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. 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. 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. (Jude 20–25)

Jude has made the saints aware that the Apostolic faith was under threat in the church. Its enemies were within the camp, and they were being influential. Perhaps they had not been seen in their true colors, but Jude has now identified them and their error, demonstrated that the Lord abhors it and that He will judge all who adhere to it. He therefore makes an affectionate but strong appeal—“But you, beloved”—indicating that it is time for the saints to rise up and to show that they are “on the Lord’s side”—and he continues by giving them their “marching orders,” so to speak. We will consider how they were to prepare themselves, engage with their foes and be confident in “fighting for the faith.”

Preparation (Jude 20–21)

This can be compared to basic training given by the military. Soldiers need to be physically fit, disciplined, and skilled in the use of equipment. Jude lists four matters that would-be defenders of the faith need to address individually and corporately. They can be considered in different ways, but the fact that he uses a main verb in speaking about “the love of God” perhaps gives that a primary importance with the other matters being related to it. As God’s love to the Christian, it reproduces itself in all who believe. We will consider the four items in the pairs in which they are set out in the text.

“Building up yourselves in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20). The possessive pronoun “your” could indicate that it is the “faith in the heart” of those addressed that is in view and not a mini creed as at the beginning. Two factors, however, point to there being a continuity of reference: (1) nowhere else in the New Testament is faith in the heart described as “holy,” and (2) the metaphor of “building up on” points to the foundation of the church, which is “the faith” laid down by the Apostles (Eph. 2:20). It is therefore better to understand the reference to “the holy faith” as that which was believed.

The faith is “most holy” because it is framed and revealed by the triune God. Each Christian is given an experiential knowledge of it (Rom. 6:17), and every local church is founded on it as a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 3:9, 16, 19). But what is in view here is the superstructure that is to be erected on that foundation that involves personal and corporate interaction with “the faith,” as is made clear by the reflexive pronoun “yourselves.” This is done by means of mutual edification, correction, and consolation. The faith is to bind people in close relationship—and that of course is possible only by means of the sanctifying ministry of Holy Spirit, which is to be the object of prayer (Eph. 2:22). It is therefore proper and essential to ask the Father in the name of the Son for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in connection with such effects of the faith. He is the Spirit of truth, grace, and holiness, and He will enlighten the mind, stir the affections, and strengthen the will via the Word. The regular exposition and application of the Word in preaching has the major part in this development.

“Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 21). The letter has opened with a reminder that Christians are brought into the circle of God’s love, and now they are told that they must remain where they have been put. Jesus so instructed his followers in the Upper Room by repeated use of the word “abide” (John 15:8), which is connected to prayer and obedience, brotherly love and self-sacrifice in the disciples’ mission to the unbelieving and hostile world. Just as He remained in God’s love by doing His Father’s will and was given reminders of His love as He did so, so the same will be true for those who “keep themselves” in Him (John 15:10; 14:23). They will know His mercy as they strive to uphold God’s truth in life and perhaps in death. The first martyr, Stephen, is the great example in the New Testament of this very thing (see also Peter’s assurance of an abundant “entrance into the eternal kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11).

Engagement with Foes (Jude 22–23)

Military training is important, but it is all with a view to being effective in a battle. Fellow believers should become fellow soldiers. But how should they engage with those who oppose the faith, especially if they are in the church? That is a valid and important question. The fight is spiritual, and therefore the weapons should not be carnal (2 Cor. 10:4). For example, the use of “the sword” in dealing with heretics is totally inappropriate—and so is the spirit of Jehu. Sadly, examples of both are to be found in the history of the church.

How do “love and mercy” prepare for “contending”? Is there any connection between them? There is because “the most holy faith” is good news for sinners. Believing it will lead to eternal life and make people saints. Therefore, the “contending” that is called for has a converting, constructive goal in view—not merely the winning of an argument or the crushing of an adversary, but bringing back a sinner from the error of his way (and so saving) a “soul from death and [covering] a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–21).1 Whenever the faith is at stake in the church, there are souls at stake to be won or lost. Having such an evangelistic spirit and goal is vital. It is part of loving one’s neighbor. But a consciousness of one’s lack of love is no justification for excusing oneself from the defense of the faith.

Whenever the faith is at stake in the church, there are souls at stake to be won or lost.

