“…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
For certain people have crept in unnoticed…
who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality
and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
(Jude vs. 3 & 4 ESV)
There are times when I’d like to have seen the other letter that Jude was planning on writing, the one concerning our common salvation. Instead, we have this necessary letter, which dealt with the very pressing issues of the false teaching and corrupt theology of Jude’s day, but also sounds perfectly relevant for our church today (the sovereignty and provision of God is truly amazing).
Jude wrote to the church in response to the corrupt teachings of those who had crept into the community of faith and had perverted the grace of God into sensuality and thereby had denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. While it is impossible to know exactly who these false teachers were, or what they taught, we can make an educated guess.
These were teachers who crept into the church, not by stealth, but by deception. They said that they believed, but as was evidenced by what they taught and by their actions, they did not. They came in and taught destruction. They said one thing in order to gain admittance into the church, to be accepted as teachers and leaders, but when they began to teach, their doctrine was a perversion of God’s grace and a denial of the Lordship of Christ.
Scriptures teach that the grace of God is that free favor of God which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ, wherein we are forgiven and liberated from sin and the condemnation of the Law. Jude’s complaint is that these false teachers have perverted this grace into a license for immorality, (the Greek word translated here “sensuality” literally means “licentiousness, debauchery, and sensuality – sexual excess). In other words, they interpret the Christian’s liberation by God’s grace as liberation from all moral restraint, twisting the grace of God into a promotion of all sorts of sinfulness.
Not only that, but they denied our only Lord and Master Jesus Christ. After all, if there is no real Sovereign God in the church, anything goes. If Christ is not ultimately our Lord, if the Author of life has no authority over life, then there is no moral law or imperative for those in the grace of God. The promotion of sinfulness and the denial of Christ’s Lordship over us go hand in hand, they assume one another.
This is what Jude was facing in the church of his day, and this is why Jude wrote to the church to contend for the faith. This word “contend” brings to mind a boxer in a ring, striving for the victory for fifteen rounds; the runner contending for the prize, enduring the race set before him. As a matter of fact, the word here in the Greek where the English word “agonize” comes from. While it would be more pleasant to encourage one another with conversation about our mutual salvation in Christ Jesus, the present situation dictates that we strive for our faith, contend for the truth, that we aggressively continue to defend the faith against false teaching.
Jude could just as easily have been writing about our church today. From denominational leaders and from the pulpits and classrooms, the recent decision to remove the requirement that “those refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained” has been heralded as a great new day for the church. The rationale in given in support of this change made it clear this would open the door for the ordination of self-affirmed practicing homosexuals. How is this any different than when Jude wrote about perverting the grace of God into sensuality? Sure, those in favor of this change will say that sessions and presbyteries still have the right to determine their standards for ordination, guided by Scripture and the confessions, but now that all clear and precise standards have been removed from the Book of Order, there is very little to guarantee that will happen. This outright perversion of the grace of God comes hand in hand with the denial of Christ’s authority as Lord over the life of the church and the hearts and minds of its members.
Friends, there is an apocryphal saying attributed to Edmund Burke (although no citation has ever been given) that goes something like: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” That is exactly what we have seen in the church today. Those who tired of contending against an entrenched progressive wing of the denomination have left. Those who disagree but still remain are weary and don’t know how to fight. And while we are reeling from this blow, more attacks to the Biblical faith and values entrusted to the Church through the generations are coming. Next year at General Assembly, look for a motion to redefine marriage, and in the coming years for litigation that will require Presbyteries and Sessions to ordain practicing homosexuals, regardless of the standards set by the local body.
I don’t write this to cause you grief, but these things should upset you and cause you agony. I struggle over writing this, and I am sure that there will be some who will use these words to say that I am not promoting the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church, when in fact, those are the very things I am striving for. We must take this time, for there may not be a tomorrow, to contend for the faith. We must stand firm and make our voice heard that we do not agree, that we will fight for the truth of God’s word, for the preservation of the truth, and to proclaim the Good News of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ which can overcome all sin in the world today.
So I encourage you to contend for the faith. Pray for the Session and for me as your Pastor, that we may know the appropriate steps to take, and that I may “boldly proclaim the gospel” (Eph 6:19). Pray that our congregation may grow in wisdom and grace, that the bond of Christ may hold us together during these difficult days. Pray that the church may be purified and strengthened in the truth. But most of all, pray that God’s glory may be exalted!