Acts of the Apostates
September 7, 1997
I’d like to begin my message with a word we don’t often use. Though it has been around for many generations, this particular word unfamiliar to most of us. Few of us use it in ordinary conversationsand some of us have probably never heard the word at all. It is a word with an ugly, ominous sound.
The word is “apostate.” It’s a noun that describes a particular kind of person. Before I give you a dictionary definition, let me tell you that the Greek word literally means “to fall away from.” In the New Testament this word refers to a person who knows the truth and then deliberately falls away from it. An apostate knows the truth and intentionally embraces falsehood. That’s why the dictionary defines an apostate as a person who has rejected the tenets of the religion he once claimed to believe. In biblical terms, an apostate is anyone who claims to be a Christian and yet denies the fundamental truths of the Christian faith.
The New Testament contains many warnings about apostates and the danger they pose. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Many years later the Apostle Paul picked up on that image and warned the Ephesian elders that after his departure false teachers would come in like ravenous wolves, devouring the flock of God (Acts 20:29-30). And as we have seen in our recent sermons, the Apostle John said that there are many deceivers who have gone out into the world. Such people are the very spirit of the antichrist (2 John 7).
In fact there are so many warnings in the New Testament about apostates that one of two conclusions must be reached: A) either the early Christians were a very naïve bunch or B) the false teachers must have been very clever. While no doubt there are always naïve believers who are easily deceived, I daresay that the greater problem has always been the cunning devices that wicked men and women have used in order to mislead God’s people.
The message of the Holy Spirit is very clear. Be on your guard! Keep your eyes open. Watch lest you led astray. Be ready to contend for the faith.
No one said it more forcefully than a man named Jude. His message is desperately needed today. And it is most appropriate for this week in Oak Park.
What can we say about this little book called Jude? Here are some adjectives. It is short, powerful, colorful, direct, pungent, pointed, piercing, and penetrating. In only 25 verses Jude dissects the acts of the apostates, revealing their character, their doctrine, their moral error, and their ultimate destiny He also reveals how believers should respond to moral and spiritual apostasy. Although he pulls no punches, Jude is no angry ranter. He writes with deep concern and real compassion for the people of God. In a handful of verses he paints a vivid picture of the apostates all around us. And then he gives a strategy for victory.
Contend for the Faith
We pick up the story in verse 3 as Jude tells us that what he intended to write is not what he ended up writing:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
Jude evidently intended to write a pastoral letter of encouragement, but he felt the spiritual danger was so great that he had to change his mind. The whole theme of the letter is found in one phrase: “Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Every word matters. To “contend” means literally to go to war. It’s a fighting word. The phrase “the faith” refers to the body of Christian that all true believers hold in common. It includes the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, the Deity of Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his death and resurrection, his ascension in heaven, and his second coming to the earth. That phrase “the faith” includes the doctrines of salvation, the Holy Spirit, prayer, godly living, and the moral teachings of the Bible. In short, “the faith” is what we as Christians believe.
But notice something else. This faith has been “entrusted” to the saints of God. The word has the idea of making a deposit in a person’s account. God has said to this generation, “I’m going to give you with my truth. Can I trust you to take care of it and pass it along to the next generation?” I remember hearing Bruce Wilkinson of Walk Through the Bible Ministries say that God has no grandchildren. That means that there are no guarantees that your grandchildren will share your faith because Christianity is always just one generation from extinction. If you and I don’t protect the truth, if we don’t contend for the faith, if we don’t fight for what is right, we will have nothing left to pass on to our children and our grandchildren.
Down South when a man insults you, people will say, “Those are fightin’ words.” We all know that some things are “fightin’ words”—that is, there are some things that we care deeply about. I hear men say, “You can say what you want about me, but don’t talk about my wife and children.” Fair enough. But is there anything as Christian that you will fight and die for? Or have you become so used to sin and compromise that anything goes and nothing makes you angry anymore?
There are times when we need to rise up and contend for the faith lest we lose it altogether. This is a command of Almighty God and we dare not ignore it. There are some truths worth fighting for and some things that are so evil they must be opposed—even at the risk of losing friends.
Not All Sins Are Equal
Jude tells us in verse 4 how to spot the apostates:
For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
This passage is important because it is so incredibly specific. Anytime you go to war you need a clear understanding of your adversaries. He tells us four things about the apostates in this verse: 1) They secretly slip in and do their evil work, 2) They do not know God, 3) They deny that Jesus Christ is their Sovereign Lord, 4) they use their religion as an excuse for immorality.
All of that leads me to an important principle. While all sin is evil, some sins are indeed worse than others. I remind you that Jesus reserved his harshest words not for prostitutes or drunkards but for hypocritical religious leaders (Matthew 23). Or perhaps I should say religious mis-leaders. It is one thing to prefer the darkness, it is something else to lead others into the pit with you. God will not hold guiltless the man or woman who in the name of religion leads others astray(see the stinging words of Jesus in Matthew 18:6).
