Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints

by Mike Ratliff

3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.Jude 1:3-4 (NASB) 

When I first started this ministry it was for the intent to address two threats that were very invasive back at that time (2006-2010) in the visible church. My method of doing that was to tell the truth of what certain so-called Christian leaders were doing in either the Seeker Sensitive/Church Growth movement or the Emergent movement. Both of these aberrant movements were presenting a deviant gospel and neither of them were focused on what our Lord Jesus Christ commanded the Church to be about. The focus was backward. Both of these movements began with what people wanted and attempted to build their ministries around that. As I said, I first countered what they were saying and teaching with the truth from God’s Word. At the same time I posted more on discipleship during that period than discernment. After all, if God’s people know the Lord and follow Him and have their minds and hearts where He wants them to be will they follow a false leader?

Even so, when I would publish those discernment posts the backlash from them would be quite strong. As I look back on it now it is almost amusing. Those who I deeply offended by exposing what they were doing and saying and comparing that with what genuine Christian leaders should be doing and saying would respond by attempting to discredit me by simply calling me unspeakable names or insinuating that I’m not even a Christian for doing what I do. When that didn’t work they went after the actual process of “contending for the faith,” loudly proclaiming that we are not commanded in scripture to do this. Through the sustaining grace of God and the prayers of some wonderful Christian brothers and sisters in Christ I found that I could bear the insults and critiques. Let’s look at a passage in scripture that is highly relevant to this.

3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.Jude 1:3-4 (NASB) 

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. Several of those I mentioned above attempted to say that God’s plan for the church did not include doing this. One even said 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 (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 (pistis). The usage 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 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 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 faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and 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 testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. 1 Timothy 6:12-16 (NASB) 

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 (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 without stain or 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 full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12 (NASB) 

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 persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 1:4 (NASB) 

Apostates are those who profess to be Christians. They 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. Think of the corruption of the gospel by Social Justice and Woke Christianity. All who do this 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, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.
17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. Jude 1:16-19 (NASB) 

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:15-20 (NASB) 

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. 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 or offend them. 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 or appears to have a large ministry 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 easy 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 not 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

 

2 thoughts on “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints

  1. Amen! Love this last part too: 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.

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