Jude 17-21

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17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 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. 

The late Dallas Willard once made a very astute observation about the Christian life. He wrote:

If your neighbor is having trouble with his automobile, you might think he just got a lemon.  And you might be right.  But if you found that he was supplementing his gasoline with a quart of water now and then, you would not blame the car or its maker for it not running, or for running in fits and starts.  You would say that the car was not built to work under the conditions imposed by the owner.  And you would certainly advise him to put only the appropriate kind of fuel in the tank.  After some restorative work, perhaps the car would then run fine.

            We must approach current disappointments about the walk with Christ in a similar way.  It too is not meant to run on just anything you may give it.  If it doesn’t work at all, or only in fits and starts, that is because we do not give ourselves to it in a way that allows our lives to be taken over by it.  Perhaps we have never been told what to do.  We are misinformed about “our part” in eternal living.  Or we have just learned the “faith and practice” of some group we have fallen in with, not that of Jesus himself.  Or maybe we have heard something that is right-on with Jesus himself, but misunderstood it…Or perhaps we thought the “Way” we have heard of seemed too costly and we have tried to economize (supplying a quart of moralistic or religious “water” now and then).

            Now we know that the “car” of Christianity can run, and run gloriously, in every kind of external circumstance.  We have seen it – or at least, anyone who wishes to can see it – merely by looking, past the caricatures and partial presentations, at Jesus himself and at the many manifestations of him in events and personalities throughout history and in our world today.[1]

My question to you is quite simple: Are you mixing water with the gasoline?

If you have trusted in Christ, you are saved and redeemed and called to a life of discipleship and follow-ship. You are called to the great and grand adventure of the Christian life. Everything you need to live the Christian life is available to you. The Holy Spirit is within you. Christ is beside and before you. The church is open to you. The power of prayer has been placed before you. The very word of God has been placed in your hands in the scriptures. Truly, if you have accepted Christ, you have what you need!

If you have truly give your life to Christ, let me ask you: Are you moving forward? Are you progressing?

No? Then why not. It cannot be a lack in the provisions of God. As we have just said, He has given you all you need. No, if you are born again and not progressing there is only one answer for it: You are mixing water with the gasoline.

Sixteen of Jude’s twenty-five verses are warnings about false teachers. In verses 17-19 he calls upon the church one last time to beware.

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

We have been warned, in other words, that these false teachers would come. But now we must ask: How can we follow Christ in such a way that we are prepared to endure false teachers and the lies they try to tell us? How can we progress? How can we move forward? With all these warnings of a false “Christian” life, what does a true Christian life look like?

Be built up in the faith.

Jude begins the positive exhortations of the concluding sections of his letter with three beautiful words: “But you, beloved…” Gene Green observes that Jude’s “emphatic ‘but you’ places the believers in sharp contrast with the heretics.”[2] Indeed it does, and we are happy to hear it. We have heard so much about the negative in Jude that we now yearn for a description of the positive. What are we to do? Watch:

20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,

First, we are to build ourselves up in our most holy faith. Connected with this is the powerful image of “praying in the Holy Spirit.” The picture is of a praying, progressing community of faith. Some have argued that “praying in the Holy Spirit” is a reference to tongues. Gene Green has offered a helpful perspective on this question.

Some have suggested that Jude may have in mind speaking in tongues…an interpretation of the text that is especially well known in Pentecostal/charismatic circles. In this section, however, Jude’s concern is with the corporate life of the church in their struggle against heresy, and given the problems within the Corinthian church regarding speaking in tongues, it is hard to imagine how such a call would contribute to the church’s corporate life (see 1 Cor. 14:4). Moreover, Jude places this exhortation over against the claim that the heretics do not have the Spirit. The exhortation implies that the members of the church are the true Christians. Neyrey…makes the interesting suggestion that “praying in the Spirit” is “an act supportive of the tradition,” an interpretation that may find support in Jude’s previous call for the church to build itself up on the foundation of the received (v.3) and most sacred faith (v.19).[3]

However you understand the nature of the praying, the mere fact of the praying is the key point. We are to be a passionately praying and consistently progressing people. In this way we are “built up.”

The Puritan Thomas Manton, writing in the mid-17th century, said of this phrase “building yourselves up” that the “intention” of the apostle in saying this is that “they should build one another up.”[4] Manton then appealed to 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Manton’s intent was clearly to push against any sort of individualistic or separatist or isolationist reading of this, as if (a) you actually could build yourself up alone and by yourself and (b) as if you need not care about the spiritual growth of others. He is right to do this. We build ourselves up, we build others up, and we are built up by others. This is not a solitary act.

This image of the followers of Jesus, of the church, being built up is deeply ingrained in the New Testament. In Matthew 16, Jesus introduced this idea with His very pronouncement of the coming of the church.

18d-e …I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

In Acts 9, Luke uses this image to describe the growing church.

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Paul uses the image in Colossians 2, adding the idea of being “rooted” to the image of being “built up.”

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Brothers and sisters, the Christian individual just as the church corporate was designed for and intended to be a growing, progressing body, not a declining, dying body!

Historian Mark Noll has passed on a helpful illustration from the past that speaks powerfully and tragically of the decline of Christianity.

Less than one lifetime after the events of the French Revolution, the English literary figure Matthew Arnold wrote a famous poem, “Dover Beach,” which likened the fate of traditional Christianity to the moonlit spectacle of a tide receding at night from a great beach. In his rendering,

The Sea of Faith

Was once too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.

But now I only hear its melancholy, long withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.[5]

Oh my! What a chilling picture! And the picture does not get much better as we look at our age. Alan Hirsch has painfully observed of the modern church:

The U.S. church spends over $70 billion every decade on plant and resources, and we are experiencing decline in adherence and membership at an unprecedented rate. This is unacceptable.[6]

There can only be one answer for this: we are mixing water with the gasoline. But this is not what we were made for! No, we were made for what Peter describes in 1 Peter 2:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

We are to be built by Christ into “a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We were made for this!

