“…the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ…” – Jude 1:1
While studying through the letter from Jude I came across an interesting thought, and one that hadn’t quite grown enough to articulate until now. While the introduction to an epistle doesn’t normally seem like the most exciting or quotable portion it is often overlooked because of this, and I have found that it often carries in it part of the main point behind the letter, and often ties in with each subject throughout the letter to some extent or another. This is because the author is not only introducing themselves and those who are with them, but they also lay the groundwork for the authority and context in which they write. In this letter, he does not introduce himself as “Jude, brother of our Lord…” which has led to no small debate in whether or not he was even the brother. But he does make this connection through the statement “brother of James,” who was well-known as being both the brother of Jesus and the “bishop of Jerusalem.” So why indirectly make the connection? Why not use it as a means to assert his authority over them? After all, the nature of this letter is nothing short of urgent, especially being within the context of fighting off false teachers within the church. Why not use his position to invalidate those who lead the church astray? The more I thought about the whole context of Jude’s life, the more I began to see something I hadn’t noticed before.
Imagine this for a moment: your oldest brother is the Messiah. Seems a bit extreme, but bear with me. Imagine that the brother you had grown up with all your life turns out to be the Messiah who was prophesied long ago and is also the Creator of the universe. If he told you that, you probably wouldn’t believe him. And for every other person that has ever lived, that disbelief would be justified, as your brother is not the Messiah nor the Creator. But what if you were Jude? He had multiple brothers, James included, who all grew up sons of a carpenter in a house that was probably middle to low class. And one day, your exceptionally good brother starts to proclaim the Kingdom of God, gathers 12 disciples (among others) and goes from city to city healing and proclaiming the Gospel. You might hesitate to believe, and it would take some time indeed before Jude did. We find in John 7 that the brothers were still unconverted:
After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even His brothers were believing in Him. So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” Having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee. (John 7:1-9)
We never truly see a specific example of the brothers being converted, nor any indication that all of the Lord’s family did believe at any point. But at some point Jude did, and what an act of self-denial it would have been. Because he was not only believing the Gospel as others did, but his self-denial was far more personal because his entire history was now seen in a whole new light. The brother he grew up with was the King of kings, and was the very One holding his very existence together the entire time. He was the one who Jude would stand before and be judged with eternal consequence, whether good or bad, and is the One to whom Jude would give the remainder of his life. This is no small confession! And it is quite possible Jude came to this conclusion after Jesus had been crucified, making it all that more impactful. It appears Jesus’ brothers were not present at the cross, as the only family mentioned was Mary and His aunt. And it was in the context where she is mentioned that we find a noticeable absence…
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.
Why not require this task of His brothers? Why not charge Jude or James to care for their actual mother? They weren’t dead, and they had been in Jerusalem as mentioned previously. Yet He has His disciple do this, a man who had only known Jesus a few years.
So the Lord was crucified. He was buried and then resurrected and went up into Heaven. And now Jude hears of all these things and begins to change, and we find the culmination of that decaying self in his introduction here. Rather than referring to himself as the Lord’s brother, he wholeheartedly declares the most preferable of titles, “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ…” Rather than being identified as being the Lord’s brother, a position he held long before the Lord was crucified, he identifies with something greater, and that with complete subjugation. And he adds to this when addressing the church, his true brethren, referring to them as “the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.”
I bring all of this to your attention because it is, I think, a brilliant display of genuine repentance. Is your association with Jesus purely coincidence? Do you call yourself a Christian simply because that’s the religion you were born into? Are you Christian because of its practical benefits, like a consistent religion? Or are you Christian because you have to be- because you have no choice. Because you must be a saint, lest you die? Or is there something more to it? Repentance is not merely the end of intentional evil, as your flesh will still break repeatedly and do the things you do not wish to do. But what about the heart? Could you swallow your pride by denying the entirety of yourself? The biggest problem I have with the entire debate of “free will vs. sovereignty” is the motive more than anything. While I believe there is clear textual indication that God is sovereign over all things, including our wills, I do not believe that realization saves you, as even the demons are aware of the fact that God will overcome their desires to destroy them in “the day.” They have the fear of God, and obey His voice when He demands they come out of the possessed. Yet this does not save them from His wrath. So I ask the question, “Why would you want to have a free will?” Look where it gets us. Independence is nothing more than me having even less of an excuse for my sin when I am condemned for it, because I am defending myself by saying I did wrong on purpose. Yet no genuine Christian can take credit for the good they do, as they know full-well they would never have done it had God not forced them in some way or another. The older I get the more I despise the thought of independence, as this is (in its truest form) independence from God, which is (by default) dependence and slavery to sin. There is no in-between, and anything that claims there is will be nothing more than deceit. Self-denial is one of the truest qualities of the saint, in that it reveals the realization that my own desires and dreams are what destroy me, and that I must be rescued from myself. And it is this hopeless state that God saves us from, in that our salvation came “while we were helpless” and “sinners,” and through our perceived act of independence we crucified the Lord, only to find that He used that to save us from ourselves. Sin thrives in independence, because there is no righteousness in that position. Whereas the saint is in a position of absolute dependence, being utterly reliant on God to save him, utilizing only faith and the grace of God to guarantee our place in Heaven. And any good we do, including the acceptance of the Gospel, is found to be the result of God, who calls us in His love for us, keeping us in Jesus Christ and displaying all mercy, peace and love. This, over and above all forms of freedom and independence, is preferable.