Jude's 3 Evangelism Tips (22–23)

Jude’s epistle is a short letter addressed to all Christians, imploring them to fight for the true Gospel against false teachers who have infiltrated the church. While originally wanting to address the doctrine of Salvation (verse 3), the circumstances of the day compelled Jude to write a letter of warning.

Toward the end of his letter, Jude switches from addressing the problem of false teachers to how Christians should behave (verses 17 and 20). Specifically, Jude gives some tips for reaching people who are not connected with God, potentially those who have been led astray by these false teachers,

“And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” - Jude 22–23

Here, Jude is presenting a plan to engage three groups of those disengaged with Christ. This plan is not surefire a guarantee of their salvation, but the means by which we obey God’s will in an effort for them to be saved.

While we will not see all (even most) be saved in living out God’s plan, this is our role to play. Though only God saves and exercises his sovereignty, our obedience is not invalidated. Our concern must be our responsibility knowing God will handle his. 

Three groups are addressed in verses 22 and 23,

  1. “Doubters” or “distinguishers”
  2. People “already in the fire”
  3. Those with flesh-stained lives (immersed in their sin)

For each of these groups, Jude gives us an action step to reach them. All of the action-steps are present imperative active verbs — they are continuous, ongoing commands that are to be obeyed in the now, not an event for the future.

Loving the Doubters

“Have mercy on those who doubt. . .” - 22

The first group, the doubters, or even the skeptics, are literally the “thorough judges” — they carefully consider everything they hear. This could be interpreted in two ways: they could be believers who are “doubting” or struggling with their faith, or they could be “seekers” who are considering Christ but have reservations.

The command here is to “have mercy!” Our natural tendency can be to judge the doubting Christian — “they should know better!” — or we think of the seeker, “where’s their commitment?” While these sentiments have echoes of the truth, God asks us to show them undeserved kindness. Rather than thoroughly judging the thorough judges, we must remember that they need gentleness. Just like God shows mercy to us (see verse 21), we must mercy the one on shaky ground.

Rescuing those Trapped in Fire

Save [them], snatching them out of the fire” - 23a

The second group are those who need immediate rescue, those “already in the fire.” For the second group, the command is to save them. In so doing, you will be snatching them from the fire. While the lost have not yet encountered God’s wrath, it is as if they are already experiencing this in their rejection of him. 

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While God ultimately saves, he asks us to yank people from the flames of their sin. God’s work is mysterious, but the action our part is to intervene — redirect people out of sin and into God’s love. Get them out of the heat so they can gain composure and be cooled by God’s love.

This implies some sort of action that challenges a sinful lifestyle, not out of harshness, but to alert the person of the danger from continual exposure to fire. 

It is easy to neglect the importance of directly presenting the message of God’s love against the reality of justice for our sinful behaviors. 

All of this is easier said than done.

Fearing the Unashamed

We must be weary of the last group,

“Show [them] mercy in fear, hating even the simple garment that has been stained by the flesh.” - 23b


We can’t get too close — we must hate lifestyles of sin and their side effects. Clearly we are not to hate the sinners, the command is still to give them undeserved kindness. The difference between this group and the other two, however, is that their sin reeks — it is impossible to stand near without inhaling the stench. These are people who sin not just unashamedly but do so proudly. 

Kindness is paramount, but red flags indicate danger. This group practices sin that is highly contagious. Their ways are so dangerous that “even” the cheapest clothes (chiton) with a stain from evil must be avoided. Caution is expected, as the end of verse 23 implies peril if we fail to avoid the flesh-stained garment. The implication is that getting too close to sinful lifestyles may inevitably pollute our own walks with the Lord and cause us harm. While great effort should be made in reaching the lost, it cannot come at the cost of our own personal holiness. However, we often struggle with the opposite problem — we avoid everyone who sins. 

Jesus spent time with those considered taboo, snatching people from the fire and mercying the doubtful. He was kind to the bold sinners, but maintained an appropriate distance as to avoid the appearance of evil and the endorsement of such. 

Identifying whether someone is in this group requires discernment.

Conclusion

These commands are merely the starting point. They simply tell us what to do and for whom but not how to do it. Applying these commands are highly situational and circumstantial, requiring interpersonal and spiritual discernment.

However, these specifics are not about burdening us with identifying “the proper method” of determining which group someone belongs to. The specificity of these action-steps can add helpful nuance to our evangelism. 

 These commands are about helping the lost, not burdening the saved.  

TL; DR

  1. Jude gives these commands as helpful tips to target specific groups, not as burdens
  2. These tips demonstrate a nuance in our evangelistic responsibility. While God ultimately saves, it does not invalidate our obedience.
  3. We should show kindness to those weak in their faith, not judge
  4. We must redirect people trapped in their sin into God's arms
  5. Avoid allowing the sin of those we share with to affect our own walks
  6. Implementing these tips requires spiritual and interpersonal discernment

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