Who Does the Keeping?
In the book of Jude we find another striking example of how divine sovereignty and human responsibility operate together. Finding divine sovereignty and human responsibility brought together closely, even in single verses, is not uncommon in the Scripture. But in Jude, these concepts stand out all the more starkly because this letter is so short. Jude didn’t have a lot to say, but what he did say was begun and ended with these concepts, and was shaped through the middle by them. In this letter, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are developed around the word “keep.” This is important for this Scriptural book because Jude’s subject is the threat of false teachers who seek to draw people way from the truth, leading them onto the broad road leading to destruction.
Jude begins and ends his letter with the divine sovereignty. God is the one who keeps the Christian in Christ and in the truth all the way to the end.
1 Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:
24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy,
God is the one who is the ultimate keeper. Our hope, our assurance, our confidence rests in the truth that God does this work in us. We are not the decisive agent. Without this being taught to us here in Jude and in other scriptures, we could never have true assurance. True assurance rests in omnipotent power directed by covenantal faithfulness. He has promised to do this, and he has the power to accomplish it.
But there are others involved in the “keeping” work. There are two other categories of persons that Jude speaks about. The first category is fallen angels.
6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,
Notice that these fallen angels did something in regard to “keeping.” They did not keep their own domain. They wanted something different than what God assigned them and so they took it for themselves. That is real, volitional action on display in these angels. And so it says that God is keeping them in eternal bonds. God is keeping them, but he is keeping them in judgement. We learn in 1 Timothy 5:21 that angels, in addition to humans, are either elect or non-elect. This verse in Jude shows us the fearful reality of what happens in the lives of the non-elect. Those who are non-elect, both humans and angels, will always willfully, volitionally choose their own sinful way, and after doing so will eventually find themselves under the justice of God’s holy wrath, being kept in judgment forever.
The other category of persons that Jude speaks of having a role in the “keeping” work is Christians. Look at this command that Jude issues:
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.
Jude commands them to “keep yourselves in the love of God.” The two ways they go about that are by building themselves up in the faith (Bible intake) and praying in the Spirit (prayer life).
Isn’t this interesting? We have already seen in the opening and closing of this book that God is the one who keeps the Christian in Christ all the way to the end. So what is this command to keep ourselves? This command is the human responsibility that is always present and working inside the sovereign work of God. Is our self-keeping decisive in keeping us in Christ to the end? No. God’s work is the foundational bedrock upon which all other work happens. But all that other work really does happen. It must happen.
Think about James and his address about faith and works in James chapter 2. James is clear that there are two kinds of faith. One faith has no works and it is “useless” and “dead.” But true faith will always be accompanied by works. Why? It is not because works are accomplishing salvation. It is the opposite. Salvation always produces works. True saving faith is seen to be true by the works that flow from it.
In the same way, God’s sovereign keeping of us will always be accompanied by our self-keeping. We can know he is keeping us by sovereign grace when we constantly keep ourselves seated at the table of God’s word and prayer in order to satisfying our hunger and thirst for righteousness. Therefore, Jude is not inconsistent to assert the reality of sovereign keeping and to still command the responsibly of our self-keeping.