Contending for the Faith by Living the Christian Life (Jude 20-23)

Jude’s conclusion throws us for a loop because he doesn’t tell us what to do about the false teachers, instead, he tells us what we already know: we must live the Christian life.  Paying close attention to your Christian walk is the best way to fight false teachers and avoid distractions.
 Jude lists four essentials to living the Christian life that will help you contend for the faith.
1. Build on a Gospel foundation (Jude 20a)
Jude’s use of the expression “build yourselves up” is reminiscent of Paul and speaks to the idea of the church as a temple (cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 7).  The building up of the church is dependent upon building oneself and each other up in the faith.  This building up is not exalting oneself with pride but personal spiritual growth which will, in turn, contribute to the growth of the entire faith community.  The false teachers did the opposite: they tore the church apart (Jude 19) through their disruptions, self-exaltation, and false teaching.
We think of building the church in terms of numerical growth, but the New Testament never once uses the term “build” or “build up” in that sense.
This building up is in relation to the faith.  Here “faith” is the entire body of Christian teaching which is rooted in the gospel which was how they first received it (Jude 3).  The gospel is the basis not only for entrance into the community of faith, but also for continued growth in the faith.
2. Pray in the Spirit (Jude 20b)
The Spirit’s role in the building up of the church cannot be underestimated.  Jude mentions prayer in the Spirit, that is, under the control of or under the influence of the Spirit.  This is yet another contrast to the false teachers who claim to prophesy in the Spirit (Jude 19) but who speak falsehood.  The true believer prays in the Spirit and is built up by God’s truth as a result.
3. Obey in response to God’s Love (Jude 21a)
The “love of God” in Jude 21 is the God’s love for Jude’s readers as believers (objective genitive; cf. John 15:9).  One might expect a subjective genitive (which would refer to one’s love for God) but the preceding imperative seems to require an action on the part of the believer (Bauckham, 113) even though this might seem contrary to Calvinist or Reformed theology.  
The informative passage is John 15:9-10 where the same idea is used by our Lord (John 15:9) and where Jesus explains love to him as obedience to his commandments (John 15:10).  
Jude’s meaning is similar: God’s love to you (Jude 1) demands a response from you.  That response is obedience to his commands.  Obedience to God’s commands leads to fellowship with God through his Son and his church (1 John 5:3) while disobedience forfeits one’s fellowship with God (1 John 1:6).
Jude’s command to “keep” ourselves in God’s love relies on one of Jude’s prominent catchwords: τηρέω which means “keep” and can encompass variations on that idea.  Jude tells us of the darkness which is “kept” (reserved) for the fallen angels who stand in stark contrast to believers who are “kept” by God (Jude 1) and who must “keep” themselves in the love of God (which involves “keeping” his commandments, cf. John 15:10).
4. Live with hope in your final salvation (Jude 21b)
Keeping oneself in the love of God is something we as believers do while “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is not a reference to salvation or waiting for assurance of salvation but to the eschatological hope which is the final fulfillment of God’s promise of mercy.
Final judgment has been committed to the Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 14; cf. 1 Enoch 1:9) which means the showing of mercy at the final judgment is his to show as well.  The false teachers can expect judgment at the Lord’s return while those who resist and instead follow these imperatives, can be assured of receiving the Lord’s mercy at his return.
The use of the word “waiting” is consistent with early Christian “eschatological expectation” (Bauckham, 114).  This waiting is not like waiting for a bus, where you just kill time until it shows up, but waiting for the arrival of a valued guest, it is filled with preparation and expectation.  Its use here emphasizes the active nature of the Christian life in which a believer orients his whole life toward the return of the Lord.  This expectation is for “eternal life” which here refers to the life of the age to come.
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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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