One of the most difficult questions that any person serving in leadership wrestles with is how does one respond to believers who continue to practice sin? If you are a person who is in relationship with an individual like this, what steps or action should you take in order to rescue him or her? I would not normally use the word rescue because it often times in unhealthy family systems can have overtones of people crossing boundaries in an unhealthy manner with others. In this context the language of the passage demands this because the audience that the writer is addressing are those who are already believers and the consequences of such sin could be damaging.
Great questions from the text always leads to great Bible Study. I will frame my response around four questions:
- First, what is the attitude that God expects you to have regarding these people’s sin?
The writer tells us to save them “with mercy and fear.” The word mercy literally means to, “Restrain back that which one deserves.” In other words, we understand that based on what Christ has done for us we deserved wrath but he chose to withhold it from us because of the Cross! Thus, the opening exhortation is a Present-Active-Participle which means right now be building yourself in a way that you are guarding your heart. How we do this is to allow ourselves to be immersed in the love of God which extended out mercy to us.
This word “fear” is the Greek word phobos. It suggests a fear or a strong dose of respect for something that is life-threatening, dangerous, or alarming. Because the writer uses this key Greek word, it tells us what kind of attitude we should have regarding the chronic sin in a believer’s life. Sin is dangerous, alarming, and even life-threatening to a person’s spiritual life. It also has generational consequences that can be passed on to one’s children. From an attitude of love and mercy we should respond with the truth. I appreciate how Bill Robinson addresses what the truth is, “Biblical faith is a blessed hope we cradle and embrace, not an empirical fact we prove and wield.” Therefore we do not need to wield the truth like a hammer for one who is stumbling we simply need to “Speak the Truth in Love” and allow the Holy Spirit to make one stand in the presence of His glory (v. 24).
- What kind of action does God expect you to take to see them set free?
It is in verse 23, that the writer delineates the kind of action we should take when a fellow believer is getting caught up in sin. This verse tells us that we must act fast to “pull them out of the fire.” This word for pull comes from the Greek word harpadzo. This is an extremely strong and aggressive word that presents the picture of snatching someone out of a dangerous situation. In fact, it would be better translated to seize.
The word harpadzo is the very word used in Colossians 1:13 when Paul writes, “Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear son.” That word for “delivered” is the Greek word hardpadzo. (Renner 2003) This contains the idea of passion, fervency, urgency, and action.
One paraphrase of Jude 1:23 could be, “Because of the alarmingly dangerous state that some believers are in, I urge you to take immediate and fast-acting measures to see them delivered and rescued. And if they don’t quickly respond, don’t stop! You need to keep up your sense of urgency until you are convinced that they are rescued and snatched out of the fire of destruction. If you must go all the way to grab them by the back of their necks and jerk them out of those flames …”
- What approach should you take regarding the sin they are living in?
The use of the word harpadzo is we should engage with those who are stumbling into sin because over time the sin places one into deception in which they no longer view their behavior as sin. The forceful language of this passage is because the deception blinds them that how they are living is justified and that God does not view anything wrong with their behavior. This is why we need to speak the truth in love.
- What is the proper outlook for you to have concerning their situation?
It is important that we understand that we speak the truth in love in order that God’s truth can break in and free them. Have mercy on those who doubt is what the writer declares so that they can be freed by his Holy Spirit. Mercy is a great weapon in the arsenal of God because it is what get’s us to understand that God’s glory which is His opinion is what tends to get lost in sin. How many times have you seen believers caught up in sin become miserable because now they simply live in their own opinion of themselves which is both condemning as well as shaming.
There have been many times that I so appreciate leaders who have intervened in my life because I was beginning to get caught up in things that would become destructive to me. The lack of being humble to hear the truth will be always leads us to stumble!
I think most leaders suffer from hearing too little rather than too much truth. It is worth asking:
- Who is the most reliable truth teller in my circle of relationships?
- Do I create a warmer climate for truth telling?
- Do I ever get defensive when I hear the truth? Am I sending mixed messages about how much truth I really want?
It is important to understand that “Truth” that functions in an attitude of “Love” and “Mercy” always restores.
On June 12, 1964, the falsehood of apartheid handed Nelson Mandela a term of life imprisonment in the Union of South Africa. His only hope was truth. After twenty-six years of incarceration and the efforts of many, truth set Mandela free.
President F. W. de Klerk and Mandela reached an agreement, and on February 2, 1990, apartheid was formally lifted. Now, their nation was faced with the question of how to restore justice. Reconciliation without justice leaves a mountain under the rug where hurt and wrong and truth have been swept. Should these crimes against humanity be settled in the retributive justice of a Nuremberg-type tribunals? Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu had fought for truth, sacrificed for truth, and been freed by truth. They knew revenge was incomplete justice, incomplete truth. Restoration for a crime against humanity must restore humanity, not just those directly victimized. So in an astonishing act of grace and unflinching commitment to the truth, they created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. All those who would come forward and confess fully the truth of their apartheid crimes would be granted amnesty. In modern times, this was truth’s most powerful hour.
Truth that is married to Love, Truth and Mercy always restores and redeems not just for those impacted by injustice or their participation in sin but also for generations to come. How many of us have been exposed to the brokenness of people who have witnessed Truth telling in the Church but no love and mercy. Often, they will never attend a church again. The flip side is there are many who were at risk and they experienced Love and Mercy but no Truth and they cannot trust believer’s in the Church because they ask, “Why didn’t any one tell me the truth?
Jesus Help us to Love you and others that we will “Speak the Truth in Love” in order to see people rescued and restored!
 (Rogers 1976) p 809.
 (Renner 2003) p 41.
 (Robinson 2009) p 91
 (Renner 2003) p 41.
 (Rogers 1976) p 809.
 (Renner 2003) p 41.
 (Renner 2003) p 41-42.
 (Robinson 2009) p 92.
Renner, Rick. Sparkling Gems From the Greek. Tulsa, Oaklahoma: Teach All Nations, 2003.
Robinson, Bill. Incarnate Leadership: 5 Leadership Lessons from the Life of Jesus. Grand Rapids , Michigan: Zondervan, 2009.
Rogers, Fritz Rienecker & Cleon. Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976.