The Peril of Unbelief

Forgetting the reality of divine judgment can leave us in a precarious condition.

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (Jude 5) 

Forgetfulness is epidemic. We forget to take out the trash. We forget to walk the dog. We forget to buy items on our grocery lists. We forget to pay bills. We forget to return calls. Though these instances may affect our day-to-day lives, in the grand scheme, they are rather inconsequential. Forgetfulness in more weighty matters, however, can have eternal consequences. 

In this fifth verse of Jude’s epistle, we are confronted with just such an example. Jude begins by saying, “I want to remind you.” A reminder, by definition, is a reference to previously given information or instruction. You cannot remind someone of something new. You can, however, renew in someone’s mind something that has fallen from remembrance or influence in his or her life. Jude’s audience has forgotten what is at stake. 

Any parent knows the trial of forgetful children. Any wife knows the trial of a forgetful husband. Likewise, any pastor knows the trial of a forgetful congregation. After beginning his letter with encouragement for his readers and an indictment on those who are assailing them, Jude now turns his pointed, pastoral admonition back to his congregation, whose forgetfulness leaves them in a precarious position. 

Abandoning what they “once fully knew” and embracing the lies of false teachers, these believers elicit Jude’s acute words of correction. Although he does not mince words regarding the error and judgment of false teachers, he reacts strongly yet kindly to his sheep. In love, he looks them in the eye, as it were, and says, “Your souls are at stake.” 

He does this by referencing the Exodus as the climactic Old Testament example of redemption. As God redeemed Israel out of bondage to the Egyptians, so God has redeemed Jude’s readers out of the bondage of sin. However, they, like the Israelites, are liable to his judgment if they are guilty of unbelief. God is faithful to preserve his people, and salvation can never be lost (John 6:39, Romans 8:29-30); however, we can have false assurance and presume upon a salvation we never truly received by faith. Warnings are a vital means by which none of the elect are lost. 

As a momentary aside, it is noteworthy that he says it is Jesus who “saved a people out of the land of Egypt.” He is directly attributing divinity to Jesus. Before giving the Ten Commandments, God says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Here, Jude says it was Jesus who saved them, equating Jesus with Yahweh. 

Of this nation of Israel, which God physically redeemed out of Egypt, Jude says that God “destroyed those who did not believe.” The mere fact that Israel was God’s covenant people whom he redeemed did not ensure that they would not come under his judgment. Likewise, being a member of the church no more saves someone than does being a member of physical Israel. Unbelief incurs divine judgment. Jude’s audience, living under a perverse understanding of God’s grace, must heed the warning of God’s judgment on Israel. 

God’s climactic act of redemption (Exodus 12-14) was met with Israel’s climactic act of unbelief (Numbers 14). God reminded forgetful Israel over and over that he was “The LORD [their] God, who brought [them] out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2), yet they remained steadfast in their unbelief and rebellion, for which they came under his divine judgment. Similarly, Jude reminds his forgetful readers of their redemption, admonishing them to forsake their unbelief and rebellion and be saved from judgment. Often, those in the perilous state of spiritual slumber can only be awakened through the clear warning of impending judgment (Jonah 3). 

Pastors and shepherds should pay careful attention to Jude’s example in this letter. There are times to encourage your congregation and assure them of God’s love and protection (verse 3), and there are times to rebuke your congregation for unbelief (verse 5). Every faithful pastor will do both as the needs of his sheep require. We ought not scare one another out of the assurance of salvation, but we ought to awaken one another from spiritual ease and error. J. C. Ryle said, “He is your best friend who tells you the most truth” (Old Paths). How necessary it is for us to speak truth to one another in order that we may not fall away from the faith. Jude does so here, to the eternal benefit of his readers.  

This approach speaks volumes to our missiology as well. John Bunyan illustrates the importance of warnings in a scene in The Pilgrim’s Progress. What is it written in the parchment which Evangelist gives to Christian? It is the words “Fly from the wrath to come.” It is Christian’s understanding of the impending judgment of God that makes Evangelist’s direction to a way of escape so powerful. The gospel will fall on deaf ears if those who hear it see no danger in their present condition. May we take Jude’s words to heart and first examine our own hearts to see if we are liable to the destruction of those who do not believe and then call others to do the same. 

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3) 


Heavenly Father, 
We are forgetful sheep. We need to be reminded that we have received a great salvation. Keep us spiritually awake that we may heed the warnings of judgment on unbelief. All who are truly yours will persevere to the end by your grace, but may each one of us examine ourselves to ensure that we are truly united to Christ by faith. 
In his name, amen. 

Prayer Requests: 

  • Pray for a spiritual awakening in those currently unaffected by the warnings of divine judgment on unbelief. 
  • Pray that the Lord would prevent us from becoming forgetful Christians.  
  • Prayerfully consider opportunities to engage the unreached with the gospel so that we, like Bunyan’s Evangelist, may call them to Christ and to escape the wrath to come.