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Defending the Faith

Series: Jude

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 16, 2004

Jude 1:3-4

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to the book of Jude right at the end of the New Testament, as we continue the second of five studies in this great book. The last week we looked at what was essentially the greeting, the salutation, “the dear-so-and-so” part of the book. It's found in verses 1 and 2. And even in those words of greeting and words of blessing–because the second verse contains a beautiful blessing, a beautiful benediction which Jude pronounces upon this congregation. Even in these two, little verses we find so much of spiritual substance.

These opening words provide for us important biblical components in answer to questions like “How should we think of ourselves?” Well, Jude thinks of himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. Remember he had bunked with Jesus as a boy, and yet he calls himself “a servant of Jesus Christ.” It says worlds of what he thinks of Jesus and how he views himself. And these words…they remind us of what a real Christian is: We’re called; we're beloved; we're kept. Aren't those three, beautiful words about believers? We’re called by God not only into His family, not only into the church, but into this great story, this great mission to be a blessing to the nations. We’re beloved in God the Father…the only place in the New Testament where that glorious phrase is used. We’re kept not only by Jesus Christ but for Jesus Christ. No one can snatch us from the palm of His hand, and we are kept to be presented to Him at the last day as His bride, faultless. That's how Jude begins. It's just a greeting…but even in the greeting he defines for us Christians: servants of Christ, called of God, beloved of the Father, kept for Jesus. It's a glorious description of who we are. It reorients the whole way we view ourselves, the world, and our mission in life.

But he doesn't stop there. He pronounces a unique benediction: “Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” And in that benediction we see something of what Christians ought to be longing for, what we ought to be desiring for. Not more stuff, not more power, more prestige, more influence, more significance, more status, more money, more things…but more mercy, more peace, more love. That's what we ought to want: more of God's mercy, more of God's peace, more of God's love. So even in the greeting and blessing, these opening words, Jude has taught us so much.

Now in verses 3 and 4 he's getting us into the stuff, the substance, the heart of this letter. He's going to tell us why this letter is written. And let me warn you, it may surprise you. He tells us that he wanted to write about one thing, but he's got to write about another, because of the circumstances that this congregation finds itself in. Before we read this passage and hear it proclaimed, let's look to God in prayer then and ask His Holy Spirit to illumine our hearts in the hearing of His word. Let's pray.

O Lord, we live in a world and time where the very existence of absolute truth is questioned and all matters of religion are viewed as affairs of personal opinion. Save us from embracing such folly and remind us that Your word above all earthly powers no thanks to them abides. Help us to hear Your word not as the words of men but for what it really is, the very word of God. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Jude 3 and 4:

This is the word of God. “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. 4For 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.” Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

Do you think of yourself as a theologian? You are, you know. And there are only two kinds of theologians: good ones and bad ones. Jude's writing this letter, and he makes it clear in verses 3 and 4 because he wants you, as Christians in the pew, to be good theologians. Do think of yourself that way? Or do you think that's something better left to the professionals? Do you care greatly about the purity of biblical teaching in the church? Jude just puts it in black-and-white: He wants you to. He's writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit telling you what God wants, and God is telling you in Jude 3 and 4 that He wants you to be greatly concerned about the purity of biblical teaching in the church. Do you see it as your personal responsibility to uphold historic, biblical, Christian doctrine? Jude says it is. He's not just writing to the elders–we’d understand if he was saying to the elders, ‘You've got to uphold the faith once for all delivered.’ We’d understand that. But he doesn't just say it to the elders; he says it to the congregation, ‘You've got to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered.’ You twelve- or thirteen-year-olds who've just joined as communing members this fellowship…You were covenant children, members by the grace of God signified in baptism. You've professed faith now; you’re communing members of the church. Do you realize it's your responsibility to contend earnestly for the faith? High school students, college students, graduate school students, young folks who have just started out in your careers, grandparents, great-grandparents–it's your job if you are a part of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to care about pure, biblical teaching. Jude says so. Are you wide-eyed to the false teaching in the Church today? Are you aware of the false teaching that even goes on in the evangelical churches today? Well, everything that Jude says in this letter presupposes that it is every Christian's important duty to know the truth of the faith, to care about it, and to protect it in the congregation.

