Jude's Warnings: Fruitless Trees, Wandering Stars, and Perseverance

Lately I’ve been thinking about the doctrine of sanctification and how it dovetails with the doctrine of perseverance. This morning Judy and I looked at the book of Jude and we found ourselves wondering what the circumstances were that provoked him to write these sobering words. Jude pulls no punches.  Some would consider him less than gracious.  He begins this short epistle by reminding them of their election, then he urges them to contend for their faith, he continues by describing those who are destined for judgment, and then he urges them to persevere by the preserving grace of God. Apparently some had made their way into their gatherings that were making mockery of the gospel. There seemed to be an encroaching dilution of the gospel in their midst and it was characterized by those whose lives were devoid of God-honoring fruit in considering and caring for one another. The gospel had lost its permeating effect and their religion was one of self-serving and self-absorption. Look at these words he uses to describe them,

Jude 1:12-13 These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

His description is graphic- they feast without fear, they look after themselves, and they are waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves, and wandering stars. As I read these words I was sobered to consider increasing watchfulness over my own soul. Puritan Thomas Manton comments on this passage and says,

“The saints carry on a joint trade to heaven; they are all partners, and salvation lieth in common between them: you are to promote mine, and I yours.”

Our understanding of sanctification and perseverance can never be disconnected from our understanding of contending for the faith. And our contending for the faith can never be understood outside of the context of mutual care and watchfulness. Our society breathes the air of individualism, self-sufficiency and self-accomplishment, and yet the gospel comes along and removes us from our isolation and independence. The gospel places us in the context of a family, even God’s very household. And now sanctification and perseverance grow as intended within the life we have together as members of Christ’s body. Jude calls it our ‘common salvation’ (vs. 3). Here’s the kicker, I cannot grow in my sanctification without you, and neither can I persevere without you. Left to myself I will become one of those Jude warns about- a waterless cloud, a fruitless tree, a wild wave, and a wandering star. In God’s unfathomable wisdom He has joined us to one another for the purpose of His glory and our good.

As we think about our lives together with others in Christ’s church let us consider how we can promote one another’s growth in sanctification and how we can help one another to persevere. Begin in prayer by asking God to help you see how you can best serve your brothers and sisters. Give some thought to the broad ages and life experiences represented and go out of your way to learn new names, interests, gifting and challenges. Ask someone you don’t know very well how you can pray for him or her. Invite someone to lunch or coffee that you may not have spent much time with. Ask someone how he or she came to faith in Christ. As a family, begin to discuss how you can reach out to others. Pray and ask God to make the fruit of sanctified grace evident in your family as you interact with others. Think of creative ways to encourage and serve others.

At the end of it all my prayer is that the sweet fragrance of Jesus Christ and the glorious gospel permeate our lives as we pursue sanctification, all the while persevering together.



A Posture of Thanksgiving -

“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
-Psalm 106:1

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
- Colossians 3:16

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
- Revelation 7:9-12

“Praising God is one of the highest and purest acts of religion. In prayer we act like men; in praise we act like angels.”
-Thomas Watson, A Puritan Golden Treasury

What is it that sets us apart from other sentient beings? Apart from the obvious, some have said that only man has the capability to think God’s thoughts after Him. I’m also of the opinion that intentional thankfulness separates us from brute beasts. We are those who declare gratitude to God for His manifold kindness. We contemplate God’s mercies and then verbalize thankfulness. The character of the Christian is intended to be one of pervasive and effusive gratitude. When we consider what God has done we simply cannot help it. In the great work of the gospel thankfulness is an important and necessary work of the Spirit of God in the heart of the Christian. In fact, an unthankful Christian is a contradiction in terms. The Christian’s thankfulness is to be declared to God and others, and the Christian’s thankfulness is to be genuine, demonstrative, and infectious. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians is this, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7) Receiving Christ and walking in Him, rooted and established in the faith, is to provoke us to great thanksgiving. In a world where thankfulness is often a rarity, and murmur and complaint often carry the day, the Christian recognizes that thanksgiving is not simply a holiday in November, but abounding thanksgiving is a way of life.  Everything we have is a direct result of the kind beneficence of our Creator and in everything we are to abound in thanksgiving



