Contending for the Faith
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
So sometimes things can appear to be simple when actually they’re quite complicated. And ya’ll know how this goes. Sometimes things can look basic, but really they’re not. And we see this in our jobs all the time. To the common ear, or common eye from the outside, there are some tasks that you do as part of your work that might sound straightforward — they might seem short and simple — but you know there’s a lot more to it. There are details and complexities that you can only understand when you’re in the middle of it.
I was talking to Pastor Kevin about this. He works for Target and his thing is to make sure that the right produce is on the shelf when you go get your groceries. And that sounds pretty basic, but it’s far from it. First, it involves doing a sales forecast for every item at every Target store, and then knowing how promotions and price changes and holidays might affect consumer demand, and then how long it’ll take the vendor to grow the produce and ship them to each store. How many units come in a box? And what’s the window of time they can sit on the shelf? And is there even enough space on the shelf in each store to fit the produce, and if they can’t fit the produce on the shelf, is there enough room in the back of the store to hold the extra? And if there’s not, then you gotta change the order, and no matter what you do, you have to stay in your numbers — and all of this is so that when you want to make some guac on Taco Tuesday you know you can pop into Target and get some avocados. Basically, Pastor Kevin controls the success or failure of Taco Tuesday. It’s a big deal. Now it might seem basic, but really it’s not. And we all have things like this in our work. There are things that might sound simple, but actually they’re much more complicated.
And I think that’s how it goes here for the book of Jude. The whole purpose of the letter is found right here in verses 3 and 4. It goes like this:
Jude is writing to urge the church to contend for the faith. The word for contend means to “make a strenuous, labored effort.” It means to fight, to wrestle, struggle, contend for the faith.
Now why should we contend for the faith?
Because, verse 4, false teachers have crept into the Christian community, and they’re perverting the grace of God and denying the authority of Jesus.
And there you go. That’s the book. After these two verses, Jude spends most of the rest of this letter describing the false teachers, and then he ends with a glorious few verses that Pastor Michael will unpack next week. But the main point of the letter is right there in verses 3–4: contend for the faith. And that sounds fairly simple. This sermon feels simple. But there’s a lot more to it. And this morning I want us to look at three questions related to verses 3 and 4:
First, who is the church fighting/wrestling against? Second, what is it again that the church is fighting for? Third, why is it a fight? — Why does he use the metaphor of contending or wrestling? So we’ll look at this in three movements like this: Who / What / Why
- Who are we fighting against?
- What are we fighting for?
- Why is it called a fight?
1. Who Are We Fighting Against?
Jude says the reason or the grounds for why we must contend for the faith is because of the “certain people” in verse 4. [Y’all see that?] Now I’ve already called these “certain people” false teachers, and all the commentators call these guys false teachers. And most of this letter is about them, but Jude never explicitly calls them false teachers. Instead, he calls them in verse 4 “certain people [who have] crept in unnoticed.” So Jude — if we’re looking for what Jude calls them — he calls them creepers. Another word that fits is imposter. These are people who have secretly slipped into the Christian community so that they can spread their bad theology.
But again Jude never tells us exactly what that bad theology is. He doesn’t name a certain teaching that they were spreading, he just alludes to it by talking about their behavior. And the closest thing he says to what they were doing is in verse 4. These creepers were “perverting the grace of God into sensuality” and “denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Which means there were two main categories for what these false teachers were doing: it was immorality and then rebellion. So we’re going to look closer at these two things for a minute, starting with rebellion.
So what kind of rebellion is going on here? Well Jude is trying to make this easy for us by giving some examples from the Old Testament. And I want to show you that. He starts first with an Old Testament example in verse 5 that there were unbelievers among God’s people. But look at verse 6. This is an Old Testament example of rebellion that comes from Genesis 6. The story there is that there were angels in heaven who God had given a certain role and position, but those angels rebelled against that position, and instead they came down to earth. This was a very common interpretation of Genesis 6 in the ancient Jewish mind, and Jude cites that here to say that these false teachers are like those rebellious angels. They rebel against authority.
Jude says that these creepers, these imposters, they deny Jesus. That’s what he says in verse 4. And when he says that they deny Jesus, he most likely means that they deny the authority of Jesus. We can sort of see that in how Jude refers to Jesus as “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The false teachers didn’t deny Jesus as a historical person, they just denied that Jesus is our only Master and Lord. In other words, they’ll take Jesus as long as he doesn’t have a real authority over their lives. And that describes a lot of people today.
The idea of Jesus as a good teacher or as an inspirational figure, that is all fine. But a Jesus who is my Master and my Lord and my Boss — a Jesus who tells me what to do — a lot of people don’t want that kind of Jesus. And the easiest thing to do if you don’t want that kind of Jesus is to just deny that there is that kind of Jesus. The thinking goes like this: I don’t want Jesus to have that kind of authority over me, so I’m just going to say that there’s no such thing as a Jesus with that kind of authority. See, when we say that Jesus is just a good teacher, or just a prophet, or whatever, we are denying the right for Jesus to really make a difference in our lives. A lot of times, the hang up we have with Jesus isn’t so much intellectual, it’s just that we don’t want him getting in way of us doing what we want to do.
