A look at the letter of Jude
Too often we hear of another pastor falling, another story of moral failure. I wonder how many similar stories remain untold from among the hundreds of thousands who attend church every Sunday. How many teens in good youth groups contemplate suicide, an escape from the intolerable pain of feeling unloved and alone in a pointless existence? How many husbands and wives are crushed to discover their spouse is cheating or caught up in pornography or using drugs to smother emotional agony?
And yet God told us through Jude’s letter that He is able to keep us from “falling away” (v. 24 NLT). Really? The experience of many Christians doesn’t match the claim.
If like me, you believe the claims of Scripture are true, that God will do what He promises to do, one question, among many others, begs an answer. The first can be put this way: what “falling away” are we kept from? From stupid decisions that disrupt our comfortable lives? From apostasy, disowning Christianity as a myth? Perhaps from quitting on God as a source of help when He seems indifferent to our struggles? Or maybe Jude is telling us that God’s power is available to keep us from giving in to passionate urges that make sin look appetizing?
I recently wrote a book entitled When God’s Ways Make No Sense. What I’m now talking about strikes me as one premium example of how God works. Whatever ways of God are designed to keep Christians from falling don’t seem to reliably be doing their job. Addicts pray, and their addiction remains. Add another wrinkle to the confusion. Before writing that God will keep us from falling away, Jude instructs us to keep ourselves safe in God’s love” (v. 21, emphasis added). Who does the keeping, me or God? Apparently, we must do our part. Jude exhorts us to “build each other up in our most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus who will bring you eternal life. In this way you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love” (vs. 20, 21). Many Christians, at least in some measure, do their part.
Does God do His? Sometimes. Not always. Or so it seems.
I feel a disturbing tension between what I experience and what Jude tells me could be my experience.
Have I misunderstood him?
In our final years in Denver before a recent relocation, my wife and I were happily involved in a church where every Sunday’s worship service climaxed with the congregation standing, and with raised hands repeating Jude’s famous benediction in verses 24 and 25.
“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen”
I’m normally not a hand-lifter during worship. But in that church, I sometimes managed to half-raise one hand in grateful response to the beauty of Jude’s benediction. I doubt if I’m alone in too often repeating those words with little thought given to the preceding verses that occasioned them. Providence is a good thing. Recently I was nudged by the Spirit to read, study, and ponder all 25 verses in Jude as I recently discussed with Chris Fabry on Moody Radio’s Chris Fabry Live! program. In the first three, Jude introduces himself and tells us why he is writing what follows. The verses in between “verses 4 and 23”, all 20 of them, identify thinking that was being presented in the church threatening to make falling away seem legitimate, desirable, and comfortably Christian. The benediction comes next, assuring us that God’s power can keep us from the seductive appeal of watered-down Christianity.
I wonder if a series of sermons on Jude’s letter might be in order, with special attention given to Jude’s ruthlessly harsh language in exposing the false teaching in the church. We all need to know what we’re up against in a Christian culture that sometimes promotes lukewarm Christianity disguised as the real thing. It was happening in Jude’s day. It’s happening in ours. How? It’s worth thinking about.
The perspective on Christian living that Jude assails weakens, even denies, the need for patient endurance when God’s ways make no sense. It encourages Christians to seize the opportunity of grace to indulge whatever released passion leads to feeling good, feeling fulfilled, and feeling comfortable with life. The call to persevere goes unheard. Trust God to keep you in a pleasant life, a life healed of damaged emotions, a life of freedom to do whatever seems right, a life that doesn’t bother with recognizing self-serving motivation that is blissfully unconcerned with delighting God through revealing His character by how we relate.
Reading all of Jude will release this worshipper whose hands have for too long shyly dangled by my side to lift them high. My forgiven heart longs to keep myself in God’s love. And when I fail, as all of us will, God will prove Himself able to keep me persevering in love on the narrow road to life. That, I suggest, is the core of spiritual formation. And God is able to keep me from falling, from no longer persevering through life’s troubles by loving God and loving others.
About Dr. Larry Crabb
Dr. Larry Crabb is a well-known psychologist, Bible teacher, speaker, popular author, and founder/director of NewWay Ministries. He is currently scholar in residence at Colorado Christian University in Denver and visiting professor of spiritual formation for Richmont Graduate University in Atlanta. Dr. Crabb and his wife, Rachael, live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visit NewWayMinistries.org for more information.