Contend For The Faith
Contend for the Faith
I don’t know how many of you enjoy working out, but I am not one of those people. I am not part of your tribe. :) I like playing basketball or softball, etc, riding bike, working around the house, but going to a gym to lift weights just isn’t my cup of tea. A year ago, Jodi and I took our family on vacation to the Smoky Mountains, and at a hotel on the way home, we walked by the weight room and there was a guy in there looking ready to exercise. But instead of lifting any weights, he was on his phone. He had ear buds in so I didn’t think anything of it, but for over an hour as we swam in the pool, ate supper, and swam some more, he sat there on that same bench on his phone the entire time.
He had the right clothes. But there wasn’t a speck of sweat on them.
He was sitting in the right place, but there was no action.
If anyone would have called him he could have texted back – sorry I’m at the gym… maybe he even sent a couple selfies out on social media (getting my work out on), but he didn’t so much as touch the bar, much less lift it.
He looked the part, but was ineffective in the place he was sitting, building exactly no muscles.
Except maybe his thumb.
Sometimes Christians are like that. You were saved by grace. You are free from the power of sin and death, Satan doesn’t have authority over you anymore. And yet, if you aren’t careful, you’ll forget that the Christian life is not for the faint of heart or the lazy. It is a battle.
In fact, in Philippians 4, the apostle Paul writes, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.
He describes the Christian life there as “reaching a goal.” I “make every effort to take hold of it”.... There’s nothing lazy or automatic about that. “I haven’t yet reached the goal, but I am pursuing the prize…”
Turn with me to the book of Jude, this morning. To find Jude, it’s better to just start at the back of the Bible and work your way to the left. The last book of scripture is Revelation, and Jude is one tiny little chapter right before Revelation. This is a letter written by a guy named Jude about 30 or 40 years after Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. He identifies himself in verse 1 as a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James. This introduction actually is pretty significant.
You know what name-dropping is, right? Name dropping is when you have had an experience with someone famous, and at certain times you drop that name in conversation when it’s beneficial to you. :) Well Jude is going for a name drop here, and if you were Jewish living in the first century, you’d be impressed. The James he is referring to here is not the apostle James, but the leader of the church in Jerusalem who wrote the book of James, and was a half brother to Jesus – which means Jude would have been a brother to Jesus as well.
And now you get a quizzical look on your faces – wait, he was Jesus’ brother and he said Hi everyone, I’m James’ brother? If you’re going to name drop, I mean… why wouldn’t you say “I’m Jesus’ brother. Ever heard of him? Born in a manger. Savior of the world. Messiah. Probably read about him, oh, I don’t know – IN THE BIBLE!”
But his introduction is, hi I’m Jude, a SERVANT of Jesus, brother of James, and this intro sets the stage for the rest of the letter, as we’ll see in a second. If you’re taking notes today or you like structure, today I’m going to make it easy for you, and the text can be broken up into three segments of three that’ll help us put the pieces together as we go.
So here’s the first group of three, and we’ll call it “the gospel”:
To those who are the called, loved by God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.
That is so beautiful we have to stop and take it all in.
- Called: Ephesians 1 says God chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. So before God said Let there be light, before you even existed. You didn’t do one bad thing or one good thing, before you existed, you were called out of the darkness of sin and following your own wisdom or the wisdom of this world, and into the light. You were made alive, born again, saved by grace, called to faith – however you want to say it. That’s past tense.
- Loved/sanctified by God – the work of following Jesus is the work of growing up in faith. Like a caterpillar in a cocoon, you aren’t today what you’re going to be in a year, in 5 years, in 30 years. God is committed to this present work in you. You are presently loved, presently being sanctified. So don’t compare yourself to where someone else is at in their story. We are all in process.
- You are being kept. That word means you are being “continued in a certain state.” This is present but points to the future. This is so encouraging and so freeing. It means he will not change his mind about you. You are being kept in this state of being alive in Christ, this state of being sanctified and loved by God in Christ.
- Let me ask you this: Do you think that Jesus can lose his right standing with his Father? After Philippians 2:1-11, where Jesus is received back into the presence of God, given a name that is above every name, that at his name every single human being who has ever existed and every single power of darkness that has ever existed and every angel in heaven will bow to him and admit his authority as the King of all – do you think that God will ever change his mind about Jesus? Will he ever look at him and say, I changed my mind about all that salvation and exalting you stuff?
- So if you are united to Christ by his life (that life was in my place) and his death (he took the wrath of God that should have been mine) and his resurrection (when God accepted him he also accepted me) – If my life is hidden in Christ, that when God looks at me he sees the righteousness of Christ, not the righteousness of Rodney, then in order for God to change his mind about me, he would have to change his mind about Jesus! IT’S. NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN!!!
