contending for the faith

[This sermon was preached at Christ Church Paarl, Western Cape, South Africa on 22 March 2015]

Introduction

There is a constant attack on the truth of the Gospel. This has been the reality for the church ever since its inception. This attack comes from two worlds. The first is the world outside the Church. This is expected. We cannot expect the unbelieving world to not be an enemy of the Gospel truth. After all, an unbeliever is by default an enemy of God, and God is also his / her enemy. Therefore, the attacks from there is to be expected and handled appropriately.

The second is a much more dangerous enemy, and as you probably already guessed, originates from within the church. Not only do these enemies from the inside redefine Christian doctrines like Creation, Sin, Eternal Life, Eternal Judgement, the Virgin Birth, the Humanity of Christ, and the Resurrection of the Dead, to name but a few, but they also repackage old heresies as so-called new Christian truths.

The early Christians experienced this attack from these insiders, of which the letter of Jude is proof. He is clear about his intent with this letter, and that it was not his first choice, but from necessity. Verse 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.

Jude realised the truths of the Christian Faith is under attack, and the believers could not sit still in mere acceptance that the very core of their faith was being twisted, or should we rather say, brutalised! Therefore the change in his purpose which cannot be stated more clearly than he himself wrote: Contend for the faith! There is no other way for the Church of Christ to survive this total onslaught against the very foundation upon which it is built. Every generation needs to take up this call to contend, while training up the next generation to not only do the same, but equip them to teach the generation that will follow them.

I therefore want us to look at how we should contend for the faith according to Jude in this letter. We can see 6 aspects that Jude mentions, and we will briefly look at each of these.

Do not forget (v5-19)

Twice in this section, Jude refreshes his readers’ minds. In verse 5 he reminds them of the fact that God does not withhold His judgement from apostasy. He refers to three incidents, namely the saving of Israel and the consequent judgment due to unbelief (v5). There is also the angels that gave up their proper dwelling and is now held in chains by God, awaiting their final judgement (v6). Then there is Sodom and Gomorrah who were judged for their immoral character and lifestyle (v7). We are thus reminded of the very real truth that God judges the sinfulness of the creature. Verse 7 is a striking summary of all three these examples, i.e. that they “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” God will not withhold His judgement from evil men. Although they might grow in power and esteem in the eyes of their followers, their end is certain.

This is then applied to those who attack the truths of God as revealed to us (v8-11). In verse 11 we are reminded that there end will be the same as those mentioned. “Woe to them!” Jude writes. They will experience the judgement of God for their reckless and blasphemous behaviour.

One cannot but be reminded of the words of Hebrews 10:26-31:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

It is both a warning and assurance. An assurance that God will not let His name be brought in disrepute, and a warning for us not to even contemplate following these ungodly liars.

In verse 17 Jude reminds the believers again, this time of the fact that these false teachers will come from within the church and their presence is known by their effect, namely division. They are unbelievers, motivated by their sinful desires, causing all sorts of strife and disharmony within the body of Christ.

Christians should therefore not think the church is immune against these attacks. No local church can ever let down their protective walls thinking the attack will not affect them. It is a constant reminder that the fiercest of enemies are those unbelieving deceivers that rise up from the inside and spread their cancer to the unsuspecting believers. Verse 12 warns of their arrogance – they share in your feats without fear.

Be therefore constantly reminded that the enemy will stand up from within your midst, but the Judge of the Universe will not let His name be blasphemed.

Mind your spiritual health (v20-21)

Having these reminders constantly before us, Jude moves to the second way you are to contend for your faith, namely to mind your spiritual health. The application is very clear. No one will fight for something he is not committed to. There is no point in that. You might attempt a half-hearted defence, but when you are pushed to the edge of the cliff, an empty, shallow relationship with God will result in a damaged spiritual life. It is often those that do not care for their soul, who are swept away by the torrents of deceit.

