As we come near the end of the year, we arrive at the second to the last book of the Bible, the Epistle of Jude. Jude identifies himself as the brother of James at the beginning of the Epistle. Like his brother James, Jude is not proud in the flesh. He identifies himself as a bondservant of Jesus Christ when, in fact, he could have identified himself as the earthly brother of Jesus.
Jude greets us and reminds us that God has called us out of a world of sin and will keep us until the day that all creation longs for: the revelation of the sons of God when Christ returns in glory. In the meantime, however, he writes a very ominous warning: “3Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
Notice that he starts out saying that he planned on writing a letter to encourage everyone about the common salvation that they all share but then something has alarmed him. Something has him greatly concerned. He is so concerned that he has to warn the readers that they need to “…contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
I’m not sure you really can feel the sense of what he means when he’s telling us to contend earnestly for the faith. In boxing, the person trying to capture the belt from the champion is called the contender. The idea is that we literally have to fight for the faith. That we are supposed to be humble and tender-hearted toward one another is very clear from the Scriptures but just as clear is how we are supposed to fight for the faith and, especially, to protect the flock of God. Paul, when talking about the Christian life, uses regular military and sports analogies. He compares the Christian life to training for battle, putting on armor, fighting the good fight, running the race, and disciplining the body. Why? Because what we’re about here is extremely dangerous stuff. We, who are in the military, train to steel our bodies and minds because warfare is very dangerous to the body. Christian, you need to be aware that you are in the middle of a spiritual battle and, everywhere around you, are people whose eternal souls are in peril. It’s one thing to have your body destroyed but, worse yet, to have your soul destroyed. This is serious, serious stuff.
Now, there are some people that believe I’m wound too tight about certain things. There is some truth to that. Sometimes I’m not as gentle and humble in heart as I should be. Yet, I fear, that I take Christianity so seriously only seems strange in light of a culture that does not take spiritual things seriously at all. When you read Jude or Peter or James or John or Paul or Jesus, you can’t help take things seriously if you take them seriously. Do you know who preached about Hell more than anyone in the entire Scriptures? It’s not an Old Testament prophet. It’s not even an Apostle. It is Jesus, the Son of God, Himself. He obviously knew better than all how serious God is and how much spiritual battle has to be given; for He had come to do battle to the death.
Jude, however, doesn’t tell us to just contend for faith in general. He didn’t tell us to contend for the faith of the Mormon or the Jehovah’s Witness or the Muslim. He commanded us to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the Saints. Paul identifies the Gospel as “…the righteousness of God is revealed faith to faith….” The New Testament reveals, over and over, that men have only ever been justified before God by faith and men will only ever be justified before God by faith. Once for all literally means that faith in Christ has been, is, and always will be the way in which wicked men can be cleansed from their sins and be able to stand before a Holy God.
Why would we have to fight for such a truth? Because even though there should be nothing shameful to us about the fact that God has sent His Son into the world to die for the sins of everyone who believes in Him, the world does not love that news and is ashamed of it. As we discussed last week, the world does not know Him. It does not know the Love of God. That also means that when we are contending for the faith, we are contending for the Love of God. We are contending for the truth that only Christ saves from sin.
The world hates that idea. It says it is unloving. It says it is intolerant. We start to hear the world’s song and we begin to waiver. Maybe claiming Jesus as the only way isn’t loving, maybe tolerance is the key…. No. Jude tells us to contend, to fight for the faith.
What makes matters worse, as Jude continues, is that there are deceivers who have crept into the Church. He reminds us all that we have been warned that such men have always existed and will always exist among us. He reminds us of the stories of Cain, Balaam, Korah, Sodom & Gomorrah. He reminds us of the people who were delivered out of Egypt with great power; who had seen a lamb slain and put blood over the doorposts so the wrath of God passed over them. In spite of seeing God’s power and hearing His promise to save all who trusted in the blood of the lamb, many died in the desert in unbelief. Throughout the history of God’s people, all saw the same wonders and tasted the same heavenly gift but then men like Korah would lead many astray.
As we mentioned previously, men like Korah don’t seem evil. To their followers, it appears that God is on their side. “We’re all following the same God anyway,” I’m sure they thought to themselves, “why can’t Korah lead? Why does Moses get to hog the power?” So Moses stepped away humbly and warned everyone else to move away as well. All who listened to Moses were saved but those who left the Truth and stood next to Korah were swallowed up by the ground.
This happens so often in the Scriptures that we read it and we think: “Oh, I’d never side with Korah” or “I’d never have sided with all of Israel against Joshua and Caleb” or “I’d never have rejected Jeremiah’s prophecy” but many of us don’t realize that it wasn’t so obvious to the people who died in sin. It was just common sense after all.
Jude calls such false teachers: “…clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever….” They look like just like regular clouds but they don’t bring any rain to relieve the dry and parched ground of men’s souls. Christ asked: “Is anyone thirsty” for He satisfies the thirst of men’s hearts but these men are simply empty clouds. Men chase after these false teachers, these moving clouds, waiting to be satisfied but they die of thirst. Have you ever noticed that every 3 years a new “Christian” bestseller comes out with the latest prayer formula or purpose formula or best life formula? These books are clouds without rain and they blow with the winds of the world’s culture.
These men also look like regular Christians – they look like every other tree except they are not rooted in Christ and they bear no fruit. They also seem to be stars bringing light into the darkness. They seem to be bearing truth. The truth is that they are not fixed in the heavens like stars useful to find your way. The traveler navigating by such a star will follow it foolishly not knowing it is leading him nowhere. They are unreliable guides for life.
But I hope for better things for you, things that accompany the salvation that was purchased for you by Christ: “20But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
Build yourselves up in the holy faith that has been revealed in the Word. Remember that the Word is fixed and the faith has been delivered once and for all. Learn it. Take comfort from it. Build yourselves up by it. Build each other up by it. Keep yourselves in the love of God.
And what is the love of God? Remember John. Not that we loved Him but that He loved us and sent His one and only Son to live for us and to die for us and to pay the penalty for sin that we deserved. Be established in the truth that God will only accept those that are found in His Son. Remember that you bring nothing in your hands to God but sin and, in the acknowledgment of sin and shame, you have the Cross of Christ to lay hold of by faith and say: “Christ, you are my only hope in this life.” Fight for it. Fight for it. Fight for it! You have no hope if you give that up even when men around you are trying to tell you that to hold on to Christ alone is to be close-minded. Hold on to the perfect Love of Christ even when men around you are tempting you to turn aside to the love of the world.
And remember your brothers and sister around you. Have mercy on those who are weak among us. Have mercy on those who are doubting. Are they weak in the faith and listening to the wrong people? Are they tempted to turn aside from the truth? Gently bring them to the Word and show them the perfect and only Way. Save them from the fire for that is all the false teachers have to offer and that is the sure reward for those that lead Christ’s sheep away. Protect the weak from such wolves. Put on your armor and, even as you are gentle toward the sheep, you stand up to false teachers and say: “You can’t have this one. This one is of us! This one is Christ’s! You may not have him!” This is the burden of love that we in leadership have for all of you.
But my confidence is not in men, in the end, but it is in the power of God to save and in the power of God to finish the good work He began in you all: “24Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy…”
Indeed, God has loved you with an everlasting love. God has brought you from death to life and has put you on your feet. He is powerful enough to make you stand and powerful enough to keep you from stumbling. He has clothed you with Christ and intends to present you blameless with great joy on that great Day.
25to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”