Jude’s summons was employed by two defenders of the faith in the last century—Carl McIntire and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Both men recognized that the Christian faith needs to be defended, and they used Jude’s call in doing so. But there was a notable difference in the addresses that they gave. For McIntire, Jude’s call became the chosen watchword of the American Council of Christian Churches.2 In radio addresses given in 1958 on Jude and published in that year in The Christian Beacon,3 McIntire denounced all “fundamentalists” who refused to secede from churches as no different from the apostates themselves. (Some of J. Gresham Machen’s books also began life as radio addresses, including The Christian Faith in the Modern World and What Is Man? and they contain examples of the way that it ought to have been done).4

Lloyd-Jones’ use of Jude’s text was very different. In the address he gave in 1971 to Christian students from many countries titled “What Is an Evangelical?”5 he drew lines of demarcation among professing evangelicals, but his aim was always to call true Christians together. He never breathed a word of denunciation in those addresses or when he spoke on these questions in other contexts. What he did was to press those who were temporizing with error in their churches to face up to the seriousness of what they were doing. He also maintained personal friendships with those who disagreed with him.

What Did Jude Have to Say?
Sadly, there are numerous difficulties in determining what Jude wrote on this matter, as is evident from a cursory comparison of recent translations. They cannot be discussed here,6 but his main point is clear. He is calling for some differentiation to be made between foes of “the faith” that will have a bearing on how they are approached. One of the difficulties is whether Jude referred to three groups or two is less certain. We will work with the ESV translation, which envisages three groups and reads, “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” (Jude 22–23).

It is important to bear in mind that not all the opponents of the faith are equally committed to error and to its practice. There are differences to be noted and responded to. Some are more serious than others—the note of “fear” is struck in connection with the last group—yet all are to be dealt with in “mercy.” The overall aim of defenders of the faith is to be the blessing of those who oppose it. The military adage “know your enemy” also applies in the spiritual realm, but its aim is not to “divide and conquer” but to “divide and save.” An outline strategy might look something like the following, which is presented tentatively. It reflects the teaching of other portions of the New Testament—namely Matthew 18:15–20, 1 Corinthians 5:1–4, Galatians 6:1–2, and Titus 3:10–11.

There Are Some “Who Doubt”
The verb Jude uses here also appears in verse 12, where it is translated as “dispute.” Both renderings are possible and they are not that far apart in meaning because those who doubt usually engage in some disputing, even if it is only internal or with a trusted few. They may be newly recruited, and while going down the wrong road they occasionally look back. They can be thought of as stragglers in the enemy line, “double-minded,” at odds within themselves. They are not unaffected by the error (how could they be?) but they are not certain that it is better than the faith.

These are to be treated “with mercy” and not denounced. An understanding of why they have begun to go down the wrong road should be sought. Perhaps they were easily influenced by relatives or peers, or by flattery playing on a desire to be appreciated (Jude 16). But such empathy does not mean becoming sentimental and thinking that they are “on the right side, really.” Such people need to shown that they are on the wrong road before they can turn back, and the way to “win them back” is not only to show some understanding but also to engage in serious discussion with their being questioned as well as answered so that they repent and are restored. Truth must not be forfeited in the interests of a salvation of sorts. But they might not renounce the error immediately, and in that case patience and perseverance in prayer is called for. To treat them as either of the next groups will make them worse, not better, and it may well put a stumbling block before one of Christ’s little ones. Wandering sheep should be sought. Friends should not be treated as foes. Friendly fire is an awful oxymoron. It is sad and serious when more kindness is shown to the outsider than to the wayward. Such an approach can be private and low-key informal and, if productive of “salvation” by the divine blessing, it can avert more serious steps being taken.

The military adage “know your enemy” also applies in the spiritual realm, but its aim is not to “divide and conquer” but to “divide and save.”

Others Distort and Deny
As these two groups of “others” are not described by Jude in any identifiable way, we will use the description provided by him at the beginning of the letter for them both (Jude 4). They are not that far apart because the expressions that distinguish how they should be treated have a common background in Zechariah 3:1–5.7 In that passage, Joshua, the high priest, is referred to as having been snatched out of the fire and as wearing an unclean garment that needed to be removed and exchanged for priestly robes. These are metaphors for fitness for God’s judgment and unfitness for ministry. That differentiation opens up the possibility that the metaphor of the fouled undergarment with regard to the second of these groups indicates that it is the leaders of the opposition who are in view. That is how we will understand it.