Militant Ministry -

"Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him."
- 2 Timothy 2:3-4

"And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?"
- 1 Corinthians 14:8

"The Church in the present dispensation is a militant Church, that is, she is called unto, and is actually engaged in, a holy warfare. This does not mean that she must spend her strength in self-destroying internecine struggles, but that she is duty bound to carry on an incessant warfare against the hostile world in every form in which it reveals itself, whether in the Church or outside of it, and against all the spiritual forces of darkness. The church may not spend all her time in prayer and meditation, however necessary and important these may be, nor may she rest her oars in the peaceful enjoyment of her spiritual heritage. She must be engaged with all her might in the battles of her Lord, fighting in a war that is both offensive and defensive."
- Louis Berkof, Systematic Theology, p. 565

Lead on, O King eternal,the day of march has come;
henceforth in fields of conquest, thy tents shall be our home:
through days of preparation
thy grace has made us strong,
and now, O King eternal,we lift our battle song.

Lead on, O King eternal, till sin's fierce war shall cease,
and holiness shall whisper the sweet Amen of peace;
for not with swords loud clashing,
nor roll of stirring drums,
but deeds of love and mercy,the heavenly kingdom comes.

Lead on, O King eternal: we follow not, not with fears;
for gladness breaks like morning
where'er thy face appears.
Thy cross is lifted o'er us; we journey in its light:
the crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might!

-Lead on, O King Eternal, Ernest W. Shurtleff, 1888

One of the descriptive phrases handed to us by our predecessors in the faith describes the Body of Christ as the 'church militant'. Far from being descriptive of the church as a belligerent combatant, this term simply means the church marches to an entirely different set of orders and submits to a different Commanding Officer than the rest of the world. As she engages the battle the church must look and act different than the world around her. She gets her directives from the reigning King. The church cannot be a passive observer of culture nor remain indifferent to battles within her walls. Whether we like it or not God has called us to engage in offensive and defensive warfare both inside and outside of the church. There are no insignificant soldiers and no insignificant skirmishes.  We are the church militant and God has called us to faithful engagement. As good soldiers the question must be asked… What will our battle roles be in the church militant?  We have no choice.  



Redemptive Proclamation -

‘I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’
-Genesis 9:11-13

‘So Moses went down to the people and told them. And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’
- Exodus 19:25-20:2

‘In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"- Luke 3:1-6

‘For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
- Romans 10:13-15

‘The first and greatest work of ministers of Christ is acquainting men with the God who made them; He is the source of their blessing. We should open up the treasures of His goodness for them and tell them of the glory that is in His presence, a glory that His chosen people shall enjoy.’
- Richard Baxter, quoted in Preach the Word, p. 127

Surrounding the redemptive events found in Scripture we hear God's voice. There is proclamation in redemption. Either before, after, or both, God helps us by interpreting the redemptive event through human means. Noah, Abraham, Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, Matthew, Mark, Luke John, Peter, and Paul were all ‘proclaimers’ of redemptive events. God graciously brings redemption and then interprets it for us so that we may understand. One of the great gifts God gives to the church is that of interpretation and proclamation. We are the recipients of good news proclaimed. God has provided redemption for us and His desire is that we hear the good news about it. Week after week we have the privilege of hearing the proclamation of redemption. God has reconciled us to Himself through the redemptive work of His Son and His ‘proclaimers’ bring us this news. We bear witness, by our hearing and assent, to God’s great plan of redemption.

May we have ears to hear and hearts to believe the redemption proclaimed.



