Jude 1-4 as preached by Timothy O'Day.
In Jude 1-4 we see that Christians, those completely redefined by the person and work of Christ, are called to contend for the faith, which means...
1. Cherishing the gospel that defines you.
2. Refuting those who twist the gospel.
You Fight for What You Love
It’s amazing to hear of what people will do for love. You hear stories of it and you might be able to witness events of mothers standing between their children and danger. You see this with fathers as well, but it is particularly striking to know of a mother who puts herself between what threatens her children. Why? Because typically what is so glaring in such situations is the absolute disregard of her own weakness and inability before the threat. It is a clear sacrifice. She is willing to be hurt and maybe even killed in order to defend her children. And why? Because she loves them. It is an image that so clearly demonstrates the reality that you will fight for and defend what you love.
The Call of Jude: Fight for the Gospel You Love
Jude is about this beautiful fight. As we read in verse 3, this letter is an appeal for the readers to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. This letter is what is known as an epistolary sermon. That means it is a sermon in letter form, which is why you have an introduction that looks like a letter, but it merely ends with a benediction instead of a farewell. And this sermon has one major point that it is trying to get across: hold tight to Jesus Christ. Knowing him and belonging to him is the greatest gift and treasure one can have, so do whatever it takes in order to preserve the message of the gospel not only for yourself but also for the good of others.
But in order to make of the call, we first have to understand the foundation upon which the call is being made. So let’s begin by exploration the foundation of the call to contend for the faith and then we will look at the call itself.
The Foundation of the Call to Contend:
Christians are completely redefined by the person and work of Jesus.
For the Christian, Jesus is not an accessory. He is not an advisor. He is not a life coach. He is not a guru. He is Lord. That this is foundational to the letter of Jude is made plain in the first two verses. In verse one Jude identifies himself to his readers with two identifying markers attached to his name. First, he identifies himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. This is normal writers of NT epistles. But the significance of his identification as a servant is shown by the second statement: “brother of James.” This is significant because tradition holds that this is speaking of James, the leader of the Jerusalem church and half brother of Jesus. That is to say, James shared Mary as mother but had Joseph as his biological father. That would, then, make Jude the half brother of Jesus as well (cf. Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55. “Judas” and “Jude” are transliterations of the same Greek word Ἰούδας). But this is not how he identifies himself. He does not begin by saying, “Hear me, hear me! I am the half brother of Jesus.” Instead, he primarily identifies as the servant of Jesus. Now you could say that this is an authentic act of humility. But I think it is more than simply that. Jude is so completely redefined by his relationship to Jesus as Lord that this identity completely envelopes and trumps everything else about him. His relationship to the Lord by faith is now the most dominant aspect of his life.
And this complete redefinition isn’t just true of Jude but also true of those to whom he writes. Look at how he identifies his recipients at the end of verse 1. He writes to those who are 1) called, 2) believed in God the Father, and 3) kept for Jesus Christ. These three markers are significant. Let’s make sure you understand what each one means and then I’ll show you why it is significant.
Called: he is writing to those summoned by God to salvation; summoned to come and be in his presence. Christians are people who do not have to earn their way to God but are called into his presence freely and may enter boldly through Jesus Christ.
Beloved in God the Father: Christians can enter into the presence of God without fear because God has made them the special objects of his covenantal love. Just to be clear, God’s covenantal love comes to people not because they deserve it. God sets his affection on his covenant people because he is love.
Kept for Jesus Christ: those who belong to Jesus by faith are kept for Jesus by God the Father. Jesus reiterates this again and again in the Gospel of John. All who come to him will not be cast out. Rather, they will be kept because the church is the bride of Christ. When you belong to Christ, you are kept as his and will not be rejected.
All of these realities are significant because they sum up the joy of salvation that we have in Christ by faith. But there is more to it than that. When Zach is leading us at the Men’s Bible study, he will often ask the question after reading a passage in the Gospel of Matthew, “Why did Matthew write these things?” It’s a great question because the Gospel writers ordered their individual Gospels to communicate various truths to us. But to make things difficult for him and in order to keep him from becoming conceited because of the suppressing greatness of his questions, I typically reply, “He wrote them because they are true.” And we could simply say the same thing here. Jude addresses his readers as called, beloved, and kept because they are called beloved, and kept. But just like the answer to Zach’s question is not simply “because it is true,” the same is the case here. Christians are called, beloved, and kept because they are completely redefined by who Jesus is and he is ultimately the one who is Called, Beloved, and Kept. If you recall what we read earlier in Isaiah 42, you will see the connection. Isaiah 42:1-9 is one of the Servant Songs in Isaiah that points forward to the Special Servant of God who will rescue his people. What are identifying markers of this servant?
