Apostates are a perilous and dangerous presence among God’s people. Apostates are stealthy, creeping in unnoticed, secretly introducing destructive heresies, and turning the grace of God into licentiousness. Apostates are easily misidentified as part of the body while all the while they are destroying and defiling the body. Apostates are a major cause of stumbling for the people of God as they enter in among us and soil and stain the bride of Christ with their sensuality, carnality, and rebellion all disguised as spirituality.
God in His love, mercy, and grace has warned us in His word of these apostates, their characteristics, the certainty of their entrance among us, and their dangerous influence as a little leaven will leaven the whole lump. But God in His love, mercy, and grace has also told us in His word how to keep from stumbling in these days of apostasy. In Jude 17-25, Jude gave four instructions to follow if we would stand firm, not stumble, and resist the apostates: (1) Believe God’s Word (17-19), (2) Build your Christian life (20-21), (3) Battle for backsliders (22-23), and (4) Behold the Lord (24-25).
Believe God’s Word (17-19). From the very beginning Satan has attacked God’s Word. “Indeed, has God said?” (Genesis 3:1) was his opening attack against God and it is still his primary method of deception through the apostates today. Once we begin to question God’s Word, we have no other recourse for determining truth, and we become vulnerable to Satan’s lies, for only the truth of the Word will protect us from the lies of the devil and his ministers. Doubting God’s Word and departing from God’s Word is what characterizes apostates who would cause others to stumble, so believing God’s Word and heeding God’s word is a sure antidote to apostasy. Knowing and believing God’s Word is what protects us from would-be-deceivers. “To the law and to the testimony [to the word of God]; if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world….They [false prophets] are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We [true prophets] are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:1, 5-6).
In believing God’s Word there are three things we should remember – who, what, and why: who gave the word, what they said, and why they said it.
Remember who gave the Word (17) – the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word apostle means one who is sent with a commission. The Lord committed the faith, the body of truth to His apostles that they were to guard, teach, and preserve. Wherever the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed, the devil and his ministers go to work twisting, distorting, corrupting, and counterfeiting in order to steal, kill and destroy. In the early church false apostles and teachers began to appear and in order to protect the church from false prophecies and forged letters, every truth claim had to be evaluated in the light of not only the Old Testament Scriptures but also in light of apostolic teaching. One of the main tests in the early church to determine if something was true was, “Is this what the apostles taught?” Apostolic teaching was and still is the test of truth.
Jude said to “remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ” because at first there were no New Testament letters. However, over time and of necessity the apostles wrote letters that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Peter acknowledged the trustworthiness of apostolic writing by declaring that what the apostle Paul wrote was actually Scripture – “And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and the unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Since we now have the completed Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, we no longer depend on tradition and we resort to the Word of God to know and verify truth. Whenever someone offers a “new revelation” we test it by what the prophets taught, what the Lord Jesus taught, and what the apostles of our Lord taught. If you do what you are supposed to and believe God’s Word you will not stumble over these apostates and their so-called “new revelations” but will discover that it is actually a lie.
Remember what they said (18) – that in the last days, mockers would come who would deny and depart from the word of God. We have recorded in the Bible for us what the apostles said about the apostates of the last days. The apostle Peter said, “Know this first of all, that in the last days, mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3). The apostle Paul said, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). The apostle Paul also said, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come for men will be lovers of self, lovers of money…and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). The apostle John said, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The apostles of the Lord warned about the apostates many times and when a warning is given so many times we should take it seriously.
Apostates mock God’s Word by denying it and they deny it because they don’t want God to tell them how to live – instead they want to “follow after their own ungodly lusts.” They want to satisfy their own sinful desires and God’s Word condemns their selfish and sinful way of life. Therefore apostates distort God’s Word, they doubt God’s Word, and they darken God’s Word to their own destruction. And they will cause many to stumble who don’t remember what the apostles said about this subject. Before Satan can substitute his own lies, he must get rid of the truth of God’s Word and we have been warned by the apostles of the Lord that he would attempt to do that through the apostates.
Remember why they said it (19) – the apostates want to divide the church and lead people out of the true fellowship into their false fellowship. “And from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Through the apostates the devil wants to defile the church, harm her testimony, steal her power, kill her influence, and destroy her reputation. The apostates offer a “higher quality of religion” than that of the apostles as found in the Word of God. Theirs is a mystical, mysterious, relationship to God that doesn’t have to be based on the Word of God and many will follow their sensuality.
Not only do the apostates divide the church, but they also deceive the church, because they are worldly-minded, merely natural, devoid of the Spirit. Because the apostates do not have the Spirit of God, they must function on their natural soulish power alone. Therefore they operate by the flesh and not by faith and this must be true because apostates deny and depart from God’s Word and faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.
One of the tragedies of today is that many people cannot discern between flesh and faith; between that which is soulish and that which is truly spiritual. There is so much religious showmanship these days that the saints are confused and deceived. There is way too much false fire in the church today and therefore we must exercise careful discernment.
How can we exercise careful discernment and keep from stumbling in these days of apostasy? By believing God’s Word, remembering that the Lord gave us this warning through His apostles, remembering what the apostles said, that in the last days, mockers would come who would deny and depart from the word of God, and remembering why the apostles said it – because the apostates want to divide and deceive the church.
You don’t have to stumble – and it is every pastor’s responsibility to guard the flock from the perilous and dangerous presence of apostates.