doctrine matters

[This sermon from Jude’s letter was preached at Christ Church, Paarl on 5 July 2015.] 

There is a sense of urgency in this letter of Jude. It is evident from his language that there is a real threat to the Church and the believers. He describes this threat as certain people, emerging from within the members of the church, who by the heresies they proclaimed, and the lives they lived (verse 4), managed to cause some to start doubting, others to desert the Christian faith, and yet others to also spread the same deceitful lies and live lives totally dishonoring, even blaspheming, God and Christ (verses 22-23). 

At the core of Jude’s urgency, was the attack against the fundamental truths of Christianity. This is reflected in his aim with the letter (verse 3). Jude was not planning on writing about some lovely tea party or Church braai where everything was cosy and warm. On the contrary! Jude was convinced that the situation at hand warranted that he change his original intent to write about salvation, and rather exhort his fellow believers to take up the battle for the Truth. The whole letter is focused on protecting the truth and its impact on life. In a nutshell, Jude admonishes that Doctrine Matters, and it is worth fighting for. 

1. The Truth worth fighting for

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 did not think it would be a good idea to call the believers to stand up for what they believe. If that was the case, then it would have been an optional. No, he found it a necessity to call believers to action. It is therefore not something to be taken likely that as a believer you have the obligation to take part in the war for Truth – after all, it was on the basis of this truth that you were saved from your former life of misery and sin to the new life in Christ. 

Throughout the history of the church we see this raging battle for the Truth. There has never been a generation that was not confronted by the enemy of truth in some way or another. It may also be said that there is a progression in both its intensity as well as its impact through the history of mankind. What started as the question “did God really say?” in the garden (Genesis 3), escalated to a fierce attack and denial, and a great moral landslide within the Church, as the enemy knows his time is short (Revelation 12:17). This brings the exhortation of Jude all the more to the forefront. A plead to “earnestly contend” for the Faith, or doctrine. 

Usually when one mentions “doctrine”, there is a negative idea of system of archaic rules,  regulations, and opinions that did not keep up with modern development in human psychology and behavior. This sentiment is clear in the modern day move to experiential Christianity, where relationship with God is determined by what we feel, rather than by what we know about God and the direct impact of that knowledge on our lives. God’s presence in Church meetings has become directly proportionate to the size of the goose bumps, etc. But what we read in Jude is quite the opposite. Doctrine lies at the core of who we are and therefore we are called to battle in order to protect it. 

The truth we believe sustains our lives, and if we lose that, we are left in ruins, disconnected from God and robbed from the divine life that is only available through knowing Him. We read this in Genesis 3. The attack there was against the truth of God’s word to Adam (“… of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” – Genesis 2:17). It was this very truth that was under attack by Satan (“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 3:1), and we see the consequences of a truth forfeited to this very day (“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” – Genesis 3:8)

Biblical Doctrine determines who you are and how you conduct your life. For this very reason you have the obligation to take up your battle gear and fight. It is not an optional, it is not an afterthought of something more important. You are called to protect the Truth at all cost. Paul writes to Timothy reminding him of the fact that the Church is the pillar and buttress of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). This should not to be taken lightly.

The pulpit is a battlefield, as is every meeting where the truth is expounded and explained. Every believer should therefore mourn the current apostasy from Biblical Truth as represented by the modern day Word of Faith, Prosperity, and Emerging Church Movements, as well as the so-called Progressive Christianity. These are not mere systems catering for different flavors within Christianity. No, they are outright attacks against the Biblical Truth and a disgrace to the core identity of the Church and the believer’s identity Christ. 

2. The Truth Delivered

 Jude is also clear as to what it is that we need to protect, i.e. “the Faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”. He is not referring here to saving faith, but rather the body of truth that was delivered by Apostles, built on the revelation of God through the Old Testament and in Christ Jesus. Although they did not have a New Testament yet, they had the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and the teachings of the apostle’s. They also, by the time Jude wrote his letter, had the letters of Paul, Peter, and some other letters of the New Testament circulating. It is safe to say that we are to understand the Faith as the full and final revelation of God in Scriptures. Paul writes the same language to the Romans in chapter 6:17: 

“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to thestandard of teaching to which you were committed.” 

