When Jude wrote his short letter in the middle 60s, he was not defending either a legal or heritage box of faith.
“Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write to you about our common salvation, I felt it necessary to write to you, exhorting that you earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jd 3).
In the philosophical world today the phrase “think outside the box” is often used. It is used to encourage people to think without the constraints of the norm, that is, to think outside the confinement of either heritage or traditions. When considering our social norms, one certainly has the freedom to think outside the old wineskins of the past. But when we consider truth that was once and for all time delivered to the saints as the foundation of their faith, “thinking outside the box” can often infer that there are no constraints on either belief or behavior in reference to living the gospel. We must not forget what Jude wrote in the next verse after the preceding comment:
“For certain men have crept in [body of believers] unnoticed, who were long before marked out for the condemnation, ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jd 4).
Now connect the word “faith” in Jude 3 with the word “grace” in Jude 4. Jude was writing about the truth of God’s grace. His subject in verse 3 was the faith of the gospel of grace, not an outline of doctrine. Paul used the phrase “truth of the gospel” in order to focus minds of the Galatian and Colossian disciples on the revelation of the Son of God (See Gl 2:5,14; Cl 1:5). The incarnation, atoning death, resurrection, ascension, kingdom reign, and Jesus’ coming again is the “truth of the gospel.” If one would either deny or question any truth of the gospel, then he or she loses the power of the gospel to transform one’s life.
When we speak of Christianity, we must conclude that there is gospel behavior that is motivated by our belief in the truth of the gospel. The “certain men” about whom Jude wrote were those who misunderstood grace. These were those about whom Paul questioned, “Will we continue in sin so that grace may abound?” (Rm 6:1). Grace is not a license to sin. And because it is not, then there is a box of gospel behavior outside which we must not test the grace of God.
We must consider what Jude wrote in the context of what Paul said in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ as made us free, and do not been entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” The “yoke of bondage” about which Paul exhorted the Galatian disciples not to be brought into bondage, were those religious legal rites from which Christians have been set free in their obedience to the gospel of grace. These were those “doctrines and commandments of men” that “certain men” seek to bring into the gospel of freedom wherein Christians must walk. Therefore, when we speak of thinking “outside the box,” we are exhorting ourselves to determine what should not be a box of legal religiosity in which one seeks to justify himself before God on the basis of his perfect performance of law.
For example, some Jewish Christians sought to bring into the fellowship of the disciples the religious rite of Jewish circumcision. They were adamant about this because they believed that one could not be saved unless he was circumcised. These were those “certain men” who taught, “Except you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (At 15:1). Circumcision as a part of the Sinai law had become a part of Jewish heritage. But when the Sinai law was nailed to the cross (Cl 2:14), all those who obeyed the gospel were made dead to that law (Rm 7:4).
After the cross, circumcision was relegated to being a religious rite. Under the Sinai law, it was a law of God that all Jewish males be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. But the cross turned this law into simply being a religious rite of the Jews. Gentiles were not obligated to be circumcised. The law had become, as Luke wrote, only the “custom of the Jews” (At 15:1).
When one comes into Christ through obedience to the gospel, he or she must make some critical decisions concerning his or her past religious beliefs and behavior. What one may have considered “law” before obedience to the gospel, may now be only a “custom.” In the book of Galatians, the Holy Spirit argued persuasively that Christians not be brought into the bondage of old religious “boxes.” Ungodly behavior that may have been allowed before one’s new birth must never be allowed in the “box of the truth of the gospel” in Christ (See Cl 3).
Some disciples in Colosse had some difficulty with this matter. So Paul argued, “If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above” (Cl 3:1). “Set your mind on things above,” Paul continued, “For you are dead [to the ways of the world]” (Cl 3:3). “Therefore, put to death your members that are on the earth” (Cl 3:5). If one were a Jew coming into Christ in the first century, there were a host of doctrines and commandments of the fathers that had to be put away in order to live in the freedom that we have in Christ (See Mk 7:1-9). Those who are set free must never again be brought into bondage.
One certainly has the freedom to carry on with his or her former religious traditions. However, under no circumstances does one have a right to bind on the consciences of others those practices he may deem to be in the realm of Christian behavior. We are sure that the early Jewish brethren carried on with their circumcision. However, they could not bind on Gentiles this former law that had now become only a “custom of Moses.” Some Jewish brethren in the first century tried to do this, but they met head on with the condemnation of the Holy Spirit who judged that their actions were endangering the freedom that all have in Christ. In fact, in no uncertain terms the Holy Spirit said, “If you are circumcised [according to law], Christ will profit you nothing” (Gl 5:2). Binding religious laws as a matter of salvation is preaching another gospel (Gl 1:6-9).
[Next in series: Dec. 16)