If you profess faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, live by this profession of faith. This exhortation is always appropriate for members of the church to whom Jude is speaking (Jude 3). How so? On two counts. First, none of us have reached perfection. We sin daily in thought, word, and deed. This truth from Scripture and the Catechism is not theoretical. It is actual. Second, the visible church is always a mixed multitude.
Some children in the church have not yet made a profession of faith. Some make a profession of faith but do so only on an outward and intellectual basis. And some are temporary. They receive the word with joy, and when difficulties arise, they fall away (Mark 4:16-17).
How can this situation come to pass? The elders and leaders of the church do not have spiritual x-ray vision. They cannot look into hearts to see if expressed faith springs from the new birth. As a result, we come to the truth of Jude 4, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Verses 9-10 give three examples of the people Jude describes in verse 4. Jude 11 continues with three more Old Testament examples. First, “they have gone the way of Cain.” This example goes back to Genesis 4:3-8.
It came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell . . . And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
In verse 4, Jude speaks of people who were long marked out for condemnation. Cain was certainly a marked man. God gave him a sign or distinguishing mark (Genesis 4:15). Cain was also full of anger leading to murder (Genesis 4:5). Jesus indicates that standing alone, such anger incurs the same guilt as murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Such anger is a deed of the flesh (Galatians 5:20). It is a mark of the unholy spirit (Ephesians 2:1-3) rather than the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30).
A fellow in the church once told me that his primary motivation in life was anger. I responded that such a motivation disqualified him from the eldership. I reminded him that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
The people Jude describes in verse 4 are also like Balaam; “they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam” (Jude 11). The story of Balaam is quite remarkable. He was paid to curse Israel (Numbers 22:7). He advised Midian to lure Israel into whoredom in the cult of Baal (Numbers 31:16). Peter describes such people, “Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15).
Balaam represents unbelievers “who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary” (Mark 4:16-17). The Spirit grants them illumination but not new birth (WCF 10:4 with proof texts). With light from God, Balaam blesses Israel. “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; The oracle of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!” (Numbers 24:3-5). Although having great gifts, these people, like Balaam, turn out to be “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). You and I must remember the words of Jesus, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). It is not spectacular gifts but abundant fruit, which is the most important Christian characteristic.
Finally, the people Jude describes in verse 4 are like Korah and his followers. “They have gone the way [of those who] perished in the rebellion of Korah” (Jude 11). Korah and his followers rebelled against the duly constituted authority in Israel. In doing so, they rebelled against God. “They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’” (Numbers 16:3).
Why? God organizes the congregation. God appoints elders and leaders. Furthermore, the Word of God exhorts, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him” (1 Peter 2:13-14). By “human institutions,” Peter indicates institutions established for human welfare such as the church and family and government. Any opposition here is to “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
Finally, Jude issues this indictment. “Woe to them!” (Jude 11). People within the visible church can be like Cain, or Balaam, or Korah. You and I must examine our hearts. Paul urges the Corinthians, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The KJV translates this text, “Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates.” In terms of Jude 4, Jesus Christ is in you, except you be marked out for condemnation. If you are born again and profess faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, live by this profession of faith. Remember, “we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone” (James 2:24 NLT).