How to Fight (Jude 1:17-25)

Some of you, like me, can remember when the seatbelt law came into effect. Some people had a hard time accepting the law that you have to wear seatbelts. One man, a New Zealander named Ivan Segedin took it to an extreme. The police ticketed him 32 times over five years for failing to use his seat belt. Even though this was costing him big money, he refused to buckle up.

Finally, instead of obeying the law, the man decided to rely on deception. He made a fake seat belt that would hang over his shoulder and make it appear that he was wearing a seat belt when he wasn’t. His trick worked. He didn’t get anymore tickets. But then he had a head-on collision. He was thrown forward onto the steering wheel and killed. His fake seat belt couldn’t save him.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: When tested, what’s fake won’t save you.

We’ve been looking at the book of Jude. Jude wanted to write a letter to the church about our common salvation. He wanted to major on what’s real about our faith: the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man, and who died for our sins and rose to give us new life. But Jude knew there was a problem. He’s writing to a church that has fake seatbelts in use. He’s writing to a church that’s left this common salvation, this faith once for all delivered to the saints, and has instead substituted fake teaching. If you haven’t been here, I hope you’ll take a chance to read the entire book. Jude’s explained why this is a problem we need to be concerned about.

By the way, this is not just a problem for them. Charles Colson, president of Prison Fellowship, says, “Most Christians do not understand what they believe, why they believe it, and why it matters.” For two years, Colson asked mature believers to name the fundamentals of the faith. Most of them, he says, looked surprised and perplexed. They came up with a short list. Colson has stopped in the middle of some of his speeches, and asked the audience, “What is Christianity anyway?” At one church in the Bible belt, there was silence for what seemed to be a full minute before three or four painful answers. Colson concludes, “Our ignorance is crippling us.”

Remember: when tested, what’s fake won’t save you. So today we come to the end of Jude. Jude has been explaining why it’s so important that we don’t accept false teachings. But Jude doesn’t spend all of his time condemning false teachers. Today he’s explaining to us how we can respond to false teachings. He says we need to take three steps to hold on to what’s real. Here’s the first:

1. Don’t be surprised by false teachers.

Throughout this letter, you get the impression that Jude is not conveying new information. He’s reminding us of something. For instance, in verse 5 we read: “I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it…” (Jude 1:5). Then we read in verses 17-19:

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” (Jude 1:17-19)

What he’s saying is that we need to remember that this is to be expected. Don’t be surprised. We have been adequately warned. For instance:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons… (1 Timothy 4:1)

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2 Timothy 3:1)

I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. (2 Peter 3:3)

All throughout the New Testament, we’re warned that in the last days - the days between Jesus’ death and resurrection and his coming again - false teachers and scoffers will periodically appear. It is expected. Not only that, but they won’t come from out there. They will arise from within the church. Scripture consistently warns us to expect this and to guard against it, because it’s going to happen. Jude says: don’t let it surprise you.

The other day I was at home when I heard someone at the door. I had just made myself very comfortable, which is usually when I hear someone knock at the door. So I got up and grumbled and opened the door to see who was there. I didn’t recognize him at first, which made me squirm when he kind of grunted at me and pushed past me to enter the house before I invited him in. He was already in my house when I remembered who he is, and that Charlene had told me he was coming at that very time. If I was smart I would have called to remembrance that he was expected, and that he was going to come into my house whether I invited him in or not.

Jude is saying something similar. False teaching is coming whether you’re prepared for it or not. You can get comfortable and be unprepared when it comes. But if you’re smart, you’ll remember that you’ve been told to expect it, and you’ll be prepared to deal with it when it comes. Don’t be surprised, he says, by false teaching.

2. Keep yourselves in God’s love.

This is fascinating. How should we respond when the false teachers come? We know they’re coming. Do we go on the defensive, building moats and walls so that the false teachers can’t get in? Do you go on the offensive, attacking at the first sign of false teaching? There is room for this, but the first thing he says is this: keep yourselves in the love of God. Secure your own spiritual position. Before you can address the false teachers or the false teaching, make sure that you are secure. He writes:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 1:20-21 ESV)

I want you to notice a few things here.