It’s like how I heard my kids arguing over a toy one day. This has been a couple years ago. But two of the kids were arguing over one toy that they both wanted to play with right then. This happens all the time with kids. Babies are not born knowing how to share, and when you just mention the word “share” to kids, it puzzles them. And that’s what I did this one day. The two kids were arguing, so I stepped in and said, “Okay, you let this one play with it the first 10 minutes. I’ll set a timer on my phone. And then we it goes off it’ll be your turn for 10 minutes.” That’s reasonable, right? Well, after I said this, one of the kids muttered kind of under their breath, quote, “I wish I did not have parents!” And I thought, Well, that’s a sermon illustration.
See, here’s what was happening: Because I, as a parent, was standing in the way of what my child wanted, in that moment they did not want me to exist. You can see how it works. Rebellion at heart isn’t so much going against authority, it’s wishing that there was no authority. Rebellion is ignoring, pretending, wishing the authority was not there.
That’s what the false teachers are doing in Jude. These false teachers were denying the authority of Jesus, and they were denying his authority as it was spoken through the apostles. They were pretending it did not exist. That’s the rebellion part. Now let’s look at the immorality part.
So what kind of immorality is going on here? Well, there’s another Old Testament reference. In verse 7 Jude compares these false teachers to Sodom and Gomorrah, and many of you have probably heard something about Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude expects us to know about them.
Sodom and Gomorrah are two of the most infamous cities in the Bible. The read about them back in Genesis 19. Abraham, who’s the most important man in the Old Testament, had a nephew named Lot, and they both had their own flocks and families. And Abraham and Lot decided early on, in Genesis 13, that they would not settle in the same area, but they would spread out a little with their flocks and their households. So Lot picked an area close to a city named Sodom — he goes there and builds his house and starts living there. And by Genesis 19 things had become pretty terrible there. The story is that there were two travelers who were coming through the city, and Lot saw them come in and so he went out and met them and urged them to stay at his house. They were going to stay downtown but Lot convinced them not to do that — he said you don’t want to do that. So they came, and they were staying at Lot’s house, and when the men in the city found out about it, a crowd of these men surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that Lot give them these two travelers because they wanted to beat them up — that’s the PG version. The Bible’s version is rated R. These men of Sodom, called Sodomites, were wicked men who did wicked things, and therefore, God judged them. The story goes that God destroyed the entire city and everything around it. That’s Genesis 19, in the Old Testament.
And Jude says here in New Testament that these false teachers were like those Sodomites. The false teachers, like the men in Sodom, indulge in sexual immorality and pursue unnatural desire. And just like God sent judgment in the Old Testament, God is going to send judgment again. That’s his point. God condemns them.
So look, everybody, to be clear here: my job as a pastor is to be honest about what the Bible says. The most important part of what I do is show you what this Book says. And if you’re here and you’re new to the Bible, I want you to hear this from the Bible, not me. I didn’t make this up. Nobody made this up. This is the Bible. So according to the Bible, “indulging in sexual immorality” (which means any kind of sexual misconduct) and “pursuing unnatural desire” (which means homosexual practice) is not okay. It’s sinful. It’s wrong. And it will fall under the judgment of God. That’s what the Bible says.
And these false teachers here in Jude are acting like it’s okay to live in this kind of sin, and they’re teaching that it’s okay to live with kind of sin. That’s how they pervert the grace of God. This is what false teachers did early on in the church, and it’s still happening today. There are false teachers even today who pervert the grace of God by calling what is wrong right, and by saying that what is prohibited is actually permissible. That is a perversion of God’s grace. It’s a perversion of his gospel — which is why we have to fight for the gospel.
This leads us to the second question.
2. What Are We Fighting For?
We are fighting for the gospel. Or as Jude puts it in verse 3, “Contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” That’s a longer way of saying “gospel,” but every detail of what he says here is important.
First, notice that Jude calls it “faith.” He does the same thing in verse 20 when he says “build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” Now Jude, of course, is talking about the faith that Christians have in Christ. He’s talking about faith that is put in the truth and grace of Jesus. He means the gospel.
And he says it was “once for all delivered to the saints.” There are a couple important things to here:
First, he says it was “once for all delivered.” So he means that this faith, the gospel, was something given. God delivered it to us. We didn’t create it, God gave it to us, and he gave it to us “once for all.” And that simply means that God is not going to do it again. He has given us the message of the gospel, and we’re set.
And this a big deal when it comes to false teachers because many false teachers claim that God has said something different from what he has already said. And the thing Jude wants us to nail down is that it doesn’t work that way. God has said what he said and he means it. What God has said in the gospel, in the Bible, will not change and there’s nothing to add to it. The gospel, which is what the Bible is about, is the once-for-all message of God.
That should be a comfort for us because God is not going to change what he’s said. He’s never going to go back on what he’s said, and there’s no fine print you’re going to find out about later. God has spoken and he means it.