In verse 1:
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him…”
He continues in verse 6,
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you…”
Salvation is not simply getting a cleared of sin. You are actually brought into Christ. All that is true of him becomes true of you. This is why the church is called elsewhere in Scripture “The body of Christ” (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph 4:12). Jesus is God’s Chosen Servant who has accomplished salvation by his perfect life, his substitutionary death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. As we come to him we are united to him by faith. Is it a surprise, then, that Jude holds up as his primary descriptor not the fact that Mary is his mother but that he is a servant of Jesus who is The Servant?
This is why Christians do not merely look at Jesus as a guru, an aid, or someone who helps them get their agenda done. He is Lord. Christians are people who are caught up into Christ and his agenda. Christians are people who are defined by who he is and what he has done. Christians are living evidence of Jesus’ person and work; they act as lights and as a sign of who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he will do.
This identity is the foundation to the call in verse 3 to contend for the faith. In light of this, what is the call to contend about?
First, it is a call to cherish the gospel that defines you.
As you look at verse 3, you see that Jude wanted to speak of the unity and joy that they all shared in because they all shared in Christ by faith. But, as he goes on to say in verse 3, the same love that compelled him to write of their unity compelled him to do something different because of their present circumstance. He writes that he “found it necessary,” meaning that he felt constrained, “to write appealing to you,” that is exhortation or even pleading, “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
But what is meant by faith? Put simply, it is the content of what we belief. It is the gospel and all of the implications that come with it. It is the doctrines taught by Christ. Jesus has delivered once to all of the saints what we need to believe and how we are to live in light of it. Faith here, then, refers to the unchanging gospel and the doctrines that uphold it and flow from it.
How Do You Contend for the Faith?
How do you contend for the gospel and the doctrines that surround it? There are three things we can see here.
First, let love control your speech and your topics. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is not simply to talk about the unity you have. It is to have the uncomfortable conversation about your differences. Jude wants to talk about their shared salvation, but instead he must call out the error of false teachers, as he will elaborate more on in verse 4 and what follows. He is exhorting us to do the same when he calls us to contend for the faith.
Second, know the faith. In order to contend for the faith, you must know it. Contending is defending, and unless you know what you are supposed to defend then you cannot defend it. I’ve heard it often that the way to spot a counterfeit bill is to make sure you now what a real monetary note looks like. You can study fake notes, but the best way to know what is genuine is simply to study and become intimately familiar with what is genuine. One of the best ways to refute false teaching is to know the truth very well. And there is a lot of false teaching out there. It is on your tv. It is on your phone. It is in books. It is in the culture. And it even comes to your very front door. You must know the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints if you are not going to be taken in by the false teaching that flows through the world.
Third, Prepare for attacks. Simply knowing the truth isn’t all that you must do. You must also prepare to be assaulted. Imagine you are in a war. You are with your commanding officer and you have to secure and hold a building that will be attacked. He says to you, “go to the east side of the building and defend it with these 10 men.” What will you do? You will make sure you have a good understanding of the east side of the people. How could you be attacked? What spots seem most vulnerable? How are you going to respond if the enemy pushes in there? You need answers to these questions. You need to prepare for the attack. You also need to prepare the people under your charge. In the same way, you need to prepare yourself and others under your charge for attack. How do you do this? Two things
(1) You need to know yourself. Do you find in yourself a desire for riches? Then you need to be aware of that. The enemy will us your proclivity toward a love of money to try to deceive you. Do you struggle with laziness? Then watch out. The enemy will tempt you to despise your authorities. Have you found self-control in the area of sexuality to be difficult? Then watch out for false teaching that will tell you that sexual immorality isn’t really an issue. And the list could go on and on. You may struggle with gossip, desiring to know it all, have an inordinate desire for respect. You must know yourself and your weaknesses because sin in you will attract you away from the truth.
(2) Teach those under your charge. Presently, this just might only includes yourself. You need to know the faith and continually grow in your understanding of the truth. This includes others who God puts into your care.
For example, you are under my care. As Zach and I serve as your shepherds, we take seriously the charge to defend you. So please, let us know if you are struggling. Let us know if you see a wolf.