First, there’s only one command here: “keep yourselves in the love of God.” He then describes some steps we can take in order to keep ourselves in the love of God: building ourselves up in our most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; waiting for Christ’s return. We’re to do these things in order to keep ourselves in God’s love. By the way, it’s a good description of some of the things that we need to build into our lives if we’re going to keep ourselves in God’s love. We do well to devote ourselves to growth in the faith, to prayer, and to live in light of Christ’s return.

Second, this is not a command to individuals; it’s a command to a church. He doesn’t say to keep yourself in the love of God; he says to keep yourselves. I need this reminder. We don’t do this alone. We are responsible to do this together. One of our main purposes as a church is to keep ourselves in the love of Christ.

There’s one more thing I want you to notice. Jude addresses his letter in verse 1 to “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” If you are a Christian, you are somebody who’s called, and who’s kept for Jesus Christ. You’re being guarded and kept by and for Jesus Christ. But here in verse 21 he says, “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Which is it? Are we kept, or do we keep ourselves? Yes. God has done everything we need in the Christian life; we need to respond. God keeps us; we keep ourselves in what God has done for us in Christ. It’s a beautiful picture of the Christian life. God has done it all: we need to keep ourselves firmly planted in what God has done.

What he’s saying, essentially, is to keep yourself anchored to how God has loved you in Jesus Christ. “Moving ahead in the Christian life often involves looking to the past…The foundation must be secure before the building can go up. We can never grow away from our roots; we can only grow through them” (Douglas Moo). The best thing we can do in a world of fakes is to make sure that we have what is real. The best antidote to false teaching is for us to continually be keeping ourselves in God’s love, to continually be growing into the truth. So don’t be surprised; secondly, keep yourselves in God’s love.

3. Reach out to those who are going astray.

Finally, Jude gets to how to respond to the false teachers and those who are being led astray by them. He’s spoken honestly and directly about the danger. Having been reminded to expect that false teachers will come, and having been encouraged to keep ourselves in God’s love, Jude now tells us what we are to do with the false teachers. He divides them into three groups and says:

And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:22-23)

There are three groups we need to be concerned with:

First, he addresses those who doubt. He’s probably talking about some in the church who have started to be swayed by the false teaching. They’re wavering in their commitment to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They have doubts about the Bible, about the Christian faith. They have questions. They want to know if the Bible is true, if we can trust what we’ve received. Jude says: have mercy on these people. Be helpful to them. Build relationships with them. Your relationship with them should be characterized by mercy. I’m sure you can think of people who fit into this category. You have the opportunity to invest in their lives if you have mercy on those who doubt.

Second, he addresses a second group. He says, “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” These people, it would seem, have gone further down the road with the false teachers. They’re in danger of judgment, characterized by fire. Some have been so influenced by false teaching, Jude is saying, that they are teetering on the edge of hell. We need to snatch them and save them before it’s too late.

When we encounter someone who has departed the faith, we can’t just give up on them. God does restore people. One pastor had a friend who walked away from the Christian faith and began living a very immoral lifestyle. He went and visited his friend. Afterwards he was so drained that afterwards he pulled out this verse and with tears in his eyes reminded himself that God still does save wayward sinners, and that his counsel still might bear fruit in his friend’s life. Jude calls us to do this. When people walk away from the faith, they’re in danger of judgment. Contend for them. Save them by snatching them out of the fire.

Then there’s one final group. He says, “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” By the strength of the language it seems like Jude is talking about the false teachers themselves. They’ve abandoned themselves to false teaching, but they’re not beyond redemption. Jude says to show mercy to them. Pray for them. Treat them kindly. But also be cautious. Be on guard. He talks about the garment stained by flesh. He’s talking about the clothing worn closest to the body. This is pretty graphic. He’s talking, in essence, about clothing that’s been stained with human waste. Show mercy to them, he says, but be cautious. As one person put it:

One is working on the edge of the fire, so to speak. Not only are those being rescued at risk, but the rescuers are endangering themselves. Sin is deceitful enough that those trying to help others could themselves get trapped. That is no reason not to “show mercy,” but every reason to have fear. (Peter H. Davids)

When responding to false teaching, you need to do some triage. Your response will differ depending on which type of person you’re dealing with. Reach out to those who are going astray, but be wise in how you do so. Pay attention to the danger that you could be in as you reach out to those who are going astray.

