Contend for the Faith
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Believer's Assurance: the God Who Keeps
Jude's letter begins and ends with very comforting words to Christians. In verse 1 it describes us as "those who are called, loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ." All three verbs are passive. They stress the action of God. God calls, God loves, and God keeps. We are called, are loved, and are kept. Jude is very eager to begin by stressing the security of the believer in God's electing and preserving love.
Then at the end of his letter in verse 24 he says, "Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God . . . be glory." Notice, in verse 1 we are kept by God for Jesus Christ. And in verse 24 God is able to keep us from falling. Jude begins and ends the letter by assuring believers that God exerts his omnipotence to keep them from falling away from the faith.
So what should you answer when someone questions how you can be so sure you will keep the faith to the end and so be saved at the judgment? You should say something like this: "God has called me out of unbelief. Therefore I know that he loves me with a particular electing love. Therefore I know that he will keep me from falling. He will work in me that which is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:21), and present me with rejoicing before the throne of his glory."
The Believer's Call: Fight for the Faith
That's the way Jude begins and ends his letter. But in the middle his concern is different. It is not to help believers feel content, but to help them feel vigilant. Having shown them the electing love of God and the unsurpassed power of God (vv. 2–5) to keep them safe, Jude now shows them the danger that surrounds them. And he tells them to fight for the faith.
Verse 3: "Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." In other words the assured victory of the believing church does not mean that we don't have to fight to win.
Just because the brilliant Commander in Chief promises victory on the beaches doesn't mean the troops can throw their weapons overboard. The promise of victory assumes valor in battle. When God promises that his church will be kept from defeat, his purpose is not that we lay down our sword and go to lunch, but that we pick up the sword of the Spirit and look confidently to God for the strength to fight and win. Wherever the promised security of God is used to justify going AWOL, we may suspect there is a traitor in the ranks.
So God's way, as we see it in Jude, is to give his people confidence that their faith will be victorious in the end (in verses 1 and 24) and then to send them out to fight for it.
Four Aspects of the Main Point of Jude
The main point of this little book of Jude is verse 3. And so I want to make it the main point of my message, namely, it is the duty of every genuine believer to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. I will try to unfold the meaning of this doctrine under four headings.
- There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints.
- This faith is worth contending for.
- This faith is repeatedly threatened from within the church.
- Every genuine believer should contend for the faith.
1. There Is a Faith Once for All Delivered to the Saints
Sometimes the word faith is used for the feeling of trust in Christ. Other times, as here, it is used for the truths we believe about the one we trust.
A Personal Relationship with Jesus
Sometimes it is necessary to stress that Christianity is primarily a relationship with Jesus rather than a set of ideas about Jesus. The reason we do this is because no one is saved by believing a set of ideas. The devil believes most of the truths of Christianity. We need to stress that unless a person has a living trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, all the orthodoxy in the world will not get him into heaven.
But if our stress on the personal relationship with Jesus leads us to deny that there is a set of truths essential to Christianity, we make a grave mistake. There are truths about God and Christ and man and the church and the world which are essential to the life of Christianity. If they are lost or distorted, the result will not be merely wrong ideas but misplaced trust. The inner life of faith is not independent from the doctrinal statement of faith. When doctrine goes bad, so do hearts. There is a body of doctrine which must be preserved.
The main evidence for this in verse 3 is that this faith is said to be "delivered to the saints." This means that it was passed down from the apostles. It was not thought up by the church. It was revealed by God to his apostles and their close associates and then taught to the churches as the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) or the "standard of teaching" (Romans 6:17).
"Once for All"
For us one of the most important phrases in verse 3 is "once for all." Here we are 2,000 years after the faith was first delivered to the church, and we are surrounded with hundreds of people and sects and cults who claim to have a new word of revelation that now completes God's word to mankind. Mohammed offered his Koran. Joseph Smith his Book of Mormon. Sun Moon his Divine Principle. And you meet people every day who consider every contemporary intellectual trend as a suitable replacement for the Bible.
But please notice very carefully. Jude taught that the faith has been once for all delivered to the saints. God's revelation concerning the doctrinal content of our faith is finished. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Anyone who comes along and claims to have a new word from God to add to the faith once for all delivered to the saints is against Scripture.
The reason we have a Bible is that the church of the third and fourth century recognized that God had spoken once for all in these writings. The canon was closed, and every other claim to truth is now measured by the standard of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
The Unity of Apostolic Faith
One other thing before we leave this first point. When we say there is a faith once for all delivered to the saints, we mean faith and not faiths. Today it is fashionable to speak of many theologies in the New Testament. Scholars love to stress the diversity of viewpoints among the New Testament writers, and the difficulty of bringing them all into a single coherent understanding of reality.
Well, there is indeed some diversity from one inspired writer to another. But I would plead for a new generation of students to think long and hard about the implications of Jude 3: "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." Whatever diversity there is in the way we view this faith, the emphasis here falls on unity. There is an apostolic faith. There is a body of doctrine that hangs together and is called the faith. We should not add to it or take from it. It has been once for all delivered to the saints.
2. This Faith Is Worth Contending For
Last week we read in Romans 14 that one person regards one day better than another and one person regards all days alike. Each should be convinced in his own mind and not despise or condemn the other. Now here we are in Jude being told to contend for what we believe.
