Contending for the Faith | Jude 3-4

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.

Jude 3-4 ESV

In the previous study of verses 1-2, we expounded upon the identity of Jude and of his audience. Having established that we are slaves to Christ that are called, loved, and kept by God, Jude now launches into the purpose of his letter. Interestingly, he claims that he intended to write a different letter, one concerning “our common salvation”; however, the Holy Spirit had other plans. He is compelled by the Spirit to write about defending the faith against false teachers within the church.

CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH // VERSE 3

“Beloved” Jude begins the body of his epistle by calling his readers beloved. This term ought to immediately recall the identity of the believer as described in verse 1, but it is also used familial settings. A father would often refer to his child as beloved. Because we are called slaves of Christ, we are also beloved in God the Father. With our common status as being loved by God, Christians are family, calling one another beloved. Thus, the entirety of this letter is written out of the overflow of Jude’s love for his brothers and sisters in the faith. He is not going to use hard words simply to be shocking, rather he is going to tell them difficult truths out of love.

“Very eager” Jude’s original purpose for writing was not to call out and condemn the false teachers in their midst; instead, he wanted to write a letter about salvation. He admits that he was very eager to write about this topic, but necessity dictated that he write concerning other matters. How great an example is this of submitting to the will of God! Though it was Jude’s utmost desire to write about salvation, God compelled him toward contending for the faith. We must always remember to follow God’s plan over our intentions. The choice will often be between two good things (i.e. salvation and contending for the faith), but when God speaks, we must obey.

“our common salvation” This phrase could also be translated as our common security. As such, Jude is subtly nodding at a common Roman idea of his day. During the first century, the Roman Empire was still expanding, and this expansion led to new enemies facing the empire. Thus, many politicians would write about the conquests being necessary for the common safety of Rome. The degree of its usage is likely similar to “national security” in our present day.Thus, Jude is high jacking a common Roman expression to refer to the Christian concept of salvation.

But what is our common salvation? It is the very essence of Christianity. It is the gospel, the answer to the problem of humanity. Though we were created to live in sinless communion with God, our sin destroyed that hope. The good and holy God can only look upon sinful humans with judgment and wrath. But by the grace of God, the Son of God was made flesh, lived a sinless life, and died in our place. Though Jesus was the only one who did not deserve death, He took the punishment of death in our stead. Because of His sacrificial death and resurrection, we are now justified before God, standing before Him with the righteousness of Christ. One day, whether by death or the Lord’s return, we will also be glorified, forever to be with Him. Jude wanted to write about this salvation. Though it was a noble and godly desire, God had other purposes for His servant.

“I found it necessary” The necessity with which Jude wrote was a compulsion and obligation. Though his longing was to discuss salvation, he found himself being compelled by the Spirit to write about another topic. Likely, the presence of these false teachers within the church constrained Jude to change his topic. His pastoral heart for the people being deceived led him to fight on their behalf.

“to write appealing to you” Jude is not simply fervently asking believers, as some might interpret the word “appeal” today. Instead, this appealing is an exhortation, a call to action. He is pleading for his beloved to make modifications to their behavior in response to the circumstances that he is bringing before them. Paul uses the same word in Romans when he writes, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). Paul spends the first eleven chapters of Romans discussing theology, illuminating the work of God in their lives. Then in chapter 12, he applies the entirety of those chapters and begins to issue commands. Such is the nature of Jude’s epistle. It is not merely informational, rather he commands us that it must alter our living.

“to contend for the faith” Here is the very heart of Jude’s letter. This is his thesis, his overall goal: to urge us into contending for the faith. The concept of contending in Greek was often used for high intensity challenges, such as sports, warfare, personal growth in virtues, and debates. The usage of faith here is to be taken as referring to the basic principles of Christianity. Faith is fundamentally the placing of one’s confidence in something, but in this case, it refers to what we are placing our confidence in, namely the atoning work of Christ. Thus, there ought to a heightened degree of ferocity with which we defend the faith. The good news of Jesus Christ is too important to not defend with all our might. Of course, contention within Christianity must never be done physically or violently. The follower of Christ will never seek to defend by the sword but rather by the Word. Instead, we battle by building one another up in the true faith (Jude 20), seeking to rescue the deceived (Jude 23), and disavow the wolves (1 Cor. 5:11-13).

To ‘contend earnestly for’ (epagonizesthai) is an expressive compound infinitive which appears only here in the New Testament. The simple form of the verb (agonizomai), which appears as ‘agonize’ in its English form, was commonly used in connection with the Greek stadium to denote a strenuous struggle to overcome an opponent, as in a wrestling match. It was also used more generally of any conflict, contest, debate, or lawsuit. Involved is the thought of the expenditure of all one’s energy in order to prevail ( (Hiebert, 1985).

