by Mike Ratliff
3 Ἀγαπητοί, πᾶσαν σπουδὴν ποιούμενος γράφειν ὑμῖν περὶ τῆς κοινῆς ἡμῶν σωτηρίας ἀνάγκην ἔσχον γράψαι ὑμῖν παρακαλῶν ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι τῇ ἅπαξ παραδοθείσῃ τοῖς ἁγίοις πίστει. Jude 1:3 (NA28)
3 Beloved, being extremely eager to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you encouraging you to contend for the faith delivered once for all to the saints. Jude 1:3 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
After R.C. Sproul died just a week ago or so several people in some of the Facebook groups I am part of began to attempt to denigrate his theology based solely on the fact that they disagreed with him. Let that sink in for bit. Some of them called him a heretic. Some called him a false teacher. Some said he was now burning in hell. Well, my list of people who Facebook thinks I should “follow” shrank quite a bit over the last several days. However, I have also found that in his death many of the statements he made in his teachings, sermons, and books about Reformation Theology, Calvinism, Arminianism, Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism are resurfacing and people are now discussing them again. One thing I learned from R.C. was that Calvinism, when taught correctly, is essentially the same thing as the Biblical Gospel. Now, there are many who go to extremes with it and this post is coming from an encounter I had with a fellow on Facebook today.
R.C. taught in his book Chosen by God and in several of his online articles that Arminianism is in error, but Arminians still believe in Justification by Faith alone as necessary for salvation. Their error is in attributing their salvation to a choice by their own Free Will while the Bible teaches that all are dead in trespasses and sins and cannot do that. The gift of faith by God through regeneration is what enables the elect to believe the Gospel and be saved. In any case, the encounter I had online today was that the fellow attacking me told me I was not a believer, it was impossible for me to be one, because I agreed with R.C. Sproul that Arminians could also be Christians though being in error. I submitted to him that I was not a Calvinist when I was saved and that I knew dozens of other Calvinists who came to be Calvinists several years after being saved just like I did. He accused us all of being deceived, lost and going to hell because, to him, the only gospel that saves is one that is preached from the Calvinist perspective.
What was my response? I told him that I contend earnestly for the faith nearly every day in one way or another. I do so through the proper handling of God’s Word and that I have never encountered in God’s Word any such teaching he was trying to force on the Gospel. God saves His people through the preaching of the Gospel, he sanctifies them through the teaching of proper doctrine. It is important not to confuse the two.
13 ἕως ἔρχομαι πρόσεχε τῇ ἀναγνώσει, τῇ παρακλήσει, τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ. 1 Timothy 4:13 (NA28)
13 Until I come attend to the public reading, the exhortation, and the teaching of scripture. 1 Timothy 4:13 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
In this passage, the Apostle Paul commands Timothy to attend to handling God’s Word diligently in a certain way. He is to read it publicly, that is, read it to his flock. He is to use it to exhort them. The last part of that command τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ or literally, “the teaching” or “the doctrine” or “the instruction.” Timothy was being commanded to impart “doctrine” to his flock. That is what Biblical teaching is. A Pastor’s primary function is this very thing. He is not to be an entertainer or entrepreneur nor even is he to place his love for his flock above the necessity to teach them the truth from God’s Word.
The person with whom I was in disagreement was all about being a strict follower of John Calvin, but ignoring what he said about preaching the Gospel. He was establishing his own truth not truth from God’s Word. Go back to the passage I placed at the top of this post, which is Jude 3. I ask, how can we contend for the faith if we do not know the truth? If your truth is different than God’s Truth then how can we do that?
The word “contend” in Jude 3 translates the verb ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι or epagōnizesthai the Infinitive, Present, Deponent case of ἐπαγωνίζομαι or epagōnizomai. This is a compound word made up of ἀγών or agōn, “”which means strife, contention, [a] contest for victory.” It along with the verb ἀγωνίζομαι or agōnizomai originally referred to the fighting and struggle involved in the Greek games.” By adding the prefix ἐπί or epi,. “for”, Jude is telling us that we must fight for the faith. The person with whom I was in discussion thought that was what was going on, but how can you ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι for the faith if all you have is your own version of Christianity? All you can do is point to your own experience not our immutable God and His doctrine that never changes.
My brethren, we can make an idol out of anything and pride is deceitful even masquerading as humility so we must always understand that Christ is our all and without him we can do nothing. God gave us his Word and we are to read it, exhort others from it, teach doctrine from it as commanded and preach the Gospel to all as commanded.
Soli Deo Gloria!