But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. (20–21)
For those of us who are Christians to exercise discernment and protect ourselves from being led astray, we must remain on the path of sanctification. Doing so involves first building ourselves up on our most holy faith. We must become doctrinally strong if we would recognize error and effectively fight the battle for truth. The present, active participle translated building yourselves up has an imperatival sense—meaning it is not optional. Metaphorically, the idea of building up refers to personal edification and spiritual growth, and it implies the establishment of the firm foundation of sound doctrine. As in verse 3, the most holy faith is the objective body of biblical truth.
Practically speaking, edification centers on studying the Word of God and learning to apply it. In Acts 20:32 Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” All the ministries of the church should result in edification (Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:11; cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers to proclaim His Word, which results in “the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12; cf. Col. 2:6–7). Peter wrote that believers should desire the Word for spiritual growth, just as babies desire milk for their physical nourishment (1 Peter 2:2). Along those same lines, the apostle John wrote that the spiritually strong believers, those capable of successfully waging effective warfare for the truth, are those in whom the Word of God abides (1 John 2:14).
A second essential element of sanctification involves praying in the Holy Spirit. That expression does not refer to speaking in tongues, but to praying for that which is consistent with the Spirit’s will—His desires, directives, and decrees. Although His will is revealed through the plain commands of Scripture (Deut. 17:19–20; Pss. 19:7, 11; 119:11, 105, 130; Prov. 6:23; Matt. 4:4; Luke 11:28; John 5:39; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; James 1:25), we as believers do not always know how to practically apply it to the various issues of life. Therefore the Holy Spirit intercedes for us before the Father with genuine sympathy and inexpressible fervor (Rom. 8:26–27). Of course, the Spirit’s will and the Father’s will—and even praying in Jesus’ name—are one and the same. When we pray in the Holy Spirit we submit ourselves to Him, rest on His wisdom, seek His will, and trust in His power (cf. John 14:14–17; 1 John 5:14–15).
As we who believe pursue sanctification, we must also keep ourselves in the love of God. This is a vitally important principle, and it means to remain in the sphere of God’s love, or the place of His blessing (Rom. 5:5; 8:39; 1 John 4:16). On a practical level, it means that we must stay obedient to God, since divine blessing is promised only within the sphere of obedience. As Jesus told the apostles:
Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:9–11; cf. 1 John 2:5)
On the other hand, if we become disobedient, we move from a position of blessing to a position of chastisement (Heb. 12:3–11).
Finally, as we pursue sanctification, we Christians must be waiting anxiously for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. The verb translated waiting anxiously (prosdechomai) means “to wait for,” or “to welcome,” and connotes doing so with great expectancy. Thus we are to live with eternity in view as we eagerly anticipate the Lord’s return (1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:8; Titus 2:12–13; cf. 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:11–13 and the commentary on these three verses in chapter 9 of this volume). On that great future day, all of us who have trusted in Him will experience Christ’s final mercy and enjoy the fullness of eternal life (cf. Rom. 2:7; 1 Tim. 6:12; 1 John 5:13) as we experience the resurrection and glorification of our bodies (John 5:24; 17:3; Rom. 5:17; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 John 5:20; cf. Dan. 7:18).
21 / Jude exhorts his readers, Keep yourselves in God’s love. That love was responsible for their call to faith in the first place (v. 1). But believers have their part to play. They must continue to respond to God’s love (John 15:9–10; Rom. 8:35–39; 1 John 4:16) and thereby maintain and strengthen their relationship with him. The false teachers have demonstrated that it is all too possible to turn away from God’s love (Rev. 2:4) and as a consequence to cool in their love for others.
Persistence is called for in this matter, as in so many other aspects of the Christian life. The final outcome for believers is assured, and this certain hope is referred to by the words as you wait. Yet this expectant attitude toward the future must be balanced. “If too great attention is paid to the future hope, the Christian tends to become so other-worldly that he is not much use in this world. If, however, as is the greater danger today, the future element is soft-pedalled, Christianity becomes a mere religious adjunct to the social services” (Green, p. 185).
All God’s gifts to the believer are due to the divine mercy, a note struck in the opening prayer (v. 1). God has committed the final judgment to the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:22), and it is he who will bring you to eternal life, for that life is his gift (John 17:2). It begins in this world, and will be known in all its fullness in the next.
