Jude 20-21

‘But you, beloved,
keep building up yourselves on your most holy faith,
praying in the Holy Spirit.
Keep yourselves in God’s love,
looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ
to eternal life.’
(Jude 1:20-21)

This beautiful exhortation from Jude sums up how to thrive in the Christian life. It’s from his letter in the Bible that primarily addresses something that risked having the opposite effect. Bad influences had infiltrated the church advocating ‘“ungodly”’(Jude 1:15) teaching and practices. It’s of note that such malign forces were an internal threat at the very beginning of the Christian church, and are to be expected, ‘long ago written about’(Jude 1:4) and ‘prophesied’(Jude 1:14). Jude cites some similar even earlier examples, going back to the origin of evil itself, showing that this phenomenon was nothing new. We’re not to be surprised or discouraged when facing the same sort of challenges today. No doubt Jude’s letter has been preserved in scripture partly to help us with that.

After describing the negative Jude introduces his positive contrasting exhortation with, ‘But you’, emphasising our ‘most holy faith’. Likewise he starts his letter with a call to ‘contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’(Jude 1:3).

Being blown off course from these foundational roots and teachings is a sure path to spiritual withering and death, as Jude describes using vivid metaphors: ‘clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackest of darkness has been reserved forever’(Jude 1:12-13). This is serious! Note the ‘foaming out their own shame’(Jude 1:13). These foundational errors are often associated with a ‘proud’(Jude 1:16) arrogance involving ‘lusts of the flesh… promising… liberty’(2 Peter 2:18-19) as Peter characterised the same problem.

So although Jude encourages ‘building up’, he insists that such development must always be on the foundational truths of our faith, just like Paul taught, ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone’(Ephesians 2:20). The Christian faith in general and the life of every individual believer must take its root at the foot of the cross, ‘looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ’ as Jude puts it, not straying from there, ‘rooted and built up in Him’(Colossians 2:7), growing fertilised by ‘the word’(Hebrews 4:12&13:7-9) as conveyed by those who foresaw, witnessed and explained Jesus and His mission to us, spoken then written.

It’s important to emphasise that building and growth are expected though. Adopting the identity of a repentant sinner at the foot of the cross and nothing more is a mistake. We’re to grow and thrive on that fertile spot. Peter recommends this ‘adding on’(2 Peter 1:5) in a right way too, describing a Christian growth plan that involves bricks like ‘moral excellence, knowledge… self-control… godliness’(2 Peter 1:5-6) etc.

The Holy Spirit is key to this healthy development, so Jude also encourages ‘praying in the Holy Spirit’, which contrasts with the bad influences ‘not having the Spirit’(Jude 1:19). Paul’s emphasis again is similar; alongside the protective ‘armour of God’(Ephesians 6:13) he mentions ‘praying at all times in the Spirit’(Ephesians 6:18) and taking up ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’(Ephesians 6:17). So defence against threats and life in the Spirit are both essential components of healthy Christian development, just like physical health requires both disease prevention and health promotion. We’re to live and breathe in this prayerful atmosphere of the Spirit, exercising our faith into fitness, learning to run (or at least ‘walk) by the Spirit… led by the Spirit’(Galatians 5:16-18), increasingly bearing the wholesome ‘fruit of the Spirit’(Galatians 5:22).

Obviously the crowning aspect of this fruit is ‘love’(Galatians 5:22), as Jude emphasises. We’re to keep ourselves ‘in God’s love’. Primarily he means ‘looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ’ as already discussed, receiving God’s loving forgiveness as repentant sinners at the foot of the cross. However, remaining in this love includes becoming infused with love as well. We’re to become so saturated that God’s love seeps from our pores, drips from our hands and flows from our mouths, i.e. knowing this ‘exhortation in Christ… consolation of love… fellowship of the Spirit… tender mercies and compassion… being like-minded, having the same love’(Philippians 2:1-2).

This must be our stance even towards those in our midst who seem to be malign. Although Jude recommends caution, with appropriate ‘fear’(Jude 1:23) of getting burnt, we must also show ‘compassion’(Jude 1:22), helping such folk ‘out of the fire’(Jude 1:23), onto this path which leads ‘to eternal life’.

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