Contending for The Faith
The emergence of heretical religions in recent years has been phenomenal. An estimated 2,000 man-made eastern philosophical religious systems have sprung up throughout America. They are gaining followers by the thousands. The country is bombarded with books on yoga, Hare Krishna, transcendental meditation, reincarnation, spiritism, astrology, the New Age Movement and all the other traditional cultic religions that have been ever present.
Lest one think that the teachings of these religions have not impacted the Church, think again! One author recently wrote, “The New Age movement. . . involves things that are firmly entrenched within the church, such as psychotherapy, visualization, meditation, biofeedback, Positive Confession, Positive or Possibility Thinking, hypnosis, Holistic medicine, and a whole spectrum of self-improvement and success/motivation techniques.”1
The airwaves are filled with radio and television broadcasts that propagate a number of the above mentioned concepts. Christians by the millions send for literature from these various groups and are being subtly and unconsciously conditioned to believe and practice their anti-biblical teachings.
Many seminaries are producing graduates who are more anti-Christian than Christian. “Redbook magazine indicated that of the ministers in training represented in all the major seminaries, 56 percent rejected the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, 71 percent rejected that there was life after death, 54 percent rejected the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and 98 percent rejected that Jesus Christ would return to earth.”2
It is evident that the seeds of heresy are blowing throughout the land and many are finding fertile ground in which to germinate within the Church. This is not new. The same heretical teachings were faced by the Church during its infancy. Heresy was so prevalent in the first century that Jude was moved to pen an epistle warning the Church about false teachers and encouraging it to earnestly contend for the faith.
Jude had planned to write about the “common [shared] salvation” he and his “Beloved” brethren had experienced. He had given “all diligence [haste]” (v. 3) to do so, but the Holy Spirit intervened and compelled him to write concerning false teachers who had crept into the Church.
Naturally, it would not be a pleasant task to write on heresy. Jude would much rather have penned an uplifting epistle on the blessings of salvation. But he intuitively knew the voice of God and responded according to His direction.
A man who is filled with the Holy Spirit will discern the direction God desires him to take, even though it means a change in his plans. He will want his plans to coincide with God’s will. He will not be afraid to tackle the difficult ministry God has called him to perform. Like Jude, he will respond to God’s voice and boldly warn those he loves of impending trouble.
Contending for the Faith
Jude exhorted the Church to “earnestly contend for the faith” (v. 3). The words “earnestly contend” are used to describe athletes locked in a vigorous, agonizing struggle for victory. When the professional football playoffs are underway, each team wages an agonizing and determined struggle to beat its opponent. The same is true for the Christian. He is in a spiritual war against satanic opposition (Eph. 6:13), but it is not a game, it’s for life.
Like the football player who must wear protective equipment, each Christian needs to strap on his spiritual armor for protection against the onslaughts of Satanic attack. Only then will he be able to stand his ground and win the battle.
How does one put on his spiritual armor? The armor is listed in Ephesians 6:13-17. First, the believer must have his “loins girded [wrapped] about with truth” (v. 14). The truth of God’s Word supports and strengthens in battle and holds all the Christian’s equipment together. Without God’s truth, the Christian certainly will be defeated by the enemy. Second, he needs the “breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14) which protects the heart from embracing heresy, for out of the heart proceed the issues of life. Third, he must have his “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v.15) . Those who are prepared with the gospel will stand firmly against the onslaughts of false doctrine. Fourth, “the shield of faith” (v. 16) will quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. A never-ending bombardment of heresy from all directions confronts the Christian daily, and only faith can shield him. Fifth, the Christian is to take “the helmet of salvation” (v. 17). This helmet protects the mind, which is the seat of belief. If the Christian understands and holds to the doctrine of salvation, his mind will be protected from heretical teaching. Sixth, he must take up the offensive “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17) . The Christian can obstruct and repel heresy only by using God’s Word. He must read it, study it, memorize it and meditate upon it if he expects to use it effectively. Notice, one can stand in battle only by putting on the whole armor. A football player would not think of playing without his helmet, shoes or pads.
What did Jude mean by “the faith” in verse 3? He is not speaking about the individual’s personal faith in Christ, but the doctrinal truth that had been “once delivered unto the saints.” That is, the faith, once-and-for-all deposited to the Church during the apostolic period, which must be kept, managed and guarded against change or error.