Keep yourselves in God’s love (21a)
God’s basic attitude towards humankind is his love, by which Jude means the strong passion he has to save us from his rightful indignation at our disobedience. He has given us promises of salvation, and the correct response of his covenant people to his covenant love is to echo his love by our obedience. There are always two sides to this. On one side, as Paul found out, ‘Christ’s love compels us’15 as an inexorable force, and he prayed that the Ephesians might ‘grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’. But on the other side, Jesus warned us to ‘remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.’17 Although God’s love towards us is fixed and promised in his covenant, then, it is possible for us to position ourselves outside it, and instead to face his anger.
Jude has written about both sides of God’s love. He opened his letter by telling us that we are ‘loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ’ (verse 1), and now as he closes he tells us to keep ourselves in God’s love. We know from his letter that the way we do this is by ensuring that we are constantly obeying God. If we want to know what happens to those who do not keep themselves in God’s love, we need look no further than the examples of the Israelites in the desert, the angels, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain, Balaam and Korah. If we want to see the present counterparts of those people and places, we need only look at those who behave in the same way and share their mocking attitude to God’s law.
Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ (21b)
Christianity makes sense only if the promises God makes are kept. God gave the Old Testament believers wonderful promises about what he would do, and they responded to him by patiently and faithfully waiting. Micah saw that all around him the Israelites were deserting the covenant. ‘But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.’ The New Testament opens with the hope being kept alive as Zechariah led the temple worshippers in prayer for the Messiah to come. And when the baby Jesus was brought to the temple for the first time, he was recognized by Simeon, who had been ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’, and by Anna, who ‘spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel’. Once Jesus had made it clear that he was going back to heaven and would return only later, it became the turn of his disciples to behave ‘like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him’.20
Jude urges us to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life. This indicates that only God’s final intervention in our world will ultimately prove that God’s Word is true, and that it is his great gift to those who believe it. We do of course enter into eternal life now as Christians, but what we experience in this life is largely dominated by a battle because we are still waiting for our new resurrection bodies. Paul wrote that ‘the whole creation has been groaning … right up to the present time’. Christians ‘groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’. Even the Holy Spirit himself ‘intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express’. It is important to realize how supremely right it is that creation, Christians and even God himself ‘groan’ in this way. God’s promises are still waiting for their final fulfilment, and Christians pin their destiny on the future rather than the present.
Jude’s prescription has involved the Christians with the living Trinity: they obediently keep themselves in God’s love, pray in the Holy Spirit and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a powerful and effective antidote to the poison of the people Jude opposes. For their part, they wilfully ‘change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality’ (verse 4); they cannot pray because they ‘do not have the Spirit’ (verse 19); and they rebelliously ‘deny Jesus Christ’ (verse 4). Jude’s opponents would not find themselves ‘groaning’ as they battle to be holy. Instead, they grumble (verse 16), complaining that God places such heavy demands on them. They long to produce selfish cries of delight as they ‘follow their own evil desires’ (verse 16). Will they have any hope of mercy on that day? Only if we take some action towards them, as Jude is about to tell us.
21. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
- “Keep yourselves in God’s love.” Of the four Christian virtues enumerated in this passage, Jude introduces the third, namely, love. Amid the uncertainties, difficulties, and temptations that surround the believers, Jude admonishes them to keep themselves within the circle of God’s love and literally to stay in that sphere. Christians are recipients of this love when they strive to do God’s will by loving him with heart, soul, and mind and by loving their neighbor as themselves (see Matt. 22:37–39).
The phrase the love of God can mean either God’s love for man or man’s love for God. Even though the choice is difficult to make, the context seems to favor God’s love for man. As Jude states in the salutation in verse 1, the readers “are loved by God the Father” (also compare John 15:9–10; 1 John 2:5). God comes to man and surrounds him with divine love; in response man comes to God with human love.
- “As you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the fourth Christian virtue Jude introduces: hope. Granted that the word itself is not in the text, we know that the context clearly expresses the idea. To hope and to wait eagerly are twin concepts to which the text, in effect, testifies. The text literally says: “As you are waiting with anticipation.” For instance, this expression also is used to describe our expectation of the resurrection (Acts 24:15), the prospect of eternal glory (Thus 2:13), and servants who await the return of their master (Luke 12:36).
A Christian waits with eager expectation for the day of judgment in which Christ’s mercy will acquit him. In other words, the text calls attention to the judgment day when all believers will experience “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ,” but all the wicked will receive their just reward. Notice that Jude once again (see v. 17) refers to Jesus as “our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is, the believers who acknowledge him as their Lord and Savior know that he grants them eternal life.