There are two parts to this passage that I want you to see today. First, Jude's exhortation to you that you care about truth…or we might even say that you care about the truth. You see that in verse 3. And then, secondly, Jude's exhortation that we would be aware of the continuing threat against the truth that comes…not from out there, but from within the Church. So, first, to care about the truth, and secondly, to be aware of the continuing threat against the truth.

I. Christians must be prepared to contend for the faith (3) [The Congregational Responsibility to keep the faith]
Let's look at these things together beginning in verse 3 where Jude says, “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.” Here's Jude writing to you about your congregational responsibility to keep the faith, to care about truth, to care about the truth. Jude is suggesting that Christians need to be personally prepared to contend for the faith.

Now Jude is about to get into an area that makes many people very uncomfortable. We live in a day and age where people say things like this: “Let's not get caught up in all that doctrine. Let's share the gospel.” “Doctrine divides; witness unites.” “Don't get all hung up about the minute details of truth. Christianity isn't a belief or a doctrine; it's a way of life.” Those kinds of ideas pervade even the evangelical church today. And so when someone like Jude comes along and his big message is this, ‘Be orthodox and care about orthodoxy,’ immediately the suspicion is, “This guy is a control freak. Let's slip him a Valium and just calm him down a little bit.” But, you know, Jude makes it clear to you three times in verse 3 alone that he is not some uptight young Turk who has control issues and needs to squeeze you into a doctrinal box.

Let me show you those three things. First of all, notice how Jude speaks to this congregation. What does he call them? “Beloved.” Now I know that that's part of standard greetings in the Greco-Roman world of the time, but when Jude uses this phrase it is shot through with Christian significance. He is manifesting a real pastoral love and concern for this flock, for this congregation. He is a loving and concerned pastor and he wants them to embrace the truth and to hang onto it and to contend for it because he cares about their lives. “Beloved,” he says. No harsh words from Jude–tender, affectionate words from a wizened, mature, balanced Christian pastor.

Secondly, notice that Jude says, ‘I would rather not have to talk about this.’ Jude is not by temperament inclined to fix on anything that is a matter of controversy and focus on that. He doesn't just like to find out only the areas where you disagree with him and talk about that the whole time. He says, ‘I would rather talk with you about the common faith that we share, but necessity is laid upon me. I've got to talk about this.’ “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith.”

I was sitting on a traffic stump on the street corner outside of the Tower of London. It was a summer choir tour and I saw a fellow coming across the street. I saw tracts in his hand. I knew that I was about to be witnessed to. Sure enough, he walks up to me and he says, “Brother, are you saved?” And I said, “Yes, I am.” He looked shocked. I think I must have been the first person to give him that response the whole daylong. Not to worry though, he continued on. “Well, well…are you Reformed?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He really was shocked then. Then he said to me, not to be deterred, “Well, what do you think about infant baptism?” He was a member of the local, strict-and-particular Baptist church, and he wanted to make sure that I had not fallen into the clutches of those nasty Presbyterians and Anglicans who taught infant baptism. It was interesting. Here was a guy halfway around the world from my home. We agreed on 98.7% on everything in life, but he wanted to go right where we disagreed and talk about that.

That's not where Jude is, you understand. Jude would rather have stayed on the 98.7%…but he felt compelled because of the spiritual threat to this congregation to talk to them about something controversial. This is not someone who is temperamentally inclined to controversy.

Thirdly, notice that the reason why he is motivated for them to engage in this discussion about the truth is that they would grasp the faith–not something peripheral and minute, but that they would grasp the main thing, the central thing, the faith which has been handed down: “That you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” He wants to talk to them about the prime things, the essential things, the foundational things of faith. No, no, Jude is ready to engage in controversy. He's ready to get into theological argument. He's ready to ask this congregation to be good, faithful theologians with their eyes wide opened to falsehood around them. But he's not temperamentally a nitpicker or a hack. He's a wise, loving pastor who cares about their souls. And what he says is that he wants them to contend for the faith.

Now he doesn't mean that he wants them to contend for faith, that is, for their faith in Christ. He uses “the faith” as a noun and as an object. They are to contend for the faith. And “the faith” in this circumstance doesn't refer to their subjective trust in Christ who is the object of faith. “The faith” refers to Christian doctrine, the apostles’ teaching, Jesus’ teaching given to the apostles, the divinely inspired doctrine given by God to the apostles. He wants them to cling to that faith and to contend for that faith, the apostles’ teaching, the body of Christian doctrine.

