A recent survey of the beliefs of people attending churches reported:
41 percent of all adults surveyed believed in the total accuracy of the Bible.
40 percent of those surveyed believed Christ was sinless.
27 percent believed Satan to be real.
57 percent of Baptists believed works play a part in salvation.
45 percent believed Jesus was not sinless.
Those who said their faith was very important, they have a responsibility to witness, believe salvation is only through God’s grace and not good deeds, that Jesus lived a sinless life and describe God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules today?
How does that happen?
A denial of the very basics of the Christian faith not by those outside the church, but by those within it.
I think many of us write off surveys like that by saying to ourselves, they must not have had good teaching. Or we write off surveys like that by saying to ourselves, that kind of thing could never happen to us, because we are a healthy church.
At first glance the church to whom Jude writes seems to be a very healthy church. They certainly had received good teaching, taught by Jude and the apostles themselves. They weren’t an old church, Jude’s writing about thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And they were genuine believers, Jude explains in verse 1 that he’s writing to those who are“called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ…”
But in spite of that, the church to whom Jude writes is in big trouble. He explains in verse 3, “Beloved, although I was 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.”
Apparently, as Jude sits down to write an encouraging letter to these believers, he suddenly changes his mind regarding what he’s going to write them about because, either through a direct revelation from the Holy Spirit or a report he received regarding the church’s condition. This church is in trouble, it’s in trouble because “certain people” he writes in verse 4, “had crept in[to the church]…”
In spite of the fact that these certain people “long ago were designated for condemnation…” and were “ungodly people who perverted the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” They were able to creep into the church “unnoticed.”
How does that happen?
How does a group of called, beloved and kept believers get to the place where they are accepting as fellow Christians a group of ungodly, grace-perverting, Jesus denying false teachers?
Looking at Jude, we can begin to understand why getting an answer to this question is so important – if it can happen to them, it can happen to us.
Where does compromise with error begin?
Compromise with error begins when Christians stop contending for the truth.
What’s that old saying? All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. I’m not sure if that’s always true, but it is interesting to note that the problem with these believers was not so much what they were doing as it was what they weren’t doing.
They weren’t contending for the faith.
That’s why Jude writes this letter. “Beloved,… I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith.”
The reason Jude changes what he’s going to write about is not simply because the church was being attacked by false teachers, it is because they weren’t doing anything about it.
Now I don’t know what reasons they might have given as to why they weren’t contending for the faith. I’m sure they would have had an excuse or two.
But I do think I know at least one reason many of us give as to why we stop doing so.
It’s hard work.
Jude recognizes that. It’s funny, the root Greek term behind our English word contend is agonizo. Agonize.
Really what we’re being called to do here is to make an effort at knowing the essentials of the Christian faith and being concerned enough about those essentials to defend them when they are attacked.
And quite frankly, knowing those essentials and being familiar enough with them to spot error and being concerned enough about them to stand up for the truth takes work.
There’s just no way around that.
It takes work because to contend for the faith, you have to know it.
To know the faith you have to study it.
To study it you have to have to think about it.
To think about it…you have to have a strategy for doing so.
I have met very few people, actually none, who grew in their knowledge of the truth accidentally or magically.
People who grow in their understanding of the truth have a plan. They ask questions, they ask people to help them understand what doctrines really are important; they read books on theology and take notes; they listen to tapes; they get involved in discussions about truth; they actively engage with sermons and think about those sermons throughout the week.
They agonize over the truth.
That’s what Jude is asking these believers to do and that’s what I’m asking you to do as well. This is not about becoming a contentious person who fights over what the locusts in the book of Revelation represent; this is about working hard at getting to know the absolutely essential truths of Scripture and wholeheartedly committing yourself to those truths; to what the Scripture teaches about Jesus and about salvation; and refusing to compromise those truths no matter what.
Know, study, think, strategize, contend.
Contend for the truth. Although we might think that compromising with error begins with liberal pastors and with ornery congregations; here in Jude that’s not really where it began at all. Instead compromise seems to have begun when these believers got spiritually lazy.
Instead of doing something, they did nothing.