What is a Christian?
Text: Jude 1b-2
"To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you."
We began to look at this short letter a couple of weeks ago and we identified the author as being the younger half brother of our Lord Jesus. Jude did believe that that relationship made him more important than other Christians and he was quite content to describe himself as a servant of the Lord Jesus in exactly the same way that any other Christian can. After all a Christian, any and every Christian, is a highly privileged person indeed. And this is a fact that Jude brings out very clearly as he writes the opening lines of his letter, the ones that we are going to think about this evening.
The Recipients of the Letter
While we don’t exactly know just who the first readers of Jude’s letter were, nor specifically where they lived, we do know some very important details that fundamentally characterised them: they had a genuine experience of God.
Here we should pause and take note: the most important thing for Jude as he writes his letter is the spiritual condition of his readers. We need to hear this reminder often because the world is always telling us something else and we can be affected by that simply because we hear so often what the world has to say.
The world will tell us, for example, that what matters most is economics or education or having a good state of health be that mental or physical. In fact the world will suggest many different things to us as being urgent for us to consider – just this week, for example, we’ve been told of new plans the government has for reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Now I don’t mean to suggest that these matters are insignificant for they can and do exercise a strong influence the way in which we all live but they are not the most important and the one thing the world will never encourage us to think about as a matter of first importance is the well-being of our never dying souls. The world simply isn’t interested in us finding serious answers to spiritual questions, questions such as:
"How can a man be righteous before God?" Job 9:2
"What must I do to be saved?" Acts 16:30
Yet these are the things that do really matter for as Jesus himself said:
"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?" Mt 16:26
Well what is it about these Christians that Jude considers to be so important? We need to know because the description he applies to them is one that applies to all true Christians and so, if you are a genuine disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, what Jude says of his readers is true of you too!
What does he say then?
In the very first verse he highlights three great truths:
They are called/have been called
They are beloved in the Father
They are kept for/by Jesus Christ
Let us take a moment to think about each truth in turn.
There are two ways in which calling is referred to in the NT.
Firstly, there is the general call of the Word that invites all to repent and to believe the gospel. This call is issued when a preacher proclaims the truth and call for a response; you issue this call when you share the good news with someone and similarly invite them to embrace the truth for themselves.
Secondly, there is what is referred to as the effective call which God alone can issue. This is the act that doesn’t simply but call for a response but which causes it happen. When a person hears the invitation and suddenly realises that the message is true, that it addresses his need and responds to it as being the most relevant thing in the world then he/she has heard this effective call of God. It is this type of call that Jude has in mind as he writes his letter and this divine effective call is irreversible.
Jude’s readers knew that the gospel message they had heard was true, it had spoken to them in a personal manner and they had embraced the truth responding wholeheartedly to it by accepting its analysis of their failure as sinners, recognising that this failure was culpable and required God’s judgment, believing that Jesus was the one and only Saviour who could do them good because he had died for them on Calvary’s cross.
This type of "call" coming as it does from God himself always interrupts our usual routine. The person who receives this call simply cannot go on as before as though nothing of any real importance has happened. Just think for a moment about a few of the people who were called in the Bible:
The call of Abram is recorded in Gen.12. The LORD told him he had to leave his country and his father’s family and go where the LORD told him to go. It was the beginning of a whole new way of life for Abram and it marked the beginning of the people of God. Abram’s life would never be quite the same ever again and he would know and enjoy God’s presence and provision for him.
In the NT Jesus, walking along the beach one day, called two sets of brothers to become his followers. His call involved them in an immediate change of life – they left their nets, their boats and their family loyalties to follow him. Their lives would never be the same again.
On another occasion Jesus passed by a tax collector sitting at his booth working and called him to become a follower. Matthew, like the fishermen brothers, at once left everything and followed Jesus.
Do you know anything of such a call in your own life, a call to follow Jesus Christ? It won’t necessarily mean turning your back on family and loved ones but it will involve the radical change of putting Jesus first in your life and being ready to do so when everyone else in your entourage urges you not to be so fanatical.
The call, coming as it does from God himself, is a rich blessing. If we look at what this call is associated with in other parts of the NT we will catch a glimpse of just how rich it really is:
Rom.8:28 "called according to (God’s) purpose."
Gal.1:6, 15 "called ...by his grace"
1Pet.2:9 "called out of darkness into his marvellous light."
Rom.1:6-7 "you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ... called to be saints"
Rom.9:26 "they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’"
1Jn.3:1 "called to be children of God"
1Cor.1:9 "called into the fellowship of (God’s) Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
1Cor.7:15 "God has called you to peace."
