I was once introduced at a convention as the man who is much nicer in person than in his books. I couldn’t help but laugh, as this introduction was certainly meant as friendly banter. But there was truth in these words, and I knew it.
I understand that many—both within the church and outside of it—consider me to be cantankerous, hyper-doctrinal, hard-nosed, unbending, and uncompromising. I’ve even been called mean-spirited. And in some ways, I understand why people see me in this way—after all, it seems that I’m almost always near the center of some evangelical debate. Some of those closest to me have told me that it’s time to explain why. This little book is my attempt to do just that.
When I was a young man preparing for ministry, I never thought I would spend my life fighting. I didn’t know this was the ministry God had for me. But here I am.
And the more I reflect on ministry, the more I realize that there is a certain schizophrenia to it—a dual world of sorts in which I live. My job is to treat those God has placed under my care—the people of Grace Community Church—with love, tenderness, kindness, mercy, and compassion. There has to be a trust between a pastor and his people—the softness of shepherding care. And yet, at the same time, I have to fight battles to protect the sheep of Grace Church.
God has given me the responsibility to fight for my flock, and I am called to go to great lengths in doing so.
Charles Spurgeon used the image of the sword and the trowel to describe this dual, pastoral reality—with the trowel, the pastor is carefully building his church. And with the sword in the other hand, he is fighting to protect that which he has built. The picture of a pastor as one who is, on the one hand, a tender shepherd, and on the other, a warrior fighting off the enemy, is central to the biblical notion of a pastor.
Paul warns the Ephesian elders of this reality in Acts 20—that wolves from among them would come in, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:29). Evil men would rise up and lead many astray, and today we are witnessing exactly that. This is the current state of our church.
But among many evangelical leaders these days, there seems to be a reluctance to fight. The church now believes the role of the pastor is to please and pamper the unconverted; leaders today scramble to avoid the slightest offense, when, in reality, their whole ministry was intended to be an offense. As a result, there is much less conviction in the church than there used to be. Many pastors are no longer standing for the issues our fathers in the faith once lost their lives for.
My prayer and longing, not just for pastors but for all believers, is that they would come to the end of their lives and be able to exhale with the apostle Paul, I have fought the good fight. And as long as we are alive, this fight will never end. The characters change, the scenes shift, but the battle remains the same—the fight is always and ever over the Word of God.
And sadly, I have lost many friends in this fight. I have watched—slowly and steadily—the ministerial ranks thin. Why have we lost so many? Because they were no longer willing to do battle when and where it raged the fiercest.
There is an old saying that says if you fight the battle everywhere but where it rages the hottest, you are an unfaithful soldier. I’ve seen the sad reality of that saying play out before my eyes. Leaders of the church must go to the point of the fiercest conflict, and then they must stand there.
It is not enough to take a stand where there is no fight. The ground where the battle rages is where faithfulness is demonstrated.
But I understand the toll that the fight can have. I remember reading the sad biography of A.W. Pink—such a formidable mind and faithful scholar. He spent the majority of his life studying, preaching, and pastoring, and yet in his last days, he found himself a recluse in a little apartment on Scotland’s northern coast. All he had left was hostility for the world.
How did he end up like that?
A.W. Pink grew weary of rejection, of the battle. Leaving the pastorate was potentially the defining moment in A.W. Pink’s downfall. He walked away from a loving congregation of people who balanced the challenges and disappointments of ministry with love and encouragement. To abandon pastoral ministry and become a wandering pastor with nowhere to turn to be embraced and loved is a dangerous thing. It leaves a pastor vulnerable to the weariness of the fight. Ministry is all about fighting the enemy for the sake of the truth and the protection of your people, and then pouring out your heart to a congregation of people who will love and hold you in their hearts. This is what brings endless joy to my heart as a pastor.
I am a defender of the truth, and the church is the pillar and support of the truth. In the end, the truth is what I live for. I never want to misrepresent the truth. But once I understand the Word of God, the thought doesn’t enter my mind of what others may think. My assumption is that the saints will embrace the truth, and the lost will reject it. Our Lord taught pure truth and was crucified at the hand of the crowds. The world is hostile to the truth, which is the reason there is a battle.
My job is to faithfully stand for truth, not to please men.
In the earlier years of my life and pastoral ministry, the enemy used to be outside the church—in cults and false religions and blatant godlessness. But the enemy is now—it seems daily—finding new crevices to sneak into the church. In my ministry today, I hardly receive any hostility from those outside the church, but I receive plenty from those inside of it. And this is exactly what Jude said would happen. Jude writes:
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. 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 3–4, italics mine)
Why do I fight? Most simply—because I'm commanded to.
I am commanded in this passage to earnestly contend for the faith as revealed in Holy Scripture that has been “once for all handed down to the saints.” This is the very essence of the Christian life.
The Christian life is not about personalities or opinions; it’s about the truth.
Jude is the only book in the Scriptures entirely devoted to fighting for the truth. In the New Testament, Jude sits in the shadow of the book of Revelation, and it immediately follows 1–3 John, books entirely devoted to the concept of truth. For example, the first verses of 2 John read:
The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth. (2 John 1–4a, italics mine)
Truth is repeated five times in the opening address of this letter. The same emphasis can be found in the initial words of 3 John:
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. (3 John 1–4, italics mine)
The final letters of the last living apostle were devoted to the preeminence of truth. And then immediately after John’s final letters is the book of Jude. Jude’s message is that believers are going to need to fight to the very end for truth. As the end nears, false teachers will multiply, propagating lies that many will believe. As a result, this Church Age is essentially a non-stop fight for the truth, until the Lord returns.
It was the Lord who asked, "When He comes, will He find faith in the earth?" (Luke 18:8). What a startling question, particularly in light of how vibrantly the church started. On the day of Pentecost, three thousand souls were converted into the church. Then in the days and weeks to follow, thousands upon thousands repented and believed. This was just in the first months of the church.
But the question of Jesus still remains: “When He comes, will He find faith in the earth?”
The implication is clear: we can’t just assume that faith is going to spread like wildfire across the globe. The lies of the enemy are going to attempt—by every method imaginable—to choke the expansion of the church. Battles involve opposition. And if you think it is any less than battle, ministry will be an utter shock.
Paul writes of these last days:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron. (1 Tim. 4:1)
This verse warns of false teachers who have lost all fear of God, who have so seared their consciences that their consciences are branded into silence.
Paul warns the Thessalonians believers, “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thess. 2:3). There is coming a falling away—an apostasy, an enormous defection from the church.
The book of 2 Peter warns that false teachers are coming. Peter writes:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1–3)
The battle rages between the truth and those who propagate error. Peter writes they're coming; and then Jude says they’re here. The false teachers arrived. And now it is an essential part of every believer’s Christian life to exercise discernment and to engage in battle against these imminent threats on and within the church.
Church history is one long war. It is relentless, and it demands courage. Discernment is necessary at every turn. It requires boldness and sacrifice—a sacrifice of popularity, relationships, and dear friendships. But the truth is worth it.