After journeying through the Apostles’ Creed and thinking what to post about next, my mind turned toward the New Testament Book of Jude. Jude is easy to overlook because it has only one chapter and may take up only a page or two in your Bible. The reason I thought about this book is that the author (who calls himself the brother of James, and thus appears to be the brother of Jesus) writes it to encourage readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). This was not his initial intention in writing a letter as it seems he had hoped to write about “our common salvation” (v. 2), but he felt the need to do so because certain false teachers had crept into the church (v. 5).
It is not enough for us to know the Apostles’ Creed — we also have to contend for it, clinging to its truth, and proclaiming the truths of our faith in the midst of a world that will seek to draw us away from it rather than reinforce it. Jude does not just tell us to contend for the faith, however, as he also gives some instructions to help us see what that could look like. It seems that we can contend for it in a couple of different ways: 1) keeping ourselves in love of God in the faith, and 2) being aware of the presence and characteristics of false teachers.
- Keeping in the Love of God
In verse 21 Jude tells his brothers and sisters in the faith (both those in his day and us today) to “keep yourselves in the love of God.” How do we do that? Well, he also tells us to build ourselves up in the faith and to pray in the Spirit while we wait for Jesus. We are not just to recite the creed at services, but also to regularly seek to go deeper in understanding it, praying for understanding of these truths. In addition, we need to recognize that others might struggle with their faith, which is why Jude also calls us to have mercy on those who are doubting so that they remain in the community of our faith. As we show mercy and help those who are doubting, we will likely reinforce and build up on our faith. These are proactive ways that we can contend for the faith.
- Beware of False Teachings and Teachers
We must also recognize that there are false teachings coming from false teachers. As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” so I think examining the characteristics of false teachers in Jude’s time may also help us be alert for false teachers in our day and age; how and what they say may be different, but the roots and impulses of false teachings seems to stay the same. (Interestingly enough, in the letter itself, Jude refers back to all sorts of examples of figures from the Old Testament, showing that this challenge is not new to God’s people).
Jude notes that false teachers “crept in unnoticed” (v. 4). False teachers often come through the side doors, not the front doors of the church; they can appear when least expected, so we must constantly remain on guard. Jude also notes that they “pervert the grace of God into sensuality” (v. 5). What does that mean? It seems that these false teachers tell us that God’s grace and love allow us to engage in the passions of our flesh; they give us a license to live into the sin that our broken hearts still desire, telling us that God is okay with this. Verse 5 also notes that they deny “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” These teachers will point to other things (besides Jesus) with their ideas and teachings taking his as the place of authority and our works or efforts (rather than those of Jesus) being what brings us salvation. In fact, these teachers are said to “rely on their dreams” (v. 8), which leads them to justify their behavior, reject authority, and “blaspheme glorious ones.” Thus, they do not place themselves under the authority of others and place themselves above God, denouncing spiritual truths they do not understand and that conflict with their desires. Later on in the letter, Jude notes that these teachers will follow their own ungodly passions and cause divisions (v. 19 and 20); they justify the sinful behavior they want to indulge in and they divide people. Therefore, we need not think just about those who might be advocating for things contrary to God’s Word, but also for those who relish in bringing about division and conflict. People who are constantly finding fault in others and boasting loudly bear the marks of false teachers described in verse 16. Jude notes in this verse that these false teachers show favoritism, so a reason that they might creep in unnoticed (v. 4) is that they make us feel good and important and before we realize it, we have been led astray. Jude tells us to recognize the reality of these false teachers and also to remember their ultimate fate, as he reminds us that these teachers will ultimately face condemnation (see v. 5-7).
Are You a Contender?
Often sports shows will talk about teams, asking if they are contenders or pretenders. The same question can be asked of us in our faith. Are we contenders, seeking to stay in the faith, or are we pretenders who will easily be drawn away to other teachings and beliefs that might seem attractive? Let us know what we believe and contend for the faith that has been passed down generation to generation as we await the hope that we find in the creed of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
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