by Mike Ratliff
3 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. 4 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 1:3-4 ESV)
The Epistle of Jude is generally attributed to the half-brother of our Lord Jesus Christ. In v3 we learn that his original intent was to write an epistle on salvation to his recipients. However, he was compelled to write a call to battle for the truth instead. Why? The church was being infiltrated by some apostate teachers. I hear from so many who attempt to say that God’s plan for the church does not include doing this. I was told by one fellow once who was trying to stop me from exposing his favorite “emergent” leader that God had commanded that we should allow the tares and wheat to grow together in the church and let God sort them out as our Lord shared in the parable of the Wheat and Tares found in Matthew 13:24-30. However, Jesus interprets this parable for us in v38 telling us that the field containing the wheat and tares is the world, not the church, and those told to leave them be until the judgment are angels, not Christians (v39).
Jude exhorts us to do what in Jude 3? He exhorts us to contend earnestly for the faith. The Greek word for “contend earnestly” here is “επαγωνιζεσθαι” or “epagonizomai.” it means “to strive, contend earnestly. To fight for or in reference to something. A direct translation of this word into English would be “earnestly contend for.” The Greek word for “faith” here is “πιστει” or “pistis.” The usage here refers to the whole body of God’s revealed truth about our salvation, which is contained in Sacred Scripture. So Jude is exhorting all reading this letter to battle for the truth. This is a battle cry to to wage war against error in all forms and fight strenuously for the truth. We are being exhorted to do this like soldiers who have been entrusted with the guarding a holy treasure. That is what the truth is my brethren and this battle cry has never been recalled.
12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:12-16 ESV)
How do we fight this battle? We take hold of the eternal life to which we were called. The Greek word translated as “fight” here is “αγωνιζου” or “agonizomai.” It is the word from which we get the English word “agonize.” It literally means to struggle or contend with an adversary. Synonyms would be fight, labor fervently or strive. So this word is similar in meaning and focus to “epagonizomai.” What is Paul exhorting Timothy to do in this passage? He is to use his calling to “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a call to do the very same thing Jude was exhorting us to do in his epistle for the commandment he is talking about here is the entire revealed Word of God. Paul had charged Timothy to preach it. Here Paul is telling him to also fight for its purity as well as to keep it free from reproach.
Let us pause here to summarize. Jude exhorts us to contend earnestly for the faith and Paul is exhorting Timothy and all preachers of the Word to fight for the Word’s purity as well as guard it from harm. Why are we called to do this? Jude told us that some apostates had crept in unawares and were doing the very thing Paul was warning Timothy to fight to prevent here. However is our battle against flesh and blood?
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12 ESV)
The power behind apostates and heretics is spiritual. We are in a spiritual conflict with Satan’s kingdom of darkness. Even though, as we contend earnestly for the faith, we appear to be doing battle with people who hold ungodly doctrines and are working as wolves in sheep’s clothing, the real battle is with our enemy. What is the nature of these men who are being controlled by Satan and his kingdom of darkness?
4 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 1:4 ESV)
Apostates are those who profess to be Christians. They have crept into the visible Church unnoticed. However, they are not genuine believers. What do they do? They pervert the grace of our God into something fleshly while denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. What this means is that their motives are impure. They entered the visible Church in order to get rich from it. They may not even have conceived of this to begin with, but as they “found their ministry” they found a way to make money or get famous or well known or even well respected by many in the visible Church. However, they are not genuine believers and they have created their own following by perverting the Gospel from its pure form into something else. Think of easy-believism. Think of the watered-down gospel in the New Evangelism in our day. Think of the importation of eastern mysticism into the visible church. All who do this, and all other perversions of the gospel, meet this criteria of being those “certain people” who have crept in unnoticed. Jude tells us these people “were designated for this condemnation.” What does that mean? These people have already been judged because they are on the path that God has already proclaimed judgment upon long ago. What is the nature of these apostates?
16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud- mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. 17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:16-19 ESV)
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)
Those who creep in unnoticed look like sheep, but are not. They are actually ravenous wolves. How can we recognize them then? We look at their fruit. This fruit is their works, their words, their deeds, and their doctrines. Our Lord told us that the way to life is through a narrow gate which few find. It leads to a narrow, difficult path, which is the only way to God. The doctrines of these wolves are intended to deceive people into believing that there is another, easier way to God or a way to God that is according to works of the flesh or is according to works righteousness. Our Lord instructs us to beware of these people. Jude exhorts us to contend earnestly for the faith against them. Paul tells us to fight the good fight to keep them from polluting the truth of God’s Word. This is a call to battle my brethren.
The lie that has nearly neutered the church for the last 150+ years is that it is wrong to contend earnestly for the faith. This lie says that it is wrong for Christians to tell the truth if it could possibly hurt someone’s feelings. It says that if a person has bad doctrine and is leading people astray, but he is a great guy who is fun to be around and has shown himself to be a great friend that everyone seems to love then perhaps we should just let it go. That is a lie my brethren and who is the father of all lies? Doesn’t Satan work night and day to neutralize as many Christians as possible with all sorts of schemes to ensnare them in sin or make them doubt and despair? These lies and schemes are intended to deceive as many professing Christians as possible into taking the broad, man-centered way instead of the narrow hard way through Christ as Lord.
The narrow way starts at the cross and requires all who enter in to take up their own crosses and follow Christ. This is dying to self and becoming our Master’s slave. Those who are truly His are His slaves whose wills are consumed in His. Those who have crept in unnoticed who are now proclaiming a version of Christianity that is not genuine have their own disciples who are deceived into thinking that they belong to Christ, but they serve another Jesus not the Lord Jesus Christ. They are deluded and convinced that everyone who points out that their doctrines are unbiblical is a false prophet. They see our stance as evil and theirs as good. They see what really is evil as good and what is really good as evil. What we must never forget is that we are really fighting with Satan and his kingdom, not these people. They are simply his pawns.
Therefore let us resolve to obey what God’s Word says. Let us earnestly contend for the faith, fight the good fight as we beware these wolves in sheep’s clothing. We must do this with much fervent prayer for discernment, wisdom, and boldness. Then when it is time to tell the truth, we must not shrink back from doing so. It isn’t about us my brethren. We are to defend the truth and guard it. We must not be about destroying or condemning people. No, that is God’s to take care of. We are simply to tell the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria