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.
"Small Group Prayer," created by Portland Seminary and shared under Creative Commons License. Click image for source.
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.
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.
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.
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)
"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.
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.
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.
The church of Ephesus comes first, and the promise they receive goes all the way to the beginning of scripture. Mankind is created and placed in the Garden of Eden, this paradise where they can live in community with God Himself, but they allow sin to enter into their lives and the world and have to be removed. Now, we tend to talk about how they had to be removed because they couldn't remain in God's presence, and there's truth to that, but the passage actually describes a more specific motive: Adam and Eve needed to lose access to the Tree of Life.
Now, we see later in Revelation that this is not a return to the literal Garden of Eden. The New Jerusalem is a city, not a garden. But it does have the streams of flowing water, it does have the Tree of Life, and most importantly, it has the people of God living in the presence of God without sin. It is in this context that Hebrews, which concerns itself with a significant section on the day of rest coming for the people of God through Christ, presents the fullness of that rest being realized.
For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh [day:] "AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS"; and again in this [passage,] "THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST."
Hebrews 4:2-5 (NASB)
This rest, according to Hebrews, is found in Christ for those who will believe on Him. This is placed in contrast to the generation that wandered in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, who contended with God and failed to trust in His promises and provision. But it is in the presence of God, in true community with Him like there was in the Garden and will be again in the New Jerusalem, that the rest God promises will be fully realized. This is our first point about salvation: it is a restoration, a return to the perfect design of God and community with Him.
'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.'
Revelation 2:11 (NASB)
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:14-15 (NASB)
Revelation paints a very vivid picture of those who remain enemies of God being cast into the lake of fire, called the second death, followed immediately by the redeemed going to dwell with God forever. The fundamental promise being made to the church of Smyrna, then, is that the saved have no fear of final separation from God and can trust in the eternal life He offers. The contrast is set forth in the narrative of Revelation, and promised here in chapter 2, but is given in a very clear and concise way by Peter. In his second letter, Peter talks about how unrighteous people and the corrupted natural order will be destroyed by fire, and then promises that those who are in Christ need not fear that because they can look beyond to the new life that awaits them.
'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give [some] of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.'
Revelation 2:17 (NASB)
At a quick stroke, the promise to the church of Pergamum seems a bit odd. What is this hidden manna, and why a stone with some name on it?
The manna is a theme that gets some development earlier in scripture, though it isn't as strongly recurring topic. In fact, there are really only two places we need to go to get the general thrust of the story so far. The first is during the wandering in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, when the people of Israel were in a barren place and hungry. God sustained them with provision in the form of a miraculous bread that appeared with the morning dew that they simply gathered. While there is very little discussion of the manna after that point in scripture, it certainly left a mark on the culture, because it gets cited after Jesus feeds the 5,000. He performs the miracle, He and His disciples ship out at night, and the people find them the next day and ask for more bread as a sign. A relevant part of that conversation includes:
"Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'" Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." Then they said to Him, "Lord, always give us this bread." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
John 6:31-35 (NASB)
Later, they grumbled among themselves about Jesus proclaiming that He was the bread that came down from Heaven. They got Jesus' point, even if they didn't like it: while the manna was a very real and effective sustenance for the people of God, there is a better sustenance delivered by God in the person of Jesus Christ. The promise of hidden manna, then, is a promise that ties back to the earlier promises of eternal life, with a focus on Christ as the giver and sustainer of that life. In 1 John, the author of both the epistle and the gospel revisits this topic when he tells us, "And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:11-12, NASB).
Thus, the promise delivered through the church is Pergamum is not simply some bread and a stone, but an imperishable life founded on Christ and a new identity found in Him. The redeemed can trust that our lives are grounded on the solid rock of Christ, because He is both the giver and sustainer of life as well as the author of the promises that life contains.
'He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received [authority] from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.
