When I rehearse in my spirit the truth that Christ saves me, I think, “what is man that you [God] are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4) and “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). I have awe about my salvation, that He has made me His own.
Yet, if I am not watchful, I can start resting my spirit in what cannot save—instead of abiding in Christ and His good news.
Aiding me in fighting this spiritual digression is the epistle of Jude; it helpfully resets my thinking soundly in the gospel. Considering various antitypes to true faith through Jude’s words, I remember that Christ alone saves—or as Jude puts it, I “[keep myself] in the love of God” (Jude 21).
To the end of preserving a spirit set in the gospel, follow with me as I rehearse what cannot save according to Jude’s teaching:
Israel and the Red Sea
In Jude 5, Israel is discussed—they had seen the marvelous power of God in His parting of the Red Sea. They were rescued from slavery and oppression—and from a mighty army. All the remainder of their lives, they had the ability to recall this marvelous display of the power of God. Perhaps you and I have seen the same—like a miraculous answer to prayer we could never forget. And yet, Israel shows us that being witness to the mighty acts of God is not enough to save us. Israel faced destruction in their wandering.
The angels of Jude 6 are another example. God gave these angels certain roles or responsibilities. But they fell—they did not stay within the bounds God placed on them, not wanting to submit to the authority of God above them. They transgressed and left the realm of God’s good instruction. Perhaps the same can tempt us—we see all that God has given to mankind, like faculties of understanding, reason, ability, talent, love, and more. And we prize these things.
But instead of wanting to follow God’s instructions for how He has created us to be, inclinations can steer us to use our capacities and capabilities in directions that go beyond His bounds—until we realize that our confidence cannot be in ourselves. We may have commendable abilities and even earn wide areas responsibility—but our confidence cannot be in the roles and capabilities that God has given us. These do not save.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah, referenced in Jude 7, provide another type of example. Think of the plentiful company these people had in their sins and errors—there were mobs of people in rebellion. But, before God almighty, there is no safety in numbers. Being one of many in sin or error cannot breed any true confidence before God.
Intruders in the Church
Jude also makes an example of those who had infiltrated the church, swaying people to false ways and false thinking. Jude mentions them relying on dreams (Jude 8) and living based upon instincts (Jude 10). Jude’s implication is that these people were professing spiritual experience. Jude’s thesis is about the faith, the truths of Christianity, being delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3), and it takes on special significance in this context.
Jude wants his audience, the church members, to know that they should not lend authority to the spiritual experience of others for how to know God. The church members were already in possession of authoritative truth—knowledge of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Resting in the professed personal spiritual experience of others can never save —and neither can one’s own personal spiritual experience lead to eternal security, unless it is the justifying faith of depending on Another, the Person and work of Jesus.
Cain, Balaam, and Korah
In verse 11 of Jude, a triad is given of characters’ examples to avoid: Cain, Balaam, and Korah.
Cain offered a sacrifice meant to keep up appearances with God, reminding us that religious activity cannot save.
Balaam—despite being used of God even to utter Messianic prophecy—was overcome by greed; he reminds us that neither being used of God nor being perceived as an insider of God’s (through which his finances grew) can save.
Finally, Korah was a figure who seemed to be looking to the Israelites’ best interest, accumulating followers this way. He asked, acting as a representative, Why did Moses get to represent God to the people, when God was God of them all? Korah had ignored that God Himself set Moses in a place of leadership. The ground opened to swallow Korah in God’s holy judgment. Gaining spiritual influence and commanding spiritual authority cannot save either.
Shepherds Who Feed Themselves
Revisiting the intruders of the church Jude addresses, we find examples of shepherds who feed themselves (v. 12). They are led wherever their desires take them and have personal interest in mind. We could certainly call them accomplished at being authentic to their own desires—skilled, in fact, at that. But on the day of judgment, being true to oneself will not save.
Jesus Alone Saves
After this brief catalog of examples to avoid that Jude fits within a few sentences, he closes with a doxology:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
Jude’s letter is emphatic that Jesus Christ is our only Savior, a teaching all the more pronounced through Jude’s litany of the sorrowfully condemned.
I see my wayward tendencies revealed through Jude’s examples—confrontation with various erroneous confidences of spirit assails me with my own neediness and sin. But by repentance and humble expectation of God’s mercy through faith in Jesus (Jude 21), I come to live in the daily, holy wellspring of God’s grace.
Neediness transfers me to His mercifulness. Christ saves sinners—from ourselves, from our sins, and from the coming wrath. While power, ability, company, professed spiritual experience, outward religious activity, influence, and genuineness to self will all fail to confer eternal life, Christ is able. On Him and in His great love, our confidence is well fixed.