Fight Valiantly! Contending for the faith in Jude
Posted by Lee Gatiss, 11 Mar 2019
Lee Gatiss continues our Lent series on fighting valiantly for the faith with a look at the letter of Jude. There is a video podcast of this Lent series available on our YouTube channel.
Rather than writing a more positive letter about our salvation, Jude decided to write an appeal instead, a vital appeal for people to contend for the faith. Jude 3-4 says:
“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. 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.”
Jude says that the faith was “once and for all delivered to the saints.” It isn’t something which can change, or which can be added to. It was definitively delivered. There is such a thing as “orthodoxy”, a definitive body of doctrine that has been passed down to us. So the false teaching, which he outlines a little more in the rest of the letter, includes the idea of changing our gospel, our message. Indeed, he says they want to pervert grace into a license for immorality, and undermine the Lordship of Jesus as our Master, that is, one with rights over how we behave.
So contending here is in the context of false teaching. As in Philippians, it is contending for something, the faith. It means not changing our doctrine and not changing our moral and ethical applications of it, which certain people would like us to. In such a situation, believers need to stand firm and do something in the face of that threat to a right understanding of God’s grace to us as sinners.
But what is that something? It is some kind of struggle against difficulty. But what? Violent resistance? Execution of heretics? Public denouncements? Jude actually applies his own teaching himself at the end of his letter, so we can see what he thinks it means. He says, in verses 17-23:
“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 cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”
Here, he defines ways of contending for the faith, as some worldly people cause divisions. So while some are “grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires… loud-mouthed boasters, showing favouritism to gain advantage” (Jude 16), what should we do? Verses 20-23 tell us what to do to contend for the faith:
a. Build ourselves up in our most holy faith
Note this interesting description: it is a holy faith, a truth which leads to godliness. We are to build ourselves up in this. So the immediate focus is not on something we do towards others, the heretics. Jude wants us to look to ourselves in this situation, and edify one another with the truth.
b. Pray in the Holy Spirit
We can pray in the Spirit, unlike those devoid of the Spirit (see the previous verse) whose prayers are not in accordance with the will of God the Holy Spirit. But all things we do should be suffused with prayer, rather than trusting to our own strategies and strengths.
c. Keep ourselves in the love of God
In the sense that God loves those who obey him. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” said Jesus (John 14:15). So keep yourself in that love, and live in a way that is pleasing to God. Again, this is something we must do with respect to ourselves in order to be contending, rather than something focused directly on our opponents. We contend for the faith by keeping ourselves in the love of God.
d. Wait for the mercy of the Lord to eternal life
The way out of the struggle, will come when Jesus returns, or when he decides to act to mercifully deal with the opposition.
There are four components here to contending for the faith. All of them focused on our own personal and corporate spiritual responsibility, focused on ourselves, keeping watch over ourselves. Then, and only then, does Jude say how we should behave towards the false teachers or, more accurately, those affected by them. Jude’s strategy for contending for the faith is very different to worldly methods of fighting for what you want. His approach is characterised by mercy:
a. Having mercy on those who doubt
Not harshness, but be merciful. People faced with persuasive and passionate and powerful false teaching are often fooled. And they often doubt. They don’t know what to think in a time of confusion. The way we contend for the true faith must be merciful to those people, and attract them to the true faith rather than putting them off it. Waverers can be reclaimed.
b. Saving others by snatching them out of the fire
That sounds like vigorous action which helps individuals avoid plunging wholeheartedly into the heresy. Do we even think about snatching such people from the fire of hell, as part of our contending? Maybe we think of it as evangelism. But even those who seem to be heading to perdition can be saved, by the way we contend for the truth. Does this motive come through in the way we speak about things? Are we loving in our motives and our attitudes?
c. Showing mercy with fear to those tainted by the sins promoted by the heretics
Again, we show love and kindness to people caught up in false teaching and living. I think “mercy mixed with fear” is about making sure that as we do work with such people we don’t get caught up in sin ourselves, the sort of entangling sin being promoted by the false teachers which is not easy to escape. We may think we are clear and sound, but it is too easy if we are focusing on other people’s sins all the time not to notice our own fallenness in the same areas, or to proudly assume we are immune to temptation, and become ensnared.
The danger of not contending is great. But contending and then falling or stumbling into sin or error ourselves is also a huge danger. So we need to be looking to God who can present us blameless — giving glory to him for this, not patting ourselves on the back for being so orthodox and sound and godly. The Fall has left none of us entirely straight; we are all bent towards sin. That means orthodoxy in the faith is a gift from God and not a human work in which we can boast.
Questions for reflection
1. How can we be sure that we are looking to God to “keep us from stumbling” (verse 24) rather than trusting to our own strength and soundness?
2. How can we build ourselves up in our most holy faith when false teaching invades the church?
3. How can we show mercy to those who doubt, without making it look like the Bible is unclear on the doctrines and practices under attack from false teachers?
Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society and the editor of Gospel Flourishing in a Time of Confusion, the latest book from Church Society.
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