Now more than ever before does the Christian faith need those who are willing to contend for the faith. To wrestle and to grapple with hard truths, to vie and compete with the powers and principalities of this world for the attention of humanity and to assert the Gospel of Jesus Christ without the fear of losing favor, or the pride of gaining favor.
So much of Christianity today is lost in the minutia of whether or not a Christian can wear a hat in church, or whether or not a Christian can watch Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. We get lost in the vain speculation and disputes we are warned of in Titus 3:9 and 2 Timothy 2:23. But what are we contending for, and who is contending? Are you?
Most, if not all Christians, those who claim to follow the message and gospel of Jesus Christ and walk in His commandments, have certainly heard in one form or another, the phrase, “Earnestly contend for the faith!” This is found in the book of Jude and has a context worth discussing, but as I studied this in personal devotion time I began wondering, what does it really mean? Does this contradict Paul later saying to avoid squabbles and disputes?
My personal study time includes two Bibles, a leather journal/notepad, a pen, a Strong’s Dictionary, and critically, Coffee! As a believer in Expositional preaching, I tend to study in like manner now, studying book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. As I finished Malachi I moved into Jude, thinking about each verse, reading Study Bible and other commentary notes of what I was reading and looking for understanding.
I passed this Scripture by at first but as I read through Jude three of our times I finally came back to this and began gnawing on the topic – contending for the faith. What faith? And what is contending? What was in contention and in question that this needed to be said?
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
What is Contending?
It seems that the author had a purpose for writing this epistle but quickly changed the purpose and intention due to contention within the body of Christ. Jude says initially that he would have written about the common salvation but found it necessary to change course because certain people, much like Christ and the Apostle Paul warned of, had crept into the Body (Church) for the purpose of perverting the Gospel.
In the case of Paul and his teachings in Galatians 2, those men crept into the body to spy out the liberty in Christ (Christian Freedom from the law of Moses) and to draw or drag them back into slavery (bondage) to the law. In the case of Jude, it appears that the opposite was taking place – these people were perverting the grace of the Gospel in the realm of sensuality and sexual impurities.
Whether the error is to the left of legalism or to the right of hyper-grace and frivolity with the Word of God – we are commanded, all of us, to contend for the faith, the true faith that was delivered, by Christ and then His Apostles, to the saints.
The word contend quite literally means to struggle, to wrestle or to grapple, to vie or to compete, to overcome. While we know the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (2 Cor 10:4), we are still, in this life, using our human mind and heart, armed with the Scripture and Spirit, to wrestle with the adversary and to overcome that obstacle (false doctrine) to the saving of souls. In fact, in my last article, Pentecostal Fire? You Better Hope Not!, I referenced the Scripture that shows that the ultimate goal and necessary reason for fighting and contending is to save (snatch) people from the fires of judgment – also found in Jude
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying 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 20-23, ESV
Furthermore, most Bible translations add the emphasis earnestly contend, or contend earnestly, adding that extra punch to the premise that we are to, as you see in the picture above, strain and with great effort fight for the faith.
Now, I’m not making a case that we should all become Apologetic defenders and debaters but we all need to recognize the need for contending. Christ gave us incredible warnings to this effect:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. ~ Matthew 7:15-16a, ESV
For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. ~ Matthew 24:24, ESV
We are currently living in a day when not only are false prophets and fake teachers found in Bible-believing circles but moreso there are blasphemous teachers who masquerade the Gospel in their private jets and crystal palaces with claims of prosperity, health and wealth, slick sermons with make-up camera-ready faces preaching another gospel than what the Apostles one and for all delivered to the saints.
On top of that, the A-gnostic and A-theistic attack on the faith is stronger than ever before, pressuring the young and vulnerable in our families to fall prey to their heretical messages of self-reliance and individual Godhood.
So how do we contend? How do we fight? How do we guard and protect the faith and most importantly, our families and young ones? How do we disciple them to be ready to stand against the onslaught of fake Christianity and anti-Christianity?
So How do we contend?
