Contending for truth

A friend of mine was visiting a church on holiday a while back and he heard some pretty dodgy stuff from the preacher. And, at the end of the service, on his way out the door, he bumped into the church minister (who hadn't given the sermon) and they got chatting. So, my friend took a deep breath, and gently explained what he thought about the sermon - and pointed to what the Bible said. And the minister said, "Look I hear what you're saying, and I know it wasn't good, but the preacher is respected in the area so, I just don't feel I can challenge him". Well, I guess that minister was a lot more honest than lots of people might have been, but it's an example of what all of us can be tempted to do when hear false teaching in church: keep our heads down, say nothing, hope it’ll go away. But the key message of Jude is this, "ultimately…you can't keep your head down. When there's false teaching in your church, you need to contend". And if we're going to hear this message and understand it, let alone do the hard bit of living it out, we'd better ask for God's help. So, let's pray. The first thing Jude wants us to see is we see is:

1. The salvation we share (Jude 1-3)

It takes about two minutes to read Jude, so read Jude lots over the next few weeks and if you do, on first reading you might think that Jude is the Bible-author equivalent of Severus Snape. You know in the end, he's a hero but, frankly, it seems more than a little bit strange…there's stuff about angels, and unfamiliar Bible characters, and on first reading Jude himself seems pretty tough? Even, nasty? (Sorry if you've never read Harry Potter)! But Jude is no villain.He's a very loving pastor. But he's got serious business to address, and he needs to be tough because he's writing to Christians who are being rocked by false teaching from within. And, in the midst of this instability, Jude wants to reassure God's people of who they are in Jesus Christ and we need this reassurance to because our church nationally is increasingly characterised by exactly the kind of false teaching Jude is talking about. And if we're going to cope with that, we need to remember, what Christ has achieved for us. So, reading from Jude 1-2:

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

So, who, and what, are we? We are called. The God of the universe has personally spoken to us, through his word, by his Spirit, and he's called us with his gospel to make him our Lord and to trust him with our sin. We are loved. The creator God who flung the stars into space, loves us. How do we know for sure? Because he sent his only son Jesus Christ to die for us. And we are kept. We're being kept for Jesus Christ – until he comes again. Until then, he who died for us, will not let us go. We belong to him.

I remember chatting to a few of you who are grandparents recently, and you were wondering how many faithful churches there'll be for your grandchildren in 10, 15, 20 years' time? And that’s just one example of how unsettling we can find it when the church around us feels flooded with false gospel messages. But Jude wants us to be reassured. God's true church will survive. Nothing can stop it. We have been called. We are loved. We will be kept.

In Jude 3, we see how Jude's longs (he was very eager) to write more about this salvation we share in. He so wishes he could speak more of its wonders, but the situation in the church he's writing to meant he found it necessary to write a different letter, one he probably wished he didn’t have to write at all, to urge his brothers and sisters to contend for the faith. So, that brings us to our second point:

2. The faith we defend (Jude 3)

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.

Faith often describes personal trust in God but that's not what Jude means.
It's the faith. Objective, not subjective. The things we believe, as opposed to the fact we believe them. And Jude show us in Jude 1-4 what he understands faith to mean:
• It's about salvation (Jude 3) – we're saved from sin and death, for holiness and life with God.
• It's about the grace of God (Jude 4) – grace is a free gift. We don’t deserve our salvation, we can never earn it. But we've been freely given it.
• It's about our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4) – the good news of the gospel is the Lordship of Christ.

So, for Jude, the Christian faith is: salvation by grace, to live under the Lordship of Christ. If you're new to Christian things – this is what it means to be a follower of Christ. And Jude is saying: "You can't add anything to this. You can't subtract anything from it. You can't change it" because the gospel was once for all delivered to the saints. I.e. to ordinary Christians like you and me – through the Bible. So, the image here is that when we come to Jesus, and trust in him, he takes the objective truth of him that we've trusted in, and read in the Bible, and he delivers it to us. And he says "My message is your message. It's as much your responsibility as it is anyone else's to make sure it passes down to future generations". God will keep his people, but he gives us a role to play in contending for his gospel, and making sure it's passed on unchanged, un-interfered with, as God intended.

So, of course, we need to contend for the faith wherever we are – at work, at school or uni, with friends and family. But Jude is primarily concerned with contending within the life of the church. The context (Jude 4) is one of false teachers infiltrating the Christian community, with a false gospel that will destroy the faith of Christians from within. So here at JPC, we need to know that we're not immune to false teachers creeping in unnoticed. Now that doesn't mean we should be wary of new people. If you're new tonight, we don't want you to think that at all, because that isn't the case! But it does mean that we should all be on our guard – always defending. Because to be blunt, we have occasionally had people appear who have led some of our brothers and sisters astray. It doesn't happen often but it has been a reality. And that's why to get involved in serving here, we want to get to know you, and what you believe. We're not suspicious of you, but we want to ensure the gospel is protected because what you and I, and all of us believe really matters. And all of us need to encourage our teachers and leaders (myself included) to remain faithful to the gospel – both in how they live, and in what they teach.

Watch those of us who lead and teach, in whatever setting. Make sure we're not changing the gospel message. Make sure we're not compromising. Make sure we’re trying to live like Jesus would want us to. Because Jude urges ordinary church members, like you and me, to contend. It's not just for some of us. It's for all of us. There may be other Christian settings where we need to contend too. So, a friend of mine was involved in a Christian fellowship group with colleagues at work and one of the members believed and lived something that was very different to the true Christian message. It became very damaging and my friend said, "I think I've been placed here to defend the gospel". And I think he was right. And we need to contend within our denomination, the Church of England, where a report not so long ago found that almost half of ministers don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and that he’s the only way to salvation. And where its ministers and leaders are increasingly trying to move away from, and redefine, what Jesus says about marriage and sexuality.

