EARNESTLY CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH
"Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
- Jude 3-4
In last week's lesson I talked about the nature of the Bible: how it is God-breathed, living and active, and fully relevant until Heaven and earth pass away (according to Jesus Himself). This week I would like to expand on the subject of Biblical relevance.
First, however, it's interesting to note the origin of the letter from which our primary text for the week is taken. Jude begins his letter by stating that he originally intended to write a completely different letter, one that he had, in fact, been 'very eager' to write. What Jude had wanted to do was relate his own perspective on the basic Christian faith, with an emphasis on the subject of salvation. Despite his eagerness, however, he found himself compelled to tackle a completely different topic, something more urgent. Obviously the Holy Spirit was responsible for this decision: Jude was chosen, almost against his will, to write a letter of warning about those who profess to believe in Christ, but who actually work against Him.
Jude states that his purpose is to appeal to other believers to "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." The root of the word for 'contend' in the original Greek is 'agonizomai', from which we get our English word 'agony'. In this passage, the word has the prefix 'epi', which acts as an intensifier, strengthening the meaning of the word it is attached to. The KJV translates it 'earnestly contend', which is perhaps a better way of putting it. In any case, Jude's point was that defending 'the faith' is so important that we should fight even to the point of intense agony (whether physical, emotional or Spiritual) if necessary.
What 'faith' are we to strive to defend? Jude says we are to "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." In the Greek construction, 'faith' is the primary subject of this sentence, and 'once for all delivered to the saints' has the position of a qualifying adjective, a term that describes the primary subject. So, just as we would talk about a 'yellow' house or a 'tall' man, Jude refers to the 'once for all delivered to the saints' faith. It means that 'once for all delivered to the saints' is an integral part of what 'the faith' is. The use of the word 'deliver' indicates that this 'faith' is something substantial, something specifically definable. So 'faith' in this context means the Gospel of Jesus Christ as delivered to the Apostles by the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit - the Gospel story and follow-up teaching that is now recorded in the Bible.
Now, it's vitally important to notice the condition of the 'delivering' to the saints: "once for all". The Greek word means 'one time' (which is also a 'Milwaukeeism', but that's a different subject ), a single instance. So the faith that was delivered to the saints was given once for all time ("till Heaven and earth pass away," to once again quote Jesus' words from Matthew 5:18). The Gospel was never intended to 'evolve' to fit different societal conditions. To the contrary, 'the faith' was given to be a constant in an ever-changing world. In fact, the Gospel CAN'T change in basic substance, for the simple reason that God is responsible for it, and He NEVER changes. As the author of Hebrews put it, "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8). Or, in the words of the classic hymn 'Abide With Me', "Change and decay in all around I see. O Thou who changest not, abide with me." One of the wonderful things about the true Gospel is that it is an anchor of truth in the tumultuous sea of change that is the sinful world.
Not everyone sees it that way, however. Some people within the Christian Church structure prefer a Gospel that is altered and molded to fit the current secular ideas about what is right and wrong. It is these that Jude warns about in verse four (and in fact, in the rest of his letter). Some people claiming to be Christians want a type of Christianity that accommodates some sins rather than calling for repentance from them. It was that way in the first century, and it's still the case now. Indeed, these days it sometimes seems like there is a competition between some of the major denominations to see which one can more fully sanction the greatest number of beliefs and behaviors that the Bible clearly designates as sinful. This is 180 degrees away from the kind of 'contending' Jude was talking about.
We who are genuine believers have no excuse for going along with such things. We have been warned about them, and admonished to 'earnestly contend' for the true 'once for all given to the saints' Christian faith. It must be understood that God doesn't love any of us 'just the way we are.' Rather, He loves us IN SPITE OF the way we are, and calls on us to repent of our sin and allow Him to cleanse us of it, through the blood of Jesus Christ. To embrace sin, ANY sin, as acceptable (if not actually good) is to turn one's back on God and His unchanging truth. One cannot have a genuine relationship with the living God without repenting from sin. Far from being an act of love, telling people that they don't need to repent of their sin to be accepted by God is about as unloving as it gets. Real love is practiced by those who tell people the truth about themselves, however unpleasant it may be for them to hear, and urge them to repent of their sin and accept God's gift of forgiveness.
May all of us who have believed on the name of Jesus commit ourselves every day to earnestly contend for the 'once for all' faith as revealed by God in the Bible, regardless of the amount of 'agony' it may cost us. Let us be willing to reach out to others with love AND truth. In the 21st century, this is even more important than ever.
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