Disturbed and heartsick, I grieve to learn of yet another respected Christian leader’s secret immoral life, especially for the wounded victims shattered in his wake. Perhaps Jude—the half-brother of Jesus, the younger son of Mary of Nazareth—would have discerned this because he wrote the book (literally) on how to spot ungodly people, as he calls them. So I turn to Jude’s tiny New Testament letter to help me make sense of what I see in the world.
The first verses of the letter are lovely (I am called, loved, and kept) and encouraging (pray for mercy, peace, and love). Even the instruction to contend for the faith is an excellent reminder. But now Jude feels compelled to tell me how to spot ungodly people. While exceedingly uncomfortable, maybe this is exactly what I need.
For certain individuals … have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.Jude 1:4 NIV emphasis mine
Ungodly people creep in unnoticed. While they look and sound like good Christians (Matthew 7:15), they shamelessly tell me that “God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives” (NLT). Basically, they want me to believe that because God is so kind, he’s okay with changing the rules laid out in the Bible. To this, the apostle Paul says, “Heck, no!” (Romans 6:1–2).
In addition to teaching destructive heresies, they also deny Jesus Christ (2 Peter 2:1). However, since their rejection of Jesus might not be outright, their behavior needs to be examined (Titus 1:16). Jude does this by using six Old Testament examples. First, three groups: Israelites, angels, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later … [they] did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling … In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.Jude 1:5–7 NIV emphasis mine
Ungodly people are characterized by unbelief like the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea who refused to obey God and move into Canaan, allowing their fear to eclipse their faith in God (Numbers 13–14). They are rebellious like the angels who left God’s place for them in heaven (Genesis 6:1–4, Isaiah 14:12–14). And as with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), they are filled with sexual perversion.1 Jude’s point is that “unbelief leads to rebellion against God’s authority which then results in uncontrolled behavior.”2
Jude goes on to back up his argument by quoting from the book of Moses, a text his Jewish readers would have known.
In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them.Jude 1:8–10 NIV emphasis mine
Jude is saying that the people he’s describing reject God’s authority—what God has said is right and wrong—by claiming to have dreams that verify their new rules (Jeremiah 23:25–36). And while the archangel himself did not dare speak evil of even a fallen angel, these guys “scoff at things they don’t understand” (NLT), “doing whatever they feel like doing” (TPT). The Apostle John says I must test any supposed revelations from God (1 John 4:1–3) because God is against this (Jeremiah 23:30–32).
Next, Jude turns to the example of three individuals.
They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.Jude 1:11 NIV emphasis mine
Cain’s offering (Genesis 4:3–8) was not accepted by God because he chose to worship God his own way. His disobedience and self-righteousness (attempting to earn a relationship with God by his own methods) led him to murder his brother (1 John 3:12). Balaam (Numbers 22–25,31) was a prophet who loved money so much he compromised God’s message eventually leading the Israelites into idolatry (2 Peter 2:15). He believed he could sin and get away with it. Korah (Numbers 16) was a priest who felt that Moses was putting on airs and lording it over him. Korah was insolent and refused to accept God’s appointed leaders.
From these examples we see that ungodly people make their own rules to enhance personal gain, feel they can sin with impunity, and rebel against God and his leaders.
In case we haven’t understood so far, Jude turns to metaphors from nature to describe the ungodly:
These people are blemishes [hidden reefs NASB] at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit … They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars.Jude 1:5–13 NIV emphasis mine
The ungodly are jagged, dangerous, unseen rocks that destroy much as a hidden glacier ripped a hole in the Titanic. They participate in church sacraments (the love-feast was a communal meal that included the Lord’s Supper) but care only about themselves (Ezekiel 34:1–4). Like waterless clouds, they are all show and no substance (Proverbs 25:14). Similarly, they are fruitless trees that produce nothing, making promises they can’t fulfill or espousing principles that aren’t true. Like wild waves, they foam up the dirty flotsam of shame (Isaiah 57:20). As wandering stars, they are not dependable for direction and so lead others astray.
False teachers are like “reefs” in that they can be destructive. They are like “clouds” in that they can be disappointing. And like “trees” they can be unproductive. Like “waves,” false teachers can be defiling, and like “wandering stars” (or “planets”), they can be unreliable and misleading.3Dr. Thomas L. Constable
Finally, Jude winds down his description of ungodly people by saying they grumble, finding fault with God’s boundaries on sexual activity (1 Corinthians 10:6–11). So they make their own rules based on what they desire (James 1:14–15). Then they brag only about themselves (2 Peter 2:18) and pretend admiration for others only for personal gain (James 1:3–4).
These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.Jude 1:16 NIV emphasis mine
And then just so you don’t miss his points, almost as though he can’t stop going on about the ungodly, Jude adds a few more things:
They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.Jude 1:18-19 NIV emphasis mine
The ungodly, following their own desires and instincts, mock others, and divide the church. Bottom line, these ungodly people don’t have the Holy Spirit in them.
- Do they claim to have new directives from God that clearly contradict what he has said in his Word?
- Do they exclusively teach God’s love and never his holiness?
- Do they make up their own standards by which they are are acceptable to God and alternate ways to look obedient?
- Do they complain about God’s Word more than they submit to it, grumbling about his boundaries and commands?
- Are they rebellious, unteachable, boastful, and won’t submit to God’s authority, doing whatever they feel like.
- Do they engage in perverse sexual activity? Are they hiding secret immorality, thinking they can get away with it? Are reports of possible abuse minimized and excused?
- Do they fail to believe the promises of God, acting out of unbelief?
- Do they deny the Lord Jesus, with words or actions?
- Are they all about personal and financial gain, using and manipulating people to achieve that?
- Do they scoff at the things God calls holy and sacred?
I don’t want to be caught off guard, following teachers who tell me only what I want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3–4). The truth is, God’s grace has in fact given me freedom—freedom to not sin (Galatians 5:1). And because the Holy Spirit lives in me, I can let him guide my life.
Jude makes it clear that the ungodly will face consequences and he tells me how to respond. But I’ll explore that in future posts.
Gracious Lord Jesus, this is a difficult passage and I’m not sure I’ve understood it correctly. But I think Jude wants me to be discerning when it comes to the Christian leaders and teachers I listen to and follow. Help me to watch their actions to see if they match their words. Alert my ears to hear where they twist your commands to fit their own desires. Open my eyes to identify rebellious attitudes and new rules. Bring the truth to light, Lord, so that any who might be victimized will find justice and healing. And Lord, keep me in you. Teach me to live by your Spirit’s leading and rid myself of any ungodly traits.
1 While the men of Sodom sought same-sex sexual activity with the visitors (who were actually angels), there is no mention in the text (or in any other referring to this event) that specifically says homosexuality was rampant in Sodom. Therefore, this passage should not be used as a proof text when instructing about homosexuality. We can use other verses, but not these. The sin of Sodom was sexual perversion of many kinds, as well as violence, attempted gang rape, greed, and lack of hospitality (Isaiah 1:10–17).
2 Jackie Hill Perry, Jude: Contending for the Faith in Today’s Culture, Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press, 2019)