Both groups have been playing with fire and are in danger of eternal punishment. But some are only partly burnt, and these can be “snatched out of the fire”; the other is so burnt that those who try to help (save them) are in some danger themselves. How should this be understood and put into practice by those who desire to uphold the faith and reclaim its foes? The graded steps of church discipline have to be factored into this procedure, and two portions of Paul’s letter to the Galatians also come to mind.

First, the very direct and public way in which Paul dealt with Peter over his vacillation at Antioch vis-à-vis gentile Christians is an example of “snatching out of the fire.” There was certainly some urgent and vehement remonstration about it (Gal. 2:11–14). Second, Paul underlines Jude’s cautionary note with respect to a similar circumstance is worth recalling as it accords with Jude’s warning. If someone is “caught in a transgression,” Paul wrote, “you who are spiritual [not anyone!] should restore him in a spirit of gentleness, keep[ing] watch on yourself lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1–2).

In the case Jude envisages, there are those who present a much more serious threat, and the “bringer of mercy” is therefore to “fear” contracting defilement from “the garment stained by the flesh” and to experience revulsion on account of its corrupting power. Those who would save gross sinners have to go nearer to sin and Satan’s domain than it is safe for them to go. Some should not do it. Perhaps there are some from whom everyone should keep a safe distance. There is a way of doing so—and it is by prayer. It is a possibility that the word translated “mercy” with regard to them could be a very similar Greek word that means “pity.” Perhaps all that can be done for these is that they should be prayed for—and that is something that every Christian can do.

So, there should be no thoughtless campaign with merciless intent by way of defending the faith. “The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.” Instead, the salvation of its foes should always be sought—even though it may be at personal cost. It is part of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24) and doing so by “the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:10).

Anticipating Triumph (Jude 24–25)

Jude’s letter is a harmonious whole. He began with a benediction, which was followed by an exhortation, and he brought it to a fitting close by an inspiring doxology. These are all elements in the church’s worship and life. God’s people gather under His blessing with the particular aim of hearing His Word through His servants and then go out into the world to live to His glory. The layout of the letter points the way for acceptable services of public worship and they are to be found in the Reformed tradition.

But Jude’s doxology was not just a most acceptable way of rounding things off. In it he was still speaking to the saints, as is indicated by his use of the second person plural in the words God will “keep you and present [you].” His doxology is therefore not only an address to God through Jesus Christ but to those saints who were willing to stand up for the faith and engage the foes, as described earlier. That is the setting in which this doxology should be first considered, rather than its use in Christian worship—although that is to be warmly welcomed given the common preoccupation with “me, myself, and I” rather than with the “glory and majesty” of the Lord.

Speaking anticipatively, Jude thanks God through Christ for preserving His soldiers in this life and for presenting them blameless in the next, and in doing so he encourages them with the assurance of victory. This doxology not only ascribes limitless praise and endless glory to God but expresses the triumph of those who uphold the faith. It is therefore a soldiers’ song, a hymn of the church militant.

There is an Old Testament incident that is worth recalling in this connection. In the reign of Jehoshaphat, a large coalition force that had gathered against Judah and Jerusalem was met by those who had prayed to the Lord, obeyed His word through His prophets and sung His praise. The call to war was “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed” and the song was “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever” (2 Chron. 20:20–21). By way of divine answer, the foe became disunited and destroyed itself. A glorious triumph resulted on the battlefield that became known as the Valley of Berakhah (blessing).

God’s people gather under His blessing with the particular aim of hearing His Word through His servants and then go out into the world to live to His glory.

Christian soldiers are therefore to sing of God’s ability to guard them in the fight for the faith and to receive them into His immediate presence when the “strife is o’er and the battle won.” Their battle cry is a song of praise about the ability and majesty of God. “Not unto us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” is the iron in their souls (Ps. 115:1). We will use the themes of ability and majesty to consider what Jude writes in his one closing sentence, which ends with a thunderous “Amen.”

His Ability

Ability is about having the resources to do something. Human beings often have an exaggerated view of their strength and skill, fail to make good on their claims, and disappoint others. But no one who trusts in the Lord will be put to shame. And why? Because His immense ability is related to His moral integrity, so He will not fail to put His word into operation and bring it to full completion. Joshua and Solomon declared that “not one word has failed of all the good promises that God had made” (Josh. 21:45; 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56).

