When I started college as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, fresh off the farm in Wisconsin, well not exactly a farm, but a small farming town and definitely fitting the mold of that metaphor, as I never spent much time in a big city before I came to Minneapolis, I felt the pressure to succeed. I was bound and determined to out-work, to out-study, and in a matter of words, "win" in my chemical engineering courses. I had a framework that I operated out of which is that there is no substitute for hard work and failing is not an option. I saw the weekends as my competitive edge when I could out study anyone who chose to take the weekend off. I was always looking for an edge and I knew that the difficult exams in my engineering courses would be graded on a curve, so I had to simply beat out my classmates.
And I subconsciously felt this way about my faith and my relationship with God. My default was to think that I am a good person and if I work hard enough then God will be ok with me.
But, carrying this pressure and stress was not fun and not easy. This is where the gospel message hit me. Jesus said on the cross some very powerful words that changed my life. He said "it is finished". Those words rocked my world because what they meant for me was that all of my work and pressure and need to succeed and all the ways I was trying to pay my debt to God was actually paid for completely on the cross and all I needed to do was believe and God would see me through Jesus' work on the cross, not my efforts. His work on the cross, not mine, and it was complete. I didn't have to win over God to earn God's favor. I didn't have to outperform someone in order to gain access to the cross. It was actually the opposite. I had to simply receive this grace as a gift. It was free and Jesus wanted to help me.
My world was rocked and my viewpoint changed. Instead of feeling alone and on my own say for example during my exams where the pressure mounted, I was feeling that I had God with me saying "I love you no matter what happens on this exam." The world did not say that. Yet, this didn't change how hard I worked, but it did change my heart. In fact I worked harder than ever, but out of a sense of security and freedom. My heart was different. I worked hard knowing that God loved me because of Jesus' work, not my efforts.
And in my relationship with God for the first time I felt forgiven and accepted. I felt loved. And this too changed how I went about relating to him in my heart in regards to going to church or studying my Bible. I started doing these things because I wanted to, because I knew He loved me.
So, here is the challenge for how we think or go about our business on a daily basis. Is it God who does the work, or do I do the work? How are these related?
The Paradigm: Keep yourself in the love of God because you are kept
I want to lay out at a high level this paradigm that the Bible offers that we are to work and at the same time God is in control. I get this from our passage today in Jude.
The two verses that are of primary focus is verse 21 where it says "keep yourselves in the love of God" and then verse 24 that says "Now to him who is able to keep you".
We are to keep ourselves in the love of God, which means we are actively engaging in maintaining our relationship with Jesus. And at the same time God is able to keep you. In this sense God has the power and the authority to guard your faith and not let you go so that you will persevere to the end and be with Jesus for all eternity.
There are other verses in the Bible that lay out this paradigm as well.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:12-13 "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, 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."
For us it is difficult to handle this tension. Yet the Bible often puts these two concepts, namely, our responsibility, and God's control, next to each other. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and at the same time it is God who is at work in you.
Or another passage, which comes from our Summer Letters series. A few weeks back we looked at 2 Peter 3 and there is a phrase that is closely linked to what we're talking about. 2 Peter 3:18 says "grow in grace". So, there is grace, namely that God loves you because of Jesus and welcomes the worst of sinners. He loves you. He shows immeasurable grace to you, to you today. And there is this command to "grow". Do something.
With this challenging paradigm, I want to acknowledge right from the start the ways in which we tend to mess this up. These are the paths that we are prone to go down.
First, we take these commands to grow or keep yourselves in the love of God and we try to pay back God. We hate it when someone owes us something because we hate to feel indebted to anyone. So we default to trying to earn our way back. That's one way we mess this up. An application question would be: in what ways do you try to pay God back? [Potentially draw in verses here like Acts 17:24-25 or Psalm 50. The truth that God cannot be paid back.]
