Keep Yourselves in God's Love

Original Date: 
Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jude 20-23 Keep Yourselves in God’s Love

Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah
I needed a short sermon series to put in between our series on marriage and the beginning of Advent next week, so I chose one of the postcards from God near the end of the New Testament: the book of Jude.

Then we needed a title for the series. We went with the rather obvious one: Hey Jude! The Beatles song is considered the 10th greatest song of the last 55 years by Billboard magazine (although songs like the Macarena and Party Rock Anthem came in ahead of it, so I’m not sure how reliable that list is.) When I thought to use the title, I looked up the lyrics to make sure there wasn’t anything terribly inappropriate about the song. To be honest, I couldn’t really understand what the song was about. It’s famous opening line:

Hey Jude, don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Isn’t exactly clear. I looked it up on Wikipedia and found out that Paul McCartney wrote the song to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian during his parents’ divorce. It started out as “Hey Jules” but got changed to Jude because McCartney thought it sounded better in song. That explains some of the lyrics, but not all of them.

Anyway, I tell you all that just to let you know that our sermon series has nothing whatsoever to do with that song. It was just the obvious title.

So, like I said, I was looking for a short section of scripture to fill in these two weeks. To be honest, after studying Jude, there’s plenty of material here for several more sermons, but I’m going to limit myself to two.

As I covered last week, Jude was the half-brother of Jesus who was writing to a church which faced a crisis. Geographically, we’re not sure where this church was located. Spiritually, we know that it was a church under fire. Verses 3 and 4 give us the main theme:

3Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 4For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

False teachers have been deceiving the church, dividing the congregation, and now some are doubting. These people have slipped in under the pretension of being wise, and they’ve started teaching a message that runs counter to the gospel of Jesus. Jude says they’ve changed “the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” Probably, they were saying that since salvation is a free gift from God, then it no longer matters if they sin. In fact, they were probably saying that if a Christian sinned, it only served to magnify the grace of God; and so they were encouraging all sorts of illicit behavior.

And this is a problem, obviously, because it is leading people to deny the Lordship of Jesus. It is creating confusion and doubt within the church. Some are being tempted to follow the horrible example of these charlatans. Others have been fully ensnared.

So the main theme of this letter is that Christians must “contend for the faith.” “Contend” is a fairly pugilistic word. It’s an active, vigorous word. It’s not okay for these folks to sit passively by while these false teachers make a mockery out of the gospel. It’s not okay to just let everyone believe what they want to believe. Jude says they must contend. They must fight for the faith.

Which brings up an important point: there is right and wrong when it comes faith. Jude calls it “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” In other words, there is content to our faith. Just because someone claims to come in the name of Jesus does not mean that everything they say or do in His name is an accurate representation of who Jesus is. Jesus is not silly-putty. He’s not someone who can be twisted and pulled in all directions and who will absorb whatever idea we want to press on Him.

There is content to our faith. There is right and wrong. There are truths given to the apostles, preserved in the Bible, and entrusted to the saints; and it is the job of believers to learn these truths and fight for them. Because when these truths are lost or distorted, the result is not just wrong ideas but misplaced trust. As John Piper says: “When doctrine goes bad, so do hearts.” (“Contend for the Faith,” Nov. 25, 1984). So we must contend for the faith. We must fight for truth.

So, for the next 16 verses or so, Jude talks about what will happen to these false teachers. He compares them to a number of Old Testament characters who went off the rails of faith and were destroyed, and he makes it clear that the same judgment awaits these “godless men”.

Then, in verse 20, he returns to this idea of contending for the faith and he tells us what that looks like. Verses 20-23, this is going to be our main text today:

20But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. 21Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

22Be merciful to those who doubt; 23snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Here’s what contending for the faith looks likes. Here’s what we can do to keep ourselves in God’s love: we can build, pray, wait, and show mercy. That’s going to be our outline for today.

God Keeps Us, so We Can Keep
But before we get into it, allow me to make an observation about these verses. For the moment, let’s focus on verses 20 and 21.
It’s not clear in English, but in the original language (Greek) only one of these verbs is written as what I’ll call a “full-strength” verb. The other three verbs are participles, that is to say, they get their strength from the main verb. Or, to put it another way, one of these phrases is the main clause, while the other three clauses are dependent.