John Calvin - Mentor and Friend

'As the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads. Let this, then, be the first step, to abandon ourselves, and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God. By service, I mean not only that which consists in verbal obedience, but that by which the mind, divested of its own carnal feelings, implicitly obeys the call of the Spirit of God.'
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.1

'I call 'piety' that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him - they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless the establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.'
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.2.1

'It is enough that I live and die for Christ, who is to all his followers a gain both in life and death.'
- John Calvin in a letter to Guillaume Farel on May 2nd, 1564 only a few weeks before his death

I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place;
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
Sustain us by Thy faith and by Thy power,
And give us strength in every trying hour.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
That we may dwell in perfect unity.

Our hope is in no other save in Thee;
Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
That in Thy strength we evermore endure.

- John Calvin, I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art, c.1545,The Genevan Psalter

In less than two weeks, on July 10, 2009, the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin will be celebrated. I am one who will celebrate by thanking God for the gift of the man, John Calvin. He has been a spiritual mentor to me. Over the years I have gleaned from his pastoral wisdom, learned from his exegetical insight, been warmed by his passion for Christ, and been astounded by his grasp of all things theological. He was an astounding gift to the church. His caricatures have not been fair. He has been maligned and despised in some quarters, but often these mis-judgements have been made by those who haven't taken the time to get to know him. If you'd like a sample of John Calvin may I suggest The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life found here,http://www.monergismbooks.com/Golden-Booklet-of-the-True-Christian-Life-p-18184.html. This classic will introduce you to the man and his devotion to Christ. If you've never read it I don't think I can commend it highly enough. As Protestants we owe an incredible debt to this man. As a Christian and as a pastor I owe an incredible debt to this man.

I am grateful to God for the men and women who have gone before us and upon whose shoulders we stand upon. I consider John Calvin a dear friend and mentor I've never met.


Men Without Chests -

“…But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
-Isaiah 66:2b

“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
- Colossians 3:12-13

In 1943 C.S. Lewis wrote a small book called, The Abolition of Man. It was meant to be a commentary on the educational climate in England in Lewis’s day, but it was far more a philosophical treatise on the nature of man. In a scant few pages Lewis zeroes in on the lack of charitableness or generosity in 1940’s English educational culture. He was concerned for an educational system that was perpetuating the inculcation of masses with information totally devoid of a ‘fertile and generous emotion’[1]. Lewis called them, ‘men without chests’. They would become men and women with intellectual capacity and drive, but no capacity for civility or magnanimity. In other words, they would become heads bereft of hearts. The thrust of Lewis’s concerns are not limited to early 20th century England. The danger of the Reformed faith is the creation of our own men without chests. These would be men of incredible intellectual prowess, biblical and theological understanding, the ability to wax eloquent about the minutest theological point, but wholly deficient of a ‘fertile and generous emotion’. This is religious Phariseeism at its most offensive apex. The knowledge of the gospel and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, by their very nature, are meant to cultivate love, humility, grace, longsuffering, and a magnanimous spirit. Knowledge, by itself, puffs up and inflates, but a right understanding of gospel truth brings us low. God’s intention is that the Christian is to be known by a largeness of spirit, thereby reflecting the character of God Himself. The work of the Spirit in the truth of the gospel is intended to bring much fruit by making us become men with large minds and large chests and not one without the other.

May God enlarge us with both knowledge and love for Him and for one another.


[1] Dorsett, Lyle, ed., The Essential C.S. Lewis, p. 437


Father Abraham -

'...and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"- and he was called a friend of God.'
-James 2:23

'Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.'
-Hebrews 11:1-2

"Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad."
-John 8:56

Sarah, take me by my arm
Tomorrow we are Canaan bound
Where westward sails the golden sun
And Hebron's hills are amber crowned

So bid your troubled heart be still
The grass, they say, is soft and green
The trees are tall and honey-filled
So, Sarah, come and walk with me

Like the stars across the heavens flung
Like water in the desert sprung
Like the grains of sand, our many sons
Oh, Sarah, fair and barren one
Come to Canaan, come