- “To bring you to eternal life.” In this last phrase Jude summarizes the work of the Trinity (God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Jesus Christ) and the result of four Christian virtues (faith, prayer, love, and hope). Believers have everlasting fellowship with God when they experience the fullness of eternal life in his presence.
20–21. Knowing the reality of false teachers, how do we safeguard ourselves against them? The niv seems to suggest three instructions, but the Greek gives us four participles: building, praying, keeping, and expecting. To arm ourselves against false teachers, we must (1) build yourselves up in your most holy faith, (2) pray in the Holy Spirit, (3) keep yourselves in God’s love, and (4) wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
To build oneself up in the most holy faith means to grow spiritually. Fundamental to such growth is to learn as much as possible of the truth of Scripture and to set one’s life to believe and obey it. The most holy faith is that which was once for all entrusted to the saints (v. 3). It embodied the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and is now recorded in the Scriptures. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). If we want to be trained in righteousness and equipped for every good work, we must make the Scriptures a central part of our lives.
Praying in the Holy Spirit is not necessarily a reference to speaking in tongues but may include this as one part of prayer (see John 4:23–24; Rom. 8:15–16; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 6:18). Rather, it refers to praying under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit, trusting him to intercede for us with “groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). The how of praying may not be so much in focus here as the need for life in the Spirit which the false teachers did not have (v. 19). They did not have the Spirit because they did not pray for the Spirit and did not let the Spirit guide them in their prayers. Those who build themselves up in faith do so not by mystic journeys to the heavens or by self-glorying speech but by spending time with the Holy Spirit.
Keeping oneself in God’s love does not suggest that our salvation depends on our own effort, but rather that we live in faith and obedience to God. Repeatedly in his Gospel and in his first epistle, John reminds us that if we love God, we keep his commandments (John 15:10; 1 John 3:24). So keeping ourselves in God’s love must include keeping God’s commandments from the heart (Rom. 6:17). Keeping those commandments finds its ultimate expression in love of the brothers (1 John 3:14; cf. 1 Thess. 4:10; 1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8).
To wait for the mercy of our Lord … to bring eternal life probably refers primarily to the hope of Christ’s return. Jesus might come at any moment. Titus 2:13 captures the idea: the “blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Waiting in hope infuses all of life with expectancy and the desire to do all that Jesus expects of us so we will have no shame when he returns. This expectant waiting is a fourth means of building ourselves up.
Even if Jesus doesn’t come in our lifetime, when we die and go into the presence of the Lord, we will receive his mercy and eternal life. That promise should be enough to motivate us to resist false teachers and to obey Christ by building ourselves up through prayer, love, and hope.
Abiding in His Love (21a)
21a. Believers were further admonished to keep themselves in the love of God. Believers do this by focusing on prayer that is energized by the Holy Spirit and by continually being built up in the faith (cf. 20). God’s love that first drew the believer (1) should be demonstrated to others (2). Jesus’ words from Jn 15:19 apply here: “I chose you out of the world.”
Looking for His Coming (21b)
21b. Furthermore believers must be looking for the coming of our Lord Jesus to eternal life. At Christ’s return the promised eternal state will be realized.
21 Keep yourselves in God’s love complements what was said of their position in v 1. Once people have realized that they are the unworthy objects of the love of God in Jesus Christ they are challenged to respond in love. That love must be shown in behaviour. Jn. 15:9–10 shows that such response is the way to remain in the consciousness of God’s love. Not to do this will deaden the heart to God’s love and will result finally in the loss of this consciousness. Wait for the mercy: error is best avoided by a keen sense of expectation of the Lord’s return, when his mercy, already experienced initially (1) and daily (2; cf. La. 3:22–23) will be finally realized as the work of salvation is completed. Tit. 2:11–14; 1 Pet. 4:7 and 2 Pet. 3:11–12 lay similar stress on the advent hope as a motive for godly living.
Nurturing themselves (vv. 20–21).
VV. 20–21. In addition to remembering what the apostles had said about the apostates, Jude’s readers were to give attention to themselves. Here is the heart of his message: build yourselves up in your most holy faith … pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, and wait for Christ’s return. (The niv seems to suggest three exhortations, but the Greek has four parallel participles: building, praying, keeping, expecting.) The evident contrast of these actions to the scoffers was introduced by the words But you. And for the third time Jude addressed his readers as dear friends (vv. 3, 17, 20).