And the main clause is the one that reads: “keep yourselves in God’s love.” That’s an imperative verb, a command. And the other verbs--build, pray, and wait—are participles. They read as commands as well, but they get their strength from the main verb. In other words, we’re being told to keep ourselves in God’s love, and the way to do that is by building ourselves up in the most holy faith and by praying in the Holy Spirit and by waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life.

That’s some grammatical detail you probably aren’t all that interested in, but my point is this: the key word here is the word “keep.” And that should bring us back to last week, because I’m increasingly convinced that “keep” is the key word to this whole book.

Last week, we looked at Jude 1b where Christians are described as:

Those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ:

We marveled that the God who calls us to contend for the faith is also the God who promises to keep us. Then we went to the final verses of Jude, and saw the same thing:

24To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—

Do you see what’s happening? Jude’s main point in this letter is to encourage us to contend for the faith. He wants us to fight to keep ourselves in God’s love. But at the same time, He wants us to know that it is God who is keeping us.

This is so important, so please forgive me if it sounds like I’m repeating myself from last week. It’s essential that we understand this. This is the intersection of God’s initiative and human responsibility. If you were to ask Jude: “Which is it? Are we supposed to keep ourselves in God’s love? Or is it God who is keeping us in his love?” Jude’s answer would be: “Yes!” It’s both. Because I am kept, I can keep. Because God preserves, I can persevere.

This is why we started where we started last week. Jude challenges us to “contend for the faith.” That’s a vigorous word. It requires us to put in effort. There are things here that we must do. I’m going to talk about that in a moment. But it’s important to know that as we contend, still God has a grip on us. Even as we fight to stay in His love, still we are held by Him. Remember the quote from Richard Sibbes I used last week?

As we say of the mother and the child, both hold but the safety of the child is that the mother holds him.

Like a baby, we cling to God’s shoulder. We hold on tight. But the real safety comes in that God holds us in His strong hands. John Piper says:

Over and over in the Bible we see this: God's action is decisive; our action is dependent. And both actions are essential. So I urge you again to resist the mindset that cynically says, "If God is the decisive keeper of my soul for eternal life (verses 1, 24), then I don't need to 'keep myself in the love of God'" (verse 20). That would be like saying, since God is the decisive giver of life, then I don't need to breathe. (“Learning to Pray in the Spirit and the Word, Part 1” December 31, 2000)

No. No. No. Breathing is the means that God uses to preserve life in us. In the same way, the commands given here in Jude are the means God uses to preserve us in His love.

So, understanding that it is God who keeps us from falling and who will present us blameless in the final day, what can we do to keep ourselves in His love? Four things:

First, build yourselves up in your most holy faith. Verse 20, the first phrase.

If there is, as verse 3 said, a “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” then it is important that as a Christian you know what that faith is. As Christians, we should be educating ourselves in the faith. We should be learning the core truths of what we believe. We should be familiar with the Bible. We should be growing in our knowledge of Jesus Christ.

This is something I need to be careful with, because I am academically inclined. I like to learn things just for the sake of learning them. I enjoy listening to a good lecture on who wrote the different books of the New Testament; or, as you’ve just seen, I can get pretty pumped up about the intricacies of Greek grammar. I realize that not everybody is wired that way. And Christianity is certainly about more than being able to sweep the Bible categories on Jeopardy!

But, at the same time, growth in knowledge of the faith and understanding of what we believe is something that is commanded of Christians. You cannot contend for the faith if you don’t understand it. You cannot recognize error unless you are learning the truth.

Jerry Bridges talks about the importance of preaching the gospel to yourself every day. As Christians, we should be constantly reminding ourselves of what Jesus has done for us. We should be rehearsing the truths outlined in the Heidelberg Catechism: our guilt, God’s grace, and our response of gratitude.

So, the question is: how much time are you giving to building yourself up in the faith? What are you doing to help yourself rehearse the gospel every day? Do you have a plan for regular Bible reading? A devotional plan that you follow? What are you doing to take scripture in?

We’ve got a very good library here at Hope Church, and a team that does a good job of keeping quality, current books on the shelves. Do you take advantage of the library? Have you picked up a book that will help you build yourself up in the faith? The library is a part of our strategy as a church for growing in our faith. It’s not there just because it’s nice to have some books in the building. Using that library is one of the ways we follow the Biblical exhortation to build ourselves up in the most holy faith.