And he wants them to understand that this doctrine is not changeable. We’re not looking for the new and improved version of it. We’re not looking for the revised version of it. No, it was “once for all given,” he says. Now “once for all” doesn't mean “once upon a time.” This isn't the beginning of a fairytale. “Once for all” means “once for all time.” In other words, in this truth, in this biblical truth, in this biblical, apostolic presentation of the gospel we have the foundation of the faith. It's been laid in that gospel, in that truth, and we are to contend for it. We’re to cling to it. And it's been delivered to us. It's been handed down to us by the apostles. The New Testament is replete with examples of this very truth. You remember Paul saying to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:2 that they should hold firmly to the things which he had handed down to them? You remember Paul saying to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:13 and 14, “[Timothy] Retain the pattern of sound words which I have entrusted to you”… “which you have heard from me.” And he goes on to call it “a treasure” which has been given to Timothy. Over and over in the New Testament, the apostles’ teaching, the gospel as an authoritative message, is spoken of as being committed to and handed down in the church. And it is a body of truth integral to the very existence of Christianity. And Jude is here saying, ‘Dear Christians, care about that truth. Be ready to defend and to contend for that truth.’

And, my friends, that's very difficult in the day and age in which we live for a number of reasons. For one thing, if you are under thirty, here today, you have never lived in a culture where the mainstream education or media believe that absolute truth exists. It's hard for you to even conceive “contending for the faith” because everyone around you does not believe that absolute truth exists. But here's Jude saying, ‘Contend for the truth.’ And, of course, that means among other things that there is such a thing as truth. It's not just your opinions. I understand that most of you who sit in Sunday school classes, young folks, and you nod in agreement to most of the things that your Sunday school teacher says, but it is entirely possible that you think, “Well, that's true for me, but who am I to say that that's true for somebody around the world?” And Jude's here to tell you, ‘Oh, by the way, it's the truth. It's the only truth that is! There's no other truth on the market! Contend for that truth.’ It's hard to do when you live in a day-and-age where the only report in the mainstream of education and in media is that there is no absolute truth. If you’re under fifty, it has been since you were a teenager since there were major voices in the culture, in education, or in the media that believe that there still was absolute truth. You have to go back to your teen years to remember somebody speaking for absolute truth in the mainstream. And we're up against that. We’re up against the relativism of this culture.

But we're also up against the idea that truth doesn't matter. And you find it in the church. There are people who say, “Ya, ya, ya, ya, I believe that. Who cares? Truth doesn't matter. What really matters is that you’re sincere. It doesn't matter whether you believe the truth. You've just gotta be sincere. Don't get caught up in all this doctrine. Just be sincere.’ You see, there are many people that believe that truth is a theory that can be shelved and has no impact on life. As Brad said, if you've read Proverbs you can't possibly come away with such a goofy idea. No, the truth is absolutely essential to life. The truth is for life. Truth is good for people. It makes their lives better. We can't grow in grace apart from embracing the truth ourselves, knowing it and embracing it ourselves. It's essential for Christian health and growth. It's essential for salvation. “Can you imagine the Apostle Paul saying things like, ‘If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth Jesus Christ as Lord, you shall be saved’? Think of that. You mean you have to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the Lord; He is the Son of the living God, and He is the ruler of this universe at the right hand of God the Father in order to be saved?” ‘Yes,’ Paul is saying. There is a truth which you must embrace or you do not participate in His salvation. My friends, that is alien, that is alien to this generation to think that way.

I was at a meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society ten years ago held at a university in Birmingham where a supposedly evangelical man said that it didn't matter what you believed about Jesus; as long as you believed Jesus you were a Christian. Carl F.H. Henry was sitting in that classroom. Some of you may know the name. He was the editor of Christianity Today for a number of years. He raised his hand and he said, “Sir, are you telling me that I could believe that Jesus was a 6th Century A.D. avatar born in India who taught universal peace and harmony and I would be a Christian if I believed in that Jesus?” The man's response was, “Yes, as long as you’re sincere.” And you see what Jude is saying? ‘No, no, no, no, no. You must believe the truth, Christian. You must believe the truth about Jesus.’ And, my friends, it's hard to stand up for that truth in our own day and age.

