The Imperative of Spiritual Growth
Biblical change is not something that occurs in a vacuum. It cannot be reproduced in a lab. It is the product of a community of believers helping each other grow into Christlikeness. This truth is evident in Jude’s epistle where the half-brother of Jesus was encouraging Christians to ‘contend for the faith.’ This was the same faith that the first followers of Jesus possessed, a faith which was probably codified in the Regula Fidei, the ‘rule of faith’ which guided the early Christians before the close of the New Testament canon. The reason for Jude’s message was that false teachers, people who he refers to as libertines, had quietly assumed leadership positions in local churches. This is exactly what Peter had warned the people of a few years earlier (2 Peter 2:1). In fact, it is fairly apparent from reading 2 Peter and Jude that much of Jude’s material is borrowed from Peter. The apostle Peter was warning the Christians of these libertines. Jude was explaining how the believers should respond to them after they arrived.
Consequently, the end of Jude’s short epistle thematically mirrors the end of 2 Peter. Peter encourages the Christians to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Through this, Peter is encouraging these to fortify themselves against the libertines through spiritual growth. Likewise, Jude encourages these same believers to grow as a means of both protecting themselves against the doctrine of the libertines and also as a means of helping those who had been caught up into the false teaching.
V. 20-21: The main verb in these two verses is ‘keep,’ a command to maintain one’s position in God’s love. While it is unclear whether Jude means to keep loving God or remaining where God loves, it is probable that Jude is encouraging these believers to keep loving God. God never stops loving His people, even when their love for Him waxes cold. This command to keep loving God is modified with three participial phrases: (1) building up our faith; (2) praying in the Spirit; (3) waiting expectantly for Christ’s return. By these three actions Jude sees these believers as remaining constant in their love for God.
V. 22-23: The two commands here both address how believers are to deal with those who had been influenced by them. For those who are doubting, people who are ‘making a difference’ (a strange statement which refers to people who don’t know whether to follow the libertines or the true leaders in the church, the command is to show compassion. This makes a lot of practical sense. These people are struggling between two competing doctrinal positions. The second group were following the libertines. The command is not compassion. To these we are to ‘pull them from the fire’ by offering them salvation which comes through the fear of the Lord. At the same time, these were acting wickedly as they were being influenced by the libertines. The Christians were to hate their wickedness while offering the gospel.
V. 24-25: While the application of the command to ‘grow’ from 2 Peter 3:18 is primarily to believers, the truth about sanctification is that it is something God accomplishes in those who follow Him. He has the power to keep us from falling away. In truth, the perseverance of the saints is that which God does. Not only will He keep us from falling, He will keep us blameless. Ephesians 5 states that we have been washed. We are not faultless because of some internal sainthood, but because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Consequently, we cannot claim any glory for our ‘growth,’ but that all goes to God.
Christian growth is vital for the protection of God’s people from false teaching. It must be something accomplished as a collective within the confines of the local church. We are all responsible for this. Each of us must be growing ourselves and encouraging growth in others. This is the imperative.
1. How can church members care for the spiritual growth of each other?
2. What kind of prayer emphasis should a church promote? How can our church encourage more members to gather together for prayer?
3. What can our church do practically to continually remind each other to wait for the Lord’s return?
4. How should a disciple-maker deal with someone who is struggling spiritually with doubts about his faith?
5. Sanctification should bring humility. Unfortunately, many Christians become proud of their “spiritual” attainments. What can we do to encourage personal humility and glorify the Lord for His work in us?