Several years ago my family went on a short vacation to visit some of the scenic sites of the Southwestern U.S. One of the places we visited was Carlsbad Caverns, a beautiful cave system in New Mexico. We probably spent a couple of hours in the cave looking at all the formations. There was one called the lion’s tail, another one called the temple of the sun, and one room they called the chandelier ballroom. It was very interesting, and we enjoyed the tour, but the cave was dark, damp, and cold, and we were happy there was an elevator at the end of the trail to take us right up to the surface. And when we walked out from the chilly cave, right into the warm New Mexico sun, it felt amazing. We just stood there and soaked up the sun and enjoyed the warmth.
That warm New Mexico sunshine is a good illustration of God’s love for you and me. God’s love for us is unchanging, but sometimes we drift away from that love into the dank, dark caves of sin, and we begin to wonder, “Does God still love me?” So what do you do when you are so far from God that you can’t seem to feel His love anymore? How can we keep ourselves connected to His love?
The book of Jude gives us three clear, practical answers to these questions in verses 20 and 21:
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.
Building Your Faith
Throughout the New Testament the analogy of building and construction is often used to describe Christian growth. In I Cor. 3:10-11 Paul says, “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Obviously, the foundation upon which we build is Christ, specifically that foundation of faith in Christ that was laid when we believed. Cross reference 2 Peter 1:5 where Peter says “Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance and so on. Peter again is describing the process of building on the foundation of faith with the stone of knowledge, and the stone of temperance, and so on. But the point is, we must start with the right foundation.
We must use the right tools as well. If you have ever done any building, you realize that you can waste a lot of time and effort if you don’t have the tools for the job. So it is in the Christian life. We cannot build our faith by just trying harder. Instead, we must allow God’s Word to change us through His Spirit. It seems likely that the phrase “your most holy faith,” is referring to the apostolic doctrine, “the faith” rather than our personal faith in Christ. Personally I think it’s more likely that the Word of God would be pronounced as “most holy,” rather than my personal faith. According to Richard Lenski, this could be translated, “building up yourselves by means of your most holy faith.”1 So this phrase is really getting at the heart of how to build up ourselves. We build by using the tool of the Word of God, the faith, the body of doctrine given to us by God.
There is no substitute for faithful study of the Word of God. Reading mushy Christian novels just won’t do — not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with Christian fiction, but it really should not be what we turn to for Christian growth. Even those little daily devotional booklets should not be our primary source for spiritual growth. They may contain a little scripture and some nice-sounding thoughts, but if that’s all you get, you are living on a starvation diet. And remember that you are personally responsible to build up yourself. It’s not your pastor’s job, or your small group leader’s job. They can make it easier for you to build, and help you learn to build well, but it is your job to build. Don’t let yourself slack off—you are commanded to build yourself in your most holy faith. And as you read God’s Word and build up yourself you will find that one of its major themes is God’s love for us. And so through God’s Word, you can bask in the sunshine of God’s love. God’s Word will keep you in His love.
Praying in the Holy Spirit
One of the most important aspects of prayer is the worship and adoration of God. There is no more effective way to keep in God’s love than heartfelt worship of Him. Petition, another aspect of prayer, allows you to take the spiritual struggles you are experiencing that threaten to pull you from God’s love to Him and find deliverance. When you do fall into sin — when your fellowship with God is broken, and you are no longer keeping in God’s love — you can confess your sin to God and your relationship of love will be restored. And then as a group of believers, we should intercede for each other that God will strengthen to keep in His love. So all these four aspects of prayer: adoration, petition, confession, and intercession, help to keep us in God’s love.
The Holy Spirit is our helper in prayer. Romans 8:26 teaches, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” When we pray in the Spirit, He joins with us and empowers our prayer, so that we can communicate effectively with God.
No relationship can continue without communication, and we cannot keep in the love of God if we never communicate with Him. Prayer is probably one of the weakest elements in Christianity today. Either we pray little, if at all, or our prayer is just a wish list we hand to God – it’s not fellowshipping with Him. When was the last time you spent some time just worshipping God in prayer? 1 Thessalonians 5:17, exhorts “pray without ceasing.” It is possible to live every aspect of your life in the presence of God, fellowshipping with Him throughout the day. But because we so often divide our lives into “God’s stuff” and “my stuff” we end up losing our connection with the love of God during day to day life. And then we wonder why we feel so dry spiritually. By keeping in a continual spirit of prayer, you will also keep yourself in the love of God.
Looking Forward to Eternity
In the old days of sailing ships, sea captains used to build raised observation platforms on the tops of their roofs called widow’s walks. When the captain would go away on a voyage, his wife would go up and watch his ship until it was out of sight. When his expected return time drew near, she would go up to the walk every day and scan the horizon watching expectantly until she saw his ship come in. Of course, the captain would write her while he was away, but she looked forward expectantly and longed for the day when their personal relationship would be restored.
That’s the mindset that Jude calls us to in verse 21. Many commentators take the phrase “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” as a reference to the rapture of the church, but it is not necessarily limited to that. It simply means that we should be looking forward expectantly to the day when we will enter our eternal home, whether that comes through Christ’s return for his church or not. Only because of His mercy will we be allowed to partake of the glories of heaven.
We experience just a “foretaste of glory divine” in our relationship with the Lord while here on earth, and it should whet our appetite for eternity. We should be longing for the day when we will have one-on-one fellowship with the God we love. And if we are looking forward to worshipping God in heaven, we will be keeping in God’s love here on earth. Someone once said “This life is just the dressing room for heaven,” and that’s true. Our lives on earth should reflect our anticipation of our eternal life in heaven where we will continue in God’s perfect love forever.
Unfortunately so many professed Christians today miss out on the joys of a constant connection to God’s love because they just don’t think about it. If these thoughts have helped you, you may want to look at the rest of the intentional spiritual growth series for help to convert these reflections into action. It isn’t hard, but we must choose to intentionally keep ourselves in God’s love by building up ourselves in the faith, by praying in the Spirit, and by waiting expectantly for our eternal future.