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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:Contend Earnestly for the Faith
Text:Jude 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2008
Added:2008-07-16
Updated:2009-08-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 95:1-3
Psalm 95:4-5
Psalm 106:1,8,14
Hymn 43
Psalm 72:7 (after offertory)
Psalm 117

Reading:  Epistle of Jude
Text:  Jude 3
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

 

March 15 started off as a day like any other day.  But soon enough the soothsayer reminded Julius Caesar that the day was not yet over.  There was a fear among some of the Roman leaders that the power of Caesar was going to his head and this threatened their own political existence.  An assassination plot developed.  Even Caesar’s good friend Brutus was brought into the plot.  And before March 15, the ides of March, before the day was over, Caesar was dead.  Tragically, one of his closest friends was among those who turned on him on that fateful day.  This event has captured imaginations for centuries – but why?  Because it’s a tragedy, a story that contains a surprising and unexpected evil. 

 

This little book of Jude is also a sort of tragedy.  It tells us that there will be times when those who are closest to us will be working for our destruction.  It teaches that for believers, there are often dangers lurking in our own households and even sometimes in our own churches.  The day, this present age, is not yet over and there are surprising and unexpected evils lurking about and for this reason we need to encourage one another.  Jude teaches us that the Christian faith needs to be defended and promoted even to and among the people of God. 

 

Jude’s concern is to encourage Christians to be alert regarding those who would try to subvert or undermine the doctrine and ministry of the church.  And not only to be alert, to recognize the threat, but also to act on it.  Jude is writing to a church or a group of churches and encouraging them to not stand idly by as the gospel is attacked and undermined.  Rather, they are to stand up and fight the good fight.  I preach to you God’s Word this morning with this theme: 

 

Contend earnestly for the faith!

 

We’ll consider:

 

  1. Why?
  2. What?
  3. How?

 

As Jude writes to these dear friends, these beloved people, these people whom he loves and whom God loves, he comes with an implied command:  contend!   That word was often used in the context of military battles or athletic contests.  You imagine an athlete finishing his event and his face is all red, sweat is pouring down his face – he gave it his all.  Well, that’s what Jude is speaking about here with respect to the faith.  Contend!  Strive like an athlete, fight like a soldier. 

 

We hear similar things throughout Scripture.  In Matthew 10:34-36, the Lord Jesus spoke some words that I think many of us have a hard time with.  He said that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  He said that his coming would result in families turning against each other.  The Lord Jesus is a divisive figure.  In various places, Paul uses similar language.  For instance, in his letters to Timothy he speaks about fighting the good fight.  He uses military imagery to describe the life of a Christian and imagery of athletic contests as well.  The whole Bible teaches Christians that they must view themselves as being in the midst of a difficult battle or contest.  There is a call found throughout Scripture for believers to contend, to fight and strive for the faith. 

 

But then we could ask the question:  why?  Why does Jude feel compelled to write these words encouraging this kind of striving and struggling for the faith?  What’s at stake here?  To answer that, we need to look more closely at the letter as a whole.   

 

Verse 4 begins telling us about the problem.  The problem is that there were people who secretly slipped into Christian churches and who were living immoral lives and denying Jesus Christ.  They have been working behind the scenes in the church, raising their “concerns” and subtly leading Christians astray.  Slowly, almost imperceptibly, they have been wearing down the church and re-forming it to their own liking.  They have followed the way of others who have led God’s people astray in times past from within.  Jude gives the examples of Cain, Balaam and Korah.  Cain was not an outsider to God’s people; he was part of the first family.  But through rebellion and murder he became the father of those who rebel against God.  Balaam instructed the Midianites on how to best seduce the people of Israel.  The plan was to sneak in through the ladies and it worked.  We sang about Korah’s rebellion in Psalm 106.  Together with Dathan and Abiram, Korah led an uprising from within.  These examples from the Old Testament are all examples of infiltration, of decay and deformation, of destruction from within.  This pattern has taken place throughout the history of the church.  Jude knew enough about history to recognize what was happening with these false teachers and seducers.       

 

The bulk of this little letter is taken up with a description of these people.  They live sexually immoral lives, they reject authority, they are shepherds who only feed themselves, they’re grumblers, faultfinders, following their own evil desires.

 

Now it’s easy to go through this letter and conclude that the problem with these people was simply ethical.  They didn’t follow the commands of God and they lived immoral lives.  And if that’s the case, then the message of Jude boils down to:  don’t be like those bad people, if you’re a Christian you have to live differently. 

 

However, that sort of a reading of Jude misses the point.  It confuses the symptoms with the disease; it confuses the external problems with the internal root or source.  What was really the problem that Jude is addressing?  Is it simply a matter of ethics? 

