“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation…” (Jude 3a)
What does Jude mean by this phrase? There are at least three distinct possibilities:
(1) The salvation that each of us had received from Jesus is something that we share or have in common. In this sense, the salvation still remains mostly an individualistic transaction between God and whoever is accepting his gift of grace. It is only after the fact that we seek out and celebrate our relationship with like-minded individuals. This fall short of what I believe Jude to be saying here.
(2) When we enter into and experience the Gospel, we are not merely doing so as individuals but as members of the collective. When we accept Jesus we immediately become part of the body in a way that goes beyond just being part of a community because we all value the same things. Our identity actual becomes changed, such that we are now (though still distinct individuals) one of the many Jesus followers in the world: we are not now individuals making up a group, but rather slices of the whole. There is something in salvation that only be gained and accessed within the context of community. We are not merely being saved as individuals, but together as the Church we are being saved. This is my preferred reading.
(3) Salvation is often described in terms of the actions and activities we engage in based on the belief we have, rather than just as the belief itself. Salvation is seen as us acting as Jesus in the world in order to expand the Kingdom of God. So when Jude speaks about “our common salvation” this is more like a short-hand for “our common salvation project to be ambassadors of Christ and redeemers in the world.” While this may be true elsewhere, in the next portion of the verse, Jude speaks about the faith that has been handed down, so I suspect that it has to do more with the actual belief part of things.
This phrase leaps off the page because it is my distinct impression that in church contexts generally in North America, some aspect of a common or shared salvation experience is not often spoken about or taught on. And if it is, generally the emphasis is more on the first option: that we need each other because we all believe in the same things and therefore need to encourage one another. The individual is still the main unit in the discussion. However, we ought to shift the dialogue away from the individual and toward the collective, a thought that is much more indigenous to the NT than the individualistic way of seeing things. In this context, the main unit to be considered is the collective Church community. Individuals should rightly not be relegated to mindless servants of the collective, but when we change the nature of the discussion toward group, we are forced to ask ourselves what we are contributing rather than what we are receiving; and we have an easier time seeing what God is doing in the wider Church community rather than simply in my own life, which can be a source of hope when God doesn’t appear all that active in one’s own life.