Last Tuesday in Oak Park
With that as background, I’d like to say something about what happened in Oak Park this week. If you’ve been following the local news you know that our village on Tuesday night became the first community in Illinois—and one of the first in America—to create a registry for gay and lesbian couples. It’s basically a way for gays and lesbians to gain a kind of quasi-official recognition from the village. It’s also an interim step on the way toward full-fledged homosexual marriage—which they hope to achieve in the future.
On Tuesday night several hundred people gathered at the village hall to give testimony before the vote. The gays and lesbians came out in force and packed the place. However, several people from Calvary were there, including Pastor Davis Duggins, whose excellent testimony was replaced on several local TV stations. Since the entire proceeding was televised on local-access cable, I watched most of the testimony and the vote itself. At one point a very angry gay man got up and quoted from a sermon I preached last April on the wrath of God in which I said that Oak Park is under the judgment of God for welcoming homosexuals to our community. I also said that electing a lesbian to the village board is a mark of our corporate shame. It wasn’t clear why he quoted my words—since I wasn’t at the hearing—but he was very angry nonetheless.
No Need to Back Down
The next morning I opened both local papers and saw the same quotes—one in a letter to the editor from the gay minister of the Unity Temple and the other in a column by a local writer. Evidently someone has come to Calvary, picked up copies of my printed sermons, passed them around, and is trying to use my own words against me. (By the way, I’m delighted that people pick up the printed sermons or buy the tapes, whether or not they agree with what I have to say.)
In light of what has happened, I need to make one point very clear. I stand by every word I said in the sermon on the wrath of God. I stand by it because every word is true. And just to make sure everyone understands that, I’ve written back to both local papers, thanking them for printing excerpts from that sermon, inviting everyone to read the entire sermon, and offering free copies of the sermon to anyone who calls the church. Furthermore, we’ve printed 100 extra copies of that sermon and have them on hand this morning.
I see no need to back down from the truth.
Moving in the Wrong Direction
And in order that no one mistake what I am trying to say, let me point out that our village has taken two major steps in the wrong direction in the last six months: We were first city in Illinois to elect a lesbian to citywide office, now we’re the first to establish a gay registry. No wonder the Windy City Times calls Oak Park “the gay-friendliest city in Illinois.” Maybe we ought to put that our welcome signs and see how many young families will want to raise their children here.
It appears to me our local leaders have no shame. They seem determined to lead us into the gutter of moral depravity. One local newspaper apparently intends to be at the head of the parade.
But one question remains. Is Oak Park really under the judgment of God? And if it is, what are we doing living in a place like this? I’d like to answer both questions because I think it’s important for us to have a proper perspective. First of all, in a general sense, the whole world is under judgment for sin and rebellion against God. That’s part of God’s punishment for Adam’s sin. To use the words of the New Living Translation, “the world around us is under the power and control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). That explains why in the last days perilous times will come as men and women increasingly turn away from God and run after their own evil desires (see 2 Timothy 3:1-5). It’s not as Oak Park is under God’s judgment, but Berwyn isn’t. We live in a sin-cursed world. Every part of is touched by sin and is under God’s judgment.
Second, America is under God’s judgment for her sin and rebellion against God. We often talk about America as the greatest nation on earth—and this is truly a wonderful place to live—yet who among us can feel good about the 40 million babies slaughtered through abortion since 1973, the rising tide of divorce, illegitimacy, drug use, and the burgeoning gay rights movement. The Bible plainly tells us that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). We could paraphrase that proverb this way: “Living by God’s standards makes a nation great, but disgrace comes to those who ignore God’s truth.” We as a nation have forgotten God and turned away from his Word. As Billy Graham has often said, “If God doesn’t judge America, he’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Third, Oak Park increasingly revels in its freedom by welcoming moral evil. In the name of tolerance we have surrendered at every point to the gay and lesbian minority in our midst. In the name of diversity we have changed our policies in the public schools. In the name of open-mindedness we publish stories praising men marrying men and women marrying women. And we attack and revile those who dare to stand on the Word of God and speak the truth.
So, yes, Oak Park is under God’s judgment. I meant exactly what I said last April and I stand by it today.
Why Not Move to St. Charles?
But if that’s true, why should we stay here? I can think of several answers to that question. First and foremost, God has called us here. We’ve been in Oak Park since 1915. Why leave now just when things are starting to get exciting? Furthermore, I believe that we as evangelical Christians—not just Calvary but all evangelical Christians in this area–we are the salt of Oak Park and the light of this village (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt has many uses, but in biblical times it served first as a preservative against decay. At this particular moment in history God has allowed us to be salt and light “for such a time as this” (see Esther 4:14). Oak Park is a better community because we are here and it would be a worse community were we to leave.
If you leave here, where will you go to be safe from these problems? Suppose you go to St. Charles, or Geneva or Batavia and buy one of those big houses where the taxes are lower and the yards are bigger. So what? You can run from your problems, but you can’t hide forever. Those communities have their own problems, and the modern media brings the message of gay propaganda in every home with a radio, a TV or an Internet connection. You might as well stay here with the rest of us.