 

Look again at verse 4.  These men are godless.  That means that they are unbelieving.  They do not truly believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They have changed the grace of God into something that it is not.  In other words, they have not understood or believed the gospel of grace as it’s been revealed.  When we properly understand and believe the gospel of grace, we recognize that we are unworthy sinners who have been given the opposite of what we deserve.  We’ve been given a gift of unimaginable value.  When you receive a gift, any gift, the normal response is thankfulness.  In the nature of the case, if there is no thankfulness, then the reception of the gift is in question.  These godless people in Jude’s letter have changed the grace of God into a license for sin.  In other words, they didn’t get it, they didn’t believe it, they didn’t understand how great grace is.  They didn’t understand or believe the gospel.  And that’s why Jude adds that they are denying Jesus Christ. 

 

What’s at stake here beloved is the gospel.  That’s why they and we are called to contend for the faith.  A rejection of the gospel is what lay at the root of all this immoral behaviour throughout this letter.  The gospel is the message that Satan wants to destroy.  Donald Grey Barnhouse, a Presbyterian preacher from some years ago, once pondered the question of what it might look like if Satan took over a city.  He said that one scenario might be that the streets would be clean, the lawns would be mowed, the children would be respectful, there would be no drug dealers, no pornography and so on.  And every Sunday the churches would be full of people – churches where Christ is not preached, where the gospel is not heard.  The point is:  Satan doesn’t care so much about the external, superficial things.  He knows that the heart of the matter is Christ and the gospel.  When that’s rejected people can lead wanton, immoral lives or they can go down the path of self-righteous legalism.  Satan doesn’t really care which, because there is no salvation in either.  There is no salvation in a wanton immoral life and there is no salvation in self-righteous legalism.  The citizens of a crime-free, “moral” Muslim city are just as lost as the party animals in Las Vegas.  Whatever the result or symptoms, Satan’s supreme goal is to have us deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord, to change God’s grace into something that it isn’t.

 

That’s why Jude found it necessary to write to these believers:  because the gospel was at stake.  And where the gospel is at stake, God’s glory is at stake too.  You see, when people are not impressed with the gospel, taken with the gospel, when they don’t treasure it, they will not contend for it.  Then they will not be making much of God either, they will not be magnifying his worth.  When what God has done in the gospel is no longer treasured or valued, then God himself is no longer treasured, valued or desired. 

 

John Calvin in his commentary on this verse says that “necessity adds strong stimulants.”  To put it in modern terms, necessity is the caffeine in your morning coffee.  Jude wanted to write a positive letter about the common salvation shared by believers, but necessity compelled to write something different.  The necessity of preserving the common salvation proclaimed in the gospel, his concern for the glory of God, those things drove him to write to these believers encouraging them to wake up to what’s happening and contend.

 

They were encouraged to contend “for the faith.”  That brings us to consider the question of what is “the faith”?  There are two different ways that the Bible uses the word “faith.”  There is the more subjective use, where we speak about a believer’s faith.  But there is also an objective use of this word, then it’s described as “the faith.”  “The faith” is a body of teaching.  It’s the apostolic doctrine, the gospel of Jesus Christ which, when it is believed, delivers people from God’s wrath against sin.  It includes things like the truth of Scripture, the existence of the Triune God, Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.  “The faith” in the time of Jude was a recognized body of teaching or doctrine, even if it was not yet written down.  However, eventually it was and today we can find a summary of “the faith” in our creeds and confessions.   

 

Here in Jude, there are three things here to note about the faith for which believers are to contend.  Literally, the text says that it is the “once-for-all delivered to the saints faith.”  First of all, the faith is “once for all entrusted to the saints.”  “Once for all” – that means that there was and is a completeness to the faith.  By the time Jude was writing, the revelation given in Jesus Christ and culminating in Jesus Christ was complete.  Here the gospel is again in view.  The good news of the faith was based on the completed work of Christ, his obedient life, his sufferings and death, his resurrection, his ascension, his pouring out of the Spirit.  These events happened for our redemption once for all in history.  There was a completeness to the faith.  The faith that we contend for today is a faith that is entirely wrapped up in the once-for-all finished work of our Lord Jesus. 

 

Second, the faith for which we contend is the faith “once for all entrusted to the saints.”  “Entrusted” or better, “delivered.”  That points us to the source of the faith which we defend and for which we contend.  It does not come from man, it is not a human invention or development.  It’s not the result of religious evolution, but the faith comes from God.  It has been delivered by him through the apostles of Jesus Christ.

