by Pastor Lawrence
Jude tells us in the beginning of his epistle that he had intended on writing this letter to the churches to speak about their common salvation, but instead he was obliged to write about their need to contend for the faith because ungodly men had crept into the church perverting the grace of God into sensuality and denying the Lord Jesus Christ. These men were false teachers, those leading many astray, causing them to fall away from the grace of God. And Jude uses many examples in Scripture to show how people can fall away from the Lord. He spoke of the Israelites in the desert. After God had rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians, he later destroyed them because of their unbelief. Jude also spoke of the angels in heaven who lost their positions of authority and fell from God’s favor because of their pride and are now kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the Day of Judgment. So Jude writes to the believers warning them of like-minded wicked men in their day and of the danger of falling away from the faith through their teaching.
Of course, we know that it is God who preserves our faith in Christ in order that we might persevere in the faith, but God also works through means. Paul tells us to “work out our own salvation with fear trembling” even as God works it into us. And so Jude tells the believers to “build themselves up in the faith,” to “pray in the Holy Spirit,” and to “keep themselves in the love of God.”
Most of us are familiar with the expression, “once saved always saved.” The way I’ve heard this expression used, it seems to suggest to many that no matter what they do after professing faith in Christ, they will be saved no matter what. But that is not what the Scriptures teach. Instead, we refer to the Perseverance of the Saints as a doctrine in which God will indeed finish the work that He began in us, but that work will be manifest in us as we continue to seek Him and to rely upon the means of grace and the means of assurance, which include our time in the Scriptures, our prayers, and our fellowship with Christ and His Church through the sacraments. These means of grace are necessary for the saints of God will not persevere in the faith apart from them.
Assuredly, it is God who keeps stirring us up in the Spirit and pointing us back to those means of grace, though. That is why this epistle does not begin or end with the exhortation to “keep ourselves in the love of God,” but rather with a promise in v.1 that we are “kept for Jesus Christ” by God the Father and a praise in v.24 that God “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.”
So what does it mean to be kept for Jesus? Well, the word Jude uses in the Greek is a military term meaning to guard or to watch over. The word was used in Acts to speak of both Peter’s as well as Paul’s imprisonments. They were both delivered over to soldiers that they might be guarded.
The author of Come Thou Fount spoke of Christ guarding us in this way. He cried, “Let that grace now like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. (Just as Paul’s arm was bound to a Roman soldier, so may the Lord bind my heart to his. Why? It’s because I’m “Prone to wander—Lord I feel it—prone to leave the God I love: here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” We are all prone to wander but Christ guards us in the faith, even binds us in the faith.
And Jude tells us specifically that God, is “able to keep you from falling” or stumbling as some of your translations read. Now the word translated here as stumbling doesn’t mean in this context that God will stop you from stumbling into particular sin. Rather it is referring to this concept of falling away from the Lord completely. For James tells us in the third chapter of his epistle that “we all stumble in many ways. So Jude cannot be referring to our temporary stumbling into sin. We all fall into sin in that sense. Instead, Jude is referring to a complete falling away from God.
One of the puritans said it cleverly, “though Christians are not kept altogether from falling, they are kept from falling altogether.” Probably John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the best illustration of this point. In the famous allegory, Christian stumbled a lot: he fell into the slough Despond, he was deceived by Mr. Worldly Wiseman, he was trapped in doubting castle, and he went astray onto Bypath Meadow. Yes, pilgrim stumbled a lot but, God would not let him fall away altogether. God preserved him throughout his life until he reached the Celestial City.
Both of these truths are held together in Jude’s epistle: the call to keep ourselves in the love of God and the assurance that God keeps us in His love, thus both are to be taught and believed.