Christianity 201

May 22, 2015

Mercy to Those Who Doubt

Late last night, I was re-reading a 2013 article at the blog Parchment and Pen by Michael Patton dealing with doubt. It drew me to verse 22 of Jude:

Jude 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

The Reformation Bible Commentary states:

The exact Greek text of these verses is disputed, and it is hard to tell whether two or three groups of sinners are in view. Whatever the textual solution, Jude clearly recognizes that different pastoral strategies are to be employed with different people. Some can profit from gentle counseling (Gal. 6:1). Others will require confrontation or action of some sort, to pull them “out of the fire.”  (emphasis added)

That sets the tone I believe for anything you read in other commentaries on this verse. The Asbury Bible Commentary states:

Despite his vigorous exposure of the opponents’ errors, in vv. 22-23 Jude calls the church to evangelize them. Jude holds out the evangelistic hope for renewal, even to selfish schismatics who upset congregational fellowship and mission. Jude’s prescription of edification for the saints and evangelism of the schismatics is an effective antidote for contemporary church fights as well.

which seems to reflect that “doubters” would refer to Jude’s opponents or those unevangelized.

But Matthew Henry sees this referring to “brethren” who have fallen into error.

He directs them how to behave towards erring brethren: And of some have compassion, etc., Jude 1:22, 23. Observe, (1.) We ought to do all we can to rescue others out of the snares of the devil, that they may be saved from (or recovered, when entangled therein, out of) dangerous errors, or pernicious practices. We are not only (under God) our own keepers, but every man ought to be, as much as in him lies, his brother’s keeper; none but a wicked Cain will contradict this, Gen. 4:9. We must watch over one another, must faithfully, yet prudently, reprove each other, and set a good example to all about us.

(2.) This must be done with compassion, making a difference. How is that? We must distinguish between the weak and the wilful. [1.] Of some we must have compassion, treat them with all tenderness, restore them in the spirit of meekness, not be needlessly harsh and severe in our censures of them and their actions, nor proud and haughty in our conduct towards them; not implacable, nor averse to reconciliation with them, or admitting them to the friendship they formerly had with us, when they give evident or even strongly hopeful tokens of a sincere repentance: if God has forgiven them, why should not we? We infinitely more need his forgiveness than they do, or can do, ours, though perhaps neither they nor we are justly or sufficiently sensible of this. [2.] Others save with fear, urging upon them the terrors of the Lord; “Endeavor to frighten them out of their sins; preach hell and damnation to them.” But what if prudence and caution in administering even the most just and severe reproofs be what are primarily and chiefly here intimated–(I do but offer it for consideration); as if he had said, “Fear lest you frustrate your own good intentions and honest designs by rash and imprudent management, that you do not harden, instead of reclaiming, even where greater degrees of severity are requisite than in the immediately foregoing instance.” We are often apt to over-do, when we are sure we mean honestly, and think we are right in the main; yet the very worst are not needlessly, nor rashly, nor to extremity, to be provoked, lest they be thereby further hardened through our default.—“Hating even the garment spotted with the flesh, that is, keeping yourselves at the utmost distance from what is or appears evil, and designing and endeavoring that others may do so too. Avoid all that leads to sin or that looks like sin,” 1 Thess. 5:22.

I suspect Matthew Henry has more there than was in view in the article that I read. The short Jude passage raises rich and complex issues. Michael Patton was dealing more with the issue of assurance of salvation which we looked at here recently and also here. Looking at people — especially in the Reformed tradition — who have seemingly crossed the line of faith but lack assurance that they are among the elect.

The question is Can one be absolutely sure that they are a believer and how important is this assurance in their walk with the Lord? Many Christians don’t believe an individual can be assured of their ultimate salvation. Many believe one can lose their salvation. Catholics believe that “mortal sins” (really nasty sins such as adultery,  rejection of the perpetual virginity of Mary, or missing Mass without a valid excuse) can cause a Cathlic to lose their salvation. Arminians and Wesleyans believe one can cease to believe, thereby forfeiting their seat in heaven. Therefore, from the perspective of those who don’t believe salvation can be lost, these belief systems cannot offer any assurance. The criticism would be that no one could ever be sure, until death, whether or not they are saved. After all, what if I decided to sleep in on Sunday and then immediately died of a heart attack without repenting? How do I know for sure if my faith is going to last until the end? For Catholics, the fact that one cannot be assured of their salvation is dogmatized.

…Ironically, for the Catholic, to believe that one can be assured of their salvation would be the means by which they lose their salvation!

He continues,

There are three primary reasons Christians doubt. The first has to do with objective intellectual issues. These doubt the Bible’s truthfulness, Christ’s resurrection, and even God’s existence (among other things).  Another group doubts God’s love and presence in their lives. The last group doubts their salvation and the reality of their faith. These are always wondering if they have true saving faith or a false faith. This last group lacks assurance.

It may surprise you to know that just about every contact I have had with people who are doubting their salvation are Calvinistic in their theology. In other words, they believe in unconditional election. These are the ones who believe in perseverance of the saints. These are the ones that believe that we cannot lose our salvation! Yet these are the ones who are doubting their faith the most.

Their issue has to do with their election. Are they truly among the elect? If they are, they believe their faith will persevere until the end. But if they are not, there is no hope. But how are they to know for sure whether they are elect? Maybe their faith is a stated faith? Maybe it is false. The gentleman I talked to today was so riddled with doubt, he was having thoughts of suicide. “How do I know my faith is an elect faith?” He wanted assurance so badly, but felt that his Calvinistic theology prevented him from ever having such assurance.

He adds,

When we present the Gospel to someone and they say they have trusted in Christ, we do them a disservice to force assurance upon them. After all, how do we know that their faith is real? We don’t. Instead of assurance, maybe we should give them some of the Hebrews warning passages. Maybe we should speak to them as Christ spoke to the seven churches in Revelation: “to him who overcomes . . .” Maybe we should encourage them to “test their faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). Maybe we should warn them that there is a possible disqualification. (1 Cor. 9:27). This may not fit into your thinking, but we all know there is a faith that does not save (James 2:19). Why not bring this up?

I encourage you to read the entire article.

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