 

Loved ones, whether it’s with people inside the church or outside, people who claim to be Christians or not, when we take a stand for the faith, our stand always has to be on the solid foundation of God’s Word.  When we’re challenged to explain what we believe, expressions like “I feel…” are not helpful.  When you say, “I feel…” you give the impression that the Christian faith is something entirely relative, subjective, and individual.  The Christian faith, the body of doctrine that we believe is public, objective truth.  To communicate that, we have to keep going back to God’s Word, for in the Word we find the faith delivered to the saints.

 

Third, the faith for which we contend is the faith “once for all entrusted to the saints.” In other words, the faith, the body of Christian belief, has been given by God to those who are set apart in Christ.  They are set apart from the world, they have been brought into God’s covenant, into God’s family.  They are the ones who have received the faith.  And to have the faith is also to have the responsibility to contend for it. 

 

Then the question can be asked:  how shall we do that?  In concrete terms, what does it look like to contend for the faith?  Verses 20-23 give us a good idea.  In the first place, it means building yourselves up in your most holy faith.  From elsewhere in Scripture, we know that this has to do with the Bible.  To be built up in your faith, you need to be regularly reading the Bible and doing so with an eye to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To be built up in your faith, you need the preaching of the Bible as well.  The preaching of the Word of God is an essential element for growth in the Christian life, because through it we are regularly exposed to the preaching of Christ and his gospel.  There is the verbal preaching of the gospel in the ministry of the Church, but there is also another sort of preaching, a visual preaching.  God has ordained the ministry of the sacraments also for us to be built up in our faith.  As we are built up in our faith, we become better equipped for the contending for the faith to which we’re called.  After all, what is the one weapon that Christians have been given in their spiritual warfare?  According to Paul in Ephesians 6, in that well-known passage about the Christian soldier, there is one weapon.  It is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  We contend for the faith with the Word of God, that same Word which we read privately and as families, that same Word which we hear read and preached on Sundays, that same Word which is preached visually in the sacraments. 

 

The second way in which to contend for the faith is to pray in the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is not to be forgotten, minimized or neglected when it comes to taking our stand for the faith.  We need to pray for those against whom we contend for the gospel, that they would repent and believe and be saved.  We need to pray for ourselves, that we would be winsome and faithful, never compromising but yet speaking the truth in love.  We need to pray for the church, that the Lord would protect her.  And as we pray, we do so in the Holy Spirit.  That we means that we do so trusting his power to perfect our prayers.  Our prayers are often weak and lacking in so many respects.  We can be thankful that God continues to lavish us with his grace by giving his Spirit to intercede. 

 

A third way comes to us in verses 22 and 23.  There are those who are enemies of the faith and they are quite convinced of their position.  They are not humble, they are not teachable.  But then there are those who doubt.  There are those who have been influenced by the enemies of the gospel, but are not there with them yet.  They’re confused and just have a lot of questions.  Jude says that with such people our response is to be different.  We are to show mercy to those who genuinely doubt, to be patient and gracious with them, long-suffering, kind and gentle.  Our contending with them is going to have a different character, a merciful character.  With God’s blessing, our hope is that they will be saved from the fire that awaits those who deny Christ. 

 

Loved ones, our text calls us to contend for the faith.  It does not call us to be contentious.  There is a difference.  In Scripture, a contentious person is someone always itching for a fight, who enjoys fighting for the sake of fighting.  I think it’s fair to say that we don’t have much of a problem in viewing contentiousness as the sin that it is.  But perhaps we do struggle with being eager to contend for the faith where it’s necessary.  We’re very quick to avoid conflict in the church and very quick and easy with statements like, “Well, it’s not like it’s a salvation issue; it’s not like it’s a heaven and hell matter.”  Sometimes because we are not as well grounded in the Word as we should be, sometimes we’re wrong when we make statements like that.  Let this text be an encouragement for all of us to be good students of the faith so that we can and will contend eagerly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.  Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is what we value.  Because we recognize that valuing the gospel and contending for it is one of the ways that we make much of God, glorify him, and magnify his worth. 

 

Let us pray:

 

Heavenly Father,

 

Thank you for delivering the faith to the saints, to us your people.  We thank you for the content of the faith, for the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  We praise you again for all his redemptive work, completed once for all for us.  We pray that you would help us with your Holy Spirit so that we are eager to contend for the faith.  Give us more grace so that we are bold and loving in our willingness to stand up for what you have entrusted to us.  We pray that we would have your help in doing that when the gospel is attacked and undermined either in the church or in the world.  We pray that you would protect your people, that we would see the fulfillment of your promise that the gates of hell will never overcome your church.  We pray in Jesus Christ our Saviour, AMEN.    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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