In 1993 our friend Al Mohler became the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. When he went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville things were not good. You would have found very few Bible-believing faculty members at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in those days, very few that would've believed in the inerrancy of Scripture, very few that would've believed the fullness of what the Bible taught about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Many who were making shipwreck of the faith of fine, earnest, sincere, young Southern Baptist men and women who were going to study at that school. I know because I was engaged to one of them, and it took one Old Testament course and one New Testament course to wreck her faith. And when Al Mohler went to that school the first sermon he preached was “Don't Just Do Something, Stand There.” I said that right, “Don't Just Do Something, Stand There.” You see, for years the liberals in the Southern Baptist Convention had said, “Let's don't squabble over the Bible and doctrine. Let's do missions. There's a world waiting to be saved out there.”

And Dr. Mohler's message was this: “It doesn't matter whether we go out there if we don't have the message that saves. Don't just do something. Stand there on the Bible. Stand there on the truth. Stand there on the gospel. Stand there on what the Bible says about Jesus. Believe that and then we’ll do something.” And he got it just right, but let me tell you, it was a long, hard haul. It costs to stand for the truth. And Jude is calling for us to be lovingly contentious Christians. He's calling us to be people with conviction about the faith once delivered, people who care about truth, who believe in truth and teach the truth. So there's his first point: Care about the truth, Christian.

II. Why Christians must be prepared to contend for the faith (4) [The Present Reality of False Teachers in the Early Church]
And then he tells you why. Look at verse 4. He says, ‘This is why you need to care about the truth, because there is a present reality that you are facing, and that present reality is false teachers in the church.’ “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 is saying, ‘Here's why I'm writing to you. There are people in your own congregation,’ he says, ‘who have the name Christian, who say that their teaching is Christian, but they’re leading you astray. They’re teaching you false things. They’re teaching cheap grace. They’re denying Jesus Christ.’ And, of course, that fulfills what Jesus Himself said to His disciples. When you look around and see false teachers in the church today, rejoice! Cheer up! It's a proof that Jesus is divine. Jesus told His disciples that there would be false prophets in their own midst. Paul told the elders in Ephesus that wolves, ravenous wolves would come up even from their own number who would hairy the people of God. And so Jude reminds us of this. He says, ‘Look, there are godless persons already among you. They’re subtle, so be on the lookout. And these godless persons,’ he says, ‘they’re pre-condemned. God's already passed His verdict on them long ago. So you look at them from God's perspective. Yes, they’ll say that what they’re teaching is true and good and helpful, but it's not in accord with the apostles’ teaching. It's not in accord with Scripture, so you be on the watch. And you assign God's verdict to them, not their own verdict to themselves.’

And notice two things that he says that they’re teaching. “[They] turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord.” They do two things: they use grace as an excuse to live a life of indifference and sin, and they deny Christ, what the Bible teaches about His person and work. They say, ‘Oh, it doesn't matter how you live as long as you’re sincere. It doesn't matter what your life is like. You've signed a card, prayed a prayer, made a decision. It doesn't matter what you believe about Jesus as long as you’re sincere.’ That's what they say. And Jude says, ‘Both of those are practical denials of Jesus Christ.’ One denies the result of His grace; one denies His person which is absolutely essential for grace. And Jude urges us here to contend for the faith and to beware of false teachers who make grace into licentiousness and who deny the Lord Jesus Christ, and he's just reminding us that there are always false teachers amongst the church.

A false teacher this morning is a flip of the channel away, the opening of a book away, the turning of a radio dial or the punching of a radio pre-programmed button away from your ears. They’re everywhere. You need to be discerning because truth matters. What you don't know can hurt you, and what you know that is false can hurt you. Theology matters and false teaching can destroy souls and lives.

And so here's Jude speaking to a group of Christians who lived in a pluralistic society, a relativistic culture that followed after many gods and many truths and many fashions and fads and saying, ‘Contend for the truth.’ And, lo and behold, here we are 2,000 years later in a culture that's very relativistic and pluralistic following after many fads and many fashions and many gods. And Jude is saying to us again, ‘Care about the truth. Cling to the truth. Believe the truth. Be savvy enough about the truth that you can tell a false teacher from a faithful prophet. Stick close to the Bible. Stick close to God's word. Stick close to Jesus Christ.’ He's saying all those things to us. And that word is just as fresh today as when he spoke it. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, help us to know and appreciate and cling to truth unchanged, unchanging. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

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A Guide to the Morning Service

Commentary on Jude 3-4
I was making every effort. I have rendered these words “Applying care” literally they are, “Making diligence.” But many interpreters explain the sentence in this sense, that a strong desire constrained Jude to write, as we usually say of those under the influence of some strong feeling, that they cannot govern or restrain themselves. Then, according to these expounders, Jude was under a sort of necessity, because a desire to write suffered him not to rest. But I rather think that the two clauses are separate, that though he was inclined and solicitous to write, yet a necessity compelled him. He then intimates, that he was indeed glad and anxious to write to them, but yet necessity urged him to do so, even because they were assailed (according to what follows) by the ungodly, and stood in need of being prepared to fight with them.