It is often said that God can do anything, and of course, His activity cannot be effectively hindered, let alone thwarted, because everything that opposes Him and His purpose lies within His sovereign reign. But it is better to say that He is well able to do everything He wants and to “accomplish all [His] purpose” (Isa. 46:10). The wonderful works of God recorded in Scripture, whether striking providences or inexplicable miracles, are all done by Him whose Word does not lack power (Luke 1:33). And He is true to His Word, for there are two things that are is impossible for God ever to do—namely, to “lie” (Heb. 6:18) and to “deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). What He has said is “true truth” and not “fake news.” He tells it as it is—always. No precept or promise is framed so as to mislead, let alone deceive. Smokescreens are as much the devil’s strategy as outright denials. God is “light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). His “yea is yea and his nay, nay,” and the one will never become the other. What He says (or has said) is an expression of His moral changelessness. He cannot contradict Himself or be in the least inconsistent. He cannot ever be other than He has revealed Himself to be in Jesus Christ.

And what in particular will He do for His faithful saints? There are two promised blessings, one for the life below and the other for the better life above. He will “keep [them] from stumbling and present [them] blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24).

He Will Keep Them from Stumbling
Jude has spoken about “keeping” twice before in his letter and used the same verb to do so, although its subject varies. He began by speaking of God keeping His loved ones for Jesus Christ to whom He called them by the gospel and to whom they now belong, and he has just commanded them to “keep themselves” in that love (Jude 21). This amounts to the mutual indwelling between Christians and Christ by the Holy Spirit (Jude 20), of which Jesus spoke much in His Upper Room Discourse. They are preserved in Him and so they preserve a dutiful devotion to Him as has just been described.

But now Jude uses a different verb that refers to protection. It means “to guard” and the danger in view is one of “stumbling.” There are so many references in the Psalter to the fact that saints are prone to losing their footing through their own sinful frailty (Pss. 73:2; 119:133–34) and the subtle attacks of the wicked (Ps. 119:85). Similarly, Christians need guarding from evil men and the evil one too (2 Thess. 3:3), and they can lose their foothold in the fight (see Eph. 6:15), which in Jude’s letter means being affected by the heresy and immorality of the false teachers. Lies have power—even those that are palpably false. Jude now assures those who put the Lord and His truth first and foremost in their minds and lives that He will guard them against the parading of licentious practices and the parroting of its ideas and they will not “fall from their own steadfastness (2 Peter 3:18). Not one of them will be lost.

He Will Present Them Blameless before His Presence with Great Joy
It is not only a foothold on an earthly battlefield that faithful saints are promised but also a place to stand in heavenly glory. Ezra spoke graphically to those who had returned from exile in Babylon of their having “a tent peg in his holy place” (Ezra 9:8). Jude now speaks of their being “presented,” or being made to stand, “blameless before the presence of [God’s] glory with great joy.” To be blameless and joyful in the presence of God is triumph indeed. It will mean that the sin and grief that are native to mankind after the fall will, in their case, be no more.

The wonderful works of God recorded in Scripture, whether striking providences or inexplicable miracles, are all done by Him whose Word does not lack power.

The adjective “blameless” refers to what is acceptable to God in His worship and service, whether physical in the case of animals for sacrifice (Lev. 1:3) or moral in the case of humans (Luke 1:6). It points to legal indemnity and moral integrity and amounts to perfect holiness, which was Jesus’ purpose in representing and reconciling them to God by His obedient life offered up in His propitiatory death (Eph. 5:27; Col. 1:22). “Great joy” spells the purpose of His incarnation (Luke 2:10) and its consummation at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7) when all the baneful effects of sin will have passed away (Rev. 21:4). Such joy will animate the Son, who will be glad to confess His own before the Father (Luke 10:31; 12:8) and also the Father who will welcome them into His presence in a face-to-face encounter. “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads, they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10).

His Majesty

There are many doxologies in the Bible. Some are spontaneous outbursts of the writer in response to what he has just proclaimed about God; for example, the words “blessed forever” (Ps. 89:25; Rom. 1:25; 9:5; and especially 11:33–36). Others have an explicitly corporate address and formal setting, as in 1 Chronicles 29:10–13, where David was speaking to the people of God in his day about the building of the temple, and Romans 16:25–27, where Paul was concerned about the establishing of the church at Rome. Jude’s doxology is of this latter kind as he ascribes (and prescribes) such praise to “the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord” and reminds the faithful saints of God’s splendor and sovereignty by the words “glory, majesty, dominion [and] authority.”

