This post will not be as exhaustive as the others for a few reasons, not least of which being that some of the major points that could be explored here have already been covered elsewhere in the series. If the practice of false teachers is contrary to Christianity specifically because is prideful, rejoicing in sin, and unfocused on Christ, then it stands to reason that the appropriate Christian life will be marked by humility, distancing oneself from sin, and focused on Christ. If salvation is characterized by looking to Christ and rejoicing in the promise of His second coming, then living that gospel out must include looking to Christ and rejoicing in the promise of His second coming.
As such, there is quite a lot about the Christian life that does not need to be repeated here but can be reasonably inferred from the series so far. Now, if this were a standalone post about the Christian life in the general epistles, it would likely be mostly a summary of James. The entire book of James addresses this issue, even the portions that also address another matter, and is therefore very useful for such a study. Handling that fairly likely deserves a sermon series rather than a single blog post, but this is where we are.
In the interest of limiting our focus to avoid repetition, the outline for this post will actually be drawn from Jude.
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, [be] glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Jude 20–25 (NASB)
Jude has just spent his entire letter condemning false teachers and making comparisons to help his readers identify those false teachers. He closes his short letter with a contrast: the false teachers are as I’ve already described, but as for you, this needs to be who you are. And what we find in that ending is a very concise treatment of the Christian life. It contains the major classes of activities that make up the Christian life, as well as the goal and purpose of living in that way. Let’s identify these and see what other authors of the general epistles have said about each.
Growing in Faith
And everyone who has this hope [fixed] on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
1 John 3:3 (NASB)
The Christian life is a dynamic one. It is not static and unchanging, we do not begin with all the answers, and we have to spend the rest of our lives growing. Jude begins his exhortation by reminding us that the work of growing is to be built on faith. It is by fixing ourselves on the hope of salvation, on Christ, that we are made pure and the Christian life begins to manifest in our lives.
But what is it we are to be building toward? It is hard to know if the act of growth is moving in the right direction if we do not know what the end result is supposed to look like. Here, Peter gives us aid:
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4–5 (NASB)
We are being built up for a purpose, and that purpose is the function of a holy priesthood. Remember that a priest is one who represents God to the people and represents the people to God. We are under the chief priest, Christ, as Hebrews explains at length, and so we are not under the obligations of high priesthood that He covers; however, the general function of a priest is on our shoulders, and our growth will be building toward fulfilling that role. This includes spiritual sacrifices that are pleasing to God — but what are those? One of them is prayer.
Prayer in the Holy Spirit
The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober [spirit] for the purpose of prayer.
1 Peter 4:7 (NASB)
Jude adds prayer to his exhortation. Prayer is necessary for all the rest of this. We cannot be growing in Christ if we are not in communication with Christ, we will not keep ourselves in the love of Christ or live in light of His next coming if we do not lean on Him for our strength. More on this will actually be covered below, but for now, prayer is the means by which these things become real in our lives.
This prayer must actually be honoring to God if it is to fuel a truly Christian life. Peter tells us that prayer comes from sound judgement and a sober spirit, that is, we must be honest and accurate in our treatment of reality, and we must be clear and focused. A review of the prayers contained in scripture show some of what this looks like.
Keeping in the Love of God
Now I ask you, lady, not as though [I were] writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.
2 John 5 (NASB)
The Christian life is marked by love, specifically, that we are living out the love of Christ. This means that the Christian life must be lived in community, and that how we then treat one another (and those outside of the church) must reflect the way God loves us. We cannot be living out the Christian life if our lives do not, in fact, look like Christ; and how we love one another, and the degree to which we do so, is critical to that.
For a brief description at what living in the love of God looks like, consider this word from Hebrews:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another;] and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:23–25 (NASB)
Waiting for Eternal Life
“All the more as you see the day drawing near” implies that we must be looking toward that day. We simply will not see it drawing near if we aren’t looking to it. Jude includes this as a fundamental part of the Christian life, as well.
Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
2 Peter 3:11–13 (NASB)
The Day of the Lord is the period of judgement that ends the systems of this world and initiates the final rule of Christ. The specifics of this period vary based on interpretive system, but all of them mark this as a decisive line between the age of the church in the world and the next age.
The method of interpreting that is not a necessary topic for this post. The point is that there is a judgement coming, and those of us in Christ will be brought safely through into glory, and we must look to that day as we live out lives now. As said before, we must know where we are going if we seek to go there well. And, whether or not we are prepared, we will be going here.
This includes both an understanding of the coming judgement and the hope of the promises being fulfilled on the other side of it. As I’ve said elsewhere, I am not inclined to believe we will get to miss the judgement that comes upon the world; but even if we are, we face trials now, and can see in Christ the patience we must exhibit as the world around us continues to oppose us. But we can do so joyfully, knowing that the Day of the Lord brings with it the promise of a new heavens and new earth. We can trust that, in Christ, we will not suffer the wrath of God, but will instead enjoy His presence forever. Our life now, then, must reflect both the adherence to God and the hope and joy in His salvation.
Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.
1 John 2:28 (NASB)
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
Jude 22–23 (NASB)
Verses 22 and 23 of Jude give some input on what all of the above looks like in direct interaction with others, but the thing I’d like to narrow in on is that it assumes that his hearers have some way to know which approach is appropriate for the situation. The lifestyle he is proposing, then, requires a certain amount of discernment.
This is a major part of what is happening in 3 John. Gaius is being commended for walking in truth and treating well those who come in the name of Christ with the true gospel. On the contrary, John expresses displeasure for Diotrephes, who is no discerning the gospel well enough to welcome those who speak truth. Into this context he reminds Gaius, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:11, NASB). John gives more insight into this discernment when he says of the church in Ephesus,
‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them [to be] false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.
Revelation 2:2–3 (NASB)
Here the church is commended for testing those who come claiming to be in Christ, and including their commendation in verse 6, they are opposing those found to be false. But how do they test these false teachers?
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Hebrews 4:12–13 (NASB)
We are to live in discernment, and we must practice this discernment by testing things to see if they line up with Christ, and we have as our standard the word of God. Combined with a life of prayer powered by the Holy Spirit, who has far greater discernment than we can ever have, the choices we make will form a lifestyle that reflects the gospel to the world around us.
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, [even] Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom [be] the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Hebrews 13:20–21 (NASB)
The benediction of Jude, much like that of Hebrews, turns our focus to God. In the wake of everything Jude has said about the Christian life, he reminds us that this is all for God’s glory, through the power of Christ, and under His authority. It is fitting that this is the final thought in this series, because holding to it will make all the rest of it clear. We can recognize false teachers by seeing how they do not seek God’s glory, diminish the power of Christ, or downplay the authority of the Lord. We can recognize the true gospel by seeing God’s glory, power, and authority played out through it. Our lives align with our message if we live it for God’s glory, relying on His power, and honoring His authority.
[Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
1 Peter 2:16–17 (NASB)
Applying these principles paint, in broad strokes, everything this series has sought to cover. The general epistles heavily concern themselves with these aspects of our relationship to God. The authors encourage us to see God’s glory, to rely on His power, and to live under His authority, even when this puts us at odds with the world around us. We do ourselves a disservice when we gloss over these books; their words are as important to us today as they were to the original readers.
Tim McLaughlin is a ministry student and once & future church planter living in central Massachusetts with his wife, kids, and assortment of animals. This post was originally published on his theology blog, https://theworstbaptist.weebly.com.