Secondly, we misuse grace. There's no such thing of too much grace but there is a way to misuse grace, or as Jude says in verse 4, “pervert the grace of God.” Sometimes we can misuse grace by making it an excuse for not listening to Jesus. So an application question would be: in what ways do we write off or excuse some of our bad habits and say, it doesn’t matter because we are forgiven by Jesus? In what ways have we perverted grace by making it an excuse for us to not fight sin?
Today, I want to look at two sides of the same coin. One side of the coin is that we need to be actively involved, we need to keep ourselves in the love of God. And the other side of the coin, still same coin, is that God has us. He holds onto us. He keeps us. He loves us no matter what we do or how we perform.
Both are true, but they’re different. This is a challenging aspect of the Christian faith. Is God in control or do I have to actively do some work here? Seems like they both cannot be true at the same time. Let’s look at each one.=
And in our passage, Jude has no problem talking about both either.
There are two main parts of the sermon. First, I want to look at verse 21 "keep yourselves in the love of God." And the second part I want to look at verse 24 "Now to him who is able to keep you."
Part 1: Keep yourselves in the love of God
Let's take this first command to keep yourself in the love of God. What does that mean? Does it mean keep yourself in good graces with God? Does it mean keep yourself doing good works so that God loves you? I don’t think these capture the essence of what it means to keep yourself in God's love.
To help us, I want to go back to verse 1 where Jude speaks of those "beloved". Verse 1. "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, BELOVED IN God the Father." This phrase "Beloved in God the Father" speaks to being in a relationship with God.
In verse 1 God loves us in the context of being in fellowship with Him. God loves you and the way you experience this love is being in a relationship with him. So this being loved by God centers on a relationship with God.
Now if we apply that to verse 21 we can see how "keeping yourself in the love of God" centers on keeping yourself in relationship with God. We are aiming to stay the course of following Jesus.
And is this not the challenge of the Christian life? We have all these lies coming at us telling us that we need to be a good person in order to go to heaven, or what's true for you is all of sudden actually truth. That everyone can be right. These are attacks on your relationship with Jesus. Not to mention attacks on our faith from our desires to satisfy ourselves and serve our self-centeredness.
Jude is calling us to fight and to work to keep yourself in relationship with Jesus, to keep yourself in the love of God.
The question becomes – are we going to be passive and listen to what the lies around us, or are we going to take an active role in our relationship with God?
Think about the massive shift that can take place that instead of being led by lies, and by the competing voices in this world, we can shift from that to actively walking in step with Jesus and the Bible.
So I want us to consider our daily life and consider making a shift from passively accepting the voices of this world, and shift towards being pro-active in your relationship with Jesus.
Don't be passive, be active.
The Greek historian Plutarch said "The omission of good is no less reprehensible than the commission of evil."
Or, the way one of Henryk's doctors said it "an act of omission is an act of commission."
This means that if you don't actively make a choice, but you just sit back and do nothing, you are actually indeed making a choice. See it is so easy to stand back and throw stones at something, like the church for example. It's easy for people to say, the church is full of hypocrites therefore I am clear to not make a decision about Jesus.
Or, the Bible is an old book therefore I don't have to read it. Or, because the church doesn't allow this or that I won't have anything to do with Jesus. These are passive decisions that write off actively engaging on key issues in your life namely, what is your well thought out opinion as to whether or not Jesus is real? What is your conclusion on whether or not the Bible is real, and have you really worked it out between you and God versus casting these things aside because of some mediocre excuses?
And for those who do believe that Jesus is real and believe that the Bible has authority, why are we not prioritizing our devotional time with God? Why are passively trying to get through everyday instead of fighting for time in the Word? Look, me and my life group worked through this recently as well. I don’t have the market cornered on any of these items. I too like watching Suits at night. I enjoy watching Harvey Spector.
This morning I want to think about our daily life and how we are doing with keeping ourselves in the love of God.
Don't be passive, be active.
I have two practical ways that we can actively take a step forward in keeping ourselves in relationship with God.
