20-21But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God's love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life! 22-23Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven.
Jude identifies himself to his readers as the brother of James and a slave to Christ. His mission - writing to those who are loved by God and kept by Jesus Christ. His call to the church - Relax, everything's going to be all right; rest, everything's coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!
Then he goes on to say that there are people in our midst that make it their mission to view the grace of God we have received toward our sin as a license to continue in sin. To this, he directs us to know without any doubt that grace NEVER licenses us to continue in sin. He focuses us on the idea that we need to be carefully built up in the faith - in order to counteract the tendency to want to continue in sin. He is reminding us of the necessity of "continuing". When one is on a trip to a destination, the best method of arriving at the destination is to "continue" in the course laid out. If we stop, we never realize the joy of the destination. If we continue moving away from where we started, we get closer to where we are headed.
The opposite of living with a "license" to sin (freely pursuing sin just because we think we can receive the grace to cover over that sin anytime we like) is to stay right at the center of God's love. I have never experienced the terror of a tornado, but those who have speak often of what it is like when the "eye" of that tornado passes over. For just a period of time, the very center of that tremendously destructive force is calm, peaceful, and a place of rest. All around that "eye" there is a pulling force of wind that is attempting to tear up all in its path. Jude tells us to stay in the middle of God's love - thereby avoiding the pulling of the forces that exert pressure on us, pulling us into sinful deed once again. No other place is as safe as right in the middle of God's love - it is a stabilizing force, a peaceful place.
In addition to moving "away" from sin and "into" the center of God's love, we are reminded that we are to keep ourselves open to receiving God's mercy. The picture is of open arms. Open arms are welcoming - they invite us into their embrace. Jude is encouraging us to live in such a way that we are always open to receiving God's embrace.
As a final thought in his closing words, he challenges us with the commission to be tough on sin, but easy on the sinner. It is the sin that stinks - not the sinner. We often find ourselves throwing the baby out with the bathwater - we can't or won't deal with the sinner because we have an issue with their sin. The practicality of loving the sinner while not condoning their sin is difficult for us to grasp. We cannot seem to separate the two. It might help to remember that God looks at us, not our sin. He is moved by our need, not the sin. He is touched by our helplessness, not the sin.
The challenge is to "go easy" on those who "hesitate" in the faith - those that might set out on the journey, making good progress for a while, then kind of "stall out" for a while. They are no longer making progress toward their destination. They may have been caught in the "fringes" of sin once again - pulled in unaware of the destruction that awaits. Our part is to love them, reminding them of the welcoming arms of Jesus. Grace is most appreciated when it is most needed. We often don't know we need water until we are parched with thirst. We need to be at the ready to share that which will quench the thirst of a soul pulled into the lure of sin - grace and mercy.
It is not a license to sin - it is a license to love. Love with all we've been given in Christ Jesus. Be hard on the sin, but easy on the sinner!