If books aren’t really your thing, what do you listen to? With the technology we have available to us today, there are all kinds of ways to take in God’s truth. Podcasts, youtube, streaming services… you can listen to the best preachers in the world whenever you want.

Plus, this command in Jude is written in the plural. That is, building yourself up isn’t meant to be just a solitary activity. It’s corporate. We are supposed to encourage one another, learn together. Get in a small group. Join a Sunday School class.

Or, let me put a plug in here for the Digging Deeper class. We’ll be doing another one of these on Saturday mornings in January and February. This is a great way to think more deeply about what we believe and talk through some of the foundational things of our faith. I’ve been doing this class for about 5 years, and we’ve probably had 70 to 80 people participate. I’d love to have a big class this winter. You can sign up in the lobby.

So, that’s the first thing we’re told to do to keep ourselves in God’s love: Build ourselves up in the faith.

Second, we’re told to pray in the Holy Spirit. The second phrase in verse 20.

“An awareness of the love of God cannot be sustained without prayer, and a relationship with God cannot be maintained or cultivated apart from prayer.” (CJ Mahaney) So what does Jude say? Pray! Pray. In dependence upon the Holy Spirit pray to God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray.

Pray at set times during the day, and pray spontaneously throughout the day. Pray individually and privately, and pray in the company of others. Pray written and scripture-based prayers, and pray off-the-cuff conversational prayers. Pray.

Think about how you maintain a relationship with the people closest to you: you talk to them. You email them or you text them. You talk on the phone. You talk over a cup of coffee. Somehow or another you communicate with them. How are you going to maintain a relationship with God unless you communicate with Him? How are you going to keep an awareness of His love for you if you are not interacting with Him?

Jude says that we should “pray in the Holy Spirit.” What does that mean? I think it means that our prayers will be empowered by the Spirit. That is to say, our prayers will be born out of an awareness of what God has done for us in Christ at the cross--an awareness that we, in our own power, are incapable of achieving spiritual good in this world. And also, our prayers will be guided by the Spirit. That is, our prayers will be in accord with God’s nature and His Word. We will not pray with wrong motives or according to our own pleasures (cf. James 4:3), but as nearly as possible our prayers will align with God’s will.

So, in both cases you can see the importance of knowing God’s Word and building yourself up in the faith. The more we preach the gospel to ourselves and the better we know our Bibles, the more our prayers will be “in the Holy Spirit.”

Pray. Charles Spurgeon said he tried to put a few words of prayer in between everything he did. What a wonderful picture. What if, every time you changed tasks during the course of your day, you paused to say a few words of prayer? Why? For lots of reasons, but none less then to help keep yourself aware of God’s love.

Imagine having coffee with Jude. Imagine yourself saying to Jude: “I’m just having a hard time feeling like God loves me.”

Do you know what Jude would say? Jude would say: “What are you doing to build yourself up in the faith? When’s the last time you preached the gospel to yourself? When’s the last time you reflected on what Christ did for you at the cross?” That’s the first question he would ask.

And then, the second would be: “How’s your prayer life? When’s the last time you stopped and really focused on prayer?” If you are having a hard time keeping yourself in God’s love, you need to do those things.

And then, third, Jude would say: Wait. Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. The second phrase in verse 21. Jude would say wait.

That’s probably not a word most of us are glad to hear. Wait. We get frustrated when it takes more than 30 seconds for a website to load. I mean, I can remember, not too many years ago when my internet connection was still dial up. I had to tell the computer to dial and then I’d hear that weird beeping and bopping of computers talking to each other, and then I would be connected. It used to be that I’d check my email, and then I could walk into the other room and brew a pot of coffee while it was downloading onto my computer. It used to take minutes to go from one webpage to another.

Now? I think I would die if I had to wait that long to navigate the internet. I mean, I’m click, click, clicking on that mouse repeatedly if it takes more than a fraction of a second to go where I want it. Waiting is not something that I’m good at.

And yet, waiting is something the Bible calls us to do repeatedly. Wait upon the Lord. (Isa. 40:31) Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14) Wait for me, declares the Lord. (Zeph, 3:8)

Waiting is something the Bible calls us to do repeatedly, but waiting is not something we’re very good at. But here’s the thing: what you are waiting for can transform the experience of waiting. It’s one thing to wait at the dentist office, when you’re about to get a cavity filled. It’s another thing to wait for a table at your favorite restaurant with a person you love. Waiting for something unpleasant is not fun, waiting for something pleasurable fills you with expectation.

