How do I know the Bible is true? Is God real? Is Jesus really God? I think the morality standards in the Bible no longer apply today. God loves everyone, so he won’t send any to eternal torment. The Bible is a book of nice stories but not the foundation for truth so it doesn’t matter how I live my life.
Help for dealing with these questions and comments from my friends and loved ones can be found in Jude’s short New Testament letter written to those who are called, loved, and kept.
Jude—Jesus’s younger brother and Mary of Nazareth’s other son—dedicates the major portion of his letter to describing ungodly leaders who have secretly slipped in among us and are purporting things contrary to Jesus’s and the Apostle’s teaching. He asks us to contend for the faith rather than heed their falsehoods, but let Jesus judge them.
Our responsibility then is to look inward and keep ourselves in the love of God. Once we are adept at that, we can turn our attention outward to help others affected by the ungodly. Jude describes how to help people in various stages of doubt, indicating the necessity of a different approach for each one, all the while guarding ourselves.
Keep being compassionate [merciful] to those who still have doubts, and snatch others out of the fire to save them. Be merciful over and over to them, but always couple your mercy with the fear of God. Be extremely careful to keep yourselves free from the pollutions of the flesh.Jude 1:22–23 TPT
I—and I suspect every honest Christian—has doubted something at some point in their life or at least asked difficult-to-answer questions. In the search for understanding, it is common to waver. To these, Jude tells me to show mercy—compassion in action.
To the ones who have already believed the lies of the false teachers, Jude instructs me to rescue them out of the fire they are “playing with,” to save them from judgment.
Showing mercy means I’m not judgmental, condescending, or impatient toward those who express doubts. Rather, I’m kind, gentle, and long-suffering. I listen, ask questions humbly, and give them space while helping them seek understanding. I certainly don’t give up on them. Commentator David Guzik says “We are not allowed to hate them—or to be unconcerned.”1
My efforts to help others must be tempered with a right fear of God, Jude continues. This keeps me humble and careful lest I fall into the same trap. While bearing the burdens of others’ doubts, I must guard against being overwhelmed by them, recognizing my own weaknesses and temptations. Fearing God, remembering he will judge, helps me to maintain my focus.
Since Jude doesn’t give me anything more specific, I turn to other apostles:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–15 NIV)
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19 NIV)
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1–2 NIV)
Mercy. Fear. Truth. Love. Listen. Speak. Tension. Nuance. Ambiguity. Whew! This is tough! There is no straightforward, simple technique I can apply. It’s hard enough to get people to agree on facts, let alone truth. On the other side, some people are really difficult to love. Add to that my own questions and human tendencies and I wonder how anyone can apply Jude’s advice.
After much pondering, here’s my attempt. First, I’ll keep seeking to know the Faith, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and teach me. The core doctrines are non-negotiable, but I’ll agree to disagree on secondary ones, recognizing I might be wrong. As St. Augustine of Hippo said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Then I’ll examine myself, my motives, and my attitudes before taking a risk and reaching out. Perhaps I am too close to the issue. Perhaps I’m the one doubting and playing with fire. If so, I’ll leave the rescuing to someone else and reach out for mercy from someone I respect.
Most importantly, I’ll rely on the Holy Sprit to guide me when speaking up. Without his prompting, I know I’ll resist making the effort to show mercy. Or more likely, I’ll ignore it, say something I’ll regret, or write them off as “liberal, or legalistic, or lost, or out to lunch.”
Jude is asking me to wade into uncomfortable tension and not avoid the tough spaces because there might be someone that God is asking me to rescue. Bottom line, however and whenever I do attempt to help another, I must show mercy over and over.
How can you show mercy to someone who is doubting?
How can you snatch someone out of the fire?
What does fearing God look like to you?
Perhaps this personal checklist I offered earlier would be helpful here too.
Holy Spirit, I desperately need you to help me apply Jude’s teaching. Teach me to contend for the faith. Prompt me when you desire me to save another. Guide me in the discipline of showing mercy. Fill me with mercy, especially for those who doubt. Teach me what it means to rightly fear God, so that I can balance truth and love. And rescue me when I am doubting.
1 Guzik, D. “Study Guide for Jude by David Guzik.” Blue Letter Bible. Last Modified 21 Feb, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-Jud/Jud-1.cfm
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