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.

SDG

At Home in the Brokenness

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
(Psalm 51:17)

At the end of the worship service on Sunday, I couldn’t remember the benediction.

It was just gone. Nada. Nothing.

We all got a chuckle out of it. It was a little humbling, a reminder that I am all too human, and an encouragement to everyone else who has experienced moments of forgetfulness.

Monday brought another reminder of my brokenness, but in an entirely different way. I was down for the day with another headache. Eerily similar to the headache that put me in the hospital for a week last year, this one came out of nowhere, with the feeling that a balloon was being inflated inside my head. Having learned from past experience, I didn’t try to push through the pain, but spent the day down, resting and praying that God would bring relief.

And God demonstrated His mercy.  Fortunately, the headache left as quickly as it came on. It only lasted for a day, but the lingering effects remain:

  • Physically, my head feels like its been beaten, tired and sore.
  • Emotionally, there’s now that lingering worry that another headache is just around the corner.
  • Spiritually, I know what it is to be broken.

I’m only 43.  I should be in my “prime active years.”  In running terms, I’m mid race, and should be striding out and setting the pace for the years to come. And yet, for almost an entire day, it was all I could do to just sit up from the couch for a glass of water.

This came as yet another vivid reminder of my brokenness.  I thought I was strong, and a headache brought me to my knees. I try to take on more and more, convinced that I can balance it all, and then I am reminded of just how delicate that balance really is. When I want to bring God my best, I find that my best is nothing more than a broken and ragged mess.

I am reminded of Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” I am aware Paul’s dealing with temptation of idolatry here, but is not our tendency to slip into self-reliance and trust in our own ability another form of idolatry?

Psalm 147:10 reminds me that God’s “delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”  Psalm 51:17 reminds us that, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

I’ve always considered the phrase “a broken spirit” to be synonymous with “a broken and contrite heart.” I assumed that it meant a humility in light of our sinfulness, an awareness of our desperate need for a savior, a penitent heart that seeks the mercy of God. All of that is true. But I’ve come to realize that “broken spirit” means much more. To be broken in spirit is to broken off from self. It means putting to death all confidence in the flesh, and resting entirely upon his gracious work within me.

But there is a beauty in brokenness; a grace found here that is rare elsewhere. In this weakness His strength is made perfect (2 Cor. 12:19). When we find we cannot hold on to Him any longer for our strength is gone, we find “the eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33:27).

No one asks to be broken, and yet it is only in our brokenness that we truly come to see and know the extent of God’s grace and mercy towards us. It is only in the acknowledgement of the absolute wreck that I have made of my life that I begin to understand the length to which Christ went to secure my salvation. It is only when I consider the frailty of my faith that I begin to comprehend the wonder of God’s steadfast and unchanging love in which I have been called.  It is only when I realize how small my strength is, how short I can reach, that I can rest secure in His “victorious right hand” (Isa 41:10).

Rich Mullins wrote a song that’s been speaking to me recently, appropriately titled, “We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are.” The first verse and chorus go:

Well, it took the hand of God Almighty
To part the waters of the sea
But it only took one little lie
To separate you and me
Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are.

We are frail
We are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart 
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are.

Here’s the video: