“But ye, Beloved, building up yourselves in (by means of) your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for (expecting) the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Jude 20, 21.
Since mockers (v. 19) endeavor to corrupt and destroy the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints, we must not only earnestly contend for it (v. 3), but by building ourselves up in it. They operate in ungodliness, schisms, super-arrogant speeches and in foxy flattery, admiring men’s persons for their own advantage. We live out of faith, in connection with covenant love and in hope of mercy. They are mere natural, prayerless men, not having spirit. We are praying in the Holy Spirit and our lives are spiritual, dominated by the blessed holy Trinity. (v. 20, 21).
The text in the introductory “but” more specifically underscores a contrast: there are the apostates creeping into the churches, arid clouds, dead, uprooted trees, ungodly sinners, men of Belial, denizens from Sodom and Egypt, corrupters, mockers; “but you, Beloved, “ you are a new creation, an apartheid (segregated) people, separated from the wicked world, separated unto God, the Holy One!
The theme of the text is love, not the libidinous love of the Libertines, nor that of the Baal-peor sex-societies, nor the shallow veneer of humanistic “Peace-Corps” love, nor the misty, mythical love of “the universal brotherhood of man,” but that Christian fellowship existing between those perfectly suited to one another as united in mutual response to God’s law.
The main clause of the text is a divine imperative to “keep yourselves in the love of God.” This is a command imposed on us from the sovereign throne above. This is utterly necessary because everywhere today there is a decay and erosion of faith, love and dedication to godliness. Some leave their first faith: “having damnation because they cast off their first faith” (I Tim. 5:12); others leave their first love (Rev. 2:4). Then we read of “the first ways of …David” in which we must walk, for in his later ways he strayed off into gross sin (II Chron. 7:3). In this connection we put forward the theme, “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love,” considering first, “The Charge to be Kept,” and second, “The Means for Performing It.”
1. The Charge. This is introduced antithetically: “But, Beloved,” you are the very reverse of these apostates. The apostate angels “kept not their principality,” so they are “kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” “But ye…keep yourselves in God’s love.” Now, you must be in God’s love in order to keep yourselves in it. One must in in the vine to remain in the vine. Are you in the love of God? Those in the love of God are the Beloved; they are, literally, God’s much loved ones. He charges them, Keep yourselves in My love! How can one keep himself in God’s love? If one is already in his bark so small and frail, how, when waves are high, can he keep himself in it? If the Marines must serve in Labanon, how can they keep themselves in safety? How long would you remain in God’s love if you must keep yourself in it? If left to ourselves, we would quickly fall away from the graces of faith, love and hope. “Keep yourselves”? From our side this is surely impossible, for we are sinful, weak and outnumbered by many adversaries.
But this is our part in God’s covenant: Keep yourselves in God’s love. Our part can be performed because God’s part is first to undergird and guarantee the realization of our part. Being kept, you shall keep yourselves. We are “kept for Jesus Christ” (v. 1, Gk.). Because we are so “kept by the power of God” (I Pet. 1:5), we are to keep ourselves in the heartfelt consciousness of God’s love.
You see, then, how you “keep yourselves in the love of God.” First, it is on the ground of the promise: Kept! Second, it is in, in connection with, His love! But where and how is that connection made? At the Cross, with the connection sealed by the weld of the Resurrection. God’s love is in a connection God Himself has made, and is therefore a solid, unbreakable connection (Rom. 8:38, 39). God’s love is, therefore, a Gospel connection. We cannot keep ourselves in God’s love apart from the Gospel as it is intertwined with the means of grace (the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments) and the grace of the means. The means of grace take us into the sphere in which the love of God blesses us.
“Keep yourselves in God’s love” does not mean, Keep yourselves in your love to God. It is not, Keep loving God. It is not our love for Him, but His love for us, as in John 15:9, “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you; continue ye in My love.” Our part in God’s covenant is to continue in the sphere where the love of God blesses. His love is an unchanging, everlasting love. Therefore He loved the lost son even when he had gone away to a far country, far from where he could be conscious of and enjoy the blessings of the father’s love. We do as commanded in the text when we keep walking in the sunshine of His love. John 15:10 Keep yourself in God’s love and then your love for God will be in conscious exercise.
2. The Means is by “building yourselves up.” With one hand we take the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, to earnestly content for the faith (v. 3) while with the other we work with the trowel (Neh. 4:17, 18) to build. Here are two Christian activities, contending and building. We are to do the one and not leave the other undone. But how can it be “building up yourselves”? Not without first there being the reality that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.” The Builder and Maker of that house and city is God! So “building up yourselves” is equivalent to “work out your own salvation,” which can only be done when and because “God worketh in you to will and to do.”
“Building up yourselves in,” or by means of “your most holy faith.” Your most holy faith means that you have and hold the faith, which you must do in order to build by means of it. This most holy faith is also known as the Reformed Faith. We build by means of that faith. Without the Reformed Faith there is absolutely no way to build up either ourselves or the church.
How else we do this is in “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” This looking is expecting, which implies patience and hope. This is the looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. This hope, this looking for, is a living hope (I Pet. 1:3) because it quickens with a sense of comfort and joy (Rom. 5:2) at the thought of what we look for—mercy unto eternal life! From heaven we look for the actual, visible, bodily presence of our Savior (Phil. 3:20). We also look for the heavenly city of the New Jerusalem (Heb. 11:9, 10).
“The mercy of our Lord” is, objectively, first of all, the attribute of God according to which He is eternally the most blessed God for ever, the eternally happy God. Then mercy is that attitude of God in which He makes His people to share in His blessedness and be themselves eternally happy. This mercy we look for is the possession of Jesus Christ. He purchased it with the price of His precious blood. He has it; He has the dispensing of it. He bestows it on the vessels of mercy (not on the vessels of wrath). This is mercy unto eternal life, that is, the eschatological form of eternal life, which we receive at the second coming of the Lord in glory. At His coming there will be judgment on the apostates, but mercy on the beloved saints. We are now building, praying and looking. We are doing these things for eternity. Already we have the right and title to eternal life. The full possession of it will be enjoyed in the redemption of our bodies, in the resurrection at the last day. There is mercy multiplied to us now (v. 2) but the consummation of mercy is reached when Christ appears “the second time without sin unto (the glorious ultimate manifestation of) salvation” (Heb. 9:28).
Building up yourselves by means of your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, looking for the mercy unto eternal life in glory, are all the ways we keep ourselves in God’s love. Then let us always be at it until that final state of blessedness comes about.