Towards the end of October, I took a trip to upstate New York to begin preparing for Advent. This year we are going to study the book of Jude during our midweek Advent series as well as singing Vespers throughout this wonderful season of preparation. As I studied this short little letter, I was struck by its relevance for what the Church is facing today. Jude says in this short letter that he was going to write about our “common salvation” but instead changed his mind. He says, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). So what is this faith in which Jude urges Christians to contend?
As I studied this letter, I was amazed to find out that there were many who had taken St. Paul’s message of faith and had turned it into a belief void of all works. It’s important to note that St. Paul emphasized the point that Christians are not saved by their adherence to the works of the law, like circumcision or the various ceremonial laws that identified Israel as a theocracy (i.e. a nation ruled by God). That being said, St. Paul never taught the idea of “faith alone” in the way that many Protestants believe today. We are made right with God based on the work of Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, we are not saved by our own works, but only in trusting in what Christ has done on our behalf. But a brief perusing of St. Paul’s letters indicates that the works of Christ are now the vocation of those who put their faith in the Cross of the Savior (see: Galatians chapter 5 for a good example).
Like Jude, we are seeing the rise of lawlessness and a distortion of St. Paul’s teaching on grace. Jude had to contend with those “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Jude goes on to say, “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). We see this type of behavior throughout so-called Christian denominations today. The underlying idea that leads to such lawless behavior is the belief that Jesus died for one’s sins, therefore, simply acknowledging this doctrine as true allows people to live as they see fit. With such a distorted view of grace, happiness replaces holiness, and many who claim for themselves the title “Christian” reflect the unbelieving world prior to the days of Noah’s flood when God brought devastation upon the earth for its wickedness.
That is why Advent is so important. Advent helps us look at history from the perspective of Christ’s first coming, which brought salvation, but calls us to prepare for his second coming that will bring forth judgment. Advent is a time for God’s people to repent and prepare to meet their Savior and Judge. It is a time for us to hear the lament of godly leaders like Jude so that our lives might be changed according to God’s Word, and not the fickle emotions that are nothing more than human pride. In other words, true faith cannot be divorced from the Word of God, which calls us to a life of repentance so that we might experience true liberty from sin and death.
Dear baptized people of God, may we not be like the lawless libertines in Jude’s day who chose to ignore or twist the Word of God for their own pleasure and comfort. Instead, may we strive to practice our faith by conforming our hearts and minds to Christ, as we grow in his grace and knowledge with the anticipation of his coming. In the words of St. Paul, may we be people who strive to put away sin and walk in the Spirit, as we conform our lives to the Word made flesh.