Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, (Jude 24)
We are all familiar with the comfort in ‘there is now no condemnation for them in Christ Jesus,’ a constant reminder and assurance that we are able seek forgiveness for those times we sin, be they sins of commission or ommission. It provides tremendous encouragement as we continue in our spiritual walk. Salvation does not transform us into ‘instant perfection.’ We are all – and will remain – ‘works in progress’ until the day we at last see our God and Saviour face to face in heaven.
As Christians, we no longer live according to our own needs, desires and personal choices. We are called to live ‘set apart,’ to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling.’ The assumption of many, both Christians and non-Christians alike is that this last phrase somehow relates to a constant sense of guilt and fear that we will somehow mess up so badly that we can never achieve ‘spiritual perfection.’ This is not only a source of great discouragement, but is entirely unfounded.
The fear and trembling mentioned here does not relate to the abject, fleshly fear that consumes mankind, but rather to the righteous fear – or awe – of the holiness of God, whose same likeness we are being transformed into. It is not the trembling of terror but of excitement and anticipation, and joy in the truth of salvation itself. Nor does it suggest salvation by works, but a living out of the salvation we have been given. It denotes an eagerness to please, a righteous aspiration to the holiness of our calling and is a far remove from the negative, guilt-ridden perception that hold many back.
The real truth is that we are all human and imperfect. In and of ourselves, we cannot ever manage to reach even a semblance of holiness, and that is exactly the reason Christ died for us. He made it possible for us to receive forgiveness whenever we need it. Not once or twice, but whenever we fall short of the glory of God. Humility – which is another aspect of fear and trembling, the recognition of God’s holiness and our humanness – is an attitude of heart that will always bring us to repentance and forgiveness.
But today’s verse highlights as second, equally wonderful, assurance. Not only is God merciful and willing to forgive if we come with the right attitude, He is also able to keep us from falling. Through the indwelling of the Spirit of grace within us, we are warned of danger and can prevent it. Our gracious guide and counselor is a constant presence to warn and direct us along the rickety paths. He is able to keep us from falling if we only listen and obey.
The wonderful truth is that God truly leaves nothing to chance. Every possible need is met in salvation. There is nothing left to chance. Consider 1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Most of us will agree that sin is the result of some kind of temptation. We should also be honest and admit that often temptation is the product of our own desires and our own mind rather than the work of Satan – although he will tempt us, we often take care of that without his interference. It is through temptation – especially in resisting it – that we grow. The reality is that we will all give in to one temptation or another, and continue to do so. The gift of salvation is that we do not have to give in. We can resist, providing we do not try to do so in our own strength.
The verse in 1 Corinthians explains just how God is able to keep us from falling. First, we’re not alone in our temptations. Everyone is tempted, and we all experience the same or at least similar temptations. Second, God’s faithfulness is such that He does not allow any temptation too great for us to resist. Third, He provides the way of escape. He is the way. In Him, we find everything we need to resist and to succeed.
The greatest problem we all face is ourselves. We are so used to doing things our way, and the world creates all kinds of expectations that we absorb through social and educational environments. We’re taught to rely on ourselves, our skills and abilities. We’re taught, in fact, to make much of ourselves. God’s way is the opposite. To be the greatest person we can be, we need to first surrender our lives to Him. Christ in us is the way to live the Christian life.
Finally, God’s keeping of us is two-fold. He not only keeps us from falling by being the means to our resisting, He also works in us to ‘perfect us.’ That, of course, is a process, but ultimately has the purpose of presenting us as perfect at the end – without spot, blemish or wrinkle. We are kept daily, so that we can remain His – in His keeping – for all eternity. Exceeding joy will be ours on that day, but His joy will be just as great. We’re not saved and expected to muddle along by ourselves in some kind of ‘hit and miss’ rollercoaster ride. We’re saved so that He can continue to work in us to effect the changes we cannot effect ourselves.
Whichever way we look at it, God’s compassionate provision for an imperfect people is complete and perfect. He keeps us, He restricts our temptations and He offers His own strength, faith and wisdom to bring us through. It’s a free and faithful gift. All we need to do is ask.