Monday mornings are probably not the perfect time for a grammar lesson, but then, it’s often said “there’s no time like the present”. There’s also no tense quite like the Perfect, but I suppose all tenses have unique characteristics. I’m not going to elaborate on all the tenses here, but for the purposes of enjoying the fullest encouragement, I need to explain a little about the Perfect tense in Koine Greek grammar.
Before we get to that, let me whet your appetite, and set before you the confection of Scripture I was enjoying this morning.
“… preserved in Jesus Christ …”Jude 1:1
Setting the Table
As Jude opens his wee letter, he reminds his readers – the Christians – of the position they occupy in relation to God. They, personally, have been called by God, and having responded, putting their faith in Jesus Christ, they are saved!
Jude begins like this is because he is going on to judge false teachers within the church, who are actively sowing seeds of rebellion. Jude shows us that the base characteristic of these people is a proud arrogance. Initially, the true child of God may wonder how these kinds of people could be found within the church, but remember that wherever God is bringing forth fruit for His glory and our blessing, Satan will also be there sowing the tares (Matthew 13). Therefore, we must always be wary, not just of false teachers within the church, but of the spirit of arrogance and rebellion rising in our own hearts.
Rather, the child of God is to be marked by humility, and it is only natural for such a one who has been saved by God’s grace, and knows the weakness of the flesh, to question whether they could lose their salvation through being naively seduced by the false teachers, or falling into their sinful ways.
Of course, we must distinguish between the reality of salvation, and the mere profession of salvation. My comments here do not address those who say they are Christians but have no love for the Lord, or a desire to be obedient to His Word, and neither do Jude’s. The first verse of this epistle is speaking of those who have had a conversion experience: they heard the call of God, responded in faith, and were. It is to these people that Jude also writes: you are ‘preserved in Jesus Christ’. In effect, once saved, always saved, and this is where the grammar comes in.
Serving the Preserve
The verbs in this verse are all in the Perfect Tense. In the Koine Greek that Jude was writing in, a verb written in the Perfect Tense told that the action had been completed, but also that the result of the action continued, indicating in this instance that when God saves, He saves forever – He does a perfect work (excuse the pun).
Notice that the place of our preservation, our keeping, is ‘in Jesus Christ’. The idea here is that Jesus Christ is our refuge. Like the ark was to Noah and his family, so Jesus is to us. Noah’s preservation through the flood was not determined upon his conduct through the duration of the flood. He was safely kept, because the vessel in which he was found was prepared by God to withstand the judgement. Therefore, Noah’s preservation was completely assured the moment he stepped through the door into the ark – the action was complete. But the result of the action continued – and was thoroughly appreciated until the sun appeared once again, the door opened, and Noah stepped into a new dwelling place.
Let me put it another way. Our eternal salvation – saved and kept – is not a practical matter, but a positional matter. In other words, it does not essentially depend on how I practice my faith, but on my position in relation to the object of my faith – Christ Himself. If I have come to Him in simple faith, and placed my trust in the One who died and rose again, then He has saved me.
A further grammatical point bears this out even more, for the verbs in the verse are in the Passive Voice. This tells us who is doing the action. In this case, we are the ones being saved, we are the ones being kept, but we are not doing the saving or the keeping. If that were the case, the verb would need to be written in the Active Voice. As it stands in the Perfect Passive, it is telling us that the action has been done to us, the results of which continue. Praise God for grammar and for grace.
Jesus, my heart’s dear refuge,
Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the Rock of Ages,
Ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience,
Wait till the night is o’er;
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore.
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o’ershaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.