Husbands, the Lord charges you to lead your wives in love. Like Christ does for the church, you are charged to do for your wife. So let me simply ask this: are you giving your wife a plan and vision to follow? Are you making sure that she is equipped to handle the tasks before her? Can you tell me how your wife is doing spiritually? I want you to ask your wife that question today and then help her where she needs help.
Parents, and particularly fathers according to Ephesians 6:4, you are to bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. They are going to encounter the false teaching that is plentiful in this world. You are to prepare them for it by teaching them the faith that was once for all delivered tot he saints. Your children will be disciplined and they will be instructed. It will either be by the world or by you. This is more than, but not less than, your daily devotions and catechizing that you do with your kids (and I really hope you are doing those things with them now). This includes how you elect to see your children educated.
You’re Not Alone
I know that I just laid out a lot and perhaps you feel overwhelmed. But let me give you what I hope you are coming to see is a common reminder: you are not alone. You are not called to live the Christian life alone. You are not called to know the faith alone; you are not called to equip those under your charge alone. Not only has God given you his Spirit, but he has given you to his church. We refer to Ephesians for often as a church, and the words there should bring us comfort as we consider the high call of contending for the faith. Let me just point out one way that God helps you meet this call and one benefit of this call.
Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Zach and I are here and ready to help you. There are others in the church who are also ready to help. You are not alone. Listen to the instruction that comes from your leaders as they open up the word to you; open up the word yourself. Make knowing the faith a central aspect of your life.
What is the benefit of doing that? Ephesians 4:14, “So that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” When you are not grounded in the truth, every new idea feels like it knocks you for a loop. But as you are settled in the tenets of the faith, on the word of God, you are building your life on a secure foundation that will offer peace in stormy times. Do you feel like you are always tossed about? You don’t have to.
Second, the call to contend for the faith is the call to refute those who twist the gospel.
Verse 4 tells us that people had crept into the church unnoticed, meaning that they looked fine at first. But they ended up tending toward positions that undermined the faith once for all delivered to the saints, twisting the message of the gospel, and endangering others by tempting them to follow the same error filled course. False teachers, then, often look normal at first. They crept in unnoticed. They didn’t wear sings that said, “false teacher.” They didn’t announce their unorthodox views readily or loudly. How can you recognize them. Jude lays out four marks
They fit the biblical pattern of condemned rebellion: Jude says of these people in verse 4 that they are those “who long ago are designated for this condemnation.” The word “this” in that sentence begs for clarification. What is “this” referring to? And the answer is that “this condemnation” is referring to the OT examples of condemnation that Jude is going to cite in verses 5-16. The condemnation that these people are destined for is what is what was designated in Scripture long ago. So what is he saying about these false teachers? Simply this: since they share in the same kind of rebellion against God as these examples in Scripture, so they will share in the same kind of condemnation. What Jude means is that it should not be surprising that these men are condemned. That their actions and teachings deserve condemnation is not a new development but clearly laid out in Scripture. Their acts fit into the pattern of condemned rebellion. God has already condemn such actions, so don’t be surprised or hesitant to say that these men deserve condemnation. Here is a takeaway for you: if you know that God condemns certain actions, then do not be silent about the fact that God condemns certain actions. Let me share with you an unpopular and uncomfortable statement that you and I must express: if you rebel against God you deserve eternal punishment in hell. Rebellion against God deserves judgment. We need to be be ready to say this because it is absolutely unloving and uncharitable to keep it to ourselves. Yes, people will misunderstand you, but you need to fight to be understood on this point. Years ago my parents were in Germany. After a bike ride they were eating lunch in a park I think and my mom was drinking a soda from a can. As she was about to drink from it, though, a man came up to here and refused to let her drink it. She would try and he would throw up his hands and motion emphatically for her to stop. He didn’t speak English. She didn’t speak German. He would just wave his arms and go “Bzzz. Bzzz!” She was confused and annoyed until she finally realized what he was communicating: a bee had flown into her soda can. Then she was grateful. In the same way, people might think you are annoying, mean, and judgmental, but that doesn’t mean you are. Certainly, don’t ai to be annoying, mean, and judgmental. But do not let someone’s inaccurate perception hold you back from speaking the truth in love.