We really need this book. We need this because he’s addressing an ongoing problem. We will face the same issue that Jude addresses. We need to be able to recognize false teaching, and to know how to respond. Today he’s reminded us how we are to respond to false teaching. Don’t be surprised. Secure your own position by keeping yourselves in God’s love. And then reach out to those who are going astray. This, Jude says, is how we’re to respond when we encounter false teaching.

Let me remind you why this is so important. We can’t afford the luxury of fake seatbelts. Remember: when tested, what’s fake won’t save you. We need what’s real. We need the real gospel, but we also need to know what to do when we encounter what’s false.

What I love about Jude is that he finishes by tethering us to God. At the end of the book he reminds us that, although we have a role to play, our hope is not in our ability to hold on to God, but in God’s ability to hold on to us. At the end Jude reminds us that although we have every reason to doubt ourselves, we have no reason to doubt the one in whose love we are kept. So Jude closes with a benediction that tells us that God accomplishes for us, and what we offer him in response.

First, what God accomplishes for us: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…” Then, what we offer to God in response: “…be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Here we have, in the middle of the danger that we too could stumble, the assurance that God is able to keep us from stumbling. We have assurance that God is guarding us. As Paul said: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

We face a danger, and the danger is real. When tested, what’s fake won’t save you. But there is someone who’s real, and when he grabs on to you you’re safe forever.

What’s the Big Deal? (Jude 5-16)

I woke up a couple of weeks ago with tingling in my left arm. I was thinking that it was probably nothing. I slept on it funny or something. But I’ve heard of people who ignore signs like this. I quickly checked Google, that source of reliable medical knowledge. It said:

Is your left arm tingling? Do not neglect the sign! Tingling in left arm may be a warning sign of something serious, therefore, is not worth neglecting…

Following are some possible causes for tingling in left arm and hand.

When the left arm or hand tingles, and at the same time if you experience pain in your jaw as well as chest, it is a major indication of an oncoming heart attack. You are advised to immediately rush to the doctor.

Left arm tingling can also be a stroke symptom. Stroke is a medical condition in which the brain activity ceases due to insufficient supply of blood to the brain.

Just to be safe, I called my doctor. My doctor told me to get to the hospital emergency room immediately. So, I spent the rest of the day waiting to find out that the tingling in my arm was not caused by anything serious. But I was told that it’s very good that I took the warning signs seriously.

It is very easy to ignore warning signs like a tingling arm, and not realize that the tingling could be a sign that something very dangerous is happening. Tingling may only be tingling, but it could also be a sign of something much worse.

This morning we’re looking at a book in the Bible called Jude. It’s the second-last book in the Bible, located right before the book of Revelation. And Jude has told us that there’s something tingling, something that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Jude says:

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. 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. (Jude 3-4)

Here’s the problem. Just like I’m tempted to say, “What’s wrong with a little tingling?” the church was tempted to say “What’s wrong with a little false teaching?” Picture that somebody you know and like starts teaching something that you think is wrong. It would be easy to ignore. You could say:

  • She’s really nice. I mean, how can you criticize someone who does so much and who has such a good heart?
  • Who am I to judge? I’m sure that my theology is off at some points. It would be arrogant to suggest that their position is wrong.
  • Why waste time arguing over theology? There are much more important things we should be worried about, like the poor and the victims of tornados.

But Jude writes to say: Don’t ignore the tingling! The implied question he’s answering in this passage is, “What’s wrong with a little false teaching?” I mean, who really cares about fighting over what we believe? And Jude answers with three reasons why we can’t ignore false teaching. He’s not talking about minor differences, by the way. He’s talking about major departures from “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” And he says that there are three reasons that we should care about this.

He’s writing this because we are tempted to say it doesn’t matter. We’re tempted to turn a blind eye to this issue and pretend that nothing is wrong. Jude gives us three reasons why it matters.

Here’s the first reason:

False teachers are rebels against God.

Why should we care about false teaching? We should care about false teachers because of who they are. And who are the false teachers? The answer is surprising. I want to answer that the false teachers are really nice people who are just a little bit wrong. But Jude answers by showing us that the false teachers are the latest in a string of rebels against God.

Let me give you some examples. In verses 5 to 7 he gives three examples from the Old Testament of evildoers:

  • The Israelites God rescued out of Egypt. God saved them out of Egypt, but they never got to enjoy the delights of the Promised Land because they refused to believe God.
  • The angels - probably a reference to a puzzling passage from Genesis 6 - who rebelled against God and were condemned by him.
  • The rebels in Sodom and Gomorrah, who were guilty of sinning against God, and who were completely destroyed by God.

