Have Mercy on Those Who Have Been Deceived – Exegesis of Jude 20-23

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Jude 20-23

Jude has been quite descriptive through this epistle about how to identify false teachers. In verse 19 he finished by calling them people that, “cause division, are worldly mind, and devoid of the Spirit.” Jude then shifts into verse 20 with an exhortation to believers, saying, “building yourselves up on your most holy faith”. What does this statement mean? Let’s first look at the Greek word for “building”. It is the compound word “epoikodomeo”. It breaks down as “epi” (upon), “oikos” (house), and “domeo” (to build). Epi intensifies the word to mean, “to build up/build upon”. The implication is that a pre-established foundation is already in place for which one can build upon. We all know that this foundation is Christ. This verb is used in conjunction with the noun “faith”, showing where the building is to take place in our lives. “Pistis” is the word for faith and derives from the root “peitho”, meaning “persuasion/to persuade”. This word derives from an ancient Greek goddess named Peitho. Peitho was the aide to the goddess of love, Aphrodite. She was the goddess of the art of persuasion and seduction and no one could resist the spells she placed on them. With this understanding of the historical context of “peitho” we see how this relates to God. Those God chooses cannot resist Him. He is the only one able to persuade an unbeliever to salvation. When God calls one to salvation He imputes the gift of faith to them so that they will believe. It is this faith that is the foundation with which the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God begins to build up the believer.

“Praying in the Holy Spirit” is just a simple call for one to submit to God in prayer, because the purpose of prayer is to find the will of God. The Holy Spirit should guide our prayers. He will lead us according to the will of God.

In verse 21 Jude says, “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Let me first say that this does not mean that God can or will stop loving a believer if we don’t meet His standard. We can never meet His standard. You cannot earn or deserve God’s love. It simply means that the believer must always keep the love of God in view. It should be on our minds constantly which will in turn keep us from straying. Remember, it is obedience to God which shows Him that we love Him. “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15. The only ones able to keep His commandments are his elect with whom He has given His Holy Spirit. In fact, the Greek word for “keep” is “tereo”. It derives from “teros” meaning, “a guard”. Jude is using this word to exhort the believer to stay on guard, or to preserve themselves. How do we preserve ourselves in the love of God? We are mindful of Him constantly, guarding our hearts from the deceptions of this world.

The next Greek word is “prosdechomai” (waiting anxiously). Waiting anxiously is an oxymoron in the English language because it combines two words that are in contradiction to one another. So what does the Greek word mean? The prefix “pros” means “towards” and the word “dechomai” means “to receive or expect with ready reception”. The prefix intensifies the word to mean “to wait actively and expectantly.” Prosdechomai is in the present tense making the word active for believers to be in a constant state of watching and waiting. In the context of the verse we are to actively look and welcome Christ’s coming return when He will grant us mercy by giving us eternal life.

What is really interesting to note is that Jude uses God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit together in verses 20-21. He is showing the unity of the Triune God. It is praying according to God’s will through the Holy Spirit that keeps us in the love of God, and it is that constant mindfulness of God which will subsequently give us a patient readiness to welcome in the day of Christ our Lord.

As we go into verses 22-23 Jude gives the believer direction on how they should respond to those who have been deceived in the church by an apostate. He is giving us three types of people, with the first group being the easier of the three to turn away from the error they believe. Then it degrades to the less hopeful group, and then an even less hopeful group. Most commentators believe that these groups are all unbelievers within the church, while I don’t think that is the case for any of these three. Let me show you why:

In verse 22, “And have mercy on some who are doubting”, the word “mercy” (Eleos) means, “to show benevolence or compassion”, but carries with it that the giver (of mercy) has the adequate resources to meet the need of the recipient. The Lord is the only one who has the adequate resources to meet the desperate needs of sinful man. It is through Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement that the Lord paid our penalty for our sin, satisfying His wrath and righteous standard, giving fallen man the only way to salvation. With that said, what is worth noting here is that the word for “doubting” is “diakrino”. The word “dia” means “thoroughly back and forth” and “krino” means “to judge”. Properly, “to judge/investigate thoroughly”. This is the word we used for “judging” which means to exercise discernment in the context of Matthew 7:1-6. The word has both negative and positive implications because it can be used in both a good or bad context. It is the context which prescribes the usage. We can exercise good reasoning in our discernment or bad. In this case it is used in the negative. It is over-judging or vacillating. It is a person that is wrestling back and forth between truth and error, or is just plain indecisive. What Jude is telling us is to have mercy on these individuals. At times people who have been deceived by false teachers will vex us with their wavering back and forth on doctrinal matters, or not suffering adversity well. God will give us the mercy to show them because we do not have it in and of our own strength. Jude is telling us to lean on the God of grace to give us the mercy to help the brethren that are wavering in their faith (or with biblical truth). I tweeted out on February 12th that a couple who had stopped going to church and began staying at home and listening to Bill Johnson’s “sermons” from Bethel each Sunday had agreed to find a church and stop listening to Johnson. My friends who confronted this couple said that when they spoke to the wife, her eyes opened up and she knew that she had been deceived. However, the woman’s husband is having a harder time stopping. He is willing to find a new church, but has not let go of listening to Johnson. My friends that are ministering to this couple are going to have to be extra merciful, and those of us praying for them are going to have to be extra merciful as they waiver back and forth. They are believers who are being brought out of a cult, and just like the Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt, so too will they struggle wanting to go back into sin. Some of you are going to have to bear with believers that have been deceived by people like Rachel Held Evans who promotes homosexuality in the church, abortion, and believes that women should be in the pulpits. You are going to have to long suffer them as they go back and forth between truth and error. Jude is exhorting us to be benevolent to our brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what they are going through. I believe in time they will return.

