Contend for the Faith! Jude 1—4
Have you ever wished you could return to the purity of the first-century Christian church, when there were no denominational differences and all believers were simply called Christians? This longing for the “unspoiled” past is understandable in light of the church’s fragmented history.
However, the short epistle of Jude dispels the myth that the New Testament church was a simple, peaceful, perfect place of tranquil worship and doctrinal unity. In fact, the book of Jude reveals the early church’s intense battle for doctrinal purity and moral integrity.
Jude identified himself as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James” (Jude 1). Other passages in the New Testament reveal more about Jude than he himself told his readers. According to Matthew 13:55, he was a son of Joseph and Mary, making him a half brother of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, as surprising as it may seem, Jude was an unbeliever at first: “Even His [Jesus’] brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5).
Merely growing up with Jesus did not guarantee His family’s hearts would be regenerated, remind us that salvation is a personal decision, independent of one’s proximity to godly people.
However, one event changed both Jude and his brothers into true believers: Jesus’ miraculous resurrection. The risen Christ appeared specifically to His brother James (1 Cor. 15:7). News of that encounter no doubt spread to the rest of Jesus’ family, convincing Jude his oldest brother was, in fact, the divine Messiah.
For many years Jude opposed Jesus’ message about sin, repentance, the Kingdom of God, and eternal life. But after he placed his faith in Jesus Christ, Jude realized every other religious path was a road to deception and eternal condemnation. His zeal for Jesus alone being the way, the truth, and the life is a common thread through his epistle.
Jude’s love for the gospel was so great it compelled him to write a letter about “our common salvation” (Jude 3). He intended to mirror the apostle Paul in explaining the wonders of God’s redemptive plan. But instead, the Holy Spirit prompted him to focus on a more pressing demand, namely, the need to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). The word contend summarizes the theme of this letter.
Both Paul and Jude used the word contend. Through military and athletic metaphors, Paul used it to discuss how Christians fight a spiritual battle against evil (Eph. 6:12) and run a race for “an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:25). Jude urged Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith,” which is the body of Christian doctrine passed down from Jesus Christ to His apostles “once for all” (Jude 3) and believed by the Christian community. Jude exhorted his listeners to contend for the faith by battling against the poisonous doctrines of false teachers and faithfully teaching people God’s truth in the race for eternal life.
Even in the church’s earliest days, false teachers proclaimed a false way of salvation that sounded extremely close to the truth. Not only did they attack Christianity from outside the church, but they also infiltrated the body of Christ, creeping in “unnoticed” (v. 4). They sinisterly distorted the gospel by turning “the grace of our God into lewdness” (v. 4), claiming that people who received God’s grace were free to live any way they chose.
They failed to teach that true saving faith leads to a transformed life. Their corrupt doctrine denied “the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ,” who makes a transformed life possible (v. 4). The lordship of Jesus Christ includes not only our initial salvation but also our ongoing pursuit of holiness; anything less denies Jesus as Lord.
Their teaching about God’s grace contradicted the very essence of Jesus’ message, which was to “call…sinners, to repentance” (Lk. 5:32). Paul exhorted believers not to abuse grace as an excuse to sin: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13).
God’s grace not only provides freedom, it also produces a desire for godly living: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Ti. 2:11–12). The lordship of Jesus Christ reaches to every part of our lives. Holiness is not optional; it is imperative. Jude said false teachers show their true colors by their sensual and immoral conduct (Jude 6–7).
The New Testament is filled with similar warnings about people who teach false doctrine. Jesus cautioned that ferocious wolves will come disguised in sheep’s clothing; but we will be able to discern their true nature by their ungodly lives: “By their fruits you will know them” (Mt. 7:20).
Paul warned, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29–30).
The apostle Peter also described false teachers as those who “promise…liberty, [though] they themselves are slaves of corruption” (2 Pet. 2:19).
For the last 2,000 years, false teachers have infiltrated the church and promoted their heresies. During the second and third centuries, Gnosticism infiltrated, teaching that Jesus was a divinely created being who merely appeared to be human. This false doctrine corrupted morals in the church, and early Christian leaders contended for the faith by opposing it vigorously.
During the same period, a teacher named Marcion denied the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures and much of the New Testament. Church leaders contended for the faith by affirming the inspiration of the books that now make up the New Testament canon.
An early Christian leader who is well known for his zealous defense of the faith is Epiphanius, who wrote The Panarion in the fourth century. The title means “the medicine chest” because it was written to heal those who had been wounded by the “snakebites” of 80 different heresies taught during the first four centuries of the church.
The early believers’ vigorous defense of the faith should challenge today’s church to follow in their footsteps and ”contend earnestly for the faith.”