Third, if we leave, who will be left to share Jesus Christ with the people of Oak Park? That’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? It might be more comfortable to leave, but it’s more biblical to stay and fight for what we believe in and do our best to make this a better place to live.
Chin Up and Knees Down
Let me share with you Jude’s two-part strategy for spiritual survival in a day of apostasy First, he says, “Keep growing in your Christian life.” That’s verses 20-21.
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
This is easy to understand, isn’t it? Ground yourself in the Word of God. Then keep on praying. Keep yourself in God’s love by walking in obedience to his commandments (see John 14:15). Finally, keep your eyes on the skies as you wait for Jesus to return from heaven.
Some of you know that I’ve taken up bike riding in the last several months. When I was growing up, I used to ride my bike everywhere but I’ve hardly ridden at all in the last 30 years. Early in June I bought a used Schwinn five-speed bike for $75 and since then I’ve been riding 8-12 miles almost every day. It’s great exercise and gives me a chance to see our community up close and personal. This week as I rode my bike through Oak Park and River Forest I found myself singing the second verse of the gospel song “He Lives.” The words lifted my spirits and refocused my heart:
In all the world around me I see his loving care,
And though my heart grows weary, I never will despair;
I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast,
The day of his appearing will come at last.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today.
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He live, He lives, salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.
A few days ago I received an e-mail message from Pastor Bob Gray, who served this church for 16 years as pastor. He wrote to encourage me and used a phrase made famous by Dr. V. Raymond Edman, past president of Wheaton College: “Chin up and knees down.” That’s good advice for times like these.
The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Light
Verses 22-23 gives the second part of Jude’s strategy for spiritual survival.
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
These verses describe three separate groups of people. He calls the first “those who doubt”—that is, those who have been influenced by the false teachers and moral degenerates. They haven’t been convinced yet, but their thinking has been clouded. Be merciful and gentle with them. Reason with them and lead them back to the truth.
The second group has fallen prey to the apostates and are in danger of slipping down into the fires of hell. Radical action is needed. They must be “snatched” like a brand from the burning. The text seems to suggest that gentle persuasion will not be enough.
The final group seems to describe the leaders of the apostates—those who have given themselves completely to false doctrine and moral perversion. Such men and women are so deeply confirmed in their sin that they are both angry and arrogant toward anyone who dares to challenge them. Be careful, Jude seems to say, show mercy, but watch out lest you yourself should be contaminated by their sin. We are never to lower our standards or to fraternize with moral evil in order to do the work of evangelism. The danger here is that by lowering our standards we won’t help the apostates but will in fact be dragged down to their level.
That simply means that in days of moral decline we ought to redouble our efforts to win the lost. Let me tell you why I’m excited about what’s happening in Oak Park. I personally believe that we are living in the middle of the biggest harvest field in America. There are so many lost people, so many confused souls, so many hurting hearts. We’ll never run out of lost people for a hundred years. I’m reminded of the words of an old gospel song, “The darker the night, the brighter the light.” Ladies and gentlemen, our opportunities to share Christ have never been greater. People are asking questions today as never before and many people are justifiably worried about the direction Oak Park seems to be taking. Every question offers an opportunity to point people back to the only source of infallible truth—the Bible—and to Jesus Christ who is the Truth.
Incredibly Exciting Days
Let no one be discouraged. Let no heart be frightened. Let every arm be made strong and every soldier of the cross prepare to do battle for the King of Kings. Let us contend for the faith, stand for the truth, pray for each other, walk in obedience, and then let’s go out and share the love of Christ with everyone we meet.
Aren’t these incredibly exciting days to be alive? I also heard this week from another of my predecessor’s at Calvary–Pastor Don Gerig. He’s going through the same thing in Ann Arbor that we are going through here in Oak Park. In his message to me he said, “We’re living in days that are like the first century.” That’s fantastic news because the fastest growth the Christian movement has ever seen took place in the first century. O Lord, do it again.
Only one thing is left to consider–the great benediction at the end of Jude’s letter. Verses 24-25 give us the reason for our hope. First, there is the power of God: “To him who is able to keep you from falling” Second, there is the purpose of God: “To present you before his glorious presence.” Third, there is the promise of God: “Without fault and with great joy.”
The letter closes with these stirring words: “To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” That takes in everything—past, present and future. It covers the entire universe and includes Oak Park.
That’s why we face the future without fear. Let the people of God rejoice. Be encouraged. Our God is in control. He can keep you from falling in an evil day. He can present you before his presence in heaven. He can wipe away the record of all your faults. And this will be done with rejoicing. When we finally get to heaven, we’re going to say “Hallelujah, by God’s grace I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Until then, chin up and knees down. Keep serving, keep smiling, keep praying, and keep on sharing Christ wherever you go. Amen.