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What Is a Christian?

Series: Jude

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 9, 2004

Jude 1:1-2

May 9th, 2004

The Faith Once Delivered: Five Lessons in Jude:

Jude 1-2
What is a Christian?

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to the book of Jude, right at the end of the New Testament, before the book of Revelation. Over the next five weeks we’ll have the opportunity to study the entirety of this little book of Jude in some detail. It's a unique book in many ways. It was written by a man who was a half-brother of Jesus Christ, our Savior, Jesus the Messiah. It contains the only greeting in the New Testament that does not mention grace, but it also contains the only greeting in the New Testament that includes love. It was probably written to a congregation of Jewish Christians. We discern this from the terminology, the language that is used here, as well as its content. And next week we will get into the content of the letter proper, but this week we want to look simply at the word of greetings, the salutation found in verses 1 and 2. Before we read God's word, let's pray and ask for His Spirit to illumine our hearts as we hear His word read and proclaimed. Let's pray.

O Lord, You never fail to help and govern those whom You are discipling in Your steadfast fear and love. Keep us, we pray, under the protection of Your good providence. Make us to have an awe and love of Your holy name. And by this means of grace, the reading and proclamation of Your word, show us Yourself, our need, and the Savior. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is the word of God:

1Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: 2May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.” Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

How should we think about ourselves as Christians? How should we view our life purpose? What blessings has God bestowed on us? How do they impact the way we view ourselves and our sense of mission? What things ought we to long to be filled with? Well, surprisingly, in just the two little verses that we have read, Jude goes a long way to giving us an answer to all those questions. And I want you to look with me for just a few moments at these two verses as we zero in on three, particular things: the identity that we have as Christians, the graces that we have received as Christians, and the blessings that we ought to desire as Christians. These three things–the identity that we have, the grace we have received, and the blessings we ought to desire.

I. A Christian leader's self-understanding and view of Christ (1a) [How a Christian views himself and his Savior]
The first you see just in the first, few words of verse 1, “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.” Now I know that this is simply Jude's self-identification to the congregation. In the standard pattern of any letter that would be written he would let the recipients know who it is who is writing to them. But I want to suggest to you that in this brief identification of Jude to this congregation, we have a beautiful picture of his self-understanding as well as his view of Christ, and in that we have an example for how Christians ought to view themselves and their Savior.

Jude is a very common name. It's the name “Judah” or “Judas” that we see in various places in the New Testament. But this man with a very common name identifies himself in a remarkable way. And I want to suggest to you that his identification is remarkable in a couple of ways. First, it's remarkable in what it tells us about himself, and second, it's remarkable in what it tells us about Christ. He calls himself “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.” Now he is a Christian leader of some standing; he is the brother of the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem; he is the half-brother of Jesus! –but he identifies himself in this letter as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.”

Now let me just ask you something, If you were a half-brother or half-sister of Jesus Christ and you were writing to other Christians, wouldn't you tell ‘em?! Wouldn't you say, “And by the way, I'm Bob, Jesus’ brother”? But this man identifies himself as ‘Jude, Jesus’ slave.’ And I think that tells you a lot about his own self-understanding. It tells you something of his humility. He's the Lord's own brother, but he views Jesus as his Master. It shows his submission to the lordship of Christ. His whole life had been put at the disposal of Jesus. He calls himself, “the brother of James,” even though others call him “the brother of our Lord.” Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:5 calls James and Jude, “the brothers of our Lord,” but this writer doesn't say, ‘I'm Jude the brother of our common Lord.’ He says, ‘I'm Jude, the slave of Jesus the Messiah and the brother of James.’