I plead with all of you, church, not to grow contented in a state of stagnation. I plead with you to be agitated with the status quo, with the mundane, with the mediocre. I plead with us all to seek to be built up in Christ!

Stay in the love of God.

We do this also by “staying in the love of God.”

21a keep yourselves in the love of God

Let us first note that the verse distinctions that were added to the Bible many years after its writing may sometimes cause us to miss the full import of any given section. For instance, verse 21 stands a continuation of verse 20. Listen:

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

“Praying in the Holy Spirit,” then, is part of “keep yourselves in the love of God.” This is how we are “built up”!

“Keep yourselves in the love of God” is such a fascinating image, is it not? Ray Summers defined “keep yourselves in the love of God” as, “Let God’s love be the area of [your] entire thought and life.”[7]

H.A. Ironside beautifully said of this verse, “Mark, it is not, ‘Keep God loving you.’ Such a thought is opposed to that glorious revelation of Him whose nature is love.” He continues, wonderfully, thus:

            But here we are told to keep ourselves in the love of God. It is as though I say to my child, “Keep in the sunshine.” The sun shines whether we enjoy it or not. And so God’s love abides unchanging. But we need to keep in the conscious enjoyment of it.[8]

“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Are you consistently putting yourself in a position to see, understand, experience, grow deep in, and become a conduit for the love of God that has been given to you and is available to you and the whole world?

When you put yourself in the arena of the devil’s hatred, of the devil’s wickedness, of that which is not of God, you are not then “keeping yourself in the love of God.”

Douglas Moo writes of these words:

Jude may be thinking as he writes these words of Jesus’ command in John 15:9: “Now remain in my love.” Christ loves us, unconditionally; yet we have the obligation to remain within his love for us. And this reminiscence is particularly appropriate because Jesus goes on in the next verse to note that it is by obeying his commands that we are able to remain in his love. It is precisely in this matter of obedience that the false teachers are so significantly failing to keep themselves in the love of God.[9]

This is wise. Obedience is a fundamental way of “keeping ourselves in the love of God.” None of this is to suggest that disobedience removes us from God’s love. No, the love of God is a constant. But disobedience does remove us from a position of the full enjoyment and experience of God’s love. What is more, in our sinfulness and disobedience we invite the fear of wrath into our lives. So God’s love is obscured in our lives when we sin against God. We cannot see it because of the dark night of rebellion in which we have wrapped ourselves. And so we ultimately despair.

“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Stay in the light! Pray in the Spirit! Be built up in the faith!

Wait for the coming mercy.

And then we are told something quite surprising. We are told to wait.

21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

We might be tempted to think that this call to waiting is a call to inactivity. This would be a terrible misunderstanding of the text! Waiting does not mean inactivity. We have just been called to be built up and to keep ourselves in the love of God and to pray in the Spirit! No, waiting here refers to watchfulness and an expectant heart!

Notice how, in Titus 2, Paul links “waiting” not with inactivity but rather with Christian growth.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ

We wait as we grow. We wait as we obey. We wait as we love. We wait as we pray. For what? For what do we wait? We wait, Jude tells us, “for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” We wait for the consummation of the ages, for the coming of Christ, and for the, “Well done they good and faithful servant!” We wait for the end of the age, but we do not wait passively. No, we wait in Christian living, in gospel proclamation, in being the body of Christ!

And what is the quality of our waiting?

In Hebrews 9, the writer of Hebrews proclaims:

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

We “eagerly” wait for Christ! We joyfully wait! We wait while serving, while going, while singing, while worshiping, while studying the word, while calling the lost world to Jesus! We wait eagerly, gladly, expectantly!

Church, does this describe your walk with Jesus: being built up, praying in the Spirit, keeping yourself in the love of God, eagerly waiting for Jesus? Does it? No? Then I must challenge you to do something very brave and very difficult: Name the water you are adding to the gasoline.

Name it.

What is the water you are adding to the gasoline?

Name it very specifically.

What are you introducing into your life that is keeping your walk with Jesus from looking like this?

What are you mixing in, maybe just a bit at a time, thinking it will not matter…and yet even now you feel things beginning to skip and lurch.

What is the water you are adding to the gasoline?

Church, you must name it and you must reject it.

Christ Jesus has given you everything you need to walk with Him in spirit and in truth. Jesus is never going to be the cause of the malfunction in your life. If a malfunction is occurring, it is because we have introduced it into our lives.

Will you dare to name it and to reject it? Will you dare to come to Jesus with truly open hands and heart? Will you dare? Oh I hope you will. You will find Him with open arms.


[1] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2006), x-xi.

[2] Green, Gene. Jude and 2 Peter. (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (p. 119). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Green, Gene, p. 121.

[4] Thomas Manton. Jude. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. Series editors Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), p.201.

[5] Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. (p. 245). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Hirsch, Alan. The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church. (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 6679-6680). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[7] Ray Summers. “Jude.” Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 12 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1972), p.239.

[8] H.A. Ironside. Addresses on The Epistles of John and an Exposition of The Epistle of Jude. (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1958), p.54.

[9] Moo, Douglas  J. 2 Peter, Jude (The NIV Application Commentary Book 18) . Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.


1 thought on “Jude 17-21

  1. A barn burner!!!!!!!!!!, whew hew, go Wym, go; we love you and we are praying and we are praying for you, for CentralU & CBCNLR as well. Thank you so much for
    so much clarity in so few ideas. Gotta Love it 🙂 if all we could write were an ocean and every man a scribe, there are not enough quills to go round to fill the sky

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