“that was once for all delivered to the saints” What a beautiful description of the gospel that we must defend! The truth of God was delivered by the divine revelation of God, known as the Bible. The fact that it was delivered emphasizes that its truth is not of man but of God. No man is ultimately responsible for the Scriptures (though God did use each author’s stylistic leans), rather God provided it to them, by the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. One of the hallmark characteristics of false teaching is that they introduce a new teaching or new thought in addition to the sacred tradition of Scripture. All of these additions to divine revelation are heretical. They are unbiblical. The truth of Scripture was given once for all, and any addition to it is not Scripture. It is also fitting that the sacred Scriptures have been placed into the hands of the saints, those who are set apart as holy unto God. Since the faith has been given to us, it is also our duty to guard it and fight for it.

INTRODUCING THE FALSE TEACHERS // VERSE 4

“for certain people have crept in unnoticed” We have now discussed Jude’s purpose for writing, but now he explains why he is telling us to contend for the faith. Often when people think of defending Christianity, they think of debates against atheists or Muslims, but Jude’s concern is not the enemy outside but the enemy within. Jesus, Paul, John, and Peter all warned that false teachers would come among the believers. Notice that the previous verse references the saints, but these are called “certain people.” They are excluded from the number of the saints and are not counted amongst their ranks. Though they fellowship with the saints, inwardly they are a separate people from the true followers of Christ. They warned that there would soon be wolves hiding in the midst of the sheep. Now Jude writes that they already are. The danger of this threat should be obvious since an enemy who is perceived as a friend is always the most dangerous. The creeping into the fellowship of believers accentuates their shadowy motives. In essence, they are children of the dark, not of the light.

“who long ago were designated for this condemnation” Jude begins his renunciation of the false teachers by marking them as condemned. He writes that they were designated long ago for condemnation. In Greek, designated literally means “to write beforehand.” There is no need to discuss the condemnation in question because the next several verses will elucidate upon that idea. Instead, let us focus upon a disturbing question: does this mean that God predestines these people for hell? No matter how one approaches the question, there is no simple answer. It is clear that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh in Exodus, and Paul even states that God makes some for wrath and destruction (Rom. 9:22). The best answer that I am able to find is the concept mentioned in Romans 11:9, namely to some God gives them the desires of their hearts to their own destruction. C. S. Lewis says it like this: “There are two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” To an extent, hell is the giving men what they want.

 “ungodly people” This is the first in a triplet describing the character of these false teachers. The concept of godliness is fairly simple. Being godly is to reflect aspects and characteristics of God. Since God is merciful, gracious, and loving, the godly person must also exhibit those qualities. Godliness is description of one’s actions and characteristics as being reflective of God’s actions and characteristics. Therefore, godliness closely pertains to one’s morality, and when we say that someone is ungodly, we are essentially describing him or her as being amoral. This is Jude’s description of the false teachers. He does not begin with their theology and doctrinal errors. Instead, he focuses upon their character. If they were truly of God, their lives would reflect him; instead, they are moral degenerates, acting in opposition to God’s character.

“who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” In regards to doctrinal error, this is Jude’s most detailed description. It seems, from this description, that these people are answering “yes” to Paul’s question in Romans 6:1. In that text, Paul asks, “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound?” He then answers his own question with a resounding, “By no means! How can he who died to sin still live in it?” The apostle held firmly to the belief that the grace of God saved us from sin, so that He might also empower us to separate from sin. Believing that the grace of God is a license for more sin is antithetical to the gospel. It is as if a wealthy man gave a home and work to lowly beggar on the street. Enraptured by his new circumstances, the beggar purchased a mattress and bedding and then proceeded to sleep upon his new mattress in the streets instead of in the house that was given to him. The beggar is content to grab the grace of the wealthy man and return to his previous circumstances, making them a bit more comfortable. Will the wealthy man continue to provide the house for the beggar? No. The wealthy man will leave the beggar to his new bed and old street, and he will seek out another beggar who will make proper use of the wealthy man’s gift. So it is with the grace of God. These men are using grace as a means of more comfortably returning to their previous lusts. They presume upon the grace of God, so that their guilt is no longer before them. Of these it is true that they are dead even while they live. O’ Christian, may we never pervert the grace of God into a permit for sensuality; instead, let us be transformed more and more into the image of Christ!

“and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” Ungodliness and the perversion of grace naturally lead to this statement. I do not believe that these false teachers were actively denouncing Jesus as Lord and Master, verbally. Instead, they denied Him with their lives. The people belonging to God will reflect Him, thus being godly. In like manner, those who are ungodly reject God through their lifestyle. As mentioned in verse one, every follower of Christ is also a slave to Christ. No slave has a right to his or her own flesh, but rather the slave submits and obeys his or her master. By disobeying the commands of God, these men reject Christ as their master and their position as slaves of Christ. They deny with their lives the most basic principle of Christianity, namely that Christ is Lord. Though they are among the Christians, they are not like Christ, and they do not submit to Him as Lord and Master. Paul gives a succinct description of these people as well: “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). O’ Christian, may this never be true of us!

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