This message has two parts. In the first part, I will try to draw you into my amazement that I am still a Christian and still love the ministry of the word. And perhaps you will feel the same about yourself. And in the second part, I will try to draw you into an analysis of how that happened. Our text is the book of Jude, and our focus will be mainly on verses 24 and 25.
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, 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.
Part One: Be Amazed You're a Christian
First, let me try to draw you in to my amazement that I am still a Christian and still love the ministry of God’s word and the spiritual calling I have as a husband and father. This year I complete 60 years as a believer, 32 years pastoring Bethlehem Baptist Church, 44 years of marriage to Noël, and 40 years of being a father. These are momentous days for me as we plan for my successor to assume responsibilities at Bethlehem. If there is a T4G in 2014, and if I am invited to come, I will not be speaking as the preaching pastor of Bethlehem. This is my last T4G as a pastor.
From My Journal in 1986
When I think about finishing these laps in my race, I am simply amazed that I have lasted — lasted as Christian, lasted as a pastor, lasted as a husband and father. To begin to grasp why I feel this way it may help to hear an excerpt from my journal from 1986. What you are going to hear is the sort of emotional vulnerability that I have dealt all my life. Seasons when it seemed like I simply could not last.
When I wrote this I was 40 years old and had been at the church for six years. I had been married 18 years. I had four sons, ages 14, 11, 7 and 3.
Am I under attack by Satan to abandon my post at Bethlehem? Or is this the stirring of God to cause me to consider another ministry? Or is this God's way of answering so many prayers recently that we must go a different way at BBC than building? I simply loathe the thought of leading the church through a building program. For two years I have met for hundreds of hours on committees. I have never written a poem about it. It is deadening to my soul. I am a thinker. A writer. A preacher. A poet and songwriter. At least these are the avenues of love and service where my heart flourishes. . . .
Can I be the pastor of a church moving through a building program? Yes, by dint of massive will power and some clear indications from God that this is the path of greatest joy in him long term. But now I feel very much without those indications. The last two years (the long range planning committee was started in August 1984) have left me feeling very empty.
The church is looking for a vision for the future — and I do not have it. The one vision that the staff zeroed in on during our retreat Monday and Tuesday of this week (namely, building a sanctuary) is so unattractive to me today that I do not see how I could provide the leadership and inspiration for it.
Does this mean that my time at BBC is over? Does it mean that there is a radical alternative unforeseen? Does it mean that I am simply in the pits today and unable to feel the beauty and power and joy and fruitfulness of an expanded facility and ministry?
O Lord, have mercy on me. I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand, even when I know that most of my people are for me. I am so blind to the future of the church. O Father, am I blind because it is not my future? Perhaps I shall not even live out the year, and you are sparing the church the added burden of a future I had made and could not complete?
I do not doubt for a moment your goodness or power or omnipotence in my life or in the life of the church. I confess that the problem is mine. The weakness is in me. The blindness is in my eyes. The sin — O reveal to me my hidden faults! — is mine and mine the blame. Have mercy, Father. Have mercy on me. I must preach on Sunday, and I can scarcely lift my head.
That was 26 years ago. There have been worse days. Days when the marriage was under attack. Days when the soul was so numb I feared for my faith. So, looking back, I am amazed that I have lasted.
A Faithfulness Not from Me
If my faith in Jesus, and my eagerness to know him and his word, and my thrill at preaching, and my love or the church, and my fitness for ministry and for heaven, and my sexual continence, and my spiritual marriage commitment to Noël depended decisively on me, I would have ceased to be a Christian long ago. I would have ceased to care about the word of God or thrill at exposition. I would have given up on the church and ceased to be fit for ministry or heaven. I would have given myself to sexual indulgence and ceased to be married to Noël.
I have no doubt about this. If the decisive cause of my faithfulness to Christ in any of those expressions must come from me, it will not come, because it is not there. Therefore, I am amazed that I am still a Christian and love the ministry. And I feel some sense of the wonder that Jude seems to feel:
Now to him who has been mighty to keep me from stumbling and to present me blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, my Savior, through Jesus Christ my Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Because that’s what it took to keep me a Christian for sixty years, and to keep me alive in the pastoral ministry at Bethlehem for 32 years, and to keep me obediently married for 44 years — glory and majesty and dominion and authority, working before the creation ever existed, and working every present moment of my life, and working into the future to keep me holy and happy for ever.
That’s what it took to keep me from falling — and what it will take to get me home before the presence of his glory, blameless and full of unbridled joy. And that’s what it will take to keep you believing, and ministering, and holy to the end of your days, and then get you home.
How Doxologies Work
This is the way doxologies work. They refer first to something that God has done or will do, and then they ascribe attributes to God that account for that action, or are expressed in the action. So, for example, you might say, “Now to him who fashioned the intricacies of the human eye and every molecule and atom in it — to him belong infinite, inscrutable wisdom and skill.” Or you might say, “Now to him who adopts dirty, abandoned, rebellious children into his family — to him belong compassion and boundless mercy.”
