The book of Jude opens with the words: “To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” Jude opens his letter by assuring believers that they are not only kept by Jesus, but for Him. The letter ends in a similar manner:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24, italics mine)
Between these assuring bookends is a frightening letter. Jude warns of the presence and power of false teachers. It is almost as if he knew he needed to give believers assurance at the beginning and end of the letter lest the believers lose both heart and faith. The epistle, with all it has to say about false teachers, is bracketed with these firm statements about the security of the believer as one who is called, beloved, and kept.
Verse 3 is a very interesting passage: “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation …”
Jude begins by telling the believers that he had something else in mind when he began writing this letter. He longed to write an encouraging letter about salvation. He wanted to celebrate what Christ had done. But he couldn’t. Something restrained him.
He continues, “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” (Jude 3b, italics mine). Even though Jude desired to write of the glories of salvation, he knew he was obliged to another task. He felt the necessity to do otherwise.
There seem to have been times when the biblical writers had something they desired to say, but the Holy Spirit restrained them. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul wrote that, “Necessity is laid upon me” (1 Cor. 9:16). This was the tangible weight of inspiration. The Holy Spirit was guiding the biblical writers to write exactly as He intended.
The word used for necessity is a verb that bears the notion of compression—of being pressured, closed in, even locked down. Jude had no option other than to write what the Spirit was pressing upon him. The message the Spirit wanted him to write was clear: to urge believers to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. The word Jude used for contend is the Greek word agon; it was used commonly to refer to a bowl or stadium. The English term agony is derived from agon, because it was in these bowl-type stadiums that gladiators sparred, games were held, and wrestling matches took place.
When Jude tells the believers that they need to contend for the faith, he wants believers to envision the dust of the arena. He wants the believers to see themselves as being in a sort of spiritual gladiators’ match. And the tense of the verb Jude uses indicates that this would be a life-long fight. This is similar to Paul's words in 1 Timothy 6 when he urges Timothy to fight the good fight of faith (6:12).
Believers are not intended to glide easily through life. Their life is to be something of an endless struggle—a life-long spiritual gladiator match.
Paul wrote to the Galatians that he agonized (agon) in his ministry both for the perfection of the saints as well as for the sake of the truth (Gal. 1:28–29). A pastor is to fight for the edification of believers on one side, and for the truth on the other. I am not sure how to obey these commands other than to fight when the truth, at any point, is under attack.
The first public battle which I was engaged in resulted in my book The Charismatics. There was a partner institution in those days who came alongside me to help contend for the truth. This institution took every chapter from the book and reprinted each chapter individually in their monthly magazine. Some years ago, we broadcasted that same teaching series through our radio program, Grace to You. That same institution now refused even to play the content over their radio stations. They would no longer stand with me. The battle had become too hot, the cost too high.
That was my first public fight.
The next formidable battle was over The Gospel According to Jesus. In that book I attempted to defend the lordship of Christ. I made the case that Jesus is Lord and should be acknowledged as such. And yet I recently read a tweet from one of the graduates of my own seminary. The graduate tweeted, “I seek to free as many as possible from the soul-enslaving, freedom-killing, conscience-afflicting, assurance-destroying, law-gospel confusing errors of lordship salvation.” This graduate has apparently wearied in the battle.
Jude writes that “Certain persons have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4). These “certain persons” could be anyone—professors in seminaries, Sunday-school teachers, writers, theologians, even pastors. But Jude makes it clear that they will creep in and sit in pews and preach in pulpits, acting as representatives of God. But we’ll recognize them when they fall away from us.
The goal of this heresy was to turn grace into licentiousness. The Greek word for “licentiousness” means unrestrained vice. This word is in Paul’s list of vices in Galatians 5—it is immorality of the rankest nature. Antinomianism is another name for licentiousness. When someone is eager to deny the Lordship of Christ, it is likely because he is creating a theology to accommodate for his sin. The sad truth is that there will always be those who want to use grace as a blanket for sin.
Titus addresses this issue. He writes, “For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men instructing us to deny ungodliness” (Titus 2:11).
True grace does not teach us to sin that grace may abound, but instead to deny ungodliness.
True grace teaches us to flee from sin. But immorality, on the other hand, demands an accommodating theology; twisted grace is its demand. Those who would advocate this perverted grace are those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation.
It’s not popular to talk of perversions of grace in today’s evangelical climate. The culture today wants to accept and embrace everyone in the name of “abundant love” and “free grace,” but that’s not what the Word of God commands of us. False Christians believe “grace” enables unrestrained liberty. Standing against that will make you unpopular, but that is how believers are called to contend for the faith.
I find myself fighting the same battles over and over again—for the purity of the Word of God, for its authenticity, integrity, sufficiency, and perspicuity. I find myself contending for the gospel, for repentance, and for faith in Christ.
The hardest part of the fight is to not become so jaded by the battle that you lose your love, compassion, and joy with the people you shepherd week-in-and-week-out. The wonderful thing about a long-term ministry is that you are surrounded and supported by so many loving and faithful people who are living evidence of genuine, flourishing Christianity. Pastors would do well to stay at a church long enough to see that.
Grace Church is where I've lived my life, and it is a joyous life. I am so grateful to be loved by the people of this church; it is truly a grace to my soul. If I am resented, it is by those who have not stood with me in the trenches. But I am so grateful to have had a dear wife and many friends who have stood alongside me in this battle.