In my study and devotion over the book of Jude and then the topic of Contending left me with four basic points, and while there may be more labels we can append to these, I believe these four encompass the holistic approach to Scripture, Faith and our earnest contention for the Truth.
“Study to show yourself approved unto God…” (2 Tim 2:14-15, NKJV)The very best way you can arm yourself for contending is to study – arm yourself with the Words of Truth, learn Scripture, understand Scripture, explore it, go deep in it, read multiple or as many versions of the same passages as possible, and pay careful attention to commentaries and dictionaries.
Put aside preconceived notions, denominational creeds, and mantras, idioms and rally cries. Start with a blank slate in your mind and in your notebook, let Scripture speak for itself. I heard one man say, “The meaning of Scripture…is Scripture.”
- Seek Counsel
“Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisers, they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)This is ultimately number two because as we study the Word it is important to seek counsel from others. The word we read can be biased and pushed into our own perspectives based on past experiences, traumas, learnings and/or understandings.
Seeking the understanding of Scripture both from Scripture itself and then from the counsel of many (commentaries too, but other studies of the word) help to round out our understanding, find flaws in our perspectives, or even to help solidify the understandings and conclusions we discovered.
“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people…” (2 Timothy 2:1-2)Not many things will give you pause enough to consider your own understanding and perspectives like teaching them to other people. There is a triune effect of teaching: 1) You must study diligently to know your subject matter, 2) Articulating your thoughts brings clarity and inevitably, edits, and 3) The challenge of the audience will either shape or sharpen your understandings.
- Live It
“Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” (1 Timothy 4:11-12)Finally, and potentially most importantly, contend for this faith by LIVING this faith. We’ve all encountered the hypocrite who speaks many pretty words and puts on many great shows and then behind closed doors becomes someone else. I’m reminded of a man I saw in a Sunday service compelling a young man through vigorous means, to give up his sins, one of which he thought was the smoking of cigarettes. Then later that night, he asked the young man if he could bum a cigarette from him.
In the Shepherds Conference (hosted by Grace Church, John McArthur, http://www.gty.org) a panel of faithful preachers was asked what one thing was the most influential example and catalyst that set them on their path of ministry. To a man they answered, “My mom and dad were faithful examples and were the same on Friday night as they were on Sunday morning.”
It is right for us, as God’s children, to earnestly contend for the faith that was once (canon is closed) and for all delivered to the saints (us) and to ensure we are teaching our churches, and discipling strong believers who are also able to contend and teach.
What is known in Christendom as the Great Commission has one primary purpose – the making of Disciples.
It’s been misconstrued by the Oneness Pentecostal church as a hill to die on for proclaiming their anti-Trinitarian heresy (modalism) and so they focus on ‘the grammar of’ what is the Name of the Father? Or the Son? Or the Spirit?
Other die-hard legalists focus on the portion of Christ’s words that say, “teaching them to obey everything…” and then append their doctrinal positions and dogmas.
The Baptist-oriented dogmas may focus on “Baptizing them…” and forget the rest, that’s the highlight of the whole speech.
Yet, through the entirety of Christ’s ministry on this earth, followed up by His Spirit moving through the Apostles (Acts 1/2) and through the Church, the body of Christ, the entire focus was on People – discipling People. They were to Contend for the People. To the saving of People. To snatching People from the fire.
Our contention for this Faith has one single and primary purpose – saving People from False Doctrines, false Christs, false Prophets, and enjoining them to the body, inviting them to fellowship with Christ and then getting out of the way!
Father, Lord, and Savior, Spirit, Comforter and abiding anointing, I pray that you would open the eyes of your children, the faithful, and the unfaithful, to see the truth of your Word. That you would help us with our unbelief. That you would forgive us our trespasses and lack of faith. We who hope to contend for your faith and gospel seek to fight with your understanding, your patience, and your love. Help us o God, to contend honestly, with purity, and love, exemplifying the fruit of Your Spirit and maintaining Self Control and being blameless among men. Amen.