God can use a donkey to speak, he can use an antinomian like Balaam to speak great prophecies, which we read in Numbers 23 and 24.
Balaam knew the truth. In fact, he said, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end to be like theirs" (Numbers 23:10). He knew that God had blessed Israel, so no one could curse them, even for money. But, as a covetous, greedy man, he loved money. So he counseled the Moabite women to go and seduce Israel. In other words, libertines are Balaamites who will seduce you, enticing you to sin for their own profit. Second Peter 2:3 says, "In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up." Avoid them like the plague.
A Higher Standard
Second Peter 2:2 says of the libertines, "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you." Libertinism is nothing new. Wherever the word of God is declared, there will be opposition from Satan. Notice, Peter is not speaking about people of the world opposing the church, but about false teachers within the church who oppose the declaration of the gospel that saves sinners. "They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Sovereign Lord who bought them-bringing swift destruction upon themselves." Let us be aware of these things. When someone in the church begins to preach a false gospel, God himself will be against that person, and will bring swift destruction upon him.
Peter continues, "Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute." The gospel that the libertines are preaching seduces others to live a sinful life. This is the opposition we are up against. Libertines will come to you and say, "This pastor's standard is too high. He doesn't understand us. Aren't we free to do whatever we want to do without anyone telling us how to live? Why listen to your pastor? I, your friend, give you all the freedom you want to sin."
But if you were to ask the question, "Why is the pastor's standard so high?" the answer is: a true minister of the gospel has no freedom to adjust, change, or re-define the word of God. He must declare what the word of God says. As God told Jeremiah, "Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them" (Jeremiah 1:17). He is under obligation to God, and under his commission, to declare that gospel that will save every sinner who repents.
We believe in eternal life and eternal damnation, in heaven and in hell. How we live matters, because right now counts forever. I am not a Cainite or a Balaamite. I am not an antinomian or a libertine. I preach the glorious truth, that if you repent of your sins and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ your sins will be forgiven and you will be made new. You will be re-created in Christ Jesus unto good works. The Holy Spirit of God will come into you and take up his residence in you, renewing your mind, will, and affections. He will counsel you and give you wisdom to understand and interpret reality.
Libertines come under the pretense of absolute freedom to destroy. But there is no such thing as absolute freedom. True freedom is coming under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the freedom to love God and not sin. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed! I pray all of us will enjoy that freedom today. Amen.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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