In other words, the attributes that you ascribe to God are the ones that account for the action you are praising, or that come to expression in the action you are praising. His wisdom and skill are expressed in making the eye. His compassion and mercy are expressed in adopting of unworthy foundlings. These attributes account for the actions you are celebrating.
So it is in Jude 1:24–25,
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 is celebrating three things: God keeps us from stumbling; he presents us before the glory of God blameless, and he presents us before the glory of God with great happiness. And then he says: What came to expression in these three acts of God was God’s glory and majesty and power and authority. That’s what it took to keep me a Christian for 60 years, and to keep me alive in the pastorate for 32 years. This perseverance was the effect of God’s glory and majesty and power and authority.
Considering the Measurement
Let’s press the amazement a little further. Do we have any idea of the degree (the measure) of divine glory and majesty and power and authority that it took to give us spiritual life when we were dead (Ephesians 2:5), and to keep us spiritually alive moment by moment for 60 years, and to stir up that spiritual life in such ways that it resisted sins and loved holiness and pursued spiritual fruit in the life of the church?
Do we know the degree of glory and majesty and power and authority that took? No. We don’t. We have no terms of measurement for such glory and majesty and power and authority. How do you quantify a Spirit creating and sustaining spirit? Or a Spirit acting on spirit to sustain the life of that spirit? Pounds of pressure? Kilowatts of electrical force? Roentgens of radiation?
God creates spiritual life when we are dead. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). We had no spiritual life. Then the Spirit acted in us. And now we are spiritually alive. We are spirit. This is not spirit like the demons are spirit. This is holy spirit. This is eternal, spiritual, God-created, and God-sustained spiritual life.
Our Life Is God's Work
And this spiritual life that we have is not ours intrinsically. It is not ours autonomously. We have this life to the degree that we have the Holy Spirit in us, and to the degree that we are united to Christ — which are interwoven realities. It is not the kind of spiritual life that we would have if the Spirit left us or we were not united to Christ. We would not be alive if we were not united to Christ by the Spirit. Our life is Christ’s life. The Spirit’s life.
The giving of this life, and the moment by moment sustaining and keeping of this life, and the stirring up of this life so that it treasures holiness and ministry is a work of God. This is why I said at the beginning: If the decisive cause of my faithfulness to Christ must come from me, it will not come, because it is not there.
I bring nothing decisive to my creation. And I bring nothing decisive to the ongoing existence of this divine spiritual life in me. I exist as a Christian by it. I did not create it. I don’t keep it in being. Not any more than the universe came into existence by its own power or is upheld by its own power (Heb. 1:3).
Jude is clearly amazed at what it takes to sustain spiritual life — to keep it from collapsing and to bring it to glory blameless and happy. He must sense that what it takes to keep us believing — to keep us alive — is very great. So how do we join him in this God-exalting amazement?
Two Ways to Measure What It Takes
How do we then measure what it took for God to bring my spiritual life into being and keep me alive and holy and happy to the day of Christ? There are only two ways that I can see that we can measure what it takes to accomplish the preservation of our spiritual life?
One is to think about the fact that creating and sustaining spiritual life is something we cannot do at all, and that God alone does it. And the difference between nothing and anything is infinite. Let me put it this way: If God says to you: Create a being with divine spiritual life and sustain it, you will say, “I can’t.” And you will be right. You absolutely can’t. Then he does it with a word or a thought.
The difference between your absolute inability — your nothing — and his absolute ability — his something — is immeasurable. Indeed it is immeasurably great. That’s the first way we can measure what it took to give us life and preserve it blameless and joyful to the day of Christ. We know we can’t do it and he can. The measurement of what it took to create us and keep us alive is the distance between us and God. It is an infinite wonder that God creates and sustains our spiritual life — that I am still a Christian.
And the second way we know the measurement of what it took for God to sustain our spiritual life blameless and joyful before the glory of God is that he reveals it to us in verse 25: it took glory and majesty and power and authority. If the first computation of the infinite difference between your contribution and God’s contribution to your spiritual life does not make sense, then just take God’s word for it. Your creation and your preservation takes divine glory and majesty and power and authority. And any amount of divine glory and majesty and power and authority is infinitely greater than what you bring to your creation and preservation.
It is simply amazing that I am still a Christian and love God’s word, God’s people, and my spiritual calling as husband and father.
Part Two: How God Keeps Us
That’s the end of part one — my effort to draw you into my amazement that I am still a Christian. Now I would like to try to draw you in to my analysis of how this happened. How does God keep us . . .
- when Paul’s strategies of not losing heart (2 Corinthians 4) seem remote,
- and when the language to articulate the gospel with words one more time won’t come,
- and when you’re depressed not just because your church false converts, but you fear you may be one,
- and when you can remember countless times when you gave no evidence of trusting the power of the gospel to convert a neighbor, let alone a terrorist,
- and when Spirit-empowered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort seems as likely as flying by flapping your arms,
- and when the fuel tank of death-defying devotion to world missions seems empty,
- and when your treasure is held out to you and God says, “You can’t have it.”