I want to suggest to you that he points to the kind of humility and servanthood that every Christian ought to manifest in the very way that he identifies himself to this congregation. Do you think of yourself as a servant? Do you relate to your fellow believers as a servant? This man is a Christian leader, but he calls himself “a servant, a slave of Jesus Christ,” because the extent of a man's service is the criterion of his greatness. This exalted position which Jude has been called to is a position of servanthood. He views his life in terms of serving the Master. It was my privilege to go to seminary with a man named Augustine Umfune from Malawi, and I lived next to him in the dorms for about two years. And it was his job, as part of his work-study agreement, to sweep the floors of the dormitory and to clean the bathrooms. After being there for about two years…I don't know how I went two years without finding this out…but after being there with him for about two years, I found out that Augustine Umfune was a man of considerable significance in his native land and in his native church. He was, in fact, a leader in the senate of the Presbyterian Church in Malawi; and in fact, he was the pastor of churches of thousands of members…and I knew him as a humble, godly Christian who swept the floors and cleaned the toilets in the seminary. He was a servant. But, you see, it shouldn't surprise us that a man like Augustine Umfune or a man like Jude would view themselves as servants, because after all, their Lord and Master once adorned Himself in the manner of a slave and washed His disciples’ feet. If we're going to be like Jesus, we are going to be servants. And that's the first remarkable thing about Jude's self-introduction and self-designation, this emphasis on the fact that he is a servant of Jesus Christ.

But, you know, even in that phrase we see something of the dignity and the person of Jesus Christ. Any of you ready to declare your sibling's deity? My guess is that your siblings are the last people on earth that are candidates for that particular ascription. Can you imagine a man growing up with another man and still acknowledging him as his Master? Jude lived with Jesus, and he acknowledged Jesus as his Lord and Master. If that isn't a testimony to the divinity of Christ, I don't know one. Here Jude acknowledges Jesus as Messiah and Lord of his life, and yet even as a servant to Jesus, it sets Jude free. Because it is one of the paradoxes of Christianity that in glad devotion to Jesus we find our freedom. And so even in Jude's self-designation in the introduction, in the salutation of this letter, we learn something about Jude's self-understanding and his view of Christ, and we learn something of what our self-understanding ought to be. We are servants of Jesus Christ. We belong to Him. We march to the beat of His drum. We follow His word. We follow His commission. We seek to go in His ways. We desire to be conformed to His image. We long for His exaltation. We want the nations of the world to come to Him. He is the center of our existence in the community of faith. And we learn, of course, from Jude's introduction that this Jesus is Master and Lord and divine. And so we learn something about the way we ought to view ourselves and the way we ought to view our Savior.

II. Three divine graces to Christians that impact our purpose (What a Christian is)
But there's a second thing that we learn in this little introduction as well, and you see it in the second half of verse one. What is a Christian? What characterizes a Christian? What favors are given by God to Christians? Well, three divine favors are specified here, and these three divine graces ought to impact our view of our purpose in life. “To those–” Jude says, “To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.”

Notice those three things that Jude says about you as Christians: you are called; you are beloved in God the Father; and you are kept for Jesus Christ.Let's consider them one-by-one. When Jude says that you are “the called,” he is using classic, Old Testament language for the people of God. Israel was called by God. Abraham was called by God out of the Ur of the Chaldeans, out of paganism, out of polytheism, out of his father's land and people to be the servant of God, to be the friend of God. And in Genesis 12:1-3 it is made clear that Abraham was called out of the world not simply for his own benefit but for the glory of God and for the good of the nations of the earth. Abraham was not only given blessing by God, but he was called to be a blessing to the nations. He was caught up in a story much bigger than himself. He was caught up as a missionary for God. He was caught up as one who was to be “the father of blessings to the nations.”

And when Jude calls these Christians called, he is reminding them that they have been called into a story which is much bigger than themselves. They have been called to not only divine blessings, they have been called by divine grace and choice, because men never take the initiative over God. They never approach God until God starts to draw them to Himself. You remember what Jesus says in John 6? “No man comes to the Father unless the Father draws him.” And so it's not only that they've been called and drawn by God's divine choice and election, but that they have been called into this grand adventure, an adventure in which we conspire to bless the world with the salvific blessings of God in Jesus Christ. And so he says to these Christians who are perhaps marginal and persecuted, in fear of reprisal from a society that has great animosity for them and suspicion of them–he says, ‘Remember who you are. You are the called and you’re called to this great mission to bless the world.’ And I want to remind you that being called doesn't mean “invited,” as in “invited to a party.” This call is a summons. I've been called. When I walked on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary in 1990 one of the first people that I saw was my boyhood pastor who was teaching in the practical theology department, and he put his arm around my shoulder and he said, “Boy, you’re going to be my assistant.” He was pasturing a local church on the side and he needed help, and he just announced to me that I was going to be working with him. And I did the thing that any good Southern boy would do: I said, “Yes, sir!” I knew that it wasn't an invitation; it was a call. It was a summons. It was a command performance. Well, that's God's call on a Christian. It's not an invitation; it's a summons. You have been called into this great work.

