Contend for the Faith

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3, ESV)

Just recently my family completed a Quarantine Movie Marathon of the Marvel Avengers movies.  It was fun to watch the stories from beginning to end (at least the end for now) and to see how everything came together over 20+ movies. I love the “Avengers assemble,” line at the end, when all the heroes come together for the last great battle.

That got me to thinking about other great “battle-cry” scenes from the movies, like the great speech from William Wallace in Braveheart:

Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!”

There’s always the classic, “win one for the Gipper” speech in the Knute Rockne movie, or even the timeless Shakespearean St. Cripsen Day rally, 

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Here in Jude’s letter is a rally-cry of sorts, for in our reading today, Jude is calling the Beloved in Christ to contend for the faith. This wasn’t the original intent of his letter; he set out to write about “our common salvation.” By “common” Jude doesn’t mean ordinary, rather, the salvation that we share in Jesus Christ.  Perhaps his letter would have echoed Paul’s messages in 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 2:11-22.

Instead, Jude finds it necessary to appeal to the Church to contend for the faith. We’ll read later why this call is necessary (“certain people have crept in… who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality…), but for now it is important to establish what it means to “contend for the faith.”

The Greek word that Jude uses here is the root of our English “agonize.”  It is the same word used of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, where we read of Jesus sweating blood as He wrestled with God’s will (Luke 22:44). “The Gospel is under attack,” Jude is saying, therefore we must defend its purity, strive for the practice of faith, and stand firm in it. This is a call to action, the rally cry, summoning all who are in Christ to contend for the faith.

But how do we do that?  

I think the key is found in how Jude describes the faith for which we are to contend.  It is the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”  

The Christian faith is a delivered faith. Paul says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).  Contending for the faith begins by knowing the faith by studying the scriptures. We study God’s Word in order that we may know the truth of God and live according to that truth. We are to surround ourselves with good teachers who will help us to grow in our knowledge of the faith. We are to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). The first way we contend for the faith is by being firmly fixed, deeply rooted, in it.

The Christian faith is also an established faith.  The faith is given to us from God “once and for all.”  The doctrines of the Christian faith are essential and unchanging.  They are fixed before all time, and have been entrusted to us, the saints.  Our understanding may change, but the eternal truths of God do not change, nor should we try to change them.  You either believe in the Faith or you don’t. In Rich Mullins’ song “Creed,” he sings of the faith, 

I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am 
I did not make it, no it is making me 
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man

We come to the faith to be shaped by it, reformed by it, to find life in it.  We do not defend the faith by changing it, but by being changed by it.

Finally, the Christian faith is a contended faith. We’ll see later the kind of challenges the Saints were facing, but for now it is enough to know that when you stand for faith in Jesus Christ, you must, by necessity, stand against that which opposes the Christ. I had a college professor say, “If you won’t stand against something, you probably don’t stand for anything.” You cannot be for Christ and also be for that which is against him.  You cannot be for Christ and have everyone be for you.  We are to contend for the faith, therefore by necessity we must stand against that which would destroy the faith. 

Beloved, let us hear the rally cry as well, and take up the cause of contending for the faith. May we hear and receive it, be established in it, and stand for the faith entrusted to us.


At Greater Risk of Death…?

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
(Psalm 90:12 ESV)

As I was watching the local news last week, an interesting segment caught my eye.  A recent medical study has shown that if you sit at work you have an increased chance of dying.  I know what they meant was that you have an increased risk of dying at a younger age or from heart related issues – but my mind couldn’t get past the absurdity of the way the study was presented.  If you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods of time, you have a greater risk of death.  Greater than what?  Does an office job pose a greater risk of death than, let’s say, an active duty soldier, an electrician working on high tension lines, a miner working deep underground?  If so, then I think that to be an acceptable risk.

Still, how can a job that requires one to sit increase the chance of dying?  I was under the assumption that each of us faced a 100% chance of death.  Is there a job that lowers that chance?  Would someone please tell me what it is, so that I may apply?  To highlight the universality of death, here are some of my favorite quotes on the topic:

“The end of birth is death, the end of death is birth: this is ordained!”  Sir Edwin Arnold

“Death is as necessary to the constitution as sleep: we shall rise refreshed in the morning.”  Benjamin Franklin

“Pale Death, in impartial step, knocks as the poor man’s cottage and at the palaces of kings.”  Horace: Odes

“When death comes, he respects neither age nor merit.  He sweeps from this earthly existence the sick and the strong, the rich and the poor, and should teach us to live to be prepared for death.”  Andrew Jackson

“A man can die but once: we owe God a death.”  Shakespeare: Henry IV

“Every man dies, but not every man really lives.”  William Wallace, Braveheart

My personal favorite – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  The Apostle Paul, Philippians 1:21

The Bible also reminds us that each of us must face death.  Genesis 3:19 reminds us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  Death is a fact of life.  Yes, death is painful, for in death we lose the presence of those whom we love.  Death is the end of life, and for those who love well and are well loved, death is an agonizing separation.  But for the Christian, death is the end of the struggle against sin, the laying aside of this perishable body to take up that which is imperishable and unfading.  Death is the entry into everlasting life in the glorious company of the saints in light.  Here’s another great quote:

“Death is not, to the Christian, what it has often been called, “Paying the debt of nature.”  No, it is not paying a debt; it is rather like bringing a note to a bank to obtain solid gold in exchange for it.  You bring a cumbrous body which is nothing worth, and which you could not wish to retain long; you lay it down, and receive for it, from the eternal treasures, liberty, victory, knowledge, and rapture.”  John Foster

There is wisdom to be had in remembering the inevitability of our own mortality.  Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  Studies have shown that 100 people out of 100 will eventually die; nothing you do will increase or decrease your chances of dying.  I know that I will not live forever, that one day I will die and leave this life behind.  The question each of us must ask is this, “Will death be the end of my life, or just the beginning?”

At the conclusion of The Chronicles of Narnia, as Narnia is coming to an end, C. S. Lewis writes:

And so for us it is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say they lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  And all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: and now they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has ever read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.  -C.S. Lewis The Last Battle.