Big Idea: In Jesus, we are called, loved, and guarded.
Purpose: To understand, in tough times, that our identity is in Jesus rather than in anything else.
If someone asked you, “Who are you?” how would you respond? I suppose the answer would really depend on the context.
In a job interview, you may respond with a list of your business accomplishments, your skills, and your education. This week I attended a meeting in which someone stood up and gave a verbal curriculum vitae. It sounded a little bit like the alphabet — CA, CPA, CFA, CPA (Delaware), CGMA. He is CFO of an equity firm that manages $3 billion in investments. He sits on many corporate boards as well. It worked, too. When this man spoke, he had credibility because of his accomplishments. Who are you? You could answer with your professional experience. Many people do.
Who are you? You would answer that question differently on a dating site. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cornell University found that 80% of online daters lie about their height, weight or age. People lie about all kinds of things: their income, hobbies, lifestyle, and even their pictures. Some respondents said that photographs were the single most deceptive element of the person’s profile — some unintentionally misleading, thanks to poor camera quality and lighting, but others purposefully altered through digital editing. Who are you? On a dating website, or even on social media, that answer may be different.
But let’s go a bit deeper. What if I asked you to consider who you are at your core. How would you answer? Would you answer in terms of your career, your relationships, your personality, your lifestyle? It’s an important question to answer, because whatever we base our identity on will become really, really important to us.
- If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous , and controlling. The other person’s problems will be overwhelming to you.
- If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own.
- If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression
- If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.
- If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the “escape strategies” by which you avoid the hardness of life.
- If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
- If you center your life and identity on a “noble cause,” you will divide the world into “good” and “bad” and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
- If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self -righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating. (Tim Keller, The Reason for God)
Who are you? Your answer has consequences. It’s important that we be able to answer this question well — really well — if we are to really live.
And so, this morning, I want to look at one of the smallest books of the Bible, at one of the most overlooked parts of this small letter. I want to look at the salutation or greeting of the letter, the “Dear so-and-so” section. That doesn’t sound so promising, but I guarantee you: if you get what’s written in this passage, it will change your life. It will give you an identity that is so secure that you’ll know who you are for sure. It will be more important to you than all your accomplishments, your status, or anything else.
So first, let me tell you about Jude. It’s one of the shortest books in the Bible. It’s tucked away right between the epistles of John and the book of Revelation. Somebody’s said that it’s a book that’s been treated with “benign neglect.” “Rarely the text for a sermon, even in the university or seminary classroom it is often given only brief treatment at the end of a course on the General Epistles, perhaps as part of the last lecture on the final day of the course” (P.H. Davids). But it’s an important book, in part because of the author. The author is Jude, a servant of Christ and the brother of James. He identifies himself with someone who must have been well known to the recipients of this letter, probably James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. James was not only a leader in the church, but the apostle Paul refers to him as “James the Lord's brother” (Galatians 1:19). We read in Mark 6:3 that Jesus had brothers named James and Jude. So it’s possible — some would say probable — that this book was written by Jude, the younger brother of Jesus Christ.
What’s interesting is that as Jude begins this letter, he majors on identity. Look at what he writes:
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. (Jude 1:1-2 ESV)
If somebody asked Jude, “Who are you?” his answer wouldn’t be, “Half-brother of Jesus.” His answer would be, “Servant of Jesus Christ.” Being a half-brother to Jesus would be a pretty cool identity, don’t you agree? You’d have some stories to tell. But there’s something even better than being half-brother to Jesus: being a servant of Jesus. Now that is what you call an identity! So Jude begins with a clear sense of who he is, but then he says something about our identity as well.
Usually when you begin a letter, you identify the recipients by name or location, like “To the church of God that is in Corinth.” But that’s not what Jude does here. He writes, “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” Who are you? If you are in Jesus Christ, Jude says that you are three things: called, beloved, and kept. If you get these, it will change your life. Let’s look at each of them.
First, in Jesus we are called.
That’s our first identity. If you are in Jesus Christ, you are called. It’s important to see that this is the main heading, the umbrella term to describe who we are in Jesus Christ. The other two phrases — loved and guarded — flow out of this one. Whoever you are, it starts with this: you have been called. That’s why it’s important to understand what Jude means by this term.
What does it mean to be called? The word means just what you’d think it does, except maybe a bit stronger. It appears ten times in the New Testament. It means that you’ve not just been called, but summoned.
Just steps away from where we’re meeting tonight is the Ricoh Coliseum, home to the Toronto Marlies, top affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs. On the roster of that team are 27 players, 24 of whom are under contract to the Leafs. At any moment, any of those players can be summoned by the Leafs. In fact, the Leafs are doing so badly that at any moment, you may be summoned to play for the Leafs! The point is: young athletes spend their whole lives dreaming of being called to play at the pro level. When that call comes, you don’t hesitate. You go. You have been summoned for the opportunity of your life.