So, the first practical way to keep yourself in the love of God is listening to Jesus through studying the Bible.
The world has a lot of opinions of what the Bible says. And if you've never read the Bible I would challenge you to read it for yourself. Instead of talking about Jesus from your own thoughts of who you think he is, read John and then make an honest assessment of whether or not you believe in the Jesus of the Bible. It's just a book, in one sense, so give it a shot. And if you are new to the Bible, I’d be happy to read it with you. Or one of our other pastors, or several others in this church. Just let us know!
We believe that the bible is sufficient and it is clear and able to speak into all areas of your life. What does the world offer? A whole lot of opinions and ideas that try to make people feel good, but what are they grounded in? Culture is good, like a good Midwestern work ethic, but it's not ultimate. In Jude verse 19, Jude tells us that there are people in the world that are going to tell you lies and try to pull you away from your faith. These people are active for their own cause – "These cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit." They'll mock you for believing that the Bible is real. They'll say that the Bible is an old out of date book that was used by men to control other people. The most dangerous part of this attack is that it strikes at your heart. If you are passive you start to believe this and you stop going to the Bible for direction.
Doing Bible study is an active role in following Jesus because all of the Bible points to who Jesus is and the work he did on the cross to rescue people.
Jesus said in John 15:9-11 "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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."
To abide in God's love or to keep yourself in God's love is to be in relationship with Jesus, listen to him, and follow Jesus and oh by the way this is the pathway to joy. How do we know what Jesus is saying? This is where the joys of Bible study come in.
An application question then is to ask: Who are you listening to? Who are you following? What are you passively allowing into your life that is harmful? And what proactive steps are you taking to help keep yourself following Jesus?
Do you rest on your opinions and others opinions of Jesus without going to the source?
Don't be passive, be active, and the first practical is to be active in personal Bible study. [Maybe plug the Bible study for Genesis. Will be here next Sunday.]
Don't be passive, be active involves community. Let's look at Jude 1:20 "But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit."
There is a plurality here when Jude speaks of building yourselves up. Christians together encourage one another.
Jude implies that this keeping yourself in the faith is a community project.
Jude gives us some practical points for community living in verses 22-23 "And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh."
At times we are all going to struggle with aspects of the Christian Faith. We may know the doctrines in our head but we may struggle in our heart to embrace them. Jude implies here that people in your life are there to help and support and talk with you as you go through that. We are to have mercy on those who doubt.
The context is the fact that lies are out there. And people at times believe wrong things about God. If you take a minute you may humbly admit areas where you are doubting right now.
My daughter Lily honestly said it well once to me and Emily "you know Dad, it's tough to believe in Jesus because you can't see him." I was really helped by that honesty and she called it how it is and we could then talk through that.
You may know a person in your life group, in your community group that is struggling with doubt right now. Jude very simply says that we are to be merciful. God showed mercy to us and we are to be merciful. Mercy will have a much more profound impact than harsh rebuke in keeping our brothers and sisters in the faith. Mercy means to be compassionate or to kindly forebear. We all struggle with doubt or various aspects of following Jesus in our lives and Jude is challenging us to actively be engaged in your life group to show mercy and have compassion and kindly forebear as we walk through the challenges of life together.
So keep yourselves in the love of God. That’s one side. Now the other: God is able to keep you.
Part 2: He is able to keep you
So it’s not just: don't be passive, but be active. It’s be active BECAUSE you are kept! This gospel truth is our fuel. Jesus says "I am with you.” We’re not left to ourselves.
Let me read this awesome closing to Jude's letter – The famous doxology - "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!"
There is obviously a lot here and it is all awesome and glorious and helpful. I want to stay with our theme for today and focus on the fact that God is able to keep you.
Don't be passive, but be active because you are kept.