Jude therefore admonishes to care for your soul, centred on the truth to “keep [guard / preserve] yourself in the love of God” (v21a). This does not refer to an emotional experience of God, but is qualified by the surrounding statements to

  • build up in faith (v20a)
  • pray in the Holy Spirit (v20b)
  • waiting for the mercy that leads to eternal life (v21b)

Note the three aspects of keeping yourself in God’s love, namely knowledge, prayer, and perseverance. In this context these three are the building blocks towards a life being “protected” or “maintained” in God’s love. Note also the place of each Person of the Trinity in this process.

John writes concerning this truth in 1 John 5:18:

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

And John 14:21:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

Have compassion on the doubters (v22)

It is then only after you have a constant remembrance of the judgement of God, and while you keep yourself in God’s love that you are able to help those who have fallen prey to falsehood, which is the focus of the following three points.

The first are those that are not following the false teachers yet, but they have their doubts concerning the truths they were taught. Chances are they have not kept themselves in the love of God, and are now wavering in their commitments. These, Jude urges, are to be handled with mercy. You who are strong in your faith, make every effort to correct those who are questioning their foundations, but do this with compassion, and with the utmost caution not to push them over the edge of falsehood by a harsh approach.

There are “heretic slayers”, those who go full out to crack the skulls of those who spread deceit. Jude says that in this instance, being a fearless heretic hunter is not the way to go. Put away your sword, and rather use God’s Sword to correct the wrong teachings that cause doubt. Compassion cares and wishes to re-establish the doubter in his love of God, and wants to see him restored, and stronger than before.

Rescue those already caught in the fire (v23a)

A second group of believers that need help, is those that have walked into the fire, i.e. they have accepted the deceitful doctrines of these waterless clouds. They crossed the borders of doubt to acceptance, to the realm of God’s judgement. In 1:7 Jude refers to God’s judgement as fire, as does Peter in his second letter (2 Peter 3:7). This is God’s judgement on these wild waves of the sea. In the Old Testament we find the high priest Joshua being “a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2) and Amos refers to God’s people as “a brand plucked out of the burning” (Amos 4:11). Lot was as one snatched from the fire when saved from God’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jude says they can be saved, but only by drastic measures. You are to warn them of their errant ways, pleading with them to flee the judgment of God and return to the faith that was once delivered to them. This requires courage, as it is much more difficult to rescue someone from God’s wrath than from a doubting mind.

Show mercy to the apostates (v23b)

Then there is the most difficult group. Some commentators refer to this group as the heretics themselves, who are beyond human intervention (v4, 13). What is certain though, is that they have ventured over from doubting, to judgment, to having a very negative effect on those who come in contact with their character, morals, and lifestyle. Jude warns in this regard that they potentially defile others, drawing them into the same lifestyle as themselves.

You are to show them the same compassion as those that are in doubt, but with the utmost caution, even fear, lest you yourself be defiled by them. These are the extreme cases where the person is cut off from the fellowship of believers and “handed over to Satan” as Paul mentioned to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:18-20; see also 1 Corinthians 5:5).

Rest in God’s sovereign protection

After Jude shows how we are to handle all the difficult cases within the church concerning false teachings and its effect on the believers, he closes with the very powerful song of praise in verses 24-25. Although it is not really an appeal to the believer as in the previous section to do something, this doxology does have some relevance for contending for the faith. This is that the godly can rest in the full assurance of God’s sovereign preservation of those who belong to Him.

What a powerful truth to hold onto. The false teachers degraded the character of God and denied the power of the only Lord and Master, Christ Jesus (verse 4). Now Jude states that in the midst of all, God is still God and Christ is still the only Lord and Saviour, and the power of God is still able to keep His own from stumbling and present them blameless in His presence.

This you should not forget. The attacks will come, it will most certainly be difficult. Sometimes you might even feel you are losing hope and courage. Always remember the words from this letter, written to believers who had to go through the same war:

The Triune God is able to keep you from falling. He is able to present you blameless in His presence. There is none but Him. He is the only Saviour. All authority belongs to Him. And therefore, all glory is His, and His alone.

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