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. (Jude 20–21)
How remarkable that we are charged to keep ourselves in the love of God.
Of all God’s perfections, why highlight his love? When encouraging fellow Christians to persevere in the faith, why not pinpoint his justice or his patience, or even his mercy?
We dare not ignore Jude’s charge or minimize the Father’s love. As Charles Spurgeon put it, “When the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the idols will soon depart and the love of sin will take its flight.” Holiness is about new affection, not mere avoidance. We are to keep ourselves in God’s love in order that we might expel the idols of our hearts with the light of his affection.
But what exactly do we mean when we say “the love of God”?
The Beam of God’s Love
We learn from 1 John that if we do not love, we do not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8), and the full revelation of his love has come in Jesus Christ. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
Jesus Christ, and all that he accomplished, is the climactic expression of God’s love. And what exactly has Jesus accomplished? Reconciliation: the restoration of relationship. God has overcome the disunion in which we once lived — by reconciling us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. Jesus leads us to the very fountain of eternal love. John Owen beautifully paints the picture:
Though there be no light for us but in the beams, yet we may by beams see the sun, which is the fountain of it. Though all refreshment actually lie in the streams, yet by them we are led up to the fountain. Jesus, in respect to the love of the Father, is the beam, the stream; wherein though actually all our light and refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself. (Communion with the Triune God, 112)
Those of us whose lips are parched from sucking on the sands of idolatry, whose souls are shriveled from being hidden under the shadows of lesser loves, whose hearts long to drink full from his cup and be flooded with an inextinguishable light, we need only turn to Jesus.
In Jesus, we experience the love that the Father has for us.
See and Receive God’s Love
Keeping ourselves in God’s love begins with vision. It begins by asking the Spirit to help us see the Father rightly. And not only see, but also then believe that the Father’s heart toward us — no matter our circumstances — is for our ultimate good.
In order to kill the idols in our hearts and keep ourselves in God’s love, we need to recognize his heart toward us is one of love, not criticism. It begins here — seeing the Father’s heart as kind, tender, loving, and pleased with us in Jesus Christ. We plead with the Spirit, who pours the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5), to help us see and believe the Father’s love, rather than our own natural notions of what God must be like toward a sinner like me.
Many of us are weary in our communion with God because we’ve passed over this step — we haven’t received his love — and as a result, our hearts are restless. Our souls are on a 24/7 mission to find their rest. We are restless because we struggle to simply see him as loving.
Again, Owen helpfully notes that “every discovery of God without [seeing him as loving] will but make the soul fly from him.” Why will every other discovery of God result in our flying from him if we don’t see and believe his love for us? Because if God’s sovereignty and authority were at work against us, rather than for us, we would all rush to hide from him. We would buckle under the weight of living to gain his approval versus living as approved sons and daughters.
So we begin our communion with God resting in the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ and our adoption into the Father’s family by seeing and believing the Father’s unchanging love. And we don’t just begin here. We continue.
We expend effort to keep ourselves in his love.
Feed the Flame of Godly Affection
Very practically, our communion with God should incorporate asking the Spirit to help us see and believe who the Father is toward us in Jesus. We linger over his promises in Scripture and ponder our debts to God that are absolutely overwhelming, and in so doing we let our affections rise with the Father’s love and see our hearts enflamed to delight in him because he first loved us. As C.S. Lewis observed in his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory,”
To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son — it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
Seeing the Father’s heart towards us as loving will feed the flame of our godly affection. And as we see and believe the love of God, we will delight in God and learn what it is to walk in joy, by faith, even when our circumstances in this life seem anything but joyful.