Despite all this, you beloved, by building yourselves upon your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love by waiting for the mercy of our Lord Christ Jesus that results in everlasting life.22 Further, one the one hand, have mercy on those who cause divisions, 23but, on the other hand, save them by snatching them from the fire, and again have mercy on them with reverence despite hating even the garment that has been soiled by the flesh.
Jude 20–23 (author’s translation)
If you have spent any time on boats, you know that boats on the open water do not stay in one place, but drift as currents push them. Even if currents are mild, they eventually carry a floating boat away from where it is intended to be. You must take measures to keep the boat in one place. You must drop anchor and tether the boat where it belongs. Jude knew that believers are like boats in that we are subject to currents of false teaching and temptations that push us from where we belong. Left to ourselves, we would be blown headlong into error and sin. We are not strong and can be carried into our temptations and led away from the truth if we are not firmly grounded in the truth of God’s Word.
As a good pastor, Jude does not simply describe the danger and leave people in it but provided helpful solutions. We can recognize two pieces of application. Verses 17 and 20 both begin, “Despite all this, beloved.” Jude’s first application, explored in part twelve of this series, was “Despite all this, beloved, you must remember” what the apostles said. Despite all that the false teachers were doing, the church must tie themselves to what God revealed through his apostles. The second application is: “Despite all this, you beloved . . . keep yourselves in God’s love . . .”
Jude exhorts us to a twofold contrast with those who are devoid of the Spirit. First, we must be a remembering people who cling to what God has said. Second, we must not be like boats pushed by the current but must be anchored in God’s love. So, we must consider how we might be anchored boats, fixed in one single place: God’s love. The first part of verses 20–23 tells us how to keep ourselves in the love of God, then the second part tells us how to treat those who are not well anchored. This article argues that we keep ourselves in God’s love by leaning on God’s mercy and the gifts that come through Christ.
If someone handed you a photograph of a collapsed building and then told you it was your job to repair it, you would likely have two important questions: what happened, and how am I supposed to fix it? We find ourselves in a similar situation as we read Jude’s letter. He hands us a literary photograph of a collapsed building: the false teachers were an absolute disaster. Throughout this letter, he recounts what happened: these godless teachers crept into the church and tried to lead people away from the truth. Then, Jude informs his readers that their job, their required task, is to keep themselves in God’s love.
In light of what Jude wrote about the false teachers, this task seems daunting, almost like rebuilding a collapsed building with no advice. Thankfully, Jude provides that advice so his readers as well as God’s people today have knowledge of how to keep ourselves God’s love. The leading exhortation in verses 20–21 is to “keep yourselves in God’s love.” Surrounding that central exhortation are three explanations for how to accomplish that.
Before we consider those three means though, I think we should note something important. We must mark God’s kindness. We saw in verse 8 how the false teachers pretended to have revelation from God about how to live in their dreams. Even if true, which it was not, it would be difficult for Christians to not only wait on the coming of dreams, but also to wonder if we are correct in thinking one dream is from God compared to another. Whereas false teachers’ claims about revelatory dreams that fade quickly and cannot be seem by all, God put his directions in writing. Whereas false teachers made this church dependent upon them as the source of direction from God, Jude put God’s Word in writing. He put it on paper in plain words so that God’s people are not left guessing about how to pursue God.
So, God is kind, merciful, and good to His people because He does not leave us guessing. Although the Christian life requires much wisdom about our particular decisions about where to go and how to maneuver through the challenges of life, God has made the general principles of His will for our lives plainly known through the apostles and prophets.
As we consider how we must repair a collapsed building, and as we consider our need to keep ourselves anchored in God’s love, we should look at the steps that Jude left to guide us. Jude not only tells us our requirement, but also our resources.
First, by building yourselves up on your most holy faith. The ESV says “in,” but the idea is that our faith—that once-for-all-delivered faith—is the foundation on which we build. This particular point is not about learning more about our faith, but that as we go forward in the Christian life, it must be built upon the foundation of what has been delivered through the apostles. We start with the premise of Christ, Christ who redeemed us, set us free from the curse of the law, but also freed us from the power of sin to enable us to serve Him. We start with that foundation. We do not build the Christian life next to that but on that foundation.
When you are making a sandwich, you put down a piece of bread, then you put your fillings on that bread, then close it off with another slice. You do not put down bread and then stack chicken and lettuce next to the bread. The same is true in the Christian life. We build upon the foundation of Christ, not next to Him, not apart from Him, but upon Christ. No one else can support us. We lean upon what we confess about Christ, building upon that foundation that He is our redeemer and so also our merciful Lord. Christ is the anchor of our soul to keep our little boats from drifting away.
Our next resource is “by praying in the Holy Spirit.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism lists prayer as one of the ordinary means of grace. Prayer is a means of grace partly because praying in the Holy Spirit is a way to keep ourselves in the love of God. We tend to think of prayer as a way to change God, as if we need to convince Him to provide for us. We need to realize that the only one who changes in prayer is us. So, prayer is a means of grace in that God uses it as a means to accomplish His will, but also to shape us. When we seek God in prayer, He molds and shapes us. As God changes us through prayer, He anchors us where we need to be in Christ.