I trembled at the voice of God
A voice of love and thunder deep
With love He means to save us all
And Love has chosen you and me

Long after we are dead and gone
A thousand years our tale be sung
How faith compelled and bore us on
How barren Sarah bore a son
So come to Canaan, come

Where westward sails the golden sun
And Hebron's hills are amber crowned
Oh, Sarah, take me by my arm
Tomorrow we are Canaan bound
-Andrew Peterson, Canaan Bound from the album, Love and Thunder

Imagine the life of Abraham. Born into a pagan home. He began married life with a barren wife and every indication was that he would have no son to carry on his name. His answer was to take matters into his own hands. Perhaps you remember that little episode with Hagar? The fact of the matter is that Abraham was no stellar example. He stumbled in many ways. The difference was God's call to him. His faith wavered at times, but Abraham trusted in the unwavering character of God. Even in his weakness and failure he receives the monicker, 'friend of God'. We still talk about Abraham, because we're a lot like him. On our best days we fail miserably, but our hope is in our unwavering God. As the sons and daughters of Abraham we believe God, not we believe in God. Our hope is in the God who makes the barren conceive, who raises the dead, and who makes the foulest clean. We believe God. We believe that Christ was end of Abraham's belief, and that Christ is the end of our belief. Abraham saw dimly, we see with clarity. In Ian Duguid's words, '…we live, like Abraham, by faith - the faith of those who know that the light at the end of the tunnel is the welcoming presence of Jesus, leading us on to our new home.' (The Gospel According to the Old Testament, p. 160) In this life we'll stumble in in many ways, but our hope is not in ourselves… our hope is in the God of Abraham.



A Christian Conscience in the Culture of Death -

“…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
- Genesis 2:7

"You shall not murder.”
- Exodus 20:13

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
-John 10:10

‘The gospel brings mercy to unborn children, of course.’
-John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 731

“We love our neighbor because we first love God. In His sovereignty, our Creator has put us within this cultural context in order that we may display His glory by preaching the gospel, confronting persons with God’s truth, and serving as agents of salt and light in a dark and fallen world. In other words, love of God leads us to love our neighbor, and love of neighbor requires our participation in culture and in the political process.”
- Al Mohler, Culture Shift, p. 2

“…the biblical injunctions to submit to the state as God means, in our context, that we must take our obligations toward a participatory democracy seriously. This, combined with the moral obligation to ‘do good to the city,’ involves believers in matters of government at some level (all the way from voting to influencing government to legislating to governing) in ways impossible for Paul and Luke….”
- D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, p. 196

I’ve already voted as I typically vote absentee. Can I encourage you to vote also?  If you are able and you meet the legal criteria you must vote. One of our obligations as Christians, at least in the West, is to participate in our democracy. And as we participate in our democracy we must ask the question which candidate(s) best promotes a worldview consonant with biblical values. This is never easy. In a fallen world there are choices to be made that are not ideal, and in this election there is a choice to be made that is not ideal. Mitt Romney was never my first choice, but the contrast between he and President Obama is stark regarding many things, and particularly stark when it comes to the defense of the unborn.  How we treat our most vulnerable citizens matters.  A president nominates judges that effect the direction of the Supreme Court for years to come. And in a nation with a death toll nearing 55 million lives taken by abortion your vote matters.  Again, this election is not about an ideal choice; it is about a Christian conscience in a culture of death. I’ve already voted, and I hope you will vote also.