You don’t get any better examples of God’s judgment than these three. This is serious! But notice what Jude does. He’s not giving a history lesson. He’s attaching these three events to the false teaching taking place in Jude’s day. In verse 8 he says, “Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.” Do you see what he’s saying? In verse 10 he again identifies these people with the rebels against God, except he gives three more examples and pronounces a woe to them:

He says they’re like Cain, who thought he could get away with it (verse 11). Cain was the son of Adam and Eve, the one who committed the first murder when he killed his brother Abel. It’s not a compliment to be compared to Cain. In what way are false teachers like Cain? One Jewish commentary says that Cain believed he could get away with whatever he liked because:

There is no judgment, no judge, no reward to come; no reward will be given to the righteous, and no destruction for the wicked.

In other words, these false teachers think they can teach whatever they’d like and get away with it.

Then he says they’re like Balaam the self-indulgent. Balaam was an Old Testament prophet for hire. He’d say anything you’d like if you paid the right money. He was guilty of laying aside God’s Word and teaching something else for his own personal benefit.

And then he says they’re like Korah the rebel. Korah was a leader of a mutiny against Moses. He was a teacher who rejected what God had said about authority. God judged him by swallowing him alive. We read in Numbers 16:

And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (Numbers 16:32-33)

Has anyone ever told you, “You remind me of…?” You are waiting to hear how they finish the sentence. You want them to say the name of someone wonderful, someone handsome or beautiful, someone accomplished and appreciated. You don’t want to hear that you remind them of their cousin who’s in jail, or some rogue character who never amounted to much.

That’s what Jude is saying in this passage. These false teachers remind him a lot of some of the worst rebels in Old Testament history. David Helm writes:

So in the body of this letter we find Jude stepping through layers of time, grabbing hold of historical events and examples in groups of three, and pulling them into the present day and applying them in the first person - and all of this under divine authority…These guys are those guys! Ancient archetypes are walking in our world. They have come to life again - only they go by different names.

We need to think about this for a minute. Jude is telling us that these guys that he’s pointed to are still probably around today. This is sobering. “What’s the big deal about false teachers?” we ask. Jude takes us through a rogue’s gallery of false teachers and says that this line of rebels lives on, and it’s a big deal to God.

But then he gives us a second reason why false teaching is a big deal:

False teachers will be judged.

I remember being in a park at the end of my street as a kid. There were some older kids there. I should have been afraid of them, but I wasn’t, because my older brother was a lifeguard at the pool. I provoked them thinking I could get away with it because my big brother would come to my defense. I still remember when he didn’t step in. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted and that there would be no consequences.

You get the impression that the false teachers Jude writes about were doing the same thing. Let me give you one example. It’s a puzzling one. Verses 9 and 10 say:

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.

It’s not clear to most of us what he’s talking about. He’s quoting here from a story that would have been well-known to his readers, but that isn’t from the Bible. We do this all the time; we quote from a story that’s well-known in order to make a point. In this story, Michael, the archangel, tried to bury Moses’ body. The devil opposed the burial on the grounds that Moses was a murderer. Even Michael, an archangel, did not dare go toe to toe against the devil on his own authority. There’s a word for you if you take on the devil on your own strength: stupid. Even Michael the archangel, who is way more powerful than us, would not dare to do anything except by God’s authority. Michael knew his place. He knew that if he attempted anything but by God’s power he was sunk. Yet these false teachers didn’t know their place. They somehow thought that they had authority and power apart from Jesus Christ. The minute we think that we have a leg to stand on apart from Jesus, we are in very serious trouble.

So Jude is being very clear. These false teachers are rebels just like the ones we read about in the Old Testament. And God will judge, just as he did the desert generation, the angels who sinned, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

If we believe in judgment, it changes everything. Charlie Peace, a notorious thief and murderer in England in the 1800s, listened to a sermon on the day that he was going to be executed. The preacher was talking about heaven and hell. He said, "Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say, and even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that." You may not believe what Jude is saying about judgment, but if you do, it changes everything.