So what does Jude mean when he says that we’ve been called? Called by whom and to what? What it means, at its simplest level, is that if you are in Jesus, it’s because the God of the universe has chosen you. The Bible teaches that we have been chosen and called by God. The Lord of the universe, decided, even delighted, to be in relationship with you. You’ve been chosen for a special relationship with him.
Even more than that, it’s a summons. It’s not an optional call. Years ago I mustered the courage to call Charlene and ask her out on a first date. The thing is, she could have said no. It was completely up to her how she responded. I’m glad she said yes, but it was her choice. It’s not that way with God. When God calls, God is very persuasive. God works in such a way that, without violating human will, his call reaches its target and accomplishes its purpose.
In his love for us God acts like a hound-dog, intense and focused as he pursues the hunt. That image comes from Francis Thompson, a 19th century British poet who wrote "The Hound of Heaven." Although Thompson was a follower of Christ, he struggled with poverty, poor health, and an addiction to opium (which in those days was sold as an "over-the-counter" medication). In the depths of his despair, Thompson described his flight from God: "I fled him, down the nights and down the days. I hid from him, and under running laughter. I sped … from those strong feet that followed, followed after [me]." But Thompson also knew the unrelenting love of Jesus, the hound of heaven. In the poem Jesus pursues Thompson with "unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, and majestic instancy [or urgency]." He hears the feet of Jesus beating after him as Jesus calls, "All things betray those who betray me."
In a recent biography of John Stott, the late British preacher, Stott refers to Thompson's poem. According to Stott, he owes his faith in Christ not to his parents or teachers or even his own decision, but to Jesus, "the hound of heaven." Stott writes:
[My faith is] due to Jesus Christ himself, who pursued me relentlessly even when I was running away from him in order to go my own way. And if it were not for the gracious pursuit of the hound of heaven I would today be on the scrap-heap of wasted and discarded lives.
That is the teaching of the Bible. Over and over again it says that if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, it’s because God has chosen you. 2 Timothy 1:9 says that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). You are part of God’s plan. He chose you before you were even born. You were the object of his affection before anybody even knew you would exist. God’s people are so because of God’s choice. God is the initiator, the first pursuer, the lover. Not only that, but God didn’t choose you because you deserved it. He chose you just because. It’s not based on your behavior or your performance; it’s based on his choice.
This is meant to comfort us. Then, as now, a lot of things were going really wrong. It was easy to look at circumstances and wonder if things were really okay or not. The church was small. There was all kinds of false teaching around. There were the normal pressures of everyday life. In the middle of this, Jude could say: you are the chosen ones.
This should also encourage you if you are here tonight wondering if you could be one of those who are chosen. If you are feeling drawn to God in any way, it is evidence that God is at work in your life. He is pursuing you. I love the story that Tim Keller tells at the end of his book The Reason for God:
During a dark time in her life, a woman in my congregation complained that she had prayed over and over, “God, help me find you,” but had gotten nowhere. A Christian friend suggested to her that she might change her prayer to, “God, come and find me. After all, you are the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep.” She concluded when she was recounting this to me, “The only reason I can tell you this story is— he did.”
So that’s the first part of our identity. We are called. This is the foundation for the next two descriptions that Jude is going to give us. It begins with this: that the God of this universe has summoned you to be his own. But that’s not all.
Second, in Jesus, we are loved.
If you’re in Christ, it’s because God chose you before you even deserved it. But that’s not all. Jude calls them “beloved in God the Father.” It’s a simple phrase, but there’s lots to unpack there. What does it mean to be beloved in God the Father? Not loved by, but loved in. It means that God loves us as we are in him. Somebody’s compared it to a child picked up into a father’s arms and experiencing the father’s love while he or she remains there. It means that are position is in God, and that we are perfectly loved when we are there.
There’s something else to notice that you can’t see in the English. It’s the tense of the participle beloved: it’s in the present tense. In other words, it’s about the present experience of this love. There’s a big difference between having been loved (past tense) and being loved (present tense). Jude says that right now, right here, you are loved by God. Every Christian can say, present tense, “I am loved by my Father.” You are the object of his permanent and unchanging love. God’s love is unlike human love. It is, as John Piper says, the only love in which the honeymoon never ends.
God says his joy over his people is like a bridegroom over a bride. He is talking about honeymoon intensity and honeymoon pleasures and honeymoon energy and excitement and enthusiasm and enjoyment. He is trying to get into our hearts what he means when he says he rejoices over us with all his heart.