So look at what Jude says we are waiting for: “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring [us] to eternal life.” We’re talking about our blessed hope here. We’re talking about the culmination of everything we believe. We’re waiting for mercy. Aren’t you glad we’re not waiting for judgment? Aren’t you glad we’re not waiting for condemnation? Aren’t you glad we’re not waiting for the righteous wrath we so richly deserve because of our sins?

That eternal perspective of what awaits us in the future makes its way from eternity into our present and into our soul and it transforms our perspective of the entirety of our lives. So that no matter where we are at, or what we are going through, we are aware of the love of God as we anticipate the end of the age.

So, Jude, how do we keep ourselves in the love of God? Here’s what you do: build, pray, and wait.

Be Merciful
And then, fourth, be merciful. Show mercy. Verses 22 and 23:

22Be merciful to those who doubt; 23snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

We’ve left the grammatical structure that was built around the word “keep,” but still I think this fits as part of what Jude is calling us to do to keep ourselves in God’s love.

The question could be asked: what about these false teachers? What about the people who are falling away from Jesus because of what’s being taught? What’s supposed to be done with them? And Jude’s answer: be merciful. As you contend for the faith, snatch as many of them back from the fire as you can.

There are three categories of people in mind here: those who doubt--those who are watching the controversy with these false teachers and are confused and are wondering if Christianity is worth it at all. Then there are those who are being tempted by some of the false teaching, and are creeping a little too close to the fire. And then there are those who have fully engaged in the practices these false teachers, including the false teachers themselves.

And you see what Jude is saying: he’s saying “contend.” Stand for the truth. You can’t go along with these people in believing Jesus can be twisted and turned every which way. What they are saying is wrong. What they’re doing is wrong. But, even as you contend for the faith seek to win as many of these folks as possible. Help them see the error. Be merciful to them.

There’s a phrase that is pretty common in modern Christianity that people quote like it comes from the Bible. It doesn’t. The phrase is: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s not a Bible verse. But what Jude says here is as close as the Bible gets to that phrase, and I think the idea is pretty much the same. “Be merciful…hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

Hate the actions of those who are far from God. Hate the way they are hurting themselves and hurting others. Don’t soft-pedal sin as no big deal.

But never forget you are dealing with a person loved by God. Never forget this is a person Jesus gave His life for. Never stop seeking to win them over to Christ, to snatch from the fire, and help them experience the mercy of Jesus. Be merciful.

Zechariah 3
The language Jude uses here—the image of “clothing stained by corrupted flesh”—is drawn from a prophecy in the book of Zechariah. Zechariah 3. I’d like to finish this message by quickly considering that story.

1Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” [you see this language in Jude, saved from the fire.]
3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.

It’s a court room scene. Zechariah sees a vision of the angel of the LORD, seated in the Judge’s chair. And before him is the current high priest, named Joshua. Joshua represents all the people of God. As high priest, he’s the one who goes into the Lord’s presence on the Day of Atonement to pay for all of Israel’s sins.

And if you know much about the Old Testament rules in Exodus and Leviticus, you know that the high priest’s clothing is usually immaculate. There are all sorts rules for how the high priest should be dressed.

But in Zechariah’s vision, Joshua’s clothes are filthy. In fact, that word, “filthy”, is the strongest word available in Hebrew for describing all manner of foulness. The idea is that Joshua is covered with dirt and blood and human waste. It is clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

And standing with Joshua before the angel of the LORD is Satan, acting like a prosecuting attorney. It’s his job to accuse Joshua, to convict him and the people of sin. And all Satan has to do is point at the dirty clothes, to point out how filthy they are, to make his case: “These people are sinful, they deserve punishment. Just look at them!”

But the LORD (and that’s who this angel is) doesn’t agree with Satan. Instead, He rebukes Satan. Joshua is His chosen servant, Israel is His chosen people, they are sticks saved from the fire. So, instead of convicting Joshua on the basis of his dirty clothes, God changes his wardrobe. Verses 4 and 5:

4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”
5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

Isn’t that a beautiful picture of the mercy Jesus has shown to us? Shouldn’t we be seeking to share that same mercy with others?

The message of Jude really is pretty simple, but it is profound: To those who are called, loved and kept: Keep yourself in the love of God by building, prayer, waiting and showing mercy.

God keeps. So keep yourself in God’s love.