- Jude isn’t just pulling words out of his hat. These words are specifically chosen because they show you that the gospel isn’t something you do. It’s something that is done TO you!
- Chosen. Done to you. Loved/sanctified. Done to you. Kept. Done for you.
- What we have to caution against when we baptise people like Aurora is that we must never champion Aurora’s choice to follow Jesus more than we celebrate God’s choice to save her!
- May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
But there was trouble brewing.
Jude 3–4 (CSB): Dear friends, although I was eager to write you about the salvation we share, I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.
More important than celebrating your new life with you is for me to remind you that this is war. I’m writing to beg you, to plead with you, to appeal to you to fight for the faith. That’s what it means to “contend.” It’s the picture of an athlete who trains, struggles, practices, fights, grinding it out to get the win. Or a soldier in the trenches, contending for his or her life, in and out of fox holes, weapons ready, the goal in mind.
That’s the title of this new sermon series. Contend for the faith.
The beautiful thing about salvation in Christ is that it’s so simple a child like Aurora can figure it out. It’s so simple that it almost seems crazy, like there has to be more to it. And yet what Aurora will soon find out is that she signed up for war. We have to contend for our faith or the enemy is going to eat you for lunch. But as Jude has pointed out in our first group of three is that we fight from a position of victory. We fight as people who are called, loved, sanctified, and kept. But just because the victory is already in hand doesn’t mean the fight won’t be intense or a walk in the park.
But what Jude is going to tell us is that everything I just said is not true of everyone. Not everyone is fighting from victory. He opens the letter with “to those who are…” which implies there are those who aren’t, and this second group of three talks about what we’re up against.
But some people (designated for judgement) have come in by stealth. They are ungodly, turning the grace of God into sensuality and denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord.
Some people designated for judgment –
- Just like God claims people for his kingdom and puts them in positions of influence to grow the kingdom of heaven, the enemy also claims people for his kingdom and puts them in positions of influence to grow the kingdom of this world, and they will share in the destruction of the one they serve. This is the opposite of called, sanctified, kept.
- But before you throw stones at a public figure or someone you think fits that description, remember we are all born with a sinful nature and until God causes us to be born again, we are all designated for judgment. We are all claimed by the enemy unless God rescues us, and transfers us to his kingdom.
Here’s our second set of three things we’re up against:
- Coming in by stealth – No one sneaks into something in broad daylight. You sneak under the cover of darkness. So, if being called by God is to be called out of darkness into his marvelous light, then this refers to those who try to ride in to salvation on their own religious effort, ride in on the back of grandpa who was a preacher, or mom who always took us to church, or people who try to get on the good side of God by giving some money to the church once in a while, or helping someone change a flat tire. And Jesus was pretty clear that there is only one way to be right with God, and it’s through his life, death, and resurrection.
- We’re up against the idea that Jesus isn’t enough.
- Turning the grace of God into sensuality
- I know the first thing we often think of when we hear “sensuality” is something sexual. But that word simply means “unrestrained in moral behaviors or attitudes.” This is when our attitude becomes, “God is good! He’s full of grace! He loves me!” It’s like saying “I know the sheriff, and he lets me speed. Eh, he’ll forgive me. Besides, I wouldn’t call it sin as much as ‘something I should work on.’”
- This belittles God’s grace, belittles the cross of Christ, and minimizes sin. It’s the opposite of being loved/sanctified, made holy.
- We’re up against the idea that God isn’t holy.
- Denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord
- The word Master here means the Sovereign Lord – the highest, most powerful King
- The word Lord means having authority over all
- Jude knew Jesus perhaps better than anyone, growing up with him as kids, and the conclusion he came to after Jesus died and rose again is that I am a servant of Jesus. I’ll say I’m a brother to James, but when it comes to Jesus – he is Master and Lord and if I’m putting myself in the same sentence as him, it’s as his servant.
- What we’re up against in this battle for faith is the idea that we belong to ourselves.
So what does this battle look like at ground level?
What does this look like in the everyday stuff of life?
Here’s the final grouping of three that I’m calling “the arena”. These are three areas where we have to contend for our faith. These are three practical areas we cannot afford to sit down on the bench and take selfies.
Verse 8… In the same way, these people
- Rely on their dreams like irrational animals – I have a dog, as many of you do, and this dog, while she is pretty well behaved, operates completely on instinct. If she senses danger, she barks no matter how much I tell her to shut up. If she doesn’t feel comfortable around someone, she’ll growl or be really cautious – even if that person is totally fine. A person who operates on instinct just does whatever seems right to them in the moment. They primarily rely on their own ability to reason, process, and figure things out. If I feel good about it, it must be the right thing to do. If I can’t figure something out, it must be wrong, unjust, unfair, or just not the truth. But if it feels good it is good. If it feels bad, it’s bad.