And add to this, that with God the honeymoon never ends. He is infinite in power and wisdom and creativity and love. And so he has no trouble sustaining a honeymoon level of intensity; he can foresee all the future quirks of our personality and has decided he will keep what's good for us and change what isn't; he will always be as handsome as he ever was, and will see to it that we get more and more beautiful forever; and he infinitely creative to think of new things to do together so that there will be no boredom for the next trillion ages of millenniums. (The Pleasures of God)
There’s something to add to this. Why does God love us? Simply because he chooses to. It’s not because we’re worthy; it’s because of his sovereign choice to do so. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 puts it this way:
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
This takes the pressure off. I used to ask Charlene, “Why do you love me?” and she would reply, “Just because.” I used to be disappointed with that answer. I wanted her to tell me she loved me for my sense of humor or my personality or something like that. One day she explained that loving me just because is far better, because it’s far less conditional. That’s like God’s love. He doesn’t love you because you’re worthy; he loved you even when you were unworthy and unloveable. He loves you simply because he has chosen to, and his love for you is permanent and in the present tense.
God will do anything within his good will for his people. He is favorably disposed towards you. Jesus went all the way to the cross for you when you were unloveable; how much more will he do for you now that you are in Christ. God looks upon you — right now —with all the love that he has for his own Son Jesus Christ. You are loved.
Karl Barth was regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. Someone once asked him, “Professor Barth, you have written dozens of great books, and many of us think you are the greatest theologian in the world. Of all your many ideas, what is the most profound thought you have ever had?” Without a second's hesitation, the great theologian replied, “Jesus loves me.”
This is one of the most profound truths that we could ever grasp. What does it mean? It means that even when things go wrong around us, and they will, it is never because God has stopped loving us. “God is love to us—holy, omnipotent love—at every moment and in every event of every day’s life” (J.I. Packer).
Who are you? You are called, which means you’re loved. There’s one more description:
Third, you are guarded.
“To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” What does it meant to be kept? We live in a hostile age. There are all kinds of obstacles and enemies to our faith. In fact, Jude writes in this letter to address some dangers to which some in the church had succumbed. How can we make it through? Is our confidence in our ability to white-knuckle it to the end? No. Jude says that we are guarded. God not only began my Christian life, but he is also protecting me. He himself guards us and keep us safe in a hostile age. Again, Jude uses the present tense. We are currently being guarded. We are being held firmly, watched, and kept. We are objects of his permanent, watchful care.
This is good news for those of us who know that if it’s up to us, we’ll blow it. Jesus said in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” A literal translation of that verse would be something like, “They shall not, repeat, shall not ever perish in the slightest.” Jesus is emphatic that we are protected and guarded.
John Bunyan lived in the 17th century in England and wrote a classic allegory on the Christian life. He imagined this dialogue between a Christian and Christ:
“But I am a great sinner, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I am an old sinner, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I am a hard-hearted sinner, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I am a backsliding sinner, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I have served Satan all my days, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I have sinned against light, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I have sinned against mercy, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ. But I have nothing good to bring with me, you say. ‘But I will never cast you out,’ says Christ.” (John Bunyan, Works. Style updated)
We are safe. We are protected. We have nothing to fear if we are in Jesus Christ.
All of these truths are ours. They are for anyone who understands that “God, through the perfect life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, rescues all his people from the wrath of God into peace with God” (Ray Ortlund). It’s for all of us who receive the truth that the gospel is good news for bad people, that Jesus has done everything necessary for us to be made right with God. There’s nothing left to be done. Jesus has done it all.
All of these three things are meant to be taken together. It’s not like a bullet list; it’s like a single, multifaceted identity. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ, this is who you are today: you are chosen and called by God, loved (present-tense) by him; and you are guarded. You will see that there’s even a past-present-future dimension to this: in the past, he chose you; in the present he loves and guards you; in the future you will be kept and presented safe before him.
What’s the take-away from this morning? Ray Ortlund says:
This is what we need: to know that we’re called, loved, and guarded. It’s what Liberty Village needs as well: to know that they can be swept up into the love and protection of God.
Earlier this year I told you we’re going to spend the year on two things:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:1-2)
This is the first part, the identity part: being strengthened by the grace that’s in Christ Jesus. It’s only when we get our identity right that we’ll be able to go to the next part, which is being used by God to entrust the gospel to others.
Today, receive what God says is true of you. Bask in it. If you haven’t yet come to Jesus, do so today. Who are you? In Christ, you are called; you are loved; you are guarded. That’s who you are. There’s no better identity in the world.
Father, thank you. Thank you so much. We can’t begin to express the gratitude that is in our hearts as we recognize who we are in Christ. I pray that you would take these objective truths and make them experientially real for us today. Flood our hearts with gratitude that we were chosen by you before anyone even knew us. May we know, right now, that we are loved with an intensity that has not and will not diminish, and that is based on your unchanging character. Thank you that we are guarded and protected, that right now you are watching over us. All of these things and more are true because of Jesus. May this be our identity, for our joy and for your glory. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.