Caught Betwixt and Between -

‘…a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”’
-       Matthew 22:35b-40

In the matter of fact reply to an expert in Old Testament law Jesus provides an answer to a most difficult question.  The question?  Which is the great commandment?  When the importance of the commandments are weighed, which one stands out as the quintessential command?  Which one, if kept, brings the approbation and pleasure of God?  And here Jesus gives an astounding and provocative answer.  The great commandment actually has two parts and it’s really quite simple.  We are to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our mind.  And then we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Pretty simple, huh?  But truth be known, also pretty impossible.  Anyone that is halfway honest with himself will soon realize that self-love and idolatry are the prevailing interests with every son of Adam.  Me, love God and neighbor?  Forget it.  They always take second place. Witness our lives strewn with the wreckage of relationships gone bad.  The two great commandments are not the way of life for us; rather they are an indictment to us.  In ourselves we are alienated from God and from one another.  We are by nature lawbreakers, not lawkeepers, and we can’t help it.   We will be the kings of our own kingdom surmising that the duty of God and our neighbor is to serve us.  To turn a phrase from the Shorter Catechism, we think that God’s chief end is to glorify us, and for Him to be at our beck and call forever.  Bottom line - we love ourselves too much.

Thankfully, in the wisdom of God the gospel speaks to our greatest need.  Jesus doesn’t simply rehearse a set of rules to help us get by.  He lays bare the desperateness of our condition.  He shows us our complete disregard for the two great commandments in one fell swoop.  We may think we are lawkeepers, but when we see it in its simplest form we fall woefully short.  We desperately need help. 

In the gospel our greatest need has now become our greatest hope.  Where the confluence of the two great commands and my voracious self-love meet the gospel speaks and does.  I need a King powerful enough to dethrone my self-appointed exaltation and put the universe back in its proper order.  I need a Lord that can remove the idol of me and replace it with an unfeigned love of my neighbor.  Where I’m caught betwixt and between the gospel comes with an answer to my tragic and appalling deficiency.  The gospel speaks of One whose life trajectory was not self-interest, but rather a grand mission of obedience and rescue.  The entire focus was not self-love, but other-love.  The one pointing to our law-deficiency has Himself met the unrelenting requirements of the two great commands.  You see, I don’t need a life coach that gives me a little pep talk to do what’s right.  I need an all-powerful Lord that can dethrone my idols of self-interest and self-love.  To love God with even a fraction of my heart and to love my neighbor without self-interest I need to be delivered from the kingdom of me.  Thankfully this is what Jesus has done and what Jesus will do.  In the dethronement of self the two great commandments lose their threatening power and become instead a pathway of life.  What was once an indictment has now come with the promise of help.  Loving God and loving my neighbor becomes a way of life because in the enthronement of the true King He brings me under His reign and power.  In this I have hope for glad obedience to the two great commands.



The Importance of Being Earnest -

'And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."'
-Matthew 22:35-40

“This side of heaven, we must resist defining spirituality as anything other than a deep devotion to Christ, the fruit of which is a lifestyle of daily worship of him and active service in his kingdom. We must be keenly aware of the covert danger of a Christless Christianity which passes itself off as something it is not, and in so doing, has the power to deceive and derail many. Christless Christianity gives false assurance of salvation, and when those who possess it “go out from us,” (1 John 2:19) it can fill true believers with doubt and confusion.” 
-Paul David Tripp, Broken Down House, p. 89

"As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works."
- The Belgic Confession, Article 29, The Marks of the True Church

The telltale indications of the transforming grace of God in the heart of the Christian is that there is a genuine and earnest heart-love for God and genuine and earnest heart-love for one another. The sure work of the Spirit targets the destruction of the pervasive alienation we have with God and one another. In the redemptive work of Christ we are given new affections for God and new affections for one another. In the incomprehensible glory of the gospel those vital relationships (once obliterated by sin) are being restored, really and truly, and not just theoretically. As evidence of the Spirit's work God inclines our hearts toward Him in love. Once enemies, He counts us now as friends and opens our eyes to see His all-emcompasing loveliness. We now love Him earnestly from redeemed and ever-increasing affections. The same is true for our brothers and sisters. Where at one time alienation existed, we have been brought under the same banner of love together. Our affections for one another become transformed by the grace of God in the gospel. The wall of alienation has been broken down, and now we begin to love one another earnestly as well.

Life in the church consists of honest efforts directed at fostering growth for these new affections.  May God give us grace to pursue them earnestly.