In the first century of the Christian era, Jude wrote a short letter to some of the Christian churches. We are not absolutely certain who Jude was; he may have been one of the brothers of Jesus. We do know that he was a man with a deep and vigorous Christian faith. These challenging words make up the third verse in the New Testament letter bearing his name: “I fully intended, dear friends, to write to you about our common salvation, but I feel compelled to make my letter to you an earnest appeal to put up a real fight for the faith which has been once for all committed to those who belong to Christ” (Phillips).
“Put up a real fight for the faith.” These words contain a very important message for all Christians of every age, particularly those who have been called to be preachers of the Gospel. The King James Version and the Revised Standard Version use the word “contend.” The New English Bible has “join the struggle.” But whatever translation you prefer, the idea is clear: Christians are to engage in a battle, a mortal combat to uphold the faith that is more precious than life itself. We are to live and, if necessary, to die for Jesus Christ.
You don’t hear many church people talking about fighting for the faith these days. We fight for other things—for civil rights, world peace, better living standards, union of denominations. But the modern church is strangely silent about its responsibility to “put up a real fight for the faith.”
Does this mean that Jude’s call to arms is obsolete? Are we no longer Christian soldiers, marching as to war? Ought we just to give a nostalgic sigh and place Jude’s militant challenge up on the curiosity shelf, along with other antiques that are “no longer relevant”?
This would be a terrible mistake. We must do exactly the opposite. We desperately need to recover the spiritual ardor of Jude. Until we care enough about the Christian faith to contend for it, to fight for its integrity—until then we are not really ministers of the Gospel. We are little more than zombies, showing signs of life but lacking spiritual power.
Through the ages, the Church has been sickest in those times when God’s people saw no reason to contend for the faith. On the other hand, hasn’t the Church been most dynamic in those times when Christians were most willing to put up a fight in behalf of Christian truth—in the time of the Apostle Paul, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and Francis Asbury? That is why we are compelled to “put up a real fight for the faith which has been once for all committed to those who belong to Christ”—if we do indeed “belong” to him.
Not A Hunting License
The thought in this verse—and in fact in all of Jude’s letter—centers round the words “fight” and “faith.” There is danger in looking too shallowly, too superficially, at this verse. We can easily and disastrously become contentious in contending for the faith. We can use Jude 3 as a kind of theological hunting license, entitling us to go gunning for heresy and apostasy among those with whom we disagree for theological, sociological, or even personal reasons.
Each minister of the Gospel can make up an impressive list of the dangers threatening our Christian faith, such things as secularism, materialism, and many other anti-Christian forces in the world around us. Without minimizing the crucial importance of these external enemies, I suggest that there is another arena where Jesus calls us to contend for the faith. It is the arena within us. We must first of all “put up a real fight” at the place where the Christian faith is always most seriously challenged—in the minds and hearts of those who call themselves Christians and especially in the minds and hearts of preachers of the Word.
Jesus warns us against trying to take a speck out of our brother’s eye when we have a log in our own. “You hypocrite,” our Lord said, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5, RSV). In this spirit, the spirit of our Lord himself, I invite you to go with me on a heresy hunt. Let us probe the depths within us. Let us “put up a real fight for the faith” in that inner arena where the most deadly enemies of the truth of Jesus Christ lurk. Here let us wage war against Satan. If you are anything like me, you have some dark corners of your life where the light of Christ has not yet penetrated. Here, I believe, is the place to begin contending for the faith—within those of us who have been saved by grace and are going on to perfection.
Pride: An Insidious Enemy
Let us contend, first, against pride. My faith is destroyed by the pride that causes me to feel better than the pastor whose congregation is half the size of mine. Deadly pride causes me to feel that my church and my pulpit are really truer to Christ than the church across town that cares nothing about racial integration or ecumenicity. Pride gnaws like a cutworm at the root of Christian faith. Pride’s forms are infinite, and its consequences are especially deadly to our ministry of the Gospel.
Let us also “put up a real fight” against our liking for luxury. Yes, it does make my “calling” more certain when the parsonage has a nice kitchen, when the pastor’s study has modern furniture and a carpet. Surely God calls me more loudly to this comfortable kind of a pastorate than to one where the study is just a hole in the wall with a file cabinet on one side and a mimeograph machine on the other.
Let us contend for the faith against our theology, too. It may be the most deadly threat simply because its danger is unrecognized. The very language and ideas of faith can become destroyers if theology becomes a substitute for lives yielded to Jesus as Lord. Our magnificent doctrinal constructions may be a veneer concealing from the world that deep in our hearts we are unconverted sinners. A theology can be like a rich and beautiful oriental rug thrown over the garbage of a life still untouched by him who alone has the power to purify.
Yes, “dear friends,” as Jude would say, we must “put up a real fight for the faith.” But let the front line be within us. Let us contend first against our own private heresies and apostasies.
Jude calls us Christians to battle for the faith. But what faith? Surely Jude could not have been a seminary man or he would not have made it sound so simple. Obviously, he was a fundamentalist. He cared about nothing but the central truth of the Gospel. For Jude everything worthwhile about the faith that had been delivered once for all was the simple declaration that “Jesus is the Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). That is all. Jude saw all things in terms of Jesus Christ, the wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption for all who would believe.
Probably Jude got some of his conviction from that great fundamentalist of Tarsus, who wrote to the Christians at Corinth, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, RSV). For Christians, there is really no other faith than that. Everything significant for Christians takes its rise in him who was “wounded for our transgressions.” Everything worth anything at all comes to a focus upon the One who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7, RSV). The Alpha and Omega of authentic Christian faith is he who “humbled himself” and was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
It is time to get rid of our fuzzy thinking about the Christian faith. Away with our pseudo-intellectual distractions! Let us put aside childish things. Let Christians stop wallowing in the philosophical swampland of existentialism. Let us rise above the popular kind of blase relativism that says it’s “okay” to believe anything at all because God is “a nice guy” and “all he cares about is sincerity.” Away with these delusions! They are deathtraps. They are enemies of vital Christian faith. They are abominations.
There is only one kind of faith that matters in the sight of God. Only one. Jude knew what it is, and so did the Apostle Paul. So have real Christians over all the centuries known what it is. It is the kind of faith that causes the unutterable joy of knowing personally the meaning of Paul’s words in the second chapter of Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
T. Leo Brannon is pastor of the First Methodist Church of Samson, Alabama. He received the B.S. degree from Troy State College and the B.D. from Emory University.
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