20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. …..24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 20-21, 24-25)
Now keeping Christians safe for eternal life is what this book is really about. That is, this little letter from Jude is about perseverance – it’s about how to fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12), and how to finish the race and keep the faith (1 Timothy 4:8), and how to endure to the end and so be saved (Mark 13:13). And verses 20-21 say: This perseverance is something you do. You build yourself and others up on the foundation of faith. You pray. You keep yourselves in the love of God.
But that is only part of the context. At the beginning and the end of this little book, there is another truth, a deeper truth about perseverance – or about “keeping.” Look at verse 1: “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” Notice the word, “kept.” Here is the idea of perseverance again, only here at the beginning it is not the Christian who is keeping himself. He is being kept.
Some translations say “by Jesus Christ.” Some say, “for Jesus Christ.” The original Greek can mean the one as easily as the other. Both are probably true in Jude’s mind. But let me show you why the NASB chose to say “for Jesus Christ.” Evidently the translators thought that the “keeper” behind the verb, “kept,” in verse 1 is not the Christian himself and not Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but someone else. Who?
Who Is the Keeper?
Sometimes you need the end of the story to know the full meaning of the beginning. So look at the famous doxology in verses 24-25. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy. . .” Now we have our perseverance attributed not to ourselves, but to someone else. Who is this? The next verse makes it crystal clear. Verse 15: “. . . to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
So the one who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make sure you arrive in the presence of God blameless and with great joy is “God our Savior through Jesus Christ.” So God the Father is the ultimate keeper and he acts “through Jesus Christ” because the death of Jesus is the purchase price and foundation of all grace, including the grace of keeping us – that is, the grace of perseverance.
So back to verse 1. “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” The main thing to see here is that it is not we who are keeping in verse 1 or verse 24. It is God the Father through Jesus Christ. God called us, God sets his saving love upon us, and God keeps us. So now we have two truths about our being kept safe for eternal life as Christians – just as we saw last week from Romans 6:22-23. There we saw that sanctification was something we do. Here we see that our perseverance to eternal life is God’s doing (we are “kept,” verse 1; God is able to keep us, verse 24; and it is our doing – verse 21, keep yourselves in the love of God).
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.
No. No. Breathing is the means that God uses to sustain life. So the command to breathe is the command to fall in with the purposes and patterns of God to give and sustain life. This is what I mean by the term, “means of grace.” “Grace” is the free keeping-work of God to sustain our spiritual life that leads to everlasting joy. The “means of grace” is our “keeping ourselves in the love of God.” God’s “keeping” inspires and sustains our “keeping.” His keeping is decisive and our keeping is dependent on his.