Personal edification (“build yourselves up”) comes from progressing in the knowledge of “your most holy faith.” This “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v. 3) was the teaching of the apostles now recorded in the Scriptures, to be studied (Acts 20:32; 2 Tim. 2:15).
Praying in the Holy Spirit is not speaking in tongues, but is “praying out of hearts and souls that are indwelt, illuminated, and filled with the Holy Spirit” (George Lawrence Lawlor, Translation and Exposition of the Epistle of Jude, p. 127). It is praying in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 6:18).
Keeping oneself “in God’s love” (Jude 21) does not indicate that salvation depends on one’s own efforts, for that would contradict other Scripture passages (e.g., v. 24). Instead, a believer is nurtured as he is occupied with God’s love for him, and is in fellowship with Him (cf. John 15:9–10, “remain in My love”).
Waiting (prosdechomenoi, “looking expectantly”) for the blessed hope, the return of Christ for His church, is a fourth means of personal nurture. Waiting for that event is waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ in the sense that the Rapture will be the consummating evidence of His mercy. Jude added that it will bring you to eternal life, that is, to enjoying never-ending life in God’s own presence (cf. 1 Peter 1:5, 9, 13).
21 Then again believers are to keep themselves in the love of God. Here the love of God can be compared to the sunshine. The sun is always shining. But when something comes between us and the sun, we are no longer in the sunshine. That’s the way it is with the love of God. It is always beaming down upon us. But if sin comes between us and the Lord, then we are no longer enjoying His love in practice. We can keep ourselves in His love first of all by lives of holiness and godliness. And if sin should come between, then we should confess and forsake that sin immediately. The secret is to let nothing come between us and God.
Nothing between my soul and the Savior, Naught of this world’s delusive dream; Nothing preventing the least of His favor, Keep the way clear, let nothing between.
—Charles A. Tindley
Finally, we should be eagerly looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. The mercy of our Lord here refers to His imminent return to take His people home to heaven. In days of darkness and apostasy, we are to keep the light of the blessed hope burning in our hearts. It will prove a comforting and purifying hope (1 Thess. 4:18; 1 Jn. 3:3).
Keep in God’s Love (vv 20–21)
Vv 20–21. The primary instruction is to keep (tēreō, “to keep unharmed or undisturbed”) yourselves in the love of God; that is, to keep from being harmed by the false teachers’ sinful conduct and false teachings. The best place to avoid such harm is in the love of God. To accomplish this Jude reveals three simple disciplines his readers should practice.
First, believers should be building up their most holy faith. Instead of ridiculing doctrines as the false teachers do (v 18), believers should continuously build on their foundation (Christ), the object of their belief. The term faith refers to the body of Christian teachings or doctrine. Again Jude emphasizes the need for Christians to learn, know, believe, and obey God’s Word.
Second, Jude wants believers to be praying in the Holy Spirit, in contrast to the false teachers who do not have the Spirit (v 19). This means that their prayers should be guided by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, oriented to God’s desires.
Third, believers should be looking for (prosdechomai, “anticipating, expecting, or welcoming”) the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. Mercy (eleos) is kindness or concern expressed for someone in need, and contrasts with wrath or judgment (cf. vv 5–7, 15). Thus believers who grow in the Lord can expect to receive His mercy and kindness instead of judgment. Jude’s reference to eternal life does not mean that it is received only when believers keep themselves in God’s love. Instead the preposition unto (eis) indicates that believers who keep themselves in God’s love will receive His mercy and kindness temporally until they reach eternity.
20, 21 Jude tells us how to keep ourselves in the love of God. It is clear that Jude is encouraging us in this verse to cultivate our love for Christ, for we cannot be separated from His love for us (Rom. 8:35–39).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2005). 2 Peter and Jude (pp. 200–201). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 Hillyer, N. (2011). 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (p. 264). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Lucas, R. C., & Green, C. (1995). The message of 2 Peter & Jude: the promise of His coming (pp. 223–224). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, p. 406). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, pp. 266–267). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Barbieri, L. A. (2014). Jude. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1998). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Wheaton, D. H. (1994). Jude. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1419). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Pentecost, E. C. (1985). Jude. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 923). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2345). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Doskocil, B. (2010). The Epistle of Jude. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (pp. 1245–1246). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1729). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.