Gal.5:13 "called to freedom"
Eph.1:18 "called to hope"
1Thess.4:7, 2Tim.1:9 "called not for impurity, but for holiness."
2Thess.2:13-14 "called to be saved and to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
1Tim. 6:12 "called to eternal life"
Heb 9:15 "called to receive a promised eternal inheritance"
1Pet.5:10 "called to his eternal glory in Christ"
1Pet.2:21 "called to suffer in the example of Christ"
1Pet.3:9 "called to bless and to be a blessing."
So we can see how important this aspect of calling is in the NT as it pertains to the purposes of God for the Christian man or woman. In his famous chain of salvation passage in his letter to the Romans Paul included calling as a vital and necessary link in that golden chain:
Rom.8:30 "And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."
Beloved in God the Father
The second characteristic that Jude mentions is that the people to whom he is writing occupy a special place in the affections of God the Father.
These people are loved by God the Father but the actual words used to describe this say something just a little bit more than that. Not only are they loved by God they now live their entire lives within the sphere of his love – God the Father has them in his heart!
Just think of it for a moment – if you are a Christian then God loves you and carries you continually in his heart. It is not that sometimes he acts towards you in love but that the whole relationship he has called you into is now worked out in the domain of his love.
Now someone might perhaps think that this is not all that special because surely God loves everybody after all doesn’t the Bible tell us that God loved so the world that he gave his one and only Son?
And of course it is true that God does loves all that he has made and that includes all humans. And yet, he has a special love which he pours out upon his own for having been called into a faith-relationship with him through Jesus Christ there is no longer any obstacle preventing him from lavishing his love upon us. Believing in Christ we have been brought into the very domain of his love – those who refuse to hear and heed the call of God place themselves outside the domain of his love and cannot receive the blessings that he is willing and desirous of pouring out. In and through Christ we are brought into that sphere where God’s love is unhindered and unrestricted. Later in his letter Jude will urge his readers to do what is necessary to keep themselves in this love of God (v.21). This of course is an echo of what Jesus taught his disciples about abiding:
Jn.15:9-10 "As the Father has loved me, so have I 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."
It was God’s love that sent his Son into the world to save sinners and he died in order to free us from sin and to transfer us out of that domain of darkness in which we all formerly lived. The Christian now lives in new territory and must take care not move out of it.
Kept for/by Jesus Christ
The third and final blessing for us to consider this evening is that of the Christian’s security and it is a security that is guaranteed by another on his behalf. The Christian having been loved and called is now kept, that is he is preserved from evil and guarded as a precious entity. The true Christian will persevere because a divine power is at work in him to ensure that he will not fail nor fall out of faith.
If you compare translations of this verse you’ll find a variety of offerings and with this phrase the same is true. The thing that is clear is that of the Christian’s complete security but the details are just a little more difficult to ascertain. Are we kept by Christ or for Christ and if it is the latter who is the one who keeps us for Christ?
Part of the answer may well be found in the fact that the early Christians did not bother very much to distinguish between the different persons of the Holy Trinity. In other words what Jesus does is what God does and what God does Jesus does. And indeed elsewhere we find Jesus speaking of what he does as keeping his followers:
Jn.16:1 "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away."
Yet we also find him praying to the Father that the Father might keep these same disciples:
Jn.17:11, 15 "And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one... I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one."
Jesus is a Great High Priest who, having a human nature, knows exactly what life is like for us and sympathetically prays that the Father might give us what we need in each and every circumstance. At the same time he has promised never to abandon us or leave us on our own. What wonderful security the Christian enjoys!
Do you want to see this keeping care worked out then there are plenty of examples in scripture to help us.
Think about Abraham who long after he responded to God’s call still acted foolishly and got himself into various scrapes and tight situations – yet he was kept safe.
Or think about Peter and the other disciples whom Satan wanted to sift with a view to destroying them but Jesus prayed and they were kept safe.
Or think about the apostle Paul whose life experiences included multiple difficulties, trials, imprisonments, shipwrecks etc. But he remained immortal until his work was done – he and many others too were wonderfully kept.
And you will be too! Maybe not always not to enjoy the trouble-free existence you might prefer to choose for yourself but kept that your never-dying soul will never be lost.
Finally, if we are kept by Jesus we may well understand that to mean that in all circumstances of life he can be trusted to look after and protect us from any danger that might come our way. But if the emphasis is rather upon being kept for Christ then we are encouraged perhaps to look further ahead to the sure return of our Saviour. When our Saviour returns he will indeed have a people who have been kept and kept just for him.
What a privileged and blessed person a Christian is! And it is all down to God’s grace and loving kindness. Praise his wonderful name!