I want to be honest. I don’t want to believe in hell. But as Mike Wittmer writes, “Jettisoning hell also demands that we reassess the sinfulness of humanity.” In order to believe that we don’t face judgment, we have to believe that we’re not so bad or that God isn’t so holy. And once we believe that we’re not so bad or that God isn’t that holy, then we start to think that maybe Jesus didn’t have to pay the penalty for our sins at the cross. Pretty soon we’re just like the false teachers Jude talks about. Pretty soon we think we can handle Satan on our own strength. The minute we think we can stand on our own without Jesus, we’ve joined these people that Jude is warning against.

Jude is answering the question, “What’s so bad about false teaching?” And he’s saying that false teachers are rebels, and that false teachers will be judged. There’s one more thing.

False teachers are a danger.

Jude writes in verses 12 and 13:

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

Jude is saying two things here. First, he’s saying that these people aren’t helping the church at all. They’re waterless clouds. They’re fruitless trees. They’re like stars that keep changing their course so that you can’t navigate according to them. These people promise a lot, but they don’t deliver.

But it gets worse. These false teachers actually do harm. “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts.” We’re having a potluck after our service today. Back then the church held the communion service in the middle of a potluck-type meal. Jude says that these false teachers are dangers to the community. Hidden reefs under water sink ships; you don’t want to go anywhere near them. These teachers are dangerous to have around.

This is hard. I’m sure that the people who got this letter were surprised. These false teachers were probably very nice guys. What’s so bad about a little false teaching? Jude says it’s a serious problem. These false teachers are rebels; they’re going to be judged; they’re dangerous. False teaching is a very big deal.

This past week one of the most wanted war criminals in the world was arrested. He was living in plain sight in a tiny Serbian village. I’m betting that few people would have guessed that the person living next door is accused of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

Jude is telling us that false teachers don’t look evil. They’re probably really nice. We’re going to be tempted to think, “What’s the big deal?” But Jude says that false teachers are the rebels we read about in Scripture. They’re going to be judged. And they’re dangerous to us as well.

One of our greatest needs as a church is to see that what we believe matters. It is a dangerous thing to lose our grip on the gospel.

That’s why Jude writes:

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. (Jude 3)

So see the dangers of false teaching. Don’t say it’s not a big deal. It is a clear and present danger. But also: See what Jesus has done. Grasp the good news of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Delight in it. Even today remind yourself of what Jesus Christ has done in offering his life for sinners, and being raised again so that we can live. Contend for the gospel.

Worth Fighting For (Jude 1:1-4)

A few years ago we went on vacation. We crammed everything into our little car and traveled to a cabin in upstate New York. We had a great time until one particularly bad day. First, someone stole our dog. Second, we visited a gorge, and I looked over and saw my son walking on the wall that’s supposed to separate us from the gorge. He didn’t fall, but it was too close for comfort. That was not a pleasant day.

We went on vacation with four people and a dog. We came home with four people and no dog. I was sad to lose a dog - we did get him back in the end. But there’s no question that we came home with what mattered most. You could give me a million dogs and it wouldn’t make up for my son. There are some things that simply matter more than others. Some things are really worth fighting for.

This morning we’re beginning a brief look at a book in the Bible. It’s one of the shortest and most overlooked books in all of the New Testament. It’s actually an important book, because it tells us two things. First, it tells us what matters most. You can lose some things, it’s going to say, but you had better not lose the central thing. You can lose a dog, so to speak, but you’d better not lose a son. Second, it tells us what we have to do to keep what matters most.

Today what I want to do is to introduce this book to you, and then I want to look at the first four verses. The first four verses are going to tell us to delight in, and contend for, the gospel. Then I want to think for a few minutes about how this applies to us today.

About Jude

So first, let me tell you about Jude. It’s one of the shortest books in the Bible. It’s tucked away right between the epistles of John and the book of Revelation. Somebody’s said that it’s a book that’s been treated with “benign neglect.” “Rarely the text for a sermon, even in the university or seminary classroom it is often given only brief treatment at the end of a course on the General Epistles, perhaps as part of the last lecture on the final day of the course” (P.H. Davids). But it’s a very important book for us to consider, not the least because it tells us what matters most and what’s worth fighting for.