They are moving away from God, not toward him: This is the meaning of the expression “ungodly.” To be godly is to imitate God. To grow in godliness is to express his qualities in growing measure. False teachers do not seek God and his ways. That is to say, they are not directed toward God and pleasing God. Instead their hearts are directed toward themselves, bending inward. What is tricky is that even this can have the appearance of godliness. You can be ungodly and talk about God all the time. But if everyone is sounds like they are centered around God, how can you tell who is? We are helped by the next two things that Jude says…
They twist the the unchanging faith: Jude says that these false teachers “pervert the grace of God into sensuality.” Simply put, they say that God’s grace gives them license to sin. Particularly, as we will see in the next passage, they twist the grace of God to mean that they can live in sexual immorality—doing with their bodies as they please. They do not understand grace. They view grace simply as God wiping away sins. So now they can live however they want! But that is not what grace is. Grace is not a sin disinfectant that is sprayed over you continually. Grace is the kindness of God to include you in Christ. When you are included in Christ, united to him, everything that is true of him becomes true of you. In other words, grace is God’s kindness to identify you in Christ. To credit to you all that Christ has accomplished and to credit to you all that Christ has paid. Since you are included in Christ by faith, his death on the cross for sin counts as your death on the cross for sin. But it is also more than that! As you are included in Christ, you are changed into his likeness. As we read in 1 John 3:7-8, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” If you make your aim righteousness it is a mark that you are made righteous in Christ. If you make your aim sin, then it is a mark that you do not belong to Jesus.
They do not hold to Jesus as the ultimate authority: To deny that Jesus came to take away sin is to deny his express teaching. Whoever denies Jesus’ express teaching is a false teacher. As Jude says, they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” They practice exactly what the serpent practiced in the Garden of Eden and say to people, “Did God really say…?” False teachers are ungodly not because they outright reject all that God has said. They simply twist it to mean something else. They argue that you have misunderstood and that you need something else beyond what God has said. For Mormonism, you can’t trust the Bible. They argue it has been twisted. So you need a modern prophet. But when you look at Joseph Smith you see a man who denied the true grace of God and the teaching of Jesus. Jesus said that marriage was for one man and one women, but Joseph secretly practiced polygamy, denying it publicly but privately saying that this is God’s will. Or considered arguments about homosexuality. Some argue that Romans 1 is not a condemnation of homosexual practice but rather a condemnation of homosexual practice outside the bounds of committed relationships. It is a twisting of Scripture and a twisting of God’s kindness that looks at Jesus and says, “you will not be my ultimate authority.”
Brothers and sisters, we have to be ready to contend against such errors. Perhaps this makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable. I think we can all agree that it is much more enjoyable and pleasant to agree. Unity and agreement is the goal, but it has to be real unity and agreement. Don’t settle for fools gold which is just saying that there is agreement and unity.
We do this by keeping on focus on Jesus Christ and the ultimate treasure that he is. Contention is not the goal; Christ is the goal. Never forget that. But since Christ is the goal, contention will at times be necessary in order that we may enjoy Christ together. The love of Christ controls us to contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. So it is only love for Christ that will send us into conversations in which we will contend for the faith. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Remember who he is and what he has done. Remember that all people by right deserve condemnation because every single one of us has rejected God. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved! God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, became fully human and lived a life of perfect obedience to God. That is the life that you and I should have lived. And being perfect, he submitted himself to death on the cross. This was not just a physical death. He experienced the full wrath of God that we deserve for our sin; an eternity of wrath was poured on him. As man he was able to suffer in our place; as God he was able to absorb all of the wrath that we deserve for our sin. Which is why he was raised on the third day as a proof that if you come to him in faith all of your sins will be forgiven and you will be made into a new creation for the new heavens and new earth that he is bringing in. So trust in Jesus and so grow in godliness, enjoying the grace of God instead of perverting it, and one day you will enter into the rest of your Master, Jesus Christ.
This is the gospel and we celebrated now as we turn to the Lord’s Supper. We invite all who are trusting in Jesus alone to partake of this meal. It is a declaration of our faith. In it we celebrate the true gospel and proclaim that Jesus died, was raised, and that he will come again. If you do not believe the gospel as I presented it to you today, then I ask that you do not partake of this meal. It is my desire that you would truly partake of it by coming to faith in Jesus Christ, denying every false teaching and false gospel as you do so. If you are not trusting in Jesus, then I plead with you, come to him. He is your only hope to escape the wrath to come and to enjoy life eternal with him.