Most us are used to hearing clichés like “God loves everyone the same” or “God’s is unconditional.” Because of that, Jude 20-21 may seem like really odd verses to be in the Bible. Just before those verses Jude is describing false believers who lived ungodly lives and disrupt the unity of the church. In contrast, he addresses his Christian readers saying, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (20-21).
“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” This is what may be hard to understand. What does this mean? Does is mean that God’s love can change? Part of the problem is that many reduce God’s love to something that is overly simple. I recommend everyone to read through D. A. Carson’s helpful little book called, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. It’s free and not very long (maybe a 100 pages), so it’s worth your time. This book helpfully untangles the glorious doctrine of God’s love, showing no less than five ways the Bible speaks of God’s love. But Jude shows two of those ways–both important but distinct.
God’s Complex Love
First, Jude talks about the salvation given by God to sinners. This salvation is given because of God’s love. This is taught all over the Bible. For example,
- 1 John 4:9—“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”
- Rom 5:8—“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- Eph 1:5-6—“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:4-6).
- John 3:16—“For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This loving salvation comes to us through faith in Christ. When we trust him, God unites our life with him. So, the power of his death and resurrection becomes ours. He does this by his Spirit, as he applies the salvation secured by Jesus. And when the Bible speaks of God’s unconditional love, this is it. There is no condition placed on this love of the Father in salving sinners. He sends Christ to die for sinners, and then regenerates the hearts of dead sinners so that they may hear the gospel and believe. At this point, our only involvement is on the receiving end of salvation, not the working. This kind of love is seen in verse 1, where Jude says he is writing to Christians who are “called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (1).
But then, there is the kind of love seen in verses 20-21. Flowing from the benefits our union with Christ, comes the great blessings of communion with Christ. Think about this. God’s salvation doesn’t come like a Governor’s pardon. When that comes, it’s usually because a lawyer put together a case and made an appeal. The governor weighs the evidence and can decide to let the decision of the court stand, or he can decide to use his executive powers to over-turn the decision and set the individual free. That decision comes by a formal letter or maybe even a phone call to the warden and justice departments. It would be an amazing blessing for such a pardon! But what’s missing? Some kind of relationship. But when God saves us from our sin through Christ, he also brings us into fellowship with himself. We who were far off are brought near by God’s love. We who were orphaned are adopted and brought into God’s family. Now, having been forgiven we experience a growing, intimate communion with God through Christ and his Spirit. As with any relationship, the way we love and communicate and seek the other person out will, in some way, affect how the other person responds to us. So, in our communion with God, we can by our sin, grieve him. We can drift away from him. We can dishonor him with our lives. Conversely, we can cause him to rejoice. We can grow in our relationship with him. We bring him joy by our obedience. Thus, is a conditional love of God, based on our response to him. Unlike the love he shows which calls us from sin to salvation, the love we experience with God in our fellowship with him is conditional on our response. So, think about what Jesus says in John 15. As his disciple, we’re already “in him.” Yet, he also says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (15:9-10). The easiest way to think about these things is with the illustration I’ve used often in teaching and preaching. Even when my kids sin, they’re still my kids. The love I feel for them as my children is never going to change. But if they sin, our relationship is strained. We aren’t on friendly terms and I may have to discipline. The same is true with God. The security of the believer’s salvation rests on the sovereign love of God. But the intimacy and closeness of our fellowship with God, in some ways, rests on the loving response of God’s people.
Stay in God’s Love
This is what Jude is saying when he tells us, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (21). We should live in such a way that we are immersed in a tangible, experiential sense of God’s love for you by striving to continually take hold of him. Work hard at cultivating a deep love for God by delighting in his love for you. So, how do we do this? Thankfully, Jude gives us some very specific help. Jude says, “building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (20-21). Notice that there are participles that modify the main exhortation in these verses. How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? Jude says, do three things—build, pray, and wait.
Build up our knowledge of God. Jude says that we should be building ourselves up in your most holy faith (20). I think Jesus has in mind something similar to what Jesus said. Remember when he taught about two men who built homes? One was built on a sandy beach and the other built on his house on slab of rock. When the storms came, the man on the rock survived. Jesus says the one who hears his teaching and obeys is like the man on the rock. Jude is saying that one of the ways we keep ourselves in the love of God, that we keep ourselves close to God, is by deepening in our knowledge of God. Studying the doctrine of God should lead greater affection for God. The more you know of Scripture and theology, the deeper your understanding of God and his redemptive work will become, and the more sincere and deep your love for Him will be. So, do you want to know God lightly? Do you want to love him lightly? Then take the Bible lightly. But if you want to know and love God deeply, going to have to think deeply about God.
Pray in the Spirit of God. Jude’s instruction here is very much connected to the first instruction, but it goes beyond it as well. It’s one thing to know facts about God, to have a right theology of God, but it’s quite another to allow that theology to shape and guide our lives. We can affirm truthful statements about God, but never act on them. So, what do we do? What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? Are we talking about tongues or some other unusual experience? I don’t think so. Elsewhere in Galatians, Paul says the Spirit of Christ—the Holy Spirit—whom we received when we experienced the new birth is the Spirit of adoption. He is One who puts within us the desire to call out to God as ‘Abba, Father’ (Gal 4). The Spirit drives you to pray. And to pray in the Spirit is to follow his leading into prayerfulness. Believers cannot hope to keep themselves in God’s love if they do not depend on him in prayer. One cannot sustain a love for God if he does not have a relationship with Him. And a relationship with God is forged or frayed by our prayer life. Have a strong prayer life and the relationship grows. Have a weak prayer life and the relationship will shrivel up like a dead thing. Here, when Jude says pray in the Spirit, I think he means something like pray in Jesus’ name. We shouldn’t think forget what Jesus models for us, wants for us, or commands for us, then add “In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.” That’s the epitome of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Instead, just as with the Spirit, we pray in a way that is consistent with whom the Person is. We pray in a way, not contrary to the Spirit’s work in our lives. We pray in a way that is not contrary to the Spirit’s work in our lives. How do we know what that is? Go back to the first command—get into the Word.
Wait for the Son of God. Like so many of the New Testament writers, Jude is urging his reader to look beyond their present circumstances. He says, “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (21). Jude says believers should remember that a day is coming when Christ will return for his people. Think about who Jude is writing to here. Think how easy it would have been for those believers to look around the disruptions and divisions caused by these false teachers and get discouraged. And what happens when we get discouraged? We can get disillusioned. We start drifting away from God. We fall out of the loving fellowship we have with God. And yet, Jude is saying, we combat that by focusing on the future—there God’s mercy is waiting for us; mercy in ending all the pain of this life; mercy in loving us despite the sinfulness of our hearts; mercy in seeing our Savior face-to-face. Remembering that will allow us to press on past our difficult circumstance. In his commentary on Jude, Thomas Schreiner, summarizes well when he says, “One of the means by which we continue in our love for God is if we continue to long for the day when Jesus Christ will show us his mercy, when he will grant us the gift of eternal life, and we will be perfected forever. Those who take their eyes off their future hope will find that their love for God is slowly evaporating, and it will be evident that their real love is for the present evil age.”
Does God love his people unconditionally? Yes! Does he invite us into a conditional intimacy through our response to that love? Yes! Therefore, because of the great love with which he loved us, let us build, pray, and wait in ways that bring us closer to him in a faith-filled, Spirit-led, Christ-abiding fellowship that will inevitable results in holiness and joy. Keep yourselves in the love of God.