Luke 15 contains some of the most powerful illustrations of the love of God for His sinful people. The parables of the lost sheep (vv. 1–7) and the lost coin (vv. 8–10), in particular, demonstrate the eagerness with which God pursues sinners and the joy He experiences whenever someone repents.
If we are to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1), we must likewise pursue sinners and call them to repentance. Today’s passage explains how we are to do this. Before we look at Jude’s specific instructions, let us first note he does not tell us how to deal with errant believers until after he has detailed our need to be established in the faith (vv. 20–21). Unless we are well-grounded in the Word of God, we will not be able to bring sinners back into the fold.
Secondly, we are not to treat everyone in the same way, but instead we are to deal with each individual according to his predicament. John Calvin writes, “if we wish to consult the wellbeing of such as go astray, we must consider the character and disposition of every one; so that they who are meek and tractable may in a kind manner be restored to the right way, as being objects of pity; but if any be perverse, he is to be corrected with more severity.”
Verse 22 says we must have “mercy on those who doubt.” We are to be especially gentle with and avoid vilifying those who are honestly and humbly struggling with some aspect of the faith but have not yet entertained the idea of abandoning Christ.
On the other hand, those needing to be snatched from the fire (v. 23) have gone beyond mere doubt and are on the verge of leaving Christ altogether. Those who seriously flirt with false teaching, which is any teaching opposing apostolic doctrine, must be warned stringently lest they be condemned.
Those who are to be shown “mercy with fear” in verse 23 are likely apostate. Jude, thinking of false teachers, exhorts Christians to be merciful to them. Yet this mercy demands fear — fear of God when rebuking them and fear of their teaching’s contaminating influence (“the garment stained by the flesh”) lest we too fall prey to it.
Think of someone who may fall into any of the three categories listed in today’s study. What has your attitude been toward that person? Have you gone after them in order to help rescue them from perdition? When you have dealt with someone having doubts, have you been insensitive? Do you pray regularly for those who are denying the faith by word or deed? Take time to pray for wisdom, and then do what you can to help lead a sinner to repentance.