The church of Jesus Christ has always had enemies. There are those who attack, accuse, ridicule, and attempt to impede the church. Yet the New Testament is often less concerned with those enemies who arise from outside the body of the church. The writers of the epistles often warn the churches of those gospel opponents who develop from within their own ranks. A number of New Testament epistles are written directly to counter and confront false teachers and Jude is one such epistle. The church must always be prepared to defend true Christian belief.
In the first few verses of Jude’s short epistle he establishes the purpose of his writing. The text tells us that Jude had an original intent for his letter that was altered after he discovered the presence of false teachers in the church. He writes:
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The phrase “our common salvation” is significant and telling. If Jude wrote to gentile believers, as I believe, then the phrase is intended to communicate their shared relationship with Jewish believers. After the deaths of Paul and Peter Jude wanted to write to these churches to reiterate the messages of the apostles and the shared experience of salvation between Jewish and gentile believers – a common theme in Paul’s writings. Jude wanted the churches to know that they were not abandoned. But his treatise on soteriology was delayed.
Instead Jude has some how gotten word of the presences of false teachers in their midst. He “found it necessary to write,” he says, urging the church to “contend for the faith” because “certain people have crept in…who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The word “contend” may come from either a military or athletic context. The idea is to “strive intensely,” “fight”. Douglas Moo writes:
“Contend” is a strong word. It refers to the exertions of the athlete and is similar to the word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 9:25: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Paul later applied this same term to his and his coworkers’ energetic defense of the gospel (Col. 1:29; 1 Tim. 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). Thus Jude urges his readers not simply to resist the false teachers’ perversion of the faith; they are actively and energetically to fight for it. (2 Peter, Jude, 229)
Jude insists that the church defend the truths of the gospel. Specifically this text reveals what is under attack: the doctrines of sanctification and Christology. The false teachers “perfected the grace of God into sensuality,” most likely meaning they were antinomian. Antinomianism is the belief that there are no moral laws God expects Christians to obey. This applied particularly to the area of sexual ethics in the churches to whom Jude writes. If God requires no obedience then they could do whatever they wanted with their bodies, or so the false teachers claimed. This is not unlike what Paul argued against in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Furthermore, the false teachers denied the divinity of Christ. They refused to acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
We see some immediate parallels to our own modern context. Churches today continue to debate and diminish the Biblical teaching on sexual ethics. Younger Christians in particular are increasingly less inclined to believe same-sex sexual behavior is sinful, and co-habitation among unmarried Christians is also on the rise. The church’s historic teaching on sexuality is being undermined today. In addition, while Evangelicals do not necessarily outright deny the divinity of Jesus, core doctrines continue to be attacked and minimized across the Evangelical landscape, including doctrines like: hell, original sin, importance of the church, and even the exclusivity of Christ. Jude’s words ring true for us today too. We must be ready to contend for the faith.
This means, not merely taking a defensive posture. Apologetics has to be about more than answering arguments that others develop. We must be ready to give a reason for the hope we have when asked (1 Peter 3:15), but we must also be pro-active. Christians need to go on the offensive. We must be evangelists for the beauty and joy of the Lord. “Contending for the faith” is not merely about defense, it’s about aggressive and tenacious promotion of the glorious truths of the Gospel and of God’s Word. We can do this through joyful living, preaching, earnest friendship, art, and holy and compelling lifestyles.
Our contending, like that of the church to whom Jude wrote, is not for a generic Christianity. Jude is zealous to see them contend for the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” That is the content of the gospel that was passed down from the apostles. We have a clear guide to truth in the teachings of Scripture and it is for its content that we must contend. We strive intensely to preserve and promote the truths of these Scriptures. There is a standard for faithful Christianity, and to it we cling.
Jude’s words have real meaning and significance for us today. Every generation of the church must rise up to contend for the one true faith against the unique challenges of its time. Glen Stanton has written:
The Bible is clear that each generation must be mindful of the particular age and setting it occupies on the stage of history. Today is not the same as yesterday, nor will tomorrow be the same as today. Each generation lives in a unique age as God’s divine and sovereign history moves along…To be honest, when I consider that I am part of this generation, facing these unique and important challenges, it scares me. It is like realizing you are now the adult and you can’t rely on your parents to bail you out anymore. You’re the one in the batter’s box. The pitcher is throwing his best at you! You’ve been chosen to go the plate because the manager, for some crazy reason, thinks you have what it takes. You can’t ask him to put in someone else. You better have that quiet confidence needed for the task. But sometimes the challenge seems too great, too demanding, too difficult. But here we are, on the field at this moment in time, and the cavalry is not going to come and step in. We are the cavalry! We must have faith in the One who saw fit to put us here according to His great timing. (Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor, 26-28).
Contend for the faith, brothers and sisters. Heed Jude’s words and move forward.