One of the characters we often see in old western movies is the Snake Oil Salesman. These guys are often traveling “doctors” with dubious credentials, fake medicines, and lots of marketing hype. To increase sales, they often have a partner in the crowd who attests to the amazing results of their product.
Before people realize they’ve been duped, the “doctor” and accomplice fly the coop.
Jude, Jesus' half-brother, wrote a warning letter to the first-century churches against spiritual Snake Oil Salesmen. They come into the church and deceive people into believing ideas that aren't supported by Scripture.
In Jude’s time, the deceivers manipulated the message of God's grace into a license for immorality. They taught that because God loves and accepts you, you have the freedom to live however you want - including indulging the sinful nature. These deceivers were godless men; they weren't true followers of Christ. They looked the part of good believers, but didn’t present truth.
He says that these deceivers would incur the wrath of God (Jude 5-7). In the same way that God judged the disbelieving Israelites, the fallen angels, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, God’ s judgement will fall on people who seek to lead the church astray.
In our world today, there are still those who teach that you can disregard God’s will and get away with it. But Jude says, "Not so fast!" Like the Apostle James, he makes it clear that if you live to please the flesh (natural instincts) you will reap destruction (Jude 10).
One of the things Satan is so good at is downplaying the consequences of sin. He encourages people to engage in pornography, but doesn’t talk about the damaging effects it has on the mind. He encourages those so-called dating websites that facilitate “hook-ups” (non-committed sexual encounters), but downplays the fact that when you view another person as a mere object for personal gratification, it becomes very hard to engage in healthy relationships. And, of course, the physical consequences of any sin are just as damaging as ever.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times that addressed AIDS on its 30th anniversary, "50,000 [Americans] become infected with the (AIDS) virus each year - a figure that has scarcely budged in the last 12 years. Today most new infections occur among people under the age of 30, a generation that has never known a time without HIV therapy… Although gay and bisexual men represent just 4% of the American population, they account for more than half of all new infections each year."
You can’t disregard truth and expect there will be no consequences. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, but if we don’t listen to God and disregard His will, we choose to forfeit the abundant life He desires to give us.
Jude says the deceivers promise much but deliver little (Jude 11-13); to follow them is to find yourself living in an empty place. But we don't talk about this enough in our church - much less in our culture. Many Christian denominations today are supporting sexual practices that have long been judged sinful by the church.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and people who struggle with all kinds of sin should be welcomed into the church. The church should come alongside them and pray for them as they seek to live a life that honors God.
But those who say you can live an immoral life and be blessed by God are flat wrong.
The Bible doesn’t say God blesses us when we sin; it says He disciplines us when we sin (Hebrews 12:4-11). The Holy Spirit rebuked the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2 because they tolerated a prophetess who led God’s people into sexual immorality.
The church must recognize those in our midst who are not teaching the Word of God. We must try to help them see the truth. But if they don’t listen, we should expel them from our congregations.
In the end, Jude says these deceivers are “shepherds who feed only themselves” (Jude 12b). They appear to offer much with their new, enlightened ideas, but lack substance. Jesus says you will know a person by the fruit they bear. False teachers offer no lasting fruit; they’re dead trees. Their deception is only about pleasing their own desires. “They boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 16b).
If you truly desire to follow Christ, you should distance yourself from people who claim to be teaching truth, but are not. Because following their teaching is like buying a bottle of snake oil: a lot of hype, but no results.
Pastor Toby Gallego
Riviera Baptist Church