- Defile their flesh (grace is license, even if it’s sin) - Cain killed his brother
- Reject authority (only God can judge me, but he won’t) - Balaam just wanted money
- Slander glorious ones (elevate ourselves to a place of knowledge we don’t belong) - Korah rejected the people God had put in authority over him)
Every day we have to make this decision – are we going to fight for what is true by anchoring ourselves in the word of God, or are we going to rely on our feelings to tell us what’s true and what’s not?
Verse 12… These people are dangerous reefs (they will cause a shipwreck)
- Selfish and Empty
- Don’t care about anyone but themselves
- Promise a lot but never deliver.
- They are dead, empty instead of fruitful.
When I think of a shipwreck I picture the Titanic. What’s fascinating is that the iceberg that ship hit was much larger underwater than above the water. What you couldn’t see was much more significant than what you could see, and it broke the ship in half.
But when it comes to a reef, it’s something you should be able to see, but it takes wisdom to see. Maybe you remember this, but on 13 January 2012, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground and overturned after striking an underwater rock off Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, resulting in 32 deaths. The captain of the ship, when being questioned later, said that, before approaching the island, he turned off the alarm system for the ship's computer navigation system. "I was navigating by sight, because I knew those seabeds well. I had done the move three, four times." He told investigators that he saw waves breaking on the reef and turned abruptly, swinging the side of the hull into the reef.
What we are facing in our world today with the virus, with challenges you are facing in your families, with health, with back to school opinions, etc, etc – there is much more happening under the surface than above. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, it’s not against people you can see, but against powers of darkness and forces of evil whose intent is to destroy you. And if you only care about yourself, and you turn off the wisdom of God, if you turn off the presence of God through godly people in your life, you can be destroyed by something you should have seen coming.
And if you want to know how you can spot a person who only thinks of themselves, a person who has turned off the wisdom of God, a person who denies Jesus as Master and Lord and has nothing to offer anyone, look at verse 16 –
- These people are discontented grumblers, living according to their desires; their mouths utter arrogant words, flattering people for their own advantage.
Remember this whole thing started with the gospel: You’ve been called, are being sanctified, kept for Jesus Christ. The whole point of Jude’s letter is to say, that’s what I had hoped to talk about. I wanted to write to you about the joys of salvation! I wanted to celebrate your position in Christ with you. I wanted to rejoice with you that people are being baptized and that God has called one more person to himself, but, I need to make sure we’re even on the same team.
And Jude is saying, these are warning signs of people that are destined for judgement, that are ungodly, that have corrupted the grace of God, and deny Jesus as Master and Lord. They grumble and complain all day long. Even at meals, when you’re supposed to be celebrating the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through Communion, you only care about yourselves. When you should be anchoring your lives in the word of God and prayer, instead you’re relying on your own intuition and you’re running the ship of your life into a reef. We’re just taking selfies in the gym instead of contending for our faith!
Have we forgotten what we’ve been saved from? Have we forgotten that we deserve hell? Have we forgotten that the worst thing you have going on in your life right now is infinitely better than eternal separation from God? Have we forgotten that this world is not our home?
And I think today we need to just stop the message here and simply remember. To call to mind what is true.
Next week, we’ll look at the ending of Jude to see what his encouragement is for how we practically wage this war as the people of God, but today we’re going to close with Communion. We’re going to remember. In these next few moments, we hold in our hands a tangible reminder of our Savior who left the glories of heaven to come to earth to stand in our place.
And if anyone had a right or an opportunity to complain, it was Jesus. Isaiah 53:3 – He was despised and rejected by people, a man who knew what suffering and sickness was. He was one of those people you turned away from and didn’t value. Yet he took on our sicknesses, our pains, and afflictions. He was spiked with nails because of our sin and rebellion not his own. 7 - He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not even open his mouth.
If anyone could have complained about their situation, it would have been Jesus, who could have opened his mouth at any point of his 33 years and said, “this stinks! Get me back to heaven where I belong! Why do I have to die for their sin?”
Jesus knew he was called to this before the foundations of the world – this was the plan;
Jesus was loved by his Father – this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; and Jesus knew he was being kept by the power of the Holy Spirit so that on the other side of this battle for faith, his Father would be glorified to bring many to salvation.
Jesus didn’t come only for the saintly people, the righteous ones who had their acts together – he came for the grumblers, the complainers. Jesus came for people who had made a shipwreck of their lives by being self-centered and fruitless.
In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus went to battle against the powers of darkness so that you and I could contend for our faith from a position of victory and not from defeat, and he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, glorified as Master and Lord, and his promise is that ANYONE who calls on his name will be saved.
What does it mean to call on his name? To confess that you are a sinner. He already knows that, but do you know that? To confess that there is no hope for your salvation on your own.
- Burroughs, Jeremiah, Learning to be Happy (London, England: Grace Publications Trust, 2011)