Truths Worth Dying For
What I infer from this is that there is a body of doctrine worth contending for, and there are secondary applications of those doctrines which we should not contend with each other about.
But mark it down in your mind: there is truth worth contending for. There is truth worth dying for. That is hard for our relativistic culture to understand. We might be able to imagine dying for people, but not many today consider any truths so precious they will contend for them or even die for them.
The Blood of the Martyrs
It wasn't always this way. The faith that we cherish was preserved for us with the blood of hundreds of reformers. From 1555 to 1558 Queen Mary, the Catholic ruler in England, had 288 Protestant reformers burned at the stake—men like John Rogers, John Hooper, Rowland Taylor, Robert Ferrar, John Bradford, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer. And why were they burned? Because they stood by a truth—the truth that the real presence of Jesus' body is not in the eucharist but in heaven at the Father's right hand. For that truth they endured the excruciating pain of being burned alive.
The blood of the martyrs is a powerful testimony that the faith once for all delivered to the saints is worth contending for. But there is evidence of this right here in verse 3. Jude says that what he is really writing about is our common salvation. "Since I am eager to write about our common salvation, it is necessary to urge you to contend for the faith." When the faith is at stake, our salvation is at stake. If the truth is lost, salvation is lost. The apostles and reformers were willing to die for the sake of the faith because they cared about whether the message of salvation would be preserved—they cared about people and about the glory of God.
We need to gain a whole new sense of the preciousness of biblical doctrine. We need to know as a church the depth and beauty and value of the doctrinal truth laid out so profoundly in the ordination statements of Steve Roy and Tom Steller. There is a faith worth contending for, and I can't begin to over-estimate the value to this church in having men like Tom and Steve who have worked their way into the unifying heart of this faith and are committed to teach it.
3. This Faith Is Repeatedly Threatened from Within the Church
Bloody Mary was a professing Christian not a barbarian. The worst enemies of Christian doctrine are professing Christians who do not hold to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
The Warnings of Paul and Jude
In his last message to the pastors of the church of Ephesus in Acts 20 Paul warned them that after his departure "fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (vv. 29–30). The wolves who pervert the faith are professing Christians. They are pastors and church leaders and seminary teachers and missionaries.
In Jude the reason the church needed to gird itself to contend for the faith is given in verse 4. "For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."
So the threat to the faith is coming from among some who are now inside. They are probably saying something like this: If we are saved by grace, then it doesn't matter what we do morally. In fact when a Christian sins, it only serves to magnify the grace of God. So they turned the grace of God against the commandments of Christ and in effect denied the lordship of Jesus.
And that's the way it's been ever since the first century. Paul said it would happen. Jude saw it happening. He saw it as a fulfillment of the apostles' predictions. Verses 17–19: "But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.' It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit."
Contentions with Professing Christians
As many tears as it may have cost Paul (Philippians 3:18), virtually all his letters have to do with contentions that he was having with professing Christians. So it should not surprise us if today much of our contending for the faith will be with professing Christians who teach and write things which (at least from our perspective) are contrary to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
The plain New Testament teaching is that the faith will be repeatedly threatened from within.
Which leads finally to the admonition . . .
4. Every Genuine Believer Should Contend for the Faith
This letter of Jude is not written to a pastor but to "those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ" (v. 1). The duty to contend for the faith is, therefore, not just the duty of the ordained ministers of the Word, though they do have a special responsibility. It is the duty of every genuine believer.
Verses 20–21 tell some of the things we should do to prepare ourselves to contend for the faith. And verses 22–23 tell some of the ways to contend for the faith.
Preparing to Contend for the Faith
Verses 20–21: "But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep, yourselves in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
The best thing we can do to become a church that is effective in contending for the faith is to become a church well built on the faith. "Build yourselves up on your most holy faith." Study! Meditate! Build! Grow! There is so much wonderful truth about God to learn. And the best defense of the faith is to know it and love it.
Prayer is an indispensable part of contending for the faith. "Pray in the Holy Spirit." Unless we seek the mind of the Holy Spirit in prayer, we will not grow in our grasp of the faith and we will be weak contenders.
Contending for the Faith
When it comes to the actual contending Jude says in verses 22–23, "And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."
At least two things are evident here. One is that contending sometimes involves an intellectual effort to change the way a person thinks: "Convince some, who doubt." The other is that contending sometimes involves moral reclamation: go after them into the mess where their perverse ideas have taken them, and snatch them back to safety even while you hate what they are doing.
In reality these things always go together: an effort to change the mind and an effort to change the morals. Contending for the faith is never merely an academic exercise. It is never merely mental. Because the source of all false doctrine is the pride of the man's heart not the weakness of his mind.
This is why Jude tells us to grow and pray and stay in the love of God and depend on his mercy before he says anything about how we should contend for the faith. The best argument for the faith is when the saints live it. That's why Peter says, "Be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15). The way you contend is as important as the content of your arguments. You can win with your logic and lose with your life.
- There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints.
- This faith is worth contending for.
- The faith is repeatedly threatened from within the church by professing Christians.
- It is the duty of every believer to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org