Contending for the Faith: Jude 3–4

By | March 23, 2023

Jude’s purpose for his letter his clear: “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).

What is “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” what does it mean to “contend” for it, and why do we need to do so?

The Faith That Was Once for All Delivered to the Saints

“Delivered” (paradidōmi) is the same verb Paul employed to describe how he instructed the church about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23), the gospel (1 Cor 15:2), and any essential doctrine that he had given to the church (1 Cor 11:2). Used as a noun, something “delivered” is a “tradition” (paradosis). The apostles commanded the churches to walk in these traditions, stand firm in them, and hold them fast in opposition (2 Thess 2:15; 3:6). What is “delivered” here in Jude is “the faith.”

“Faith” (pistis) can refer to the act of believing or, as here, the body of God’s truth that we believe. Used in this sense in the NT, the faith is singular (Eph 4:5, “one faith”) and something we preach (Gal 1:23). At its least, it consists of the essential truths of the gospel, “the apostles’ teaching” when the church first began (Acts 2:42), and at its most, it includes “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The OT promised the sufferings and glories of Christ (Luke 24:44–47; cf. 1 Pet 1:10–12). The NT records the narratives of these matters (Gospels and Acts), teaches why Jesus came (Letters), and promises that He is coming again (Revelation). As Jesus promised, He gave the apostles “all the truth” through the Spirit (John 16:13), Himself being the apex of this revelation (John 16:14, “He will glorify me”; cf. Heb 1:1–2; 1 Cor 3:11; 15:1–4). The apostles bore their definitive witness to Him, confirmed by signs, miracles, and wonders (Heb 2:3–4; cf. Eph 2:20; 3:5).

All of this is included in “the faith,” and there is no more of this content to be given in this age. In fact, literally translated, it is “the once-for-all-delivered faith.” Though a handful of NT books could come after Jude, God had essentially revealed all of the truth necessary for salvation and godliness (cf. 2 Tim 3:14–17. The book of Revelation, last in time and order, closed the Scriptures and even said that no more revelation would be given (cf. Rev 22:18–19).

Coming back to Jude, the saints indeed find opposition to this faith from time to time, which is why Jude “found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith” (Jude 3). There are those who depart from the faith (1 Tim 4:10), wander from it (1 Tim 6:10), swerve from it (1 Tim 6:21), oppose it, and even seek to turn others away from it (e.g., Acts 13:8). In such scenarios—the called, the beloved of God, the saints that Jude addresses—us—we must earnestly contend for the faith.


So then, what does it mean to “contend”?

The word translated “contend” has the idea of expending intense effort and energy. It comes from epagōnizomai, a relative of agōnizomai, from which we receive our English word agonize. Jude’s form of the word is used only here, but its relative refers elsewhere to fighting (John 18:36) or to participating in an athletic contest (Heb 12:1). Whether as a verb or noun, the New Testament repeatedly uses this word as a metaphor for aspects of the Christian life: salvation (Luke 13:24), perseverance (Heb 12:1), self-control (1 Cor 9:25), prayer (Col 4:12), suffering persecution (1 Thess 2:2), and the gospel ministry in general (Phil 1:30; Col 1:29; 2:1; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7).

Following Christ, controlling ourselves, praying, suffering, and ministering to others—all of these activities require intense effort on our parts, a struggle made possible by the power of Christ (cf. Col 1:29). Opposing false teachers and their teaching, contending, is one of these struggles, and Jude urges us to contend for the faith. 

The Enemy Within

Jude’s reason for why his readers needed contend for the faith is clear: “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 4).

All in just one verse, Jude gives a thorough picture of these enemies of the gospel: their sinister infiltration of the church (“certain people have crept in unnoticed”); God’s end for their sinful ways (“condemnation”); a general description of them as opposed to God (“ungodly people”); and two ways whereby they twist the truth—in their ungodly ways (“who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality”) and in their ungodly words (“and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”). Jude goes on to describe these enemies in detail and their judgment from God (Jude 5–16, 18–19).

Engaging the Enemy

Jude’s letter emphasizes on the activity, sinfulness, and judgment of the enemy. In one word, he tells us how to engage the enemy: “contend.” But even then, his focus not entirely on the enemy: “contend for the faith.” But still, how should we engage the enemy?

Scripture has no shortage for strategy against this kind of enemy, divisive people who are devoid of the Spirit of God (Jude 19). We should not quarrel with them but correct them gently, hoping for their salvation (2 Tim 2:24–26). We should correct them once and twice, but if they persist in ungodliness and unbelief, we should have nothing more to do with them (Titus 3:10–11). We must separate from these unbelievers and not be in their midst (2 Thes 6:14–7:1). We should mark who they are and consciously avoid them (Rom 16:17–18; 2 Tim 3:5). We should neither let them into our houses nor wish them well on their way (2 John 10–11). If they persist in their false teaching, we should even pray that God would righteously curse them forever (Gal 1:8–9).

And, if any of our brothers refuse to follow this apostolic tradition, we should take note of these brothers, warn them of their disobedience, distance ourselves from them, and hope this shame brings them back to an obedience of these commands (cf. 2 Thess 3:6, 14–15).

Rescuing the Wounded

Not only does Jude instruct our action toward the enemy (“contend”), but he also instructs us how to take care of ourselves and others in this fight. We cannot lose any of our soldiers. We ourselves must grow in the faith, pray, persevere, and look to the return of Jesus Christ (Jude 20–21). Concerning the victims of the enemy’s attack, we must show mercy to the doubters—those who vacillate between truth and the heresies of false teachers (Jude 22). For those more fixed in the flames of heresy and sin, we must be more forceful and snatch them from the fiery end of following these false teachers (Jude 23a). As we rescue the wounded, we must be cautious (“with fear”) to not be stained by the enemy’s ways or words (Jude 23b).

Engage the enemy. Be on your guard, and rescue any wounded along the way. May God help us to contend for the faith until Christ comes again.

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

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