Yet, a number of church groups do not hold this position. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the basis for authority rests in the church and not in the Word of God. Final authority for revelation from God is invested in the pope and the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, it claims that God still gives revelation today through the pope and the church.3
The Mormons hold a similar view concerning the Scriptures. “Former US. Senator Wallace Bennett, in his book, Why I am a Mormon, said, ‘We recognize the Bible’s limitations as well as its value. We do not ascribe final authority to any of its statements. . . Obviously, we do not accept the idea that with the adoption of the present contents of the Bible the whole canon of scripture was closed for all time.’ The Mormons reject the Bible as the infallible Word of God.”4
Those who hold the above views have corrupted God’s Word over the centuries and have allowed heretical errors to be incorporated into their teachings. Not only these, but apostates, modernists, liberals and other cultists have found their way into churches, have twisted the Word of God, both secretly and openly, and in doing so have destroyed the truth of Scripture.
If the Christian is to contend for the faith he must study the doctrines of Scripture. Unfortunately, many feel that doctrine need be known only by the minister or seminary student, not the person in the pew. These Christians are soft-minded and uninterested when it comes to studying doctrine. Ask them what they know concerning the doctrine of God, Christ, Holy Spirit, sin, grace, regeneration, justification, sanctification or last things, and they will be hard-pressed to give an answer. Consequently, they are “tossed to and fro, . . . with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14) and fall prey to the myriad of false teachings being proclaimed in churches today.
The logic is inescapable! If one does not know doctrine, how can he stand for the faith? If he cannot stand for the faith, he will be overthrown in his personal faith. It is the duty of every generation to guard “the faith.” Failure to do so could mean that the next generation of Christians might not have “a faith.”
Corruption of the Faith
Jude was writing this epistle to warn Christians about false teachers who had crept into the church unawares (v. 4). Who were these men? Many scholars believe they were the Gnostics of the first century. The word “Gnostic” means knowledge. The Gnostics claimed to possess secret knowledge that transcended the material world. They drew their beliefs from Greek, Egyptian, Persian and Indian philosophies. Since they claimed to possess esoteric insights of a metaphysical nature, their beliefs could not be verified by observation. It was their goal to reduce Christianity to a mere philosophy and incorporate it into other pagan beliefs to which they subscribed.
What did they believe? First, they believed that God neither created nor governed the universe and lived totally separated from it. The God of Jews and Christians was an inferior being which they called Demiurge. They believed in a supreme being who is the absolute, the unknown and ineffable one of whom nothing can be predicted. Second, the created world (all matter) was evil and totally separated from and in opposition to the spirit world. Third, Jesus was a mere man who had been possessed by the heavenly Christ who was the brightest of all aeons (emanations from Bythos). This heavenly Christ acted in the man Jesus but never was incarnate. The Christ returned to Heaven before Jesus’ crucifixion, thus only a man died on the cross. There also were divisions among the Gnostics. One group, the Libertine Gnostics, practiced moral excess. If, they reasoned, the flesh is evil but the “true person” good, why not permit the flesh its excesses, for it cannot corrupt the true person who is spirit? Most likely it was the Libertine Gnostics to whom Jude referred in verse four. Gnosticism was a wicked system of religious beliefs that flooded the church but died out within 150 years.5
How did these heretics get into the church? Jude said they “crept in unawares” (v. 4). The word “crept” is only used here in the New Testament and means to slide in alongside of. They secretly came in like one would slip through a side door and settle down in a pew without being noticed. One writer put it well when he said that these false teachers seep gradually into the minds of the people by secret, stealthy and subtle intrusion with the intention of undermining and breaking down their belief structure and conviction.6
Satan knew he could not destroy Christ’s Church (Mt. 16:18), so he tried to corrupt it through infiltration with false teachers. His main method was to sow tares (false teachers) among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30). His ministers were “transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15) said Paul. That is, they would change their outward appearance to look like something entirely different from their true nature. Such people are very dangerous because they seductively lead people into false doctrine (1 Tim. 4:1).
Paul mentioned two groups that succumb to heretics more than others. The first group is churches that have “a form of godliness, but denying the power of it” (2 Tim. 3:5). These churches manifest the outward shape (look) of Christian commitment and moral goodness but are easy prey for false teachers since they disown the power of God. Second “silly women laden with sins” (2 Tim. 3:6) are easy prey as well. Why? Because their carnality, gullibility and immaturity make them more open to the flattery and deceptive speech of heretics. Such people have itching ears to learn, but being unable to discern truth from error, they embrace every heresy they hear. False teachers look for homes and churches of weak-willed and ignorant people because they are more gullible and vulnerable to their control. For this reason many cults go from house to house peddling their heresy.