So look at the first two verses with me to get an idea of the book:

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.
(Jude 1:1-2)

At first glance, this looks like any of the hundreds of letters that would have been passed around back in that day. Except you’ll notice a couple of things that are significant. First: the author is Jude, a servant of Christ and the brother of James. He identifies himself with someone who must have been well known to the recipients of this letter, probably James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. James was not only a leader in the church, but the apostle Paul refers to him as “James the Lord's brother” (Galatians 1:19). We read in Mark 6:3 that Jesus had brothers named James and Jude. So it’s possible - some would say probable - that this book was written by Jude, the younger brother of Jesus Christ. If so, he doesn’t begin by bragging about his blood relation to Jesus. He begins by identifying himself as everyone else - as a servant of Jesus Christ.

He’s writing to a particular audience: “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” In other words, he’s writing to a group of people who have experienced the saving power of Jesus Christ, who have been called by God into a relationship with him, and who are being preserved for Jesus. They’re being kept spiritually intact for Christ.

So this is an important book. It’s important because it’s written by a leader in the early church, the blood brother of Jesus. It’s important because it’s written to the church, to those who have experienced salvation in Jesus Christ. It’s been recognized throughout history as the authoritative Word of God to his people. And it’s also important for what it doesn’t say. Letters usually identify the author and the recipients, and then move into a thanksgiving and prayer. But Jude skips this. It’s like he’s in a rush to get to the heart of the matter.

Specifically, in verses 3 and 4, he’s going to tell us two things: what matters most, and why it’s worth fighting for.

Delight in the Gospel

Jude writes in verse 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.

Do you ever hang around people who always talk about the same things? You know before you start talking to them that it’s only a matter of time before the conversation gets to the same topic. Why? Because you know that the topic has gripped their heart. Because it’s gripped their heart it comes out in their speech. You can’t have a conversation with them without talking about their favorite topic.

In verse 3 you get a sense of what Jude would love to talk about if he could. “I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation.” As someone’s said, this is the letter that Jude wanted to write, rather than the letter he actually wrote, which we have before us. In verse 3 he also refers to this as “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” So what we see here are three things:

He delights in the gospel. He is eager to talk about it. Jude has got a favorite topic, and it’s what Jesus Christ has done to save us. If Jude could talk about anything, then this is what he would choose to discuss. It’s like Jude has a one-track mind, and if you let him talk for any length of time he would quickly come to his favorite topic, which is what Jesus Christ has done for us.

He delights in the gospel that is once and for all delivered. It’s not this nebulous thing that nobody can pin down. It’s not a message that’s evolving and that could mean anything. There is a completeness and finality to the gospel. It is the good news of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, the announcement that God has reconciled sinners to himself through the saving work of Jesus Christ.

He delights in the gospel that has once and for all been entrusted to us. He says that it’s been delivered to the saints. A few years ago we stopped at Webers on Highway 11 in Orillia. We got our food and ate at a picnic table. Josiah needed to go to the bathroom near the end of the meal, so he entrusted his french fries to our care. We got a little distracted, and when Josiah got back he discovered that some seagulls had taken an interest in his french fries. To this day he reminds us that he entrusted something to us, and that we failed to guard it carefully for him.

Jude says that the gospel has been entrusted to us. It’s much more valuable than anything else that’s been entrusted to us. We’d better guard it. Paul writes to Timothy, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14). It’s something that has been given to us for protection, for cherishing, and we are called to hold it and guard it and treasure it. Jude delights in the gospel. It’s what matters most. He shows us what it means to delight in the gospel.

Contend for the Gospel

Delight in the gospel; but he also calls us to contend for the gospel. He says:

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. 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. (Jude 1:3-4)

Jude is saying that he would love nothing better than to share his delight in the gospel with us. But there’s a problem. He instead needs to write to appeal to his readers to contend for the gospel. The word contend was used back then of athletes who, in an effort to win, put all of their effort, struggling and fighting for the desired result toward the desired end. It’s a strong word. We don’t just delight in the gospel. We don’t even delight in the gospel and sort of put up with it getting a little muddled and confused here and there. We are called to put all of our energies into fighting for, struggling for, contending for the gospel.

I was in a hospital the other day. You know that in a hospital they always have announcements running through the loudspeaker. I heard doctors being paged and patients being called. After a while you’re only half listening to what’s being said. All of a sudden I heard a “white alert” and then a location for the incident. I don’t know what a white alert is, and that’s the whole point. I don’t think they want me to know. But I could tell by the way that it was said that it was something important.

Here, in Jude, we’re asked to contend.