Revelation 2:26-28 (NASB)
The message to Thyatira is a bit more straight forward. Jesus promises authority over the nations and, as the morning star frequently represents, a position of some glory. 1 Peter 1:12 notes a similar theme, in recognizing that the saints of old looked forward to the fullness of salvation and that the nature of what we receive is so great that even angels long to see it. But while the idea of us receiving authority and glory will be revisited here, they are not widely common themes in the general epistles. When they arise, in fact, they are generally pointing beyond us. Consider, for instance, John's words just one chapter earlier, during his greeting.
and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood-- and He has made us [to be] a kingdom, priests to His God and Father--to Him [be] the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Revelation 1:5-6 (NASB)
Any glory or authority we may receive is second in importance to that which Christ receives. We can trust that this promise is true, that God will grant us to rule with Him and that He will glorify us in the end, but there seems to be an almost subconscious hesitance by the authors of the general epistles to let us ever think about that without immediately turning our eyes to the One who deserves all authority and all glory. This is a stark reminder that not only is Christ the means by which our salvation comes, but that salvation is ultimately for His glory and not our own. I would do us no favors in presenting it any other way.
The book of life, again, points to eternal life; confession of the name includes both glory and endorsement, and we can ask for no greater endorsement than that of God the Son. Instead of revisiting these concepts, though, look at the first clause in that sentence, that we will be clothed in white garments. This is a promise of purity, that we will be washed clean, that the one who overcomes (that is, the one who believes on Jesus as per our opening verse) will be sanctified and made whole. Hebrews, a book largely about salvation and redemptive history, touches on this a number of times but few as concisely as "by this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10 NASB). The blood of Christ washes us clean, this is the means by which we are sanctified, and we have assurance given to the church of Sardis that this will be perfectly completed.
'He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.
Revelation 3:12 (NASB)
We have here new information on the new identity we have in Christ, that it involves being marked as one of God's, but this talk about being a pillar in the temple ties back to the promise in the message to Ephesus. Philadelphia's portion includes residing in the presence of God, but the temple language ties back to the apparently false form of Judaism they were dealing with. These people lived in the midst of what appears to be a false temple or synagogue, and are promised a place in the true temple of God.
This, the eternal temple where Christ stands forever, always in the presence of the Father and without need for further sacrifice or washing, is the temple that the redeemed can look forward to calling home. Where Ephesus was given an emphasis on the perfection and the closeness of God to His people, Philadelphia is given a picture of life in perfect and continual communion with God.
The church of Laodicea is a rich body. In the message to them, they have to be reminded that the wealth they have on Earth makes no dent on the poverty they have in spiritual matters, and that they are 'lukewarm' in their devotion to God. There is much that can be said about what it means to be lukewarm, but turning to verse 21 we see that the church is given a vision of something far greater than the riches they are relying on. After all, the throne of Christ is no small seat of power, but as Peter describes it:
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
1 Peter 3:21-22 (NASB)
Angels, authorities, and powers are subject to the throne of Christ. The things of this world that we seek are too small, they are as nothing compared to the vast riches we have in Christ. To the church of Laodicea, and any of a similar mindset, the desire for earthly wealth is a distraction from the fullness of what awaits those who put their hope in Christ.
The overarching thread of salvation woven throughout the general epistles, though, is that this is all through and for Christ, and as He is better than anything we have on this world, so His salvation is greater than anything we can have through other means, and the weight of our treatment of salvation is greater than how we handle any other subject. This is why false teachers are viewed in such a harsh light: what they do with the gospel is objectively far more important than what they do with anything else. We cannot honor God or do any ultimate good if we will not handle this matter well, and we cannot handle it well if Christ is not the focus of all of it.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to [obtain] an inheritance [which is] imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3-5 (NASB)
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away [from it.] For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
Hebrews 2:1-4 (NASB)
In Christ, through the salvation He offers, we have a new and better identity, one that is pure and washed free of all sin and corruption, that includes authority and coming glory, that allows us to reside joyfully in the presence of God forever, without fear of further pain or death. This is founded on the work of Christ and grounds everything we are and everything we do. Let us look forward with joy and expectation, patiently awaiting the fullness of this great salvation, as James reminds us:
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
James 5:7-8 (NASB)
If we are truly grounding ourselves on this promise and on patiently waiting for it, our lives will be impacted. This will be the focus of the final post in this series.
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation