Jude struck a balance between our responsibility and God’s when it comes to our salvation. He wrote, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (v. 21), and then described God as “him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (v. 24). So, do we keep ourselves in God’s love until we are brought to eternal life, or does God keep us from stumbling and present us without fault in his glorious presence? By looking into the context of Jude we see that both statements are true.
A Warning to the Church
Jude was written during a time that false teachings were spreading among some of the churches. “For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (v. 4). Jude was compelled to warn the church about this false doctrine and implore them to “contend” or fight “for the faith” (v. 3).
This misrepresentation of God’s grace promoted the idea that sin, disobedience, and what we did with our bodies was irrelevant to the faith. Believing such lies can have dire consequences as Jude contrasted this permissive “grace” with the consequences of unbelief. “I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe” (v. 5). Jude wanted the church to remember that even though God delivered his people from Egypt, they were not spared destruction at a later time when they no longer believed in him.
In the same way, salvation is not a one-time redemption event that frees people to follow their own selfish desires, nor blinds the eyes of God to unbelief or rebellion. Salvation is a gift, given in the context of a covenant relationship. And in this relationship, Jude instructed us to “keep yourselves in the love of God”(v. 21, ESV). Rather than following our own selfish desires, or living apart from the Spirit of God, Jude implored the people of God to keep themselves in the love of God by taking an active role in their salvation.
Jude explained, “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (vv. 20, 21,NIV).
Keeping Ourselves in God’s Love
To keep ourselves in the love of God, we must build ourselves up in our most holy faith. Our relationship with God, like any relationship, demands a continual investment. We build ourselves up in the faith by remaining rooted in the Scriptures to learn and remember the character of God and the calling of obedience that he has on our lives. We build ourselves up in our faith through fellowship where iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), we don’t give up meeting together, and we spur one another on in love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
To keep ourselves in the love of God, we also pray in the Holy Spirit. Jesus wasn’t just an amazing teacher who started a movement. He’s not even just the Messiah of Israel who rose from the dead. Jesus is the Son of God who sent the Spirit of God to be with his followers. Jude was warning about scoffers who were creating division and who “did not have the Spirit” (Jude 19). But the children of God do have the Spirit and Jude explained that by praying in the Holy Spirit we keep ourselves in God’s love.
To pray in the Spirit, we acknowledge that the Spirit of God lives inside of us and we lean into his presence and power. We pour out our hearts to the Lord, we listen to his nudges. We allow the Spirit to remind us of Scripture. We submit to the Lord’s ways when the Spirit convicts us of sin. We create space in our lives to allow the Spirit to speak to our hearts and guide us in our prayers. More than just routine prayers, we develop a relationship with God by dwelling in his presence and gazing upon his beauty (Psalm 27:4). Praying in the Holy Spirit is all about growing and developing our relationship with God, living with an awareness of the Spirit’s presence and promptings. This is the way we walk with Jesus.
As we actively build our faith and invest in an ever-deepening relationship with Christ, we will naturally keep ourselves in God’s love. You see, Jude’s warning isn’t about us losing the love of God, rather, it’s a call to do our part and intentionally know the truth, abide in Christ, and fight for the faith in the midst of a world that wants to feed us lies that would draw us away from God. When the world tells us to live for success or pleasure, or to just look out for number one, we look to Scripture and remember that Jesus calls us to lay down our lives and follow him in holiness. The truth keeps us anchored in the faith.
God’s love is everlasting, and he loves the whole world. But if we drift so far from our faith that we come to believe the lie that God is not real, or that he’s not worth following, or that we don’t need Jesus, then we tragically and naturally no longer remain in relationship with him. If we abandon our relationship with God and want nothing to do with him ever again, no longer willing or open to the Spirit’s work in our lives, then we remove ourselves from the ability to receive his love through this two-way covenant relationship with him.
Kept by God from Stumbling
On the other hand, if we do our part and continue to build ourselves up in our faith, continue to grow in our relationship with God, continue to abide in Christ and pour out our hearts to him in relationship through the Spirit, regardless of our mountains or valleys, dry times or struggles, he will “keep [us] from stumbling and . . . present [us] before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24).
Because we can have confidence in the redemptive power of the cross, with our identity rooted in Christ, we can rest knowing that he will keep us from stumbling. This word for “stumbling” was also used to describe a steadily falling snow. We will mess up, we will trip and fall down, sometimes we might blatantly rebel, but we can trust that as long as we continue to come back to Christ in relationship, God will guard us from falling too far. Like a sure-footed horse, we can press on knowing that God, who is rich in mercy, will continue to call us back, protecting us with spiritual guardrails that keep us safe in Christ.
Brothers and sisters, not only are we safe, we are presented “without fault” (v. 24), “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22). We are “clothed . . . with Christ” (Galatians 3:27), hidden in him (Colossians 3:3). Rooted in this identity, we are called, like Jude, to partner with God and engage the world and the false teachings in our day in such a way that we can “be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; and to others show mercy, mixed with fear” (Jude 22, 23a). We can confidently contend for the faith, helping others see the goodness of God, while remaining in his love. Just like the audience of Jude’s letter, we are “those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (v. 1).
“To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (v. 25).
Danah Himes serves as Associate Campus Minister at the Christian Campus House at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.