As has been mentioned earlier in the section on “the faith,” it was monotheism and mediator-ship that stamped a hallmark on the Christian church, setting it apart from Judaism and the multiple strands of gentile thought and practice. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of this by saying,

We know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 8:4–6)

This double-edged truth needs to be reaffirmed in countries where Christianity was once generally respected because the notion that now prevails is that there are many gods (if there is one at all) and that Jesus is not the only Lord and the only way to God. Our national occasions that have a religious flavor are now multi-faith in character. “God” may be referred to—but which one? Jesus may be mentioned, but not “Christ the Lord.”

The basic theme of Jude’s doxology is that there is only one God. There is no other; there cannot be another because two gods, let alone more, would result in no being worthy of the name God. Deity is unique, exclusive of all else, but the God who is real is neither alone nor aloof. In the mysterious harmony and fullness of His being, He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is not lonely in His dignity, but in His benevolence He stoops to His creatures and gives Himself to human beings in particular. He is a God who saves and sends His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be the Savior of mankind. This is why saints have gladly sung out His praise and acknowledged His splendor and sovereignty. Soli Deo gloria has been their anthem from place to place and age to age, this one included.

A time reference normally closes a doxology, which can be no more than “forever,” which though brief is complete enough. It indicates that there is to be no time limit to God’s praise because He Himself is eternal. Jude’s time reference is very full. It refers to eternity past and future with the words “before all time” and “forever.” But he adds a special touch to it by means of the words “and now,” which is included in that encapsulation. He is not content to just write of the praise that God always deserves, but he adds the words “and now.” Why does Jude specify that? It is because his concern was with God’s glory in the situation that obtained at the time. For him, the current and the contemporary are bound up with the eternal. The “then and there” glory that belonged to God before the “heaven and earth” was created and that will be His in the “new heaven and earth” was not to be detached from the glory due to Him from His saints in their “here and now.”

The saints to whom Jude wrote had been brought to the kingdom to serve the King of kings and the Lord of lords when and where they are. All that is involved in “contending” was therefore to be done in dependence on God’s keeping power and with His honor and glory in view. The faith was to be defended not with gritted teeth but gladdened hearts, and that because of what God had done and will do through Jesus Christ.


Jude’s epistle is a fine example of semper reformanda, nec tamen consumebatur, and soli Deo gloria. These three Latin tags are part and parcel of our tradition. The first, which means “always being reformed,” points to the recurring need of church to subject itself to Holy Scripture and not adjust itself to keep up with the times. Nec tamen consumebatur, which means “it was not being consumed,” comes from Exodus 3:2 and points to the fact that as the church adheres humbly to the Lord of the covenant of grace (Acts 7:30–32), it will see Him maintain the church from generation to generation, reforming and reviving it as necessary. Finally, soli Deo gloria, which needs no translation, ennobles the mind, stirs the profoundest emotions, and galvanizes the will more than all national anthems, each of which redounds to the glory of man in some way or other. The end will come “when he [Christ] will deliver the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power . . . that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24–28), and to that every Christian can say, “Amen.”

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on Jude. Previous post.

  1. It is noteworthy that both brothers of the Lord, James and Jude, conclude their letters to professing believers on this same note. James’ concern is to expose false faith by showing the absence of good works and Jude is out to expose false faith by the presence of evil works. Yet both end with seeking the “salvation” of those who have erred. ↩︎
  2. This was the precursor of the International Council of Christian Churches—an organization in opposition to the World Council of Churches. ↩︎
  3. The Epistle of the Apostasy. C. McIntire. Christian Beacon Press 1958. ↩︎
  4. The same is true of T.T. Shields in Toronto see D.M. Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years. I.H. Murray. Banner of Truth Trust 1990. 271-3. ↩︎
  5. “What Is an Evangelical?” In Knowing the Times. Banner of Truth Trust. 1989. ↩︎
  6. Bauckham lists the various alternatives in his Commentary and favors the two-group view. Moo opts for three groups as does Green whose summary on this matter is the simplest and most useful. His essay on authorship and exposition is not to be missed. ↩︎
  7. The same metaphor is found in Amos 4:11 is relevant too where it describes the Northern Kingdom of Israel as a whole. ↩︎

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