Summary: Titus teaches the debilitating effect of perverting the grace of God.
There is a problem that has plagued mankind as old as the story of Adam and Eve; indeed, is traced to what took place in the Garden. Why is it that all good movements end up as Camelots – destined to decline and fail? How is it that even the best births come with their own seeds for corruption, so that we marvel not at failure, but that anything – a business, a school, an empire – lasts for as long as it does, or keeps true to its vision? Something always goes wrong in the end; some slipup, some oversight lets in the germ for sickness, so that, sooner or later, it becomes clear that “something is rotten in Denmark.”
Jude did not have Shakespeare to quote, but he had other material to draw from to make the same conclusion in the early churches. Something has gone wrong in the Church. Another apple has been eaten in the Garden; a serpent yet again spotted, and it is time to sound the alarm.
1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Jude is distressed. He wanted to write a letter discussing matters that would build up believers in the Christian faith. But he is disturbed by an attack in the church. Now he must write, exhorting believers to contend for the faith, i.e. the gospel, which was “once for all delivered to the saints.”
What has happened? He tells us in verse 4:
4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Just as a serpent crept into the garden, so serpents have crept into the church, using the same tactics of the original Tempter – twisting what God has said to subvert his authority.
Note what they are doing. First, they pervert the grace of our God into sensuality. They have changed, altered the doctrine of grace into a “license for immorality,” as the NIV puts it. This doctrine, intended to relieve believers of the burden of guilt and the yoke of works-righteousness (trying to earn God’s salvation through being good enough) – that doctrine is being twisted to justify living immoral lifestyles.
Secondly, they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. That’s an interesting combination of titles – Master and Lord. The Greek word for Master is “despot,” the term used for owners of slaves and for kings. When used for God, it is often translated “Sovereign.” That’s why the NIV has translated it “Sovereign” in this verse. I think Master is a good translation. 2 Peter 2:1 helps out here. Chapter 2 of that letter runs parallel to Jude and lends insight. Peter speaks of false teachers “denying the Master who bought them.” It appears that these ungodly people deny that the Lord Jesus Christ owns them and has rights over them. You can see the connection between the two charges. By appealing to a twisted view of grace, they deny the claims of Christ to control how they live.