And this is also a litmus test for how we discern different teachings. If someone is teaching, or writing, about God, and they are saying something different from what the Bible says, or they’re trying to manipulate what the Bible says, then we know it’s no good. You can’t go beyond the faith “once for all delivered.” And it’s right here. This is the Book. The message of the gospel is here.
Delivered to the Saints
Also notice that this faith once for all delivered is delivered to the saints. God has given the message of his grace to us. So if you trust in Jesus, that means this is for you — and it’s for all of you who trust in Jesus. You know sometimes we like to categorize Christians: solid Christian; struggling Christian; new Christian; leader Christian; lay Christian; strong; weak; mature; immature — we talk in these categories sometimes, and it’s not bad. The apostle Paul talks this way. But when Jude here says who the gospel is for — when he says who the gospel is given to — it’s all of us. Which means, you don’t have to be somewhere else for the gospel to be for you. Christian, the gospel is for you now, wherever you are.
And that’s why we fight for it. Because this faith once for all given to us is being perverted. This gospel which is meant to be good news for you and me is being distorted, and we’ve got to fight for it.
When Sin Is Not Called Sin
And at least one thing this means is that we’ve got to fight for grace to be grace, because it’s always grace that takes the biggest hit. The distortions are going to always have something to do with God’s grace.
And that goes for where we’re at today. If we were to look around Christianity at large in America, the biggest way that God’s grace is distorted is when sin is not called sin. Because, get this, when sin is not sin, grace can’t be grace.
That makes sense, right?
We experience God’s grace when he forgives our sins, but for him to forgive our sins we have to know that we have sins that need forgiving. And this is the hard thing about it: we naturally don’t like to be told we’re sinners. But if we don’t understand we’re sinners, then we don’t need Jesus.
Listen to Romans 5:8, maybe my favorite verse in the Bible. Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And do you know what the magic is in this verse? Do you know what makes this verse sing? It’s the part where he says “while we were still sinners.” That’s what makes the death of Jesus for us love. That’s why it’s mercy. What’s what makes it grace. It’s because we don’t deserve it! Look, you will never understand the wonder of God’s grace unless understand the reality of your sin.
So we talk about sin here at Cities Church, but we only talk about sin because Jesus rescues us from sin — and we want to make a big deal about his rescue.
So whatever sins we bring in here this morning, whatever they are, Jesus can rescue you. Jesus has grace for you. That’s the gospel. And that’s why we fight for the gospel. Because we’re fighting for that truth to always be clear to one another: that Jesus has grace for you.
So who are we up against? The false teachers. What are we fighting for? The gospel. Now why is it a fight? This is the third and last movement.
3. Why Is It Called a Fight?
Why does Jude use the metaphor of contending, wrestling, struggling, laboring, fighting? Think about what he could have said. He could have said all kinds of things: “give your signature for the faith once for all delivered…” He could have said affirm these documents, or repeat these words, or pray five times a day. He could have said anything, but he tells us fight. Contend. Wrestle “for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Now a lot more could be said about this, but I want to just point out just one implication in closing.
I think the fighting metaphor tells us that there’s a dynamic at work here that includes not just what we say, but how we live — which is obviously not a one-time thing; it’s an everyday thing. How we live matters. And we’ve already seen this principle in other letters this summer — false doctrine is accompanied by living in darkness. And well in the same way, true doctrine is accompanied by living in the light. And in fact, one of the ways we fight for the gospel is by living in a way, acting in a way, behaving in a way, that fits with the gospel. Which means this: contending for the faith, a lot of times, has more to do with how we live than with what theological boxes we can check.
Do you want to help fight for the purity of the gospel? Do you want to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints?
Stop looking at pornography.
Stop gossiping about your friends.
Stop getting angry every time something doesn’t go your way.
Now, for sure, we must get our doctrine in order. But we must get our life in order too.
And look, we’re not fooled into thinking this is simple. When we hear someone tell us to live in a way that fits with the gospel — when we’re told to live right — it might sound simple to some, but we all know its complicated. It’s not easy. That’s why it’s a fight.
But this is one of those cases where, the more details we get, it actually gets simpler, not more complicated. See, the more we get in the middle of this fight, the more we understand that the greatest fight has already been won. The fight for our souls is over. Our destiny is secure. And the only way we can live right is because Jesus has already come and lived right for us, and the true righteousness of his life is counted as our own. And all of our living now is living out of his life. We don’t live to earn his grace, we live by his grace, in his grace.
See, we get to be part of this thing, but it’s in his hands. He’s got it. And ultimately, he’s already taken care of it.
That’s what this Table represents.
The bread and cup here represents the shed blood and broken body of Jesus. And when Jesus was dying on the cross for us, he said the amazing three words: “It is finished.” The ultimate fight is over. And if your trusting in Jesus, he’s not going to let you go. This Table reminds us of that — that his grace is a feast for us, always extended to us. And if you’ve received that grace, if you trust in Jesus, we want to invite you to eat and drink with us. . . .