But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.” (C.S. Lewis)
In light of all that Jude has said about these false teachers and their destructive ideas, he shifts his focus in verses 20-23 to the believers themselves. Although he seems to have criticized the leaders for not noticing these negative elements sneaking into their assemblies, he now directs his attention to the believer’s primary responsibility: his own Christian growth.
Although there is room for some disagreement, it appears that Jude is saying in verses 20 and 21, “By building yourselves up in your most holy faith and by (or while) praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love . . .” The main verb is “keep yourselves in God’s love.” How does one do that?
We know that we can’t force God to love us. And He has promised that His love for us is everlasting (Ps. 107:1). Perhaps Jude is saying that we show our love for God by taking responsibility for our own growth (in our most holy faith) and by cooperating with (praying in) the Holy Spirit and His ministries in our lives.
We are prone to blame others for our own poor choices, aren’t we? Barry Beck of the New York Rangers, one who started a brawl during the NHL’s 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs, said, “We have only one person to blame, and that’s each other.”
We build ourselves up in our most holy faith. Here is a second use of the term “faith” in Jude that refers to the content of truth God has given us. You would expect a theologian to say that doctrine is important, but Jude agrees with me! We need to know what we believe — and we need to grow in our beliefs.
Notice, please, that we are to build “ourselves” up. Personal discipleship is not the primary responsibility of your pastor, your spouse, or your mother. It is yours. Plain and simple.
If you are not building yourself up in your most holy faith, you are not growing. You are not getting prepared to deal with the false teachers of your culture. You will become a victim of self-feeding shepherds, unstable and rainless clouds, twice dead fruit trees, shameful wild waves of the sea, and condemned stars which have no stability. And you might find yourself participating in the Lord’s Supper with such “blemishes.”
“Praying in the Holy Spirit” here probably does not refer to the spiritual gift known as tongues (speaking languages one has not learned). The expression “pray in the Spirit” is used by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 where he writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (v. 18) Jude uses the expression “praying in the Holy Spirit.” If we may interpret Jude’s expression by what Paul says, it seems likely that Jude is referring to serious prayer in the life of the individual believer.
When is the believer “praying in the Holy Spirit”? May I suggest that when I express my utter dependence upon Him to guide me, to put His divine finger on what needs to change in my life, and to specify how I might become more like God’s Son, that is praying in the Spirit. I am cooperating with His ministry of conforming me to the image of the Lord Jesus in my thoughts and behaviors.
When am I to show my love for God as I am building up myself in my most holy faith and as I am praying in the Holy Spirit? While I am waiting for the Lord Jesus to come back! Believers in Christ are in a waiting mode. He has promised to return for us (see John 14). In the meanwhile, we are to be growing into His image more and more.
One of my all-time favorite passages is Titus 2 where we read —
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope— the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2)
We are a waiting people. We are waiting for “the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Be Reaching Out
Jude emphasizes not only personal spiritual growth, but challenges these believers to reach out beyond themselves to those who need to be saved. He says in verses 22-23- 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
A major aspect of the growing deeply in the Christian faith is a longing to reach others with the gospel. If that is not a priority in my life, there is something seriously wrong with my life in Him. If He has saved me, the most logical response is to seek to win others. Hungry beggars who have been given bread should look for other hungry beggars to feed.
These two verses (vv. 22-23) suggest that lost people will fall into a couple of categories. And knowing their category might help in being more effective in reaching out to them.
There are those who doubt. Doubt has been given a bad rep among religious people. I agree with Os Guinness in his book Doubt (first published under the title In Two Minds) that doubt in itself is not sin. Doubt can either lead to sinful unbelief or confident faith, once the evidence has been examined.
“Doubting Thomas,” I often tell my Greek students, should be renamed “Adamantly Unbelieving Thomas” because he did not express doubt in Christ being risen from the dead, but unbelief. He said in the strongest way possible to his friends who were giving him eyewitness testimony of Christ’s resurrection, “I will by no means believe unless I see . . .” (John 20:25). That’s not doubt — that’s adamant unbelief. And Jude’s advice in reaching those who doubt? Show mercy! Allow them to ask their questions. Give them freedom to look at the evidence instead of trying to push them into faith.
There are also those who need to be snatched from the fire (v. 23). Perhaps Jude is referring to those close to death who have little time to reflect upon Christianity’s claims. A more direct approach with them might be what is required.
Our sharing of the gospel with others is not to be emotionless. We ought to have a certain fear (maybe indicating that we pray with all our might that they will not turn away from the Savior) and a certain hatred (there is a godly anger at what sinhas done in the life of that lost one) (v. 23). At any rate, we look for opportunities to speak of our Savior, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us in our “methods.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the following story from the Readers’ Digest. “When I was 12,” writes Sylvester Madison, “my best friend and I broke a window playing baseball. We looked around to see if anyone had seen us. No one was in sight except my younger brother. We went over and offered him a piece of candy not to tell. He refused it. `I’ll give you my baseball,’ I said. `No.’ `Then what about my baseball and my new glove?’ my friend added. `No!’ `Well, what do you want?’ `I wanna tell.’”