But not only that, we're also beloved, “beloved in God the Father.” In covenant fellowship with the Triune God, we are the beloved. Now I want you to revel in that for a moment. This is the only place in the New Testament where you will find this phrase, “beloved in God the Father.” No other place in the New Testament describes Christians as “beloved in God the Father.” And Jude is telling us here that as we rest and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, we are beloved by God. We are the beloved in union with the Beloved One, Jesus Christ, and we are thus in God as we are in Christ.

Let me ask you to turn in your Bibles to John 17, and look at the 26th verse, the last verse of that chapter. And I want to remind you as you’re turning to John 17:26 that John 17:20 tells you that Jesus prayed this prayer not only for the disciples who were with Him in the Upper Room but for you. In John 17:20, He says that this prayer is not only for His disciples but for all who trust in Him through their word. Every one of us here today trusts in Jesus Christ through the word of those faithful disciples. And, therefore, Jesus’ prayer is not only for His disciples in the Upper Room; it's for you. And in John 17:26 I want you to see what it says. It tells you that you are co-sharers in the love of the Father for the Son as Jesus prays, “Lord, grant that the love which we share from before the foundations of the world would be in them.” Jesus is asking the Father for your participation in that co-eternal love which the Father and the Son have shared from before the beginnings of time. And I want to tell you, my friends, that prayer has been and is being answered. The Heavenly Father does not love you less than He loves His own Son. And I want to say that if I didn't have John 17:26 you would rightly accuse me of heresy for saying something like that, but that's precisely what Jude is reminding you: You are beloved in God the Father…and you need to revel in that for a few minutes. You need to revel in the depth of the Father's love for you in Jesus Christ. That's who you are. That's what a Christian is: A Christian is called and a Christian is beloved of God.

But a Christian is also kept, and Jude celebrates that when he says, “To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” Now what does that mean, to be kept for Jesus Christ? Well, it means that we are kept by God to be presented to Christ for Him. There are two parts of this: There is perseverance (we are kept; we are preserved), and there is perseverance for a purpose (we are preserved for something, or more properly for someone). Let's consider it for a few moments. We are kept. Jesus keeps those who trust in Him. Do you remember Him saying in the gospels, “No one will snatch you out of My hands”? Paul revels in the reality that God causes us to persevere in grace and faith when he says in 2 Timothy 1:12, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” Paul is saying he is confident that he will be kept by the power of God, by the power of Christ. Calvin once put it this way, “At any moment Satan might snatch us a hundred times over into his ready clutches were we not safe in the protection of Christ.” And Jude is asking you to revel in that for a moment. Satan might snatch you at any time a hundred times over into his ready clutches…but you are safe in the protection of Christ. You are kept. You’re called; you’re loved; you’re kept.

But you’re not only kept; you’re not only protected; you’re not only caused to persevere–you are kept for Christ, Jude wants to say. We are kept safe until Jesus’ coming. We are kept safe with the view to being God's own possession. We are kept safe with a view to being presented to Christ. In Ephesians 5:25-27 Paul tells us something like what Jude is telling us here. As Jude tells us that we are “kept for Christ,” Paul tells us that truth this way, “Christ,” he says, “loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her…that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory.” Jesus keeps the church in order to present the church to Himself, and He keeps us that we might be for Him, Jude says.

And I want to ask you a question, Do these three grants of God's favor–?” Do these three blessings of God's grace– that you have been called, and you have been beloved, and you have been kept–do these have an overriding influence on your understanding of who you are in Christ and of your mission in this life? That you have been called in this world to be a blessing to the nations, that you have been called in this world to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, that you have been loved of the Heavenly Father and that you have been kept safe in Jesus Christ for Him? And let me ask you another question, Do you live as if that's true? Are there things that you value more than those things? Do you realize the magnitude of those graces? Those graces constrain gratitude from us. They evoke gratitude in us. If we realize what God has done for us in Jesus Christ we cannot help but praise Him and thank Him and live for Him. These three divine graces impact our whole view of our purpose in life.