- and when the crown jewel of the new Jerusalem that you are trying to lead is cut in slivers by an airplane propeller, or by the seduction of the prophetess Jezebel.
How does God keep us? Keep us alive, keep us believing, keep us serving?
Called, Loved, Kept
Notice that Jude’s letter begins and ends with the assurance that God is decisively our keeper. We have already seen the end. Verse 24: “Now unto him who is able (who is strong) to keep you . . .” Now look at the beginning: Verse 1: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” We are called. We are loved. And we are kept. The love of God moves him to call his elect to himself out of death and unbelief. And those whom he calls he keeps.
This is exactly what Paul teaches: God keeps those whom he calls. None is lost. 1 Corinthians 1:8–9, “He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called” (1 Corinthians 1:8–9). The called are sustained guiltless in the last day. The keeping is implicit in the call. That is what Jude means in verse 24. Then Paul says it again in Romans 8:30, “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” None of the called is lost. The called are kept. That is a rock-solid teaching of Paul and Jude.
So Jude establishes first and last the decisive work of God in keeping his own. And in between he warns against the false teachers (verse 4) who “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality,” and who presume that they are saved but (verse 5) are “destroyed because they don’t believe.” So these professing Christians are not called and they are not kept. And the evidence that they are not called and not kept is that don’t crave Christ, they crave physical sensations. They don’t prize the God of grace; they prostitute the grace of God.
Then after those many warnings, Jude tells us what we must do for ourselves (verses 20–21) and for those we love (verses 22–23), in order to go on being kept by God. I’m only going to deal with what we do for ourselves because this brings out the paradox of the Christian life most clearly. Verses 20–21:
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.
So now Kevin DeYoung’s message comes into focus again. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Or as Paul says in Philippians 2:12–13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Keep Yourselves in the Love of God
Here in Jude it goes like this. “Keep yourselves in the love of God (verse 21), for God is the one who keeps you in his love.” The order and logic are supremely important. Verse 1: the love of God called you; the love of God will keep you. Therefore, keep yourselves in the love of God. Keep yourselves in God’s prior commitment to keep you.
And what does that mean? “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (verse 21) is the main verb — the only imperative verb in verses 20–21, and the other three verbs are supporting participles — they define how Jude understands keeping ourselves in the love of God. Verse 20: 1) “building yourselves up in your most holy faith;” 2) “praying in the Holy Spirit;” 3) (verse 21) “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
The key words in those phrases are “faith,” “prayer,” and “waiting.” So, keep yourselves in the love of God — keep yourselves in the omnipotent commitment of God’s love to keep you, by trusting that omnipotent commitment, by praying for its daily application to the specifics of your life, and by waiting patiently for God to finish his merciful work. You pray for God to keep you (“Preserve me O God!”). You trust the promise that he will (“for in you I take refuge”). And you wait for his mercy.
God Is Not Robbed
And in none of this to you rob him of the glory and majesty and power and authority by which he decisively, faithfully, omnipotently keeps you. Because even your praying is his doing — it is by the Spirit that you pray (verse 20). And your faith is his doing, not your own, “it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Your praying for his keeping, and your trusting in his keeping, is his keeping.
The glory and the majesty of his keeping consists very much in the power and the authority that he has to keep you through the means of your keeping yourself in the love of God. You are not a robot. And you are not autonomous. You a new creation, a new race. Your coming into being and your being sustained is unlike anything the world can ever experience. It is a mystery. A daily miracle. We are those who by prayer and trust keep ourselves in the commitment of God’s love to keep us praying and trusting.
God Fulfills the New Covenant
Which leads to one last crucial observation. God’s act to keep you praying and trusting so that you remain in his love and are kept blameless and joyful for the glory of God — that act is the fulfillment of the New Covenant. “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). The New Covenant promise is that God will act so decisively for his new-born elect that they will not turn from him. They will be kept. They will pray and they will trust and they will keep themselves in the love of God. He will see to it. Our praying and trusting him to keep us is his keeping us. This is God’s New Covenant promise.
And this New Covenant fulfillment in our lives was secured, purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25). When Jesus died for us, all the promises of God became Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20). “I will see to it that my own will not turn from me into destruction (Jeremiah 32:40). I will keep them from falling.” That is a blood-bought, New Covenant promise.
And that is the ultimate reason why Jude 25 says, “To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority.” The glory and majesty and power and authority that it takes to keep you and me alive in Christ — to keep us praying and trusting, to keep us in the love of God — was secured for us sinners, when Christ died for us. Therefore the glory and majesty and dominion and authority that keeps us from falling and presents us blameless and joyful to God is through the blood of Jesus Christ — the blood of the covenant. And therefore when we ascribe glory and majesty and dominion and authority to God we do it through Jesus Christ.
Don't Underestimate the Power of the Gospel
So do not underestimate the power of the blood of Christ to keep you from falling. It’s power was at work “before all time” (Revelation 13:8), it is at work “now,” and it will be at work “forever.” Your keeping began before creation, it is happening now, and it will never end.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:3–8).
He sealed that promise with the blood of his Son. Therefore, keep yourselves in the love of God.