In Jude 4 we read the following:
3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. 4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
In this paper, we will examine what Jude meant when he said that certain "ungodly men [were] turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness." We will also look at the dangerous consequences of becoming deceived by this teaching.
In short, Jude is referring to Antinomianism. According to Wikipedia, "Antinomianism (Ancient Greek: ἀντί [anti] "against" and νόμος [nomos] "law") is any view which rejects laws or legalism and argues against moral, religious or social norms (Latin: mores), or is at least considered to do so." Since the "faith which was once delivered unto the saints" is a message of love and salvation (John 3:16, 1 John 3:23), how is it that these Antinomian teachers could have "crept in unawares"?
In the study notes on Jude 4 in the NET Bible, we read the following insightful comment: Turned the grace of our God into a license for evil. One of the implications that the gospel in the apostolic period was truly a gospel of grace was the fact that the enemies of the gospel could pervert it into license. If it were a gospel of works, no such abuse could be imagined. Along these lines, note Rom 6:1—"Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?" This question could not have even been asked had the gospel been one of works. But grace is easily misunderstood by those who would abuse it.
The freedom provided by the gospel of grace can be easily misunderstood. God gives us freedom with the intent that we use it for good. The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." If a true believer abuses this freedom, he will be chastised by God individually (Hebrews 12:6). If such a person does not take heed to God's discipline, he could be subject to having his "conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:2), "becoming entangled and overcome by the pollutions of the world" (2 Peter 2:20), or in extreme cases, subject to premature death (1 Corinthians 11:30-32). In such a case, the person would still be saved, but will surely meet with shame at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:15).
However, in the case of these "ungodly men" who were teaching Antinomianism, we can be certain that they were not true believers. Jude describes them as "having not the Spirit" (Jude 19) and "to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever" (Jude 13). They did not simply misunderstand the grace of God, but seriously perverted it in order to teach "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6).
I believe the Apostle Paul actually describes the content of this "other gospel" in Romans 3:8: "And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just." In this verse, we learn that there were two types of people who were misrepresenting Paul's teaching on the gospel. Some people slanderously said that Paul taught, "Let us do evil, that good may come." However, there were also some other people who actually believed (or perhaps feigned belief) that Paul taught this. I believe that this latter group describes these "ungodly men" in Jude 4. More specifically, they probably misrepresented, whether knowingly or unknowingly, Paul's teaching as a pretense to teach what they believed.
A typical gospel of works says, "Let us do good, that good may come." However, the gospel of works that these "ungodly men" were teaching says, "Let us do evil, that good may come." They believed in works-based salvation. However, they did not trust in their good works, but rather in their evil works to appropriate the grace of God unto salvation. In Romans 5:20, we read, "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:" In their line of thinking, by performing evil works, they could cause the grace of God to abound, resulting in their salvation. These people did not believe in the grace of God that justifies people freely through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21, 24). If they would have believed the true gospel, they would have been saved. But instead of receiving the free grace of God in Jesus Christ, they preferred to try to earn the grace of God through their evil works. This might sound unimaginable, but we are told very plainly by Jude that they literally "turned the grace of our God into lasciviousness."
Jude goes on to say that they "denied the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). The Apostle Peter, in a passage that parallels Jude, said that they "privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them" (2 Peter 2:1). The Lord Jesus died for their sins, but they denied this, and instead taught their "other gospel." Peter goes on to say that "many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Peter 2:2). Their salvation-by-lasciviousness message was so persuasive that many people, including true believers, were deceived by them. Peter explains how they preached their message in 2 Peter 2:18-19: "For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." According to Peter, their message was persuasive because they preached it under the guise of giving people freedom through sensual living. I can only imagine that they used the grace of God as a pretense for evil living. They understood that a man could not be justified by keeping the law, but instead of submitting themselves to the true grace of God, they went to the opposite extreme and taught that by the grace of God a man was free from the law, and should, accordingly, live according to his own sensual desires as a means of salvation. Living according to one's sensual desires became the touchstone for how much a person actually believed in the grace of God. If a person tried to deny ungodliness in his life, he would have been labeled a "doubter" and an "uninitiated one" in the greatness of the grace of God. That is how evil their teaching was.
These "ungodly men" were not teaching their doctrine of lasciviousness out in the open. They taught it as "secret knowledge" only to "unstable souls" (2 Peter 2:14) by "alluring" them through promises of liberty (v. 18-19). Perhaps in their eyes, these "unstable souls" were actually "enlightened ones" who were open to receiving their "secret knowledge." This is why Jude says they "crept in unawares" (Jude 4) and were "hidden reefs in their love feasts" (v. 12 NASB). Peter says they "privily bring in damnable heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). However, their teaching started to spread so badly that they were causing "the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Peter 2:2). Their teaching was literally causing the name of God and Christ to be blasphemed among the nations (Romans 2:24).
This teaching was so persuasive among "unstable souls" that "many followed their pernicious ways," including believers. Peter explains this in 2 Peter 2:20-22:
20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
These were people who had knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Peter speaks of this "knowledge of the Lord and Savior" as characteristic of true believers in 2 Peter 1:1-3. Therefore, we know that Peter especially had in mind true believers when he wrote the above words in 2:20-22.
As I mentioned above, when a true believer obstinately pursues a life of godlessness, he will be chastised by God on an individual basis (Hebrews 12:6). If such a person does not take heed to God's discipline, he could be subject to having his "conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:2), "becoming entangled and overcome by the pollutions of the world" (2 Peter 2:20), or in extreme cases, subject to premature death (1 Corinthians 11:30-32). In the case of these believers, it seems like God gave them over to vile affections and a depraved mind (Romans 1:26, 28). The Apostle Paul described a similar situation in Corinth regarding a man who was having immoral relations with his step-mother. By the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, he commanded "to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (1 Corinthians 5:5). This chastisement had the purpose of ensuring that their spirits would be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Some of the Corinthians actually died under the chastising hand of God (1 Corinthians 11:30), but Paul assures us that they were "chastened of the Lord so that they would not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:32). In other words, a believer cannot lose his salvation. However, if he persists in ungodly living, he can suffer temporal punishment and loss of rewards and shame at the judgment seat of Christ (Hebrews 12:6-11, 2 John 8, 1 John 2:28).
Let us examine ourselves often to make sure that we have not wandered off course (2 Corinthians 13:5). If we know of any believers who are entangled in lascivious living and they are open to receiving rebuke, we should try to "save [them] with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 23). If they are not open to rebuke, we should follow Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 5:11: "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." Paul says "called a brother" because true brothers and false brothers can be mixed together. However, by using the phrase "called a brother," he is admitting that some of these "brothers" can include true brothers. He makes this even more explicit in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 when he says, "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." Let us always be watch and do what we do with a heart of love.