You can hear the audio to this message here.
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 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.
1. My Amazement that I Am Still a Christian
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.
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.
This excerpt from my journal of 1986 is the sort of emotional vulnerability that I have dealt all my life. There were reasons when it seemed like I simply could not last. I was 40 years old. I had been at the church for six years. My four sons were 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. Same church. We built that building—and another one and another one. I hated it every time.
There were worse days—way 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 [laughs!] that I’m a Christian today and am about to finish my pastorate at Bethlehem.
- my faith in Jesus, and
- my eagerness to know him and his word, and
- my thrill at preaching, and
- my love for the church, and
- my fitness for ministry, and
- my fitness 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
- ceased to care about the word of God or thrill at exposition
- given up on the church
- ceased to be fit for ministry or heaven
- given myself to sexual indulgence, and
- ceased to be married to Noël.
I have no doubt about this—at all.
If the decisive cause for my faithfulness to Christ in any of those expressions must come from me, it will not come, because it is not there.
Therefore, the older I get, the more I am amazed, and full of wonder and thankfulness, that I am still a Christian—that I still love the word of God—more precious than gold, even much fine fold, and sweeter than honey and drippings from the honey comb—and that I still love the ministry of the word and the church of Christ, and that I still have not unfit myself for the eldership, and have still not given myself over to pornography or adultery, and that after 43 years I love my wife with the love of Christ. These things are to me utterly amazing.
So that I feel some sense of the wonder that Jude seems to feel. 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 43 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.
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. These attributes account for the actions you are celebrating.
What is Jude celebrating and worshiping?
- 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.
What came to expression in these three acts of God?
That’s what it took to keep me a Christian for 60 years. Jude is amazed at what it takes to keep us Christian, to keep us saved.
Do we have any idea of the degree of divine glory and majesty and power and authority that it took
- to give us spiritual life when we were dead (Eph. 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 measuring such things. How do you quantify a Spirit-creating spirit? Or a Spirit acting on spirit to sustain the life of that spirit?
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 (little “s”). This is eternal, spiritual, God-created, and God-sustained spiritual life.
This spiritual life that we Christians have is not ours intrinsically. There is no autonomous life in me.
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 terms and 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 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.
Christ created it by coming.
I bring nothing decisive to my creation. And I bring nothing decisive to the existence of this divine spiritual life in me. I exist as a Christian by it. I did not create it, and 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). It is upheld by Christ.
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 measure that so that we can join him in the amazement?
How Do We Measure What It Took God to Preserve Our Spiritual Life?
I can only think of two ways that we can measure what it takes to accomplish the preservation of our spiritual life.
One is to think about the fact that this is something we cannot do at all, and God does. And the difference between nothing and anything is infinite.
If God says to you: Create a being with divine spiritual life, you will say, “I can’t.” And you will be right. You absolutely can’t.
Then he does it with a word.
The difference between your absolute inability and his absolute ability is immeasurably great. The measurement is the distance between us and God.
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. That is, it takes just about anything he’s got to do this.
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.
(2) How This Happened
How does God keep us
- when Paul’s strategies of not losing heart seem remote (2 Cor 4),
- when the language to articulate the gospel with words one more time won’t come,
- when I’m not depressed that your church false converts, but I fear that I may be one,
- when I can remember countless times when I have given no evidence of trusting the power of the gospel to convert a neighbor, let alone a terrorist,
- when Spirit-empowered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort feels as likely as flying by flapping your arms,
- when the fuel tank of death-defying devotion to world missions seems empty,
- when he holds out a treasure to me that I want almost as much as anything but says I can’t have it
- when the crown jewel of Jerusalem is cut in slivers by a propeller or by the prophetess Jezebel?
How does God keep us? Keep us believing, keep us serving, keep us married, keep us fathering?
Notice that Jude’s letter begins (v. 1) and ends (vv. 24-25) with the assurance that God is decisively our keeper.
Verse 24: “Now unto him who is able to keep you . . .”
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.”
- kept for/by Jesus Christ.
The love of God moves him to call his elect to himself out of death and unbelief—and those whom he calls he keeps.
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.”
The called are sustained guiltless in the last day.
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.”
The called are kept. No drop-outs.
That’s the framework of the book—being kept by divine, omnipotent, faithful power.
Sandwiched in there he warns against the false teachers who “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (v. 4) and who presume that they are saved but are “destroyed because they don’t believe (v. 5).
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 they God of grace; they prostitute the grace of God.
Then after those many warnings, Jude tells us what we must do—not only for ourselves to be kept (vv. 20-21) but also what we must do for others who must be kept (vv. 22-23). I’m only going to deal with the first part (what we do for ourselves) because this brings out the paradox of the Christian life most clearly. I want to underline Kevin DeYoung’s message—because it’s here (and everywhere).
But you, beloved,
building yourselves up in your most holy faith and
praying in the Holy Spirit,
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 starts to come into focus again—as it does all over the Bible.
1 Corinthians 15:10: “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
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.”
Jude “Keep yourselves in the love of God, for God is the one who keeps you in his love.”
Verse 1: the love of God called you; the love of God will keep you; therefore keep yourselves in the love of God.
Keep yourself in God’s commitment to keep you.
“Keep yourselves in the love of God” 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:
- “building yourselves up in your most holy faith” (v. 20)
- “praying in the Holy Spirit” (v. 20)
- “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (v. 21)
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.
As I have prayed on my little prayer bench I built in 1975, I have probably prayed a thousand times “help me,” “keep me from temptation.” And what’s happening there? God is keeping me. The means of God’s keeping you is being provided by God.
The psalm I pray the most: “Preserve me O God, for in you I take refuge!”
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.
Even your praying is his doing—it is by the Spirit that you pray (v. 20). And your faith is his doing, not your own, “it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
My praying for his keeping and my 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 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. You are those who by prayer and trust keep yourselves in the commitment of God’s love to keep you praying and trusting.
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, 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” (Jer. 32:40).
The New Covenant promise is that God will act so decisively for his elect that they will not turn from him. God will see to it that they will pray and they will trust and they will keep themselves in the love of God.
The New Covenant was bought by the blood of Jesus Christ. “This cup is the new covenant in/by my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). When Jesus died for us, all the promises of God became Yes in him (2 Cor. 1:20). I will see to it that my own will not turn from me (Jer. 32:40). I will keep them from falling.
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 unleashed 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 New Covenant.
Therefore when we ascribe glory and majesty and dominion and authority to God we do it through Jesus Christ.
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” (Rev. 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. 4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Ps. 121:3-8).
He sealed that promise—he bought it—with the blood of his Son. Therefore, keep yourself in the love of God.