III. Three real blessings Christians ought to long for (What a Christian wants)
One last thing, look at verse 2. Here we see three blessings. This is a triple-benediction. The letter hasn't even ended and the benediction is already being pronounced. It hasn't even hardly begun. We've not even gotten to the stuff of the letter, and already a blessing is being pronounced on us, a three-fold blessing. And I want to suggest to you that this blessing says something to us about what true Christians really want, because these are three real blessings that every Christian ought to long for: “May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.” Here Jude is speaking of God's mercy to us, God's peace, and God's love. And I want to look at each of those with you for just a few moments. He first says, “May mercy be multiplied to you.” When mercy is distinguished in the Scriptures from grace, mercy is speaking of God's goodness and kindness and love towards the needy; whereas grace when it is distinguished from mercy has in view God's goodness and kindness and love towards sinners. And so mercy especially has us in view in terms of our need. And so as Jude says, “May God's mercy be multiplied to you,” he's reminding you that you stand in need of God's favor and that in His grace He grants it. Every day of our lives we stand in need of the mercy of God, and nothing can meet the needs that we have but the mercy of God. You know, we can say that we believe in the sovereignty of God, and we can say that we believe in the power of God, but so often as Christians we live as if we could do it ourselves. And we need to be reminded that there is never a moment when we don't need God's mercy, and in His mercy there is never a moment when He does not grant it. And so Jude says, “May mercy be multiplied to you,” God's mercy.

But not only that, but also God's peace…‘May God's peace be multiplied to you,’ he says. “God's peace” refers to our experience of all the blessings which flow from God's objective reconciliation accomplished for us through the atoning death of Christ. It's a rich biblical term…peace. How often do we see in the Old Testament and in the New Testament the greeting “peace”? There are only two books in the whole of the New Testament that don't contain that greeting “peace” somewhere. It's a rich, biblical term. It denotes completeness and soundness and wholeness. It doesn't just mean an absence of enmity with God; it means a friendship with God through His gracious covenant. It entails safety and security and welfare and happiness, and it is the gift of Christ.

Do you remember Jesus speaking to His disciples in the Upper Room in John 14? They’re getting ready to go into the 72 worst hours that they had ever experienced, and what does He say? “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” Jesus pronounces peace and so tells His disciples, “Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” This is a tremendous blessing and we need this peace to serve one another and to serve a world which hates us.

And Jude pronounces the blessing of God's love on us as well. ‘May love be multiplied to you.’ Not our love to God, not our love to neighbor, but God's love to us. To parallel this blessing with the other two blessings it's clear that Jude is drawing attention to God's love towards us. In that sense he's going right back to that description of Christians in verse one, “[We] are beloved in God the Father.” And we ought to revel in that and delight in that.

We also need to ask ourselves the question, “Are we desiring these things, or are there other blessings that we want more than God and the blessings that He gives? Do we pray for one another like this? Is it the mercy and the love and the blessing of God that we want most for one another in life, or are there things in this world upon which our hearts are set?”

Jesus in the Beatitudes and elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount indicates that there are some people who want the blessings of this life more than they want God and the blessings of the age to come, and He says of them that they cannot have it both ways: “You will either hate the one and love the other.” In other words, Jesus is saying that we must seek first God's kingdom and then all these things will be added to us, but if we care for the other things more than the blessings of God we will not taste of satisfaction in this life or the life to come.

You remember Martin Luther's famous, little phrase, “It is due to the perversity of men that they seek peace first and then righteousness, and consequently they find no peace.” If we seek the blessings of this life apart from the righteousness of God which is in Jesus Christ, we’ll never find real blessing. “Solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion's children know.” And we know them because those are the things that by God's grace we have sought above all the bobbles of this world. Are we praying for one another to receive these blessings? Are these the things that we really long for? May God grant that we would do so by the grace of His Spirit. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we know our hearts are prone to wander after the things of this world, so show us Yourself and Your blessings and our need and our Savior. And by the grace of the Holy Spirit help us to trust in Him alone for salvation, and in so doing find that everything that we need is supplied in Him. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all both now and forevermore. Amen.

