Jude is one of the shortest books in the New Testament, and although it is relatively brief, it is nonetheless action-packed from beginning to end. It was written by Jude, who happens to be the brother of James, the writer of the New Testament epistle that bears his name. One thing that Jude does not mention is that both he and James were half-brothers of Jesus.
Imagine being a half-brother of Jesus Christ. Jude’s parents were Mary and Joseph, and you have to wonder what it must have been like growing up with Jesus as your older brother. Do you think Mary and Joseph ever said, “Why can’t you be more like Jesus?”
But it is noteworthy that neither Jude nor James nor any of Jesus’ other siblings believed in him prior to his resurrection. So what brought James and Jude around? What caused them to believe?
It was the resurrection. That turned everyone around. The crucifixion was a horrendous thing, but when they saw Christ rise from the dead, that convinced them. Jude saw Jesus nailed to a cross and then resurrected from the dead, and he ultimately believed.
So in his epistle, Jude exhorts his readers, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:21 NIV).
What an interesting statement that is, because the Bible says that believers are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation” (1 Peter 1:5 NKJV). God keeps us; but Jude also tells us to keep ourselves in God’s love. Obviously there is God’s part – he is ready to keep us. But we must take practical steps to keep ourselves in his love.
Does this mean that we are to keep ourselves in a state where God will love us? That is virtually impossible. No matter how hard we try, we ultimately will fall short of God’s standards. This is not teaching that we should do certain things to somehow merit God’s love or do certain things to somehow deserve his approval.
When Jude wrote that we are to keep ourselves in God’s love, this simply means that we need to keep ourselves in a place where God can actively show his love toward us.
A good illustration is the story Jesus told about the prodigal son. He was loved by his father, but he foolishly took his portion of the inheritance and went to a distant country, where he lived foolishly. Ultimately, he came to his senses and returned to his father.
While the prodigal was in a distant land, was he still a son of his father? Yes. He was a wayward son, no doubt, and a distant son, without question. But he still was the son of his father. Was he keeping himself in the love of his father or in a place where his father could actively demonstrate his love? No, he was not. His father probably didn’t even know where he was at the time. When he returned home and his father forgave him, took off his rags, clothed him, put a ring on his finger, and threw a party for him, was he then in a place where his father could actively show his love toward him? Yes, he was.
When we disobey God, when we do things that we should not do, it is not that God stops loving us. It is not even that we have necessarily ceased to be true Christians. We are simply wayward. We have essentially taken ourselves out of God’s love and have removed ourselves from the place where God can actively show his love in our lives.
That is what Jude was saying: Stay in a place where God can show his love to you. Simply put, Jude is reminding us that we must keep ourselves from all that is unlike God, from all that would violate his love and grieve him. He was saying, “Stay away from the things that would tear you down. Stay close to God and the people who will build you up.”
Jude pointed to the Israelites as an example, who, in spite of their incredible privilege, did not keep themselves in the love of God. They saw countless miracles. They had God’s spokesman, Moses, leading them through the wilderness. Yet they did not stay in a place where God could actively bless them, beginning with a complete unwillingness to go where he wanted them to go.
When they came to the brink of the Promised Land, they were told to go in. Instead, they chose 12 spies to check things out first. When the spies returned 40 days later, 10 gave a pessimistic report that was filled with fear and trepidation, while two, Joshua and Caleb, gave an optimistic report and encouraged the people to go in.
However, the people turned against Joshua and Caleb, essentially turning against God, who had told them he would give them the land. They even wanted to put these two messengers to death. So God determined that these people would never enter in because of their disobedience. Their unbelief gave way to rebellion, keeping them out of the place where God could bless them in the way that he wanted to.
This clearly shows us that privilege brings great responsibility. None of these people had any excuse. They were exposed to so many amazing things, yet they fell from that place of privilege, reminding us that we, too, can do the same thing.
We can be Christians but at the same time be out of fellowship with God and his people, doing things we should not do. We can remove ourselves from the place where God can actively demonstrate and show his love toward us. We must keep ourselves in a place where God can do that. We must keep ourselves from all that is unlike him, from any influences that would violate his love and bring sorrow to his heart.
Although God’s love is unsought, undeserved and unconditional, it is possible for us to be out of harmony with him. That is why we need to make every effort to keep ourselves in God’s love.