The second group is the “save others, snatching them out of the fire”. The language is hard to interpret here, but I believe this group to be believers as well. The Greek word for “snatch” is “harpazo” meaning, “to seize by force” both suddenly and decisively. This term is used in Acts 8:39 when Phillip was snatched up by God from the Ethiopian Eunuch and taken to Azotus which was 20 miles north of Gaza. The implication of “harpazo” is that we will be snatching these people from the fire. I believe the fire (pyr) is being used symbolically for danger and destruction. If this is supposed to be Hell, then why didn’t Jude use the term Hades? This word “pyr” is the root word for “peirasmos” which is the Greek word for trials (See James 1:2). It is most often used in the context of tests, trials, and refining. With that said, I don’t believe that this is eternal torment in Hell, though many commentators espouse this. I say this because it is a command for us to save others from the fire. We can’t save anyone from the fires of Hell, that is God’s duty, not ours. We are literally being told to pull these brothers and sisters away from the destructiveness of the lies they have believed. These lies that have rooted in their lives will lead them to destructive behaviors and habits that will literally damage, or completely ruin their lives to the point of physical death. Can you imagine a believer giving their last $20 to a prosperity preacher thinking that God will increase it by 100 fold instead of feeding their family? How about a homosexual who is told his lifestyle is acceptable in the sight of God? Those that live this lifestyle devoid of restraint have countless partners. An overwhelming amount of homosexuals pick up drug habits within this lifestyle. I just read yesterday where a 26 year old homosexual male prostitute died from a drug overdose. The man who hired him constantly was one of Hillary Clinton’s big donors named Ed Buck. This man introduced him to drug use as he would incorporate drug use in their encounters. This eventually led to this young man’s death. Does this not grieve you? Not to belabor the point, but I heard a pastor say one time that a government study done in Santa Cruz, California revealed that the average homosexual lived to the age of 42. This was just in Santa Cruz, but I don’t think that number would change much nationally. These are the destructive realities of sin, and this is just one facet of sin because there are countless others which all mankind grapple with. If this was your brother and sister in Christ, would you allow them to continue in this, or would you snatch them out of the fire? I pray that the faithful in the church will pull their brothers and sisters from the destructiveness of their sin. Scripture is clear that we must confront sin amongst our brothers and sisters (See James 5:19). It must be done in truth and grace, and if it is public sin, it must be dealt with through the church discipline process.

This last group is the “on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” group. I prayed about this verse asking for direction to see if these were truly unbelievers. As I was reading this verse over again Galatians 6:1 came to mind. It says, “Brethren, if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2

I believe that Galatians 6:1-2 goes hand in hand with Jude 23. Both Jude and Paul exhort us to help a brother or sister who has fallen into sin, but they also admonish us to be careful or we will be polluted by this sin. There are brothers and sisters who have fallen out of fellowship with God and have been given over to a darkened mind as a form of chastisement. We have to be really careful here, or the deception that they hold to will grip us. In this scenario someone who has a darkened mind from an apostates teachings needs several brothers and sisters to graciously and lovingly correct their error. They need people in constant prayer for this person, and if necessary, employ church discipline. Church discipline is meant to restore the straying brother or sister, but also is a way to protect the flock from being led astray. The Greek word used for “hate” is “miseo” which means “to detest”. However, the word implies a comparative basis. It is used in Luke 14:26 which says, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate (miseo, ‘love less’ than the Lord) his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” I am of the opinion that Jude is telling us to hate the sin more than the sinner using this comparative word. The word “garments” is “chiton” which is the tunic worn on the skin, not an outer garment. This is essentially underwear. Jude is admonishing us to handle this straying believer like you would someone else’s dirty undergarment. Without being descriptive I believe that we would use every precaution when handling someone else’s dirty underwear, and likewise we should do the same with someone deep in sin. We are to bear these brothers and sisters burdens, but with extreme caution.


Soli Deo Gloria!


Author: thomascoutouzis

I was born in the United States as a second generation Greek. My family comes from the Island of Kalymnos which is the island next to Patmos (Where the apostle John wrote Revelation). My wife Kathy is of Korean descent and we have two wonderful children, Chloe and Micah. We live in a small town outside of Raleigh, North Carolina called Fuquay Varina. The Lord redeemed me as a young boy as my mother (who was a believer) shared the Gospel with me. If I had to categorize my denomination I would most likely fall into the Reformed Baptist realm with some differences over non-essential doctrine. I am an expositional bible teacher. For the last few years I have been taking God's word and teaching it on outlets like Twitter and Wordpress. I am also a fan of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis' fantasy novels. As such I am writing a fantasy series full of adventure, while weaving deep theological truth into the story and characters. My first book, "Athanasia: The Great Insurrection" is available in both ebook and paperback currently. I am hoping to release the second book in the series, "Athanasia: The Unknown Lands" around September of 2018.

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