The “standard of teaching” refers to the core Gospel Truths that were proclaimed, that they believed, that transformed and shaped their new lives in Christ. 

What we need to realize is that no-one gets to experience the new life in Christ on the basis of anything else but the Truth. It is the Biblical Truth revealed, delivered, read, reached, taught, understood, and applied, that accomplishes salvation and newness of life.

Experience has no claim. 

Jude uses an interesting phrase to indicate the completeness and finality of the revelation: “once for all” (ἅπαξ παραδοθείσῃ). This already refutes many of the lies that claim new revelation, prophetic visions, and other experiences outside of the Bible. The Faith, or doctrines we are to guard is contained in the written Word of God, which in essence points us to the Living Word of God, the God-man Jesus Christ, who came to reveal the Father to mankind. 

Someone said: 

“This Faith, or this Gospel, has been once for all delivered to Christians. No other will be given, for there is no other. Whatever may be delivered by any one in future cannot be a Gospel at all. The one true Gospel is complete and final, and admits of no successors and no supplements.” 

The notion of doctrine being a dead corpse is only true where doctrine does not honor the Living Word of God and is not true to the written word of God. God’s Word, His revealed Word to man, can never be dead, for the simple reason that it is His Word, breathed by His Spirit, and focused on His Son and His redemptive plan. Doctrine that honors this, is worth the battle, but more, it is worth living. Martin Luther said: 

“the Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me.”

3. The Truth worth living

 It is a lie that doctrine is only a set of archaic rules that has no bearing on our lives. That in itself is a blatant attack on the Truth that Biblical Truth permeates our very being and can be seen in the way we conduct our lives (“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” – 1 Peter 1:23). This can be seen negatively from the letter of Jude in the lives of those that proclaim their lies. Because of their convictions and beliefs, they had a certain way of life.

From what Jude writes, it is clear that they had a very low view of God, a twisted view of the lordship of Christ, a false perspective on true spirituality, a disregard for the angelic beings, a greedy lust for financial prosperity, with a rebellious inclination towards everything that Truth stands for. Their lives reflected these erroneous views. They are described as ungodly, perverting God’s grace into sensuality, they defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the spiritual world. They do not understand truth, and are destroyed by their ignorance. They crave prosperity, but rather perish in rebellion with all their gains (verses 4-5, 8-16). Of them can truly be said, they believe a lie and therefore they live a lie. 

The moral landslide that we are experiencing, is directly related to abandoning of the truth of God’s Word. The current battle for LGBT rights are directly related to a corrupted view of God and Him as creator of man and woman. The selfish insistence that abortion is acceptable reveals a denial that it is God who gives life and it it God only that takes life. The push for Evolution is a direct result of a rejection of God as Creator.

Some theologians attempt to remedy it by proposing Theistic Evolution, but even this is dishonoring to the glory of our God. Its like mixing Coffee and Coke. They just do not go together. The denial of hell and eternal judgement is nothing else than a rebellion against the fact that God is the Holy and Righteous Judge of His creation and man stands accountable before Him. Making people believe that you can never out-give God financially is a twisted perversion that turns God into a piggy bank in the hands of almighty men.  All of these are examples of how rejecting sound doctrine, leads to erroneous lives. 

The positive view is that they who believe the Truth will live by the Truth. The fact of the matter is that convictions always precede living. We do not always realise this, nor do we always want to. But is a fact we cannot escape. Paul bring this to Timothy’s attention in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: 

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 

Jude’s exhortation in this letter has major implications for our attitude towards the Word of God and the truths or doctrines contained in it. It raises deep questions as to our commitment to its message and teachings. The logical inference would be that our willingness to fight for the truth is directly related to the measure that the truth has gripped us. It also puts the question of risk on the table.

What are you willing to risk for the Faith that you hold to? The prophets were willing to die for what they had to prophesy. Christ was willing to pay the ultimate price to secure the truth, to set us free by that same truth and to bind us to it. Jude does not, however, believe in freedom of will. His call to contend for the faith was not by choice, but by necessity. It does not ask for choice, but obedience! 

To listen to the audio of this sermon, go here.

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