the weblog of Alan Knox

Are you contending for the faith?

Posted by on Feb 26, 2009 in discipleship, scripture | 10 comments

In his short letter, Jude tells his readers that he was planning to write about their common salvation. Instead, he says that he decided to appeal to them “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”. (Jude 3)

But, what did Jude intend for his readers to do? How were they supposed to “contend for the faith”?

In the next sentence, Jude warns his readers that some divisive and disruptive and ungodly people had sneaked in among them. For the next twelve verses (Jude 5-16), Jude tells his readers that ungodly people will be punished by God. He gives them several examples of how God judges and punishes the ungodly.

But, this still doesn’t answer the question. How are Jude’s readers supposed to “contend for the faith”? Read the next 7 verses:

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 17-23 ESV)

Did you see the commands? There are only five commands (instructions) in the Jude’s short letter, and they’re all contained in these verses. How would Jude’s readers (and us by extension) “contend for the faith”?

  1. Remember the predictions of the apostles. The apostles told them that people with ungodly passions would come in. They should not be surprised nor fearful of them.
  2. Remain in the love of God, by a) building each other up in faith (that is, helping one another trust God), b) praying in the Holy Spirit, and c) waiting for the mercy that comes from Jesus Christ.
  3. Have mercy on those who doubt.
  4. Rescue (save) those who are trapped in sinful behavior.
  5. Have mercy (cautiously – with fear) on those whose lives are covered with sin.

(By the way, the last few verses have quite different attestations in different manuscripts. But, most agree Jude instructs his readers to have mercy on others.)

I think it is very interesting that Jude tells his readers to “contend for the faith” (and thereby thwart the work of divisive, deceptive, and ungodly people) by encouraging one another to remain in God’s love and by having mercy on those who are doubting or sinning.

I’m not sure that this is the way the church is attempting to “contend for the faith” today. It seems that we tend to tear down those who disagree with us and ridicule or label or dismiss those who are doubting or sinning. Could it be that its not “the faith” we are contending for?

What if showing love and mercy contends for the faith more than apologetic arguments? What if helping and strengthening one another (other believers) preserves the faith more than creeds and confessions? What if “the faith” is more about living in God’s love and trusting him than it is about a set of systematic doctrines?

What if the church focused on love and mercy and allowed God to continue to deal with the divisive, the deceptive, and the ungodly as Jude shows that he always has in the past?


10 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-26-2009

    Alan,

    I get the spirit of what you are saying. My concern would be that in an attempt to be “loving” we ignore false teachers and unsound doctrine. There is a tendency in a lot of apologetics circles in the church, especially in the circles I run in, to jump on people with both feet when they stray from what is perceived to be orthodoxy. But we read an awful lot about refuting false teachers in the church outside of Jude. 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:9, Titus 1:13, Titus 2:15, Gal 1: 8-9. False teachers, false prophets, false Christ’s, wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    Shouldn’t we seek a balance? Standing firm, contending earnestly, teaching sound doctrine and rebuking those who don’t but doing so in a spirit of love and mercy? I am not certain that the problem is that we are refuting false teaching and disciplining sin in our midst, but the problem arises from the spirit in which we approach it and the way it is carried out.

  2. 2-26-2009

    It seems like you could leave off all the “what if” statements and just say:

    Showing love and mercy contends for the faith more than apologetic arguments.

    Helping and strengthening one another (other believers) preserves the faith more than creeds and confessions.

    “The faith” is more about living in God’s love and trusting him than it is about a set of systematic doctrines.

    The church focused on the love and mercy of God, allowing Him to continue to deal with the divisive, the deceptive, and the ungodly is the greatest way to contend for the faith.

    And might I add this prayer, “Lord, by Your grace help me to be a living confession that points to you and a living creed that shows people what the faith delivered to the saints is really all about. Amen.”