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A Guide to the Morning Service

The New Sermon Series
This Lord's Day morning we begin a new expositional series on the Book of Jude. It's right after 1, 2, and 3 John (the books we've just finished studying on Sunday mornings) and right before the Book of Revelation, at the end of the New Testament. It's often overlooked, but we won't, as we study . . .


The Faith Once-Delivered: Five Lessons in Jude
Date Text Title
May 9 Jude 1-2 What is a Christian?
May 16 Jude 3-4 Defending the Faith
May 23 Jude 5-16 The Contradiction of Ungodliness
May 30 Jude 17-23 Remembering, Building, Showing Mercy
June 6 Jude 24-25 Blessing God


Jude: have you read it? It's just a tiny letter, but it packs a big punch. Jude: what do you know about it? Have you ever studied it? Well, five Sunday mornings in Jude–that will give us the opportunity to study the entirety of the little book of Jude in some detail. It is unique in many ways. It was written by a man who was a half-brother of Jesus of Nazareth. It contains the only greeting in the New Testament that doesn't mention grace, and the only one that includes love. It was probably originally written to a congregation of Jewish-Christians, but it is God's Word for His whole church, and so directly applicable to us. At the very outset it asks us to ask ourselves some important questions: How should we think about ourselves as Christians? How should we view our life-purpose? What blessings has God bestowed on us? How do they impact our self-estimation and sense of mission? What things ought we to long to be filled with? Come join us as we study it together.
A Meditation
The Noble Calling: Motherhood
The disparagement of the noble profession of motherhood is virtually epidemic in our culture. Sometimes it is assaulted outright by radical feminists who see a woman in the home, managing a household and rearing a family, as (at best) somehow not fulfilling her potential or (at worst) a prime example of an oppressed second-class citizen of a male-dominated, patriarchal world. Other times we discount motherhood subtly by the innocent things we say: “Is she a ‘working’ mother?” (Have you ever met a mother who didn't work?!) or "Does she have a job or does she just stay at home with the children?" (The person who asks this question obviously doesn't spend much time with children!). In mentioning this, we do not intend any disrespect to the many fine Christian women who represent their Lord with competence and integrity in the marketplace and in the various professions. On the contrary, we honor them. But we recognize that many today find it difficult to believe that familial duties in themselves are capable of providing women with a sense of fulfillment or significance.

Unless this disparagement is addressed, we stand the chance of further compromising the one institution on which the foundation for the whole of our society rests: the family. That having been said, I wish to remind those who are mothers of the supreme importance of motherhood in the plan of God and to encourage mothers in their great task. For whatever else you are and do, nothing will be more important, more crucial, or more significant than your being a faithful Christian mother. I do not wish anyone to rob you of your sense of the value of what you do as a mother, or of your sense of the critical position of influence that the Lord has given you.

May I remind you how history has hung in the balance because of the influence of mothers? A casual glance at the record of Israel's kings will remind you of the power which a mother can wield, for good or evil (cf. 2 Kings 8:25-27; 11:1-2). Furthermore, mothers are crucial in the formation of the spiritual character of their children. Think of Timothy, Paul's "son" in the Lord. Yet his commitment to Christ was not due to Paul's influence. Under God, his mother (and grandmother!) had shown him the way of the Lord (2 Timothy 1:5). And remember Augustine – great theologian of the early Church? It was his mother Monica who prayed him into faith in Christ, and trained him in word and deed about the life which Christ intends for His people. When he wrote his great devotional book, Confessions after her death, he said: "I will not omit a word that I can bring to mind about my mother!" Praise be to God for good Christian mothers! May your husbands and children rise up and call you blessed (Proverbs 31:28).

Finally, we should all remember that Mother's Day can be a difficult time for many of our friends in Christ: those who have longed for the call to motherhood, but who have not received it; those who have suffered the loss of children; those who have estranged or straying children; those who have painful memories of relations with their own mothers. Let us remember them in prayer, that they too may know God's blessing, approval, and comfort.
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