...Our mind is forced to go on red alert. We are being asked to read standing in readiness. Jude is finished with pleasantries; some required action is at hand. Urgency and immediacy move him. He wants contenders, and he wants them now. And with this letter he means to raise them up. (David Helm)

I’ll put it this way. When we lost our dog, we didn’t really content. We looked around. I came home and sent a bunch of flyers to vets all over the area. We put in a reasonable effort to get him back. But we never really contended. We drove back and thought that we had probably seen the last of Buddy.

If we had lost one of our children instead of our dog, we would have contended. We would have not come home until we returned with that child. We would have stopped at nothing. We would have struggled, put in all of our effort, and fought until we had the desired result we were looking for. That’s what Jude is telling us. Don’t treat the loss of the gospel like you would a lost dog. Don’t sort of try to get it back. Put all your energy into it. Delight in the gospel, but also contend for the gospel.

The reason we need to do this is because there’s a danger. The reason for the danger is found in the end of verse 3: “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.” We’re going to look more at who these people were next week, and what they were teaching. But I want you to notice the danger. These people were within the church. They weren’t out there teaching false doctrines. There were people within the church who were perverting the grace of God, and somehow denying Christ through what they were teaching. It reminds me of what Paul said to the Ephesian elders in the book of Acts:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)

All throughout the New Testament we’re told that there will be people who distort the gospel. So the need is serious. We need to contend for the gospel because it is what we delight in. We need to contend for the gospel because it is the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. And we need to contend for the gospel because we continually face the danger of losing the gospel. The gospel, Jude says, is worth fighting for.

John Piper summarizes the message that Jude is communicating:

  1. There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints.
  2. This faith is worth contending for.
  3. This faith is repeatedly threatened from within the church.
  4. Every genuine believer should contend for the faith.

Jude tells us to delight in the gospel, but he also tells us to contend for the gospel. If we lose the gospel, we’ve lost everything.

So What?

So let me close here this morning by applying this sermon in three ways.

First: do you know the gospel? I realize this morning that we’ve been talking about the gospel as if it’s clear that everyone knows what we’re talking about. We can never assume this. Actually, I think that pastors have to take some responsibility here. My preaching professor, Haddon Robinson, says that a lot of pastors talk about the gospel, but they’re never very clear what they’re talking about. So let me be clear what I’m saying. 1 Corinthians 15 gives us the core of the gospel:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures... (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

From this passage we see three things about the gospel:

  • It’s what saves us. The gospel is what we’ve received; it’s the thing by which we’re being saved. The gospel saves.
  • The gospel is about Jesus: his death, burial, and resurrection. The gospel centers on the cross and the empty tomb.
  • Christ died for our sins. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18)

That’s it. “The gospel has been described as a pool in which a toddler can wade and yet an elephant can swim. It is both simple enough to tell to a child and profound enough for the greatest minds to explore. Indeed, even angels never tire of looking into it” (Tim Keller). That’s not all there is to the gospel, but it’s the essence. We need the gospel.

Second: do you delight in the gospel? I had a conversation with someone on Thursday who reminded me that our actions communicate what we’re excited about. It’s possible to believe the gospel but not to delight in it. I’ll never forget what I heard Don Carson say:

If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.

If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.

Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.

I want people to know that I’m excited about the gospel. As the hymn says, “Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.”

Finally: are you ready to contend for the gospel? Here’s how easy it is to lose the gospel: “The first generation has the gospel, the second generation assumes the gospel, and the third generation loses the Gospel” (Carson). We need to contend for the gospel. This means that we delight in the gospel, but it also means that we ‘re clear what we’re not about. A pastor (Justin Buzzard) talked about his struggle in this area:

While I think it is important to be known more for what you are for than what you are against, just a cursory reading of the Bible shows that it also calls us to deal with false teaching. Why? Because false teaching is dangerous and destructive; it hurts people.

About ten years ago I heard Ben Patterson say something that I will never forget. Ben told the story of a retired pastor who began noticing that his former congregation was sliding away from orthodoxy. The pastor saw this as his fault, noting the one thing he thought he did most poorly as a pastor. The pastor stated, in two sentences, his great failure as a pastor: "I always told people what to believe. My great mistake is that I never clearly taught my people what NOT to believe."

We need to be positive about the gospel. We also need to contend for the gospel when the gospel is being lost.

That’s what Jude is about. Delight in the gospel and contend for the gospel. If you have this, you have everything. If you lose this, you lose everything.