  3. 2-26-2009

    Alan,

    What a great post! I kind of like the “what if’s”. Creeds and apologetic’s don’t set people free. Doctrine is necessary, but it cannot take the place of the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    I think we worry too much about “our” doctrine being corrupted and maligned. We are to live the simplicity of the gospel. That comes from the inside out, because of the circumcision of our hearts.

    Yes, there must be teaching. Yes, we must study. However, all the biblical knowledge in the world has never saved anyone. Christianity is not intellectual. What did Paul call all of his credentials?

    We are changed when we spend time in His presence, not in intellectual exercises.

    What more does the Lord want from His bride than to show love and mercy, by helping and strengthening one another, and trusting Him?

  4. 2-26-2009

    Yes, you and Scott and Jack have it right – contend for the faith with love and mercy.

    Theologians love to argue theology, and just get mad when someone else can “theologize” better than they. No one else cares.

    People do care about whether or not we care about them – love and mercy. If we have not love and mercy, then all our teaching is unsound.

    “I don’t care what you think. I only want to know if you care.”

  5. 2-26-2009

    It must have something to do with the translation you use. Or maybe I am just a scripture reading dunce, because I come up with some very different things that the Body of Christ ought to be doing, collectively and individually.

  6. 2-26-2009

    Alan,

    This is a good word and a good reminder. Thanks for posting it. Thanks also for letting scripture drive your conclusions as opposed to tradition, what others are saying and doing, or what is easy.

    Eric

  7. 2-26-2009

    Alan,

    I await your answer to Arthur. Bbut maybe I misunderstood the post brother. It does seem to me that Paul exhorts the Church to watch out for those who teach false doctrine and seems to be one of the primary functions of Elders.

  8. 2-26-2009

    I think I hear what Arthur, Lanny, and Lionel are saying. Obviously sound doctrine is important and Paul even told Timothy to watch his life and his teaching/doctrine.

    But I’m afraid that sometimes we too narrowly define doctrine or that which composes “the faith.”

    Is having women in roles of leadership and ministry a violation of “the faith”? Is Calvinism “the faith”? Is Arminianism “the faith”? Is a certain eschatological viewpoint “the faith”?

    On and on it goes.

    When Jude says to contend for the faith I don’t think he has a full blown version of systematic theology or doctrinal particularites in mind. But I’m afraid that is what most people do have in mind today.

    Maybe I’m naive, but what I think Jude has in mind here is very simple. It is contending with those who “pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Period. Some have taken grace as a license to sin and have stopped following Jesus as Lord. That’s it. How much apologetics does it take to contend for this faith?

    No, instead I think it is as Alan has written. We contend for the faith through encouragement, mercy and love on display through us to others so that they can see the reality of submission to Jesus as Lord and Master.

  9. 2-26-2009

    I have been thinking all afternoon about what Lionel, and Lanny said, and was about to post, then Scott stole my thunder.

    Actually, Scott, you said what I wanted to say in a much more articulate manner than I could have.

    Anyway, great stuff here guys. What a blessing to be able to discuss these issues in a loving graceful manner.

  10. 2-26-2009

    Wonderful discussion, everyone. Instead of referring to each person individually, I’ll add a couple of points to the ongoing discussion.

    First, the purpose of this post was to examine what Jude said about “contending for the faith”. Jude focuses on offering love and mercy while recognizing that God will judge and punish those who are divisive and deceptive and ugodly.

    Second, this certainly doesn’t rule out the fact that God may use us (or other people) to play a role in helping people recognize their divisive, deceptive, or ungodly lifestyle and helping others stay clear of that kind of lifestyle.

    Third, I would agree that when we think about “the faith”, we should start with “the faith” being a life of trusting God. Can we add something else to this? Perhaps, but it can’t be less than trusting God.

    Finally, I’ll remind everyone that Paul told Timothy to deal with “opponents” with gentleness. So, I don’t think Jude is alone is saying that love and mercy should characterize our response to the divisive, deceptive, and ungodly.

    (I apologize for taking so long to respond. Our family was helping a single mom move tonight. Maybe I’ll be able to tell that story soon.)

    -Alan