Then, in the first place, Jude testifies that he felt so much concern for their salvation, that he wished, and was indeed anxious, to write to them; and, secondly, in order to rouse their attention, he says that the state of things required him to do so. For necessity adds strong stimulants. Had they not been forewarned how necessary his exhortation was, they might have been slothful and negligent; but when he makes this preface, that he wrote on account of the necessity of their case, it was the same as though he had blown a trumpet to awake them from their torpor.

About our common salvation. He makes salvation common to them and to himself. And it adds not a little weight to the doctrine that is announced, when anyone speaks according to his own feelings and experience; for vain is what we say, if we speak of salvation to others, when we ourselves have no real knowledge of it. Then, Jude professed himself to be (so to speak) an experimental teacher, when he associated himself with the godly in the participation of the same salvation.

Appealing that you. Literally, “exhorting you;” but as he points out the end of his counsel, the sentence ought to be thus expressed. What I have rendered, “to help the faith by contending,” means the same as to strive in retaining the faith, and courageously to sustain the contrary assaults of Satan. For he reminds them that in order to persevere in the faith, various contests must be encountered and continual warfare maintained. He says that faith had been once delivered, that they might know that they had obtained it for this end, that they might never fail or fall away.

4. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed. Though Satan is ever an enemy to the godly, and never ceases to harass them, yet Jude reminds those to whom he was writing of the state of things at that time. Satan now, he says, attacks and harasses you in a peculiar manner; it is therefore necessary to take up arms to resist him. We hence learn that a good and faithful pastor ought wisely to consider what the present state of the Church requires, so as to accommodate his doctrine to its wants. The word which he uses, denotes an indirect and stealthy insinuation, by which the ministers of Satan deceive the unwary; for Satan sows his tares in the night, and while husbandmen are asleep, in order that he may corrupt the seed of God. And at the same time he teaches us that it is an intestine evil; for Satan in this respect also is crafty, as he raises up those who are of the flock to do mischief, in order that they may more easily creep in.

Long beforehand marked out for this condemnation. He calls that judgment, or condemnation, or a reprobate mind, by which they were led astray to pervert the doctrine of godliness; for no one can do such a thing except to his own ruin. But the metaphor is taken from this circumstance, because the eternal counsel of God, by which the faithful are ordained unto salvation, is called a book: and when the faithful heard that these were given up to eternal death, it behooved them to take heed lest they should involve themselves in the same destruction. It was at the same time the object of Jude to obviate danger, lest the novelty of the thing should disturb and distress any of them; for if these were already long ago ordained, it follows that the Church is not tried or exercised but according to the infallible counsel of God.

The grace of our God. He now expresses more clearly what the evil was; for he says that they abused the grace of God, so as to lead themselves and others to take an impure and profane liberty in sinning. But the grace of God has appeared for a far different purpose, even that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we may live soberly, righteously, and godly in this world. Let us, then, know that nothing is more pestilential than men of this kind, who from the grace of Christ take a cloak to indulge in lasciviousness. Because we teach that salvation is obtained through God's mercy alone, the Papists accuse us of this crime. But why should we use words to refute their effrontery, since we everywhere urge repentance, the fear of God, and newness of life, and since they themselves not only corrupt the whole world with the worst examples, but also by their ungodly teaching take away from the world true holiness and the pure worship of God? Though I rather think, that those of whom Jude speaks, were like the libertines of our time, as it will be more evident from what follows.

Our only Master and Lord. Some old copies have, “Christ, who alone is God and Lord.” And, indeed, in the Second Epistle of Peter, Christ alone is mentioned, and there He is called Lord. But he means that Christ is denied, when they who had been redeemed by His blood, become again the vassals of the Devil, and thus render void as far as they can that incomparable price. That Christ, then, may retain us as His peculiar treasure, we must remember that He died and rose again for us, that He might have dominion over our life and death. (John Calvin, Commentary on Jude, edited)

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