In the years that lie ahead, we don't know exactly what that contending will look like but what's important is that we do contend, and that we're united in doing so. In whatever situation, we must contend graciously, kindly and patiently. Contending doesn’t mean being unkind, and it doesn’t mean being rude. What it does mean is holding firm to what's true, speaking out when the gospel is mis-proclaimed, challenging false teaching if we see it. Of course, we can get it right but still get face hostility from others. Contending is hard. So, think back to my friend chatting to the church minister or my other friend in the Christian group at work. It was hard for them to speak up. And in other situations, it will be far harder and we’ll fear how people will react, and what they’ll think of us. But just because we love people, doesn't mean we'll stay silent. Now, there are times to be silent, but most of the time, it's speaking up when we need to that's hard.

Jude functions, a bit like the ministry of defence. You see, you can have all the platinum jubilee celebrations and street parties that you want, but if you’ve got nobody to defend you, what are you going to do if someone comes and tries to take it all away? What are you going to do if someone comes and wants to destroy it? If we don't defend what's true, the danger is the gospel will become smaller, and eventually be pushed and squashed away. If we don’t defend what’s true, the danger is people will believe a false gospel that leads to hell, instead of the true gospel that leads to heaven. For Jude, the gospel is too glorious not to shine brightly and Jesus is too magnificent not to be seen as really he is.

If you don’t know or follow Jesus this evening, you’re very welcome, but you need to know we want you to know the real Jesus. Not a fake Jesus. We want you to know the Jesus who is loving, gentle and compassionate but blazingly holy. The Jesus who was prepared to give up his life for us, but not prepared for us to continue live in sin – but rather to live like him, in holiness. The Jesus who loves God’s word, the Bible, and specially commissioned the Apostles who would write and guide the construction of the New Testament as we have it today. So that we know about Jesus, and what it looks like to live for him. Brothers and sisters, we contend for the faith, because we contend for the glory of Jesus. And we contend for the faith because we love people, and we want them to hear the true gospel message because it’s not loving to let people believe in a lie that will one day will have consequences that last into eternity. So, we need to defend the gospel, and we need to know who we’re defending it from. So, lastly:

3. The opposition we expect. (Jude 4):

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Maybe these false teachers seemed like good Christian people. Maybe they seemed to believe a lot of the right things. Maybe they were articulate, they wrote Christian books, they had positions of leadership in the church. Perhaps they just looked like you and me, sheep in God’s flock. But really, they were wolves in sheep’s clothing, intent on worming their way in, and pulling people away from the truth of Jesus Christ. They look harmless, but (whether they knew it or not) their intent was to destroy. Jude says such people are designated for condemnation which I think is better translated as, "their condemnation was written about long ago" because we'll see next week how Jude uses Old Testament examples to show that such false teachers will ultimately be held accountable to God. He’s done it in the past, and he will do it again in the future. God wants false teachers to repent, and trust in him. We'll see in a few weeks’ time, that's what Jude wants too! And we want false teachers to repent and trust in Jesus but if they don’t, we can take comfort in the fact that God will judge those who want to destroy his church. Because Jude is under no illusions, that’s what they’re doing. He describes them as ungodly. Yes, they believe in God but they don't love what God loves. As Paul says (Titus 1.16):

they profess to know God, but they deny him by their works

Instead, they pervert the grace of God into sensuality – which mainly means an indulgent, unrestrained, sex life. It's the attitude of, "God loves us unconditionally. He’s graceful! He knows who we really are. So, you do you. Live authentically. God loves you – you’re free to live as you want, and be yourself.” And so, anything goes.

In 2011 the American pastor Rob Bell rocked the Christian world when he wrote his book Love Wins. In it he argues that it doesn’t matter who you are. What religion you have. What you are. In the end God will accept you. In the end, love wins. Whereas Jude would say, “no that’s twisting the grace of God into a licence to be whoever you want”. And he’d say, “We trust Jesus, not only with our forgiveness, but with the Lordship of our lives. So, we should follow him. And, however inconsistently, we should want to follow him – because his Spirit is within us. Live for him, and you really will be the best version of yourself. So it’s not anything goes. It’s what Jesus says goes” because Jude goes to say that what these false teachers were really doing was denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Because the way they live was in complete contradiction to what Jesus says is right and best so, either Jesus is wrong or they are. To which some would say, “Really? Don’t we need a new 21st century-shaped view on sexuality? Isn’t the Bible’s view now outdated, and dangerous?” But, if we could ask Jude he’d say “No we need a Jesus-shaped view of sexuality” because, writing approximately 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jude is in no doubt over what’s right and wrong in the realm of sex. And, above all, he’s in no doubt that to deny it, is to deny the authority of Jesus. Jesus tells us that the proper place of sex is between one man and one woman, who are married for life.

There is always forgiveness when we fail, for those who God loves, but that’s his standard and that’s countercultural. But so is the fact that Jesus Christ, the most perfect, fulfilled, and complete person who ever walked on earth was never married and was never in an intimate relationship and yet he lived a pure and sinless life. The good life. And however imperfectly, that’s the life we want to live – individually and as a church. A tough life, a counter-cultural life, but a life that’s right and best. The life of being called, and loved, and kept. The life of faith. And of a faith worth contending for.

Back to top