Our third resource to keeping ourselves in the love of God is by waiting on Christ’s mercy that results in everlasting life. When we read a command like “keep yourselves in God’s love,” many hastily assume that entails by doing works, as most modern commentators assert. But Jude did not say that, and his actual words should chastise us for rushing headlong to our own strength. The means that Jude outlined are actually building on the foundation of Christ, praying, and waiting on Christ’s mercy. Then he explicitly said that Christ’s mercy, not our works, results in everlasting life. None of our resources rely on our own strength but rest in the gracious means which God gives to His people.
All three resources, at the end of the day, point us back to God’s ordinary means of grace—Word, sacrament, and prayer—as the reliable way to be anchored in the Christian life. The Word is the deposit of our most holy faith. Jude has already noted the sacraments as a regular feature of the church’s life. And prayer in the Spirit. All three aim at pinning our hearts to the mast of waiting on Christ’s mercy given to us by faith, which secures everlasting life.
Thus, Jude finishes as he began. He started his letter by noting that the saints are those who are loved by the Father and kept—sovereignly preserved—for Christ. Our part of keeping ourselves in God’s love does not entail doing adequate works, but rather having faith, praying, and waiting upon Christ’s mercy. The best way to keep a boat in the right place is not by running the engine endlessly but by dropping the anchor; not to make it work incessantly but to tie it in place. So it is with us as we do not keep ourselves in God’s love through endless striving, but by anchoring ourselves to Christ by faith. In contrast to the false teachers who invented their own religion by claiming new revelations from God, those kept for Christ depend upon what has been once for all delivered to the saints. Our resources for keeping ourselves in the love of God all flow from God’s immense grace.
Although the ways that we keep ourselves in God’s love all involve depending upon what God has done for us, Jude also records the proper response to that mercy we have received. We should have mercy on those who cause our very troubles. Whereas verses 20–21 describe what believers should be like in contrast to the false teachers, verses 22–23 describe what the response to those false teachers should be.
Despite natural inclinations to be angry at those who lead us astray, Jude prompts us to be concerned about their relationship with Christ. Verses 22–23 are tricky to translate, some English versions presenting the exhortation a sort of seemingly random batch of instructions about a few different groups of people. Our translation highlights the likelihood that Jude’s directions here concern one group throughout, namely those who are disagreeing or disputing:
Further, on the one hand, have mercy on those who cause our divisions by disputing, but on the other hand save them by snatching them from the fire, and still have mercy on them with fear, despite hating even the garment that has been soiled by the flesh.
The word for “disputing” is exactly the same as in verse 9 when the devil disputed with the archangel Michael, highlighting how Jude saw the need to have mercy about those who are at variance with the church, namely the false teachers.
That exhortation to have mercy is not a blank check to do anything, but there is still the need to try to save them. They are hanging over the fire, so Christians need to work to pull them from it through the gospel. In contrast to the false teachers who participated even in the Lord’s Supper irreverently “without reverence” (verse 12), the mercy which Christians show to those who wrong us is specifically “with reverence” or mercy that has respect for God. It is not mercy that allows the godless to continue in their ungodliness, but reverent mercy that exhorts the ungodly out of their sin.
This exhortation brings us to the presentation of the gospel. As Jude appealed in verse 9 to Zechariah 3 about the confrontation between God and the devil, he alludes to it again here. Just as Joshua stood in filthy garments, but God clothed him in clean vestments, so too are we to hate how we stand before God stained by sin. Rather, we need to long to be righteous before God. Jude makes it clear that the way to do that, the way to keep ourselves in the love of God, is to lean upon the mercy of Christ. Only Christ’s mercy results in everlasting life. As sinners, Christ has taken our filthy garments from us. He was clothed in our sin and died on the cross to bear our curse. He rose from the grave because he lived the perfectly righteous life. As believers, Christ does give that robe of perfect righteousness to us so that we stand before God spotless and without blame.
Christians are then people who know what it means to need mercy and to receive mercy. So, we wait with expectation upon Christ’s mercy in our times of need. He has won mercy for us, and therefore we can depend upon Him to give it to us. But because we know what it is like to need mercy and receive it, we are also remade to be able to extend that to others. The church can be the hardest place to put up with those who cause divisions and dispute. We can often see that very serious matters are at stake in our disagreements. Other times we are just very set on our preferences.
Regardless of how extreme our disputes might be, those who wait upon Christ’s mercy are called to give mercy to those at variance with us. Maybe we disagree about music. Maybe we disagree about Bible translations. Maybe we disagree about something genuinely theological. In all cases, we are to have mercy in reverence for God, looking to win those in the church to the truth.
That posture is not disconnected from our place in Christ, though. We do not have mercy in order to pry mercy from Christ. We have mercy on others because Christ has so richly poured His mercy into us that we run over with more than enough to give to others, waiting to see Christ in mercy and praying that all will be there with us.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
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