Should such people take the church by surprise? No! We should expect that such men will come into the church, for they “were before of old ordained to this condemnation” (v. 4). The word “ordained” leads one to believe that these men were chosen by God to be false teachers, thus they had no choice in the matter, but this is not the case. The word means to write beforehand. God had revealed, almost from the beginning of mankind, that such teachers would come. Enoch, “the seventh from Adam,” (v. 14), predicted that ungodly teachers would come and be judged by the Lord (v. 15).
Conduct of the False Teachers
Jude described the nature of such teachers in three ways. First, they are destitute of godliness being called “ungodly” (v. 4). This means that they were impious people who lacked any reverence for God. An irreverence was manifested in their character and conduct (vv. 8, 10, 16, 18).
Second, they debased grace, “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (v. 4). Lasciviousness has been translated in various ways: wantonness, licentiousness, lawlessness, license, immorality and sensuality. More simply, these heretics committed unbridled sexual sins without any sense of shame within the congregation of the church. Nor were they fearful or concerned about others seeing them. These debased teachers literally put unbridled sexual sin in place of God’s grace – a sin too gross to talk about.
Third, they denied the Godhead. Jude said they deny (disowned) “the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 4). The word “God” is omitted in most Greek manuscripts, making the text read, “our only Lord [Master], and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Commentators are divided on whether God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son are objects of denial, or just the Son. The first word for “Lord” (despotes) means master and denotes one with absolute or unlimited sovereign power. Most likely Jude is referring to both the Father and Son who were being denounced by Gnostics, as already shown.
Gnostics were not the only ones who denied the teaching of a triune God. Today, many groups such as Jehovah Witnesses, Unitarians, Jesus Only, Mormons, The Way International, Moon’s Unification Church and Christian Science either corrupt or deny the triunity of God.
Dr. S. Maxwell Coder mentioned four concepts about Christ that these false teachers deny. They deny Him as Sovereign of the universe. He is the Lord (Master) [v. 4] who spoke creation into being and holds it together with His almighty power (Col. 1:16-17). They deny His Lordship. He is called Lord (kurio) [v. 4] which speaks of His deity and sovereign rulership in the affairs of man and which demands man’s obedience. They deny Him as Savior. He is Jesus (v. 4), which means Savior, a name that shows the purpose of His incarnation (Mt. 1:21). They deny Him as the Christ. But He is the Christ (Messiah, Anointed One) [v. 4], an official title which speaks of His messianic deliverance and world rule.7
Christian friend, we are at war! It is an agonizing life-and-death struggle against heretics and apostates who continually distort, deny and try to destroy the true faith. Such a struggle calls for each one’s total commitment in the battle for truth.
I received a stirring memo from Mr. Rosenthal which aptly expressed the type of commitment required by each Christian in his stand for the faith. He wrote, “In October, 1983, terrorists bombed the Marine barracks in Lebanon. Many Marines were killed and even more seriously wounded. The Commandant of the Marine Corps visited the hospital where the wounded were taken. His first stop was to the bedside of a young Marine at the very edge of life. An arm and a leg had been blown away; his body was a bloody mess connected to a life support system. He could not speak; his vision was blurred. The Commandant bent low to whisper into the ear of this dying Marine. The Marine tried vainly to speak and then to write on the sheet with his remaining hand. A nurse quickly put a pen in his hand and held a tablet in place. The dying man wrote these words: ‘Semper Fi. . . .’ ‘Semper Fidelis’ is the Marine Corps motto; it means, ‘Always Faithful’ ”
Christian friend, do you have the same courage and commitment in contending for the faith as did this young Marine in standing for his country?
- David Hunt and T. A. McMahon, The Seduction of Christianity (Eugene: Harvest House, 1985), p. 8.
- T. Wilson Litzenberger, Startling Trends in our Generation, Religion (Broadview: Gibbs Publishing, 1974), pp. 172-3.
- Harold J. Berry, Exposing the Deceivers, Roman Catholicism (Lincoln: A Back to the Bible Publication,1985), p. 52.
- Ibid., Mormonism. p. 46.
- Alexander M. Renwick, Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Gnosticism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), pp. 237-38.
- Raleigh Campbell, Expository Notes on the Book of Jude (Little Rock: The Challenge Press, 1981), p. 18.
- S. Maxwell Coder, Jude: The Acts of the Apostates (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), p. 24.