Now to Him who is able
to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory
with exceeding joy
God is able, according to Jude, to keep every believer from stumbling, that is, from experiencing major moral or doctrinal failure. A key interpretive question here is whether Jude was conveying an unconditional guarantee that God will keep all believers from stumbling, or whether he was referring to a conditional guarantee which requires a certain response by individual believers.
The idea that this is an unconditional guarantee appears to be biblically and practically absurd. One need only think of saints like David, Solomon, Peter, John Mark, and Demas who stumbled badly to reject such an idea. Yet many pastors and theologians nonetheless suggest that Jude 24 is an unconditional promise (see, for example, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, s.v. “Jude,” p. 924; Lange’s Commentary on Jude, pp. 33-34; The Tyndale NT Commentary on Second Peter and Jude, pp. 189-91).
How can anyone propose such an interpretation? It is because they understand Jude 24 to be a promise of perseverance and eternal security.
I believe that many commentators have missed the mark badly on this one. Jude 24 calls for, but does not guarantee, perseverance. And, it is not dealing with eternal security at all.
Ability Is Not a Guarantee
God is able to do anything which is not logically or morally impossible. (Examples of things God can’t do include making a square circle, creating a stone too big for Him to lift, or doing anything evil.)
There are myriads of things which have happened which God could have stopped from happening. Take, for example, the fall of Adam and Eve. God could have created them without an ability to sin; yet He didn’t. He could have kept the serpent from tempting them; but He didn’t.
Consider three examples where the same expression God is able is used and where the possible result either never occurred or where it only occurred when a condition was met: (1) John the Baptist said, “God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matt 3:9). (2) The author of Hebrews wrote, “He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb 2:18); yet this aid is conditioned upon the one being tempted looking to Him in prayer with faith (Heb. 3:12-1.5; 4:11-16). (3) Similarly, Jesus conditioned the healing of two blind men upon their answer to this question, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matt 9:28).
The fact that God is able to do something does not unconditionally guarantee that He will do it. It may be something He never intends to do or which He will only do for those who respond as He commands. As we shall now see, the latter is the case in Jude 24.
…To Keep You from Stumbling
The word stumble is a word which only occurs here in the NT. It refers to losing one’s footing, stumbling, or falling. Clearly it is used figuratively here. While some suggest that only doctrinal slippage is meant (see the commentaries mentioned above), Jude was warning his readers about false teachers who were promoting both false doctrine and licentious living (cf. vv 15-18).
The context makes it clear that Jude is encouraging believers to look to the One who can keep them from being duped by false teachers. Note vv 20-23. To suggest that in v 24 Jude was unconditionally guaranteeing his readers that they wouldn’t be duped is to destroy the whole point of the letter. It was Jude’s fear that his readers would be duped by the false teachers that prompted him to write this letter (cf. vv 3-4).
…To Present You Faultless With Exceeding Joy
This expression is, I believe, why most Reformed commentators suggest that God guarantees freedom from stumbling. They see the word faultless and they conclude that eternal salvation must be in view. That is, however, a mistake.
What is in view is the future judgment of believers, the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is the time when every believer will be presented by the Lord Jesus before the Father. Not all believers will be presented as “faultless.” Nor will all believers have “exceeding joy” at the Bema. Only believers who lived faithful lives will have such an experience. Compare Matt 16:27; Mark 8:38; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 9:27; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 John 2:28.
The word faultless (amōmos) means without spot or without blemish. It sometimes is used absolutely to refer to complete sinlessness, as when it refers to the Lord Jesus (cf. Heb 9:11; 1 Pet 1:19). However, it can also refer to an experience which is not sinless but which is yet pleasing to God since it reflects faithfulness to Him. For example, Rev 14:5 refers to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of the Tribulation and says, “In their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault [amōmos] before the throne of God” (cf. Col 1:22 and 2 Pet 3:14). The same idea, though using a different Greek word (anenklētos), is found in the requirements for elders in the church. Elders are men who must be blameless in their experience (1 Tim 3:10; Titus 1:6-7).
Exceeding joy awaits believers who do not lose their footing. There will be a special measure of joy for such believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ and forever thereafter. God rewards faithfulness.
Conclusion: We Can’t Blame God
At the Judgment Seat of Christ, no excuses will be valid. We won’t be able to legitimately blame the devil, our parents, our spouses, our children, our genes, illness, fatigue, society, circumstances, or God Himself. Nothing can “make us” stumble from the path of righteousness. God is able to keep us from stumbling. If any of us walks away from God, we do so because we have failed to look to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling (cf. Rom 16:25; 2 Pet 3:14-18).
Victory is possible in the Christian life because God is ready, willing, and able to sustain us through the temptations and trials we face. The question is not whether He is able to keep us from stumbling. Rather, the question is, will we continue to look to Him in faith and obedience?