Often when we sin we start to question our salvation and doubt whether or not God is real and we doubt if it is worth continuing on and believing. Lots of doubt enters when we sin. We question if our faith is real. And because we all have issues and we all sin, it's good to remind ourselves of the gospel that Jesus came to save us precisely because of this sin issue. God is not surprised by your sin. He remains in full control of the situation and is able to keep you even when you sin.
God keeps you even when you sin.
Let's look at Hebrews 7:23-27 "The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself."
Jesus offered himself up for you. It is a perfect sacrifice. It is his sacrifice of himself that is completed, that is finished, that cleanses you of sin. And because of this Jesus is able to save to the uttermost. There is no sin too great for Jesus to handle. He is not limited in how far he can save. Everyone one of us is within God's reach. You think you are too great a sinner for Jesus, but you're wrong. He can save you. He can handle it. He can keep you. Let me put it this way, you're not that impressive of a sinner to avoid Jesus. His sacrifice is once and for all. Done. Complete. Finish. Result – Jesus can cover anyone's sins.
And what happens after you become a Christian and yet still sin and you feel like an idiot because you feel you should be better. Well guess what? Do you know what Jesus does for a day job? He lives to make intercession for you. Draw near (like we've been talking about – be active – draw near) and Jesus is constantly interceding for you.
What happens when we fall?
Let's look at Psalm 37:23-24 "The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand."
The Lord upholds you. Jesus intercedes for you. Between God the father, and Jesus, and the indwelling Holy Spirit you have quite the dynamic trio on your side. It's amazing.
Don't be passive, be active BECAUSE God keeps you, even when you sin, even in your failure.
The last area I want to look at when we question whether or not God is keeping us is when we suffer. Suffering is when we lose something. It was taken from us. It was a good thing, and God took it, and we question whether or not God is good; we question his plans and purposes. We get angry with God and doubt his goodness. How can God keep us safe if he is allows my son to die? How can I trust Him to keep me?
The reason I went to this question is because I've seen how suffering impacts people's relationships with God and Emily and I have struggled with God through losing our son. I know of many pains in this congregation. And they are very serious and very real.
I think our advice for those suffering is to be honest with God. We see this in the psalms of people crying out to God in real and passionate ways and I wouldn't say they are polished. They’re messy. Psalm 88 is the clearest example of a psalm that is very sad and hopeless.
For my wife Emily, a big breakthrough for her came when she honestly called out to God in immense anger over what he had done to our son. In her words God had destroyed her to her very core. In one of her prayers to God that she journaled she said "God, I feel like you're there and I'm here and we know about each other but don't really want anything else to do with each other. We have a relationship problem."
This honesty was a huge step in the grieving process. God keeps you even in those dark days.
But there's more to the story.
Revelation 21:4 says "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
Notice the intimacy. God will wipe away tears. This is a very personal thing. Have you actually ever had anyone wipe away your tears? God will.
In your life, there is a difference between your suffering being a chapter in your life versus being the last chapter. Your suffering is not the last chapter. The last chapter includes Revelation 21 that says he will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more.
God is the friend of the honest doubter who has the courage to speak to God instead of about him. Bringing your questions and complaints to him is an expression of faith because it implies that you believe that he has the answers. And God knows this so he is ok with you being honest with him about your pains and angers and complaints.
God is able to keep you through suffering.
To summarize: So, don't be passive, be active, because God keeps you.
To close, I want to reflect again on Jesus' words on the cross. Jesus said "it is finished." At the cross Jesus completed two things – he canceled all the record of debt that you have accumulated and will accumulate… he finished that off through his sacrifice…. And he says that his death on the cross completes your righteousness. On the cross through his perfect sacrifice his righteousness gets transferred to you that also is complete.
And this completion is what we love and enjoy and live under as we work and take steps of pro-activeness. This completion is for you if you'd receive it.
I want us to be active today in our hearts as we come to the Lord's Table. Instead of me explaining what the table means. I want you to think about and engage and be proactive about what this table means to you. What does eating the bread and drinking the wine mean for your relationship with Jesus?