Contrary to the contentions of many today, the Bible plainly states that there is “one faith” (Eph. 4:5). It is singular in its nature, not plural. Just as there is one hope, one baptism, one body, one Spirit, one Lord and one Father, there is only one faith.
The Bible also declares that “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). This faith “comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). We are to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). We also know for certain that “by grace [we] have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8).
Yet, one considerable command is often neglected regarding the faith. This singular command, when practiced by honest and sincere souls, can become a phenomenal catalyst for unity among those who profess Christianity today.
Jude writes, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Some might argue that because of such contending there exists division, compromise and indifference among those who claim to be God’s people. However, it would be more accurate to argue that the neglect of this command, in its truest form, has led to the destruction of unity, peace and zeal among God’s people.
Through the prophet Hosea, God said, “Now let no man contend, or rebuke another; for your people are like those who contend with the priest. Therefore you shall stumble in the day; the prophet also shall stumble with you in the night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:4-6). It was not because knowledge was not available that God’s people would be destroyed—it was because God’s people did not avail themselves of it!
The same problem abides today. Those who claim to be Christians—God’s Israel today—have ceased standing for what is right and continue to stand for what they think is right. The emphasis has been removed from truth and been placed on relativism. We are urged to accentuate the positive and avoid the negative. Consequently, we are sacrificing unity, peace and zeal on the altar of such thinking.
This is why we must return to commands such as Jude 3. Jude 3 requires us to prove what we believe to be right, rather than base our faith in what we feel and think. This will result in true unity. Jude 3 requires us to iron out our differences over truth, not ignore them for the sake of “peace.” This will lead to true peace. Jude 3 requires us to stand for our faith, not fall for the faith of others. This will inevitably require zeal.
A deeper understanding of Jude’s exhortation is absolutely critical if we are to realize the good fruit that can be harvested from its fulfillment. The corrupted fruit we see today is often a result of a misunderstanding, or more precisely, an incomplete understanding of what Jude is beseeching us to do.
What Are We To Contend For?
Jude plainly says we are to contend for “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Acknowledging that there is one faith that we must walk by to be pleasing to God, we recognize the import of this exhortation. Knowing that faith comes by hearing God’s word, we know the ground upon which we must contend. If a Bible discussion is lacking Bible, but beset with the feelings, emotions and thoughts of men, we know that we are no longer contending for “the faith.”
Likewise, we have also abandoned the good ground of faith if the discussion strays to “new revelation.” “The faith” has once for all been delivered. Thus, we must stand upon the inspired writings revealed miraculously to men by God’s Spirit in Jude’s day (cf. Eph. 3:1-7; John 20:30-31). Otherwise, we will sink in the uninspired writings of men moved by their own spirit in our modern day.
Realizing what we are to contend for eliminates contentions over creeds, faiths, denominations, and personalities. Setting them aside, as they hinder our understanding of truth, we can then focus on God’s incorruptible word (cf. 1 Pet. 1:22-25). Only then will unfruitful arguments that discourage and divide become fruitful discussions that edify and unite. Only then will any resulting division truly be between light and darkness, truth and error and sinner from saint—division that Jesus declared must inevitably take place (Luke 12:51-53).
How Are We To Contend?
Jude says we are to “earnestly contend” for the faith. The root of the Greek word translated “earnestly contend” is agonizomai—which is where we get our English word agonize. We must learn to agonize for the faith. This entails fighting, striving and laboring (cf. Luke 13:24; John 18:36; 1 Cor. 9:25; Col. 1:29; 4:12; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7).
Failing to appreciate the weight of this exhortation has led to a general sense of apathy regarding the faith. Since we are not willing to agonize with ourselves and others over the faith, we cannot appreciate the zeal required to do so. Understanding the weight of this exhortation helps us to appreciate people of genuine conviction, even if that conviction differs from our conviction. Genuine conviction does not close hearts, but is borne of open hearts—through the refining process of epagonizomai (contending earnestly).
The very concept of contending for the faith implies zeal. Honest zeal will result in fruitful discussions. Dishonest zeal, or zeal not according to knowledge (cf. Rom. 10:2), will lead to fruitless discussions. Thus, if we contend without Bible knowledge, we are merely being contentious, which is to be avoided (Tit. 3:9).
Who Are We To Contend Against?
Jude acknowledges in verse 4 that “certain men have crept in unnoticed.” These men are false teachers and apostates. This is an unfortunate reality in Christianity (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:26-31; 1 Pet. 2:1-3; Gal. 1:6-9). However, it is important to recognize that “contending for the faith” is not about who is right and who is wrong—so much as it is about what is right and what is wrong! It is not about people—so much as it is about what people teach and practice (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-6). Loosing sight of this basic fact allows pride, fear, envy, and partiality to motivate us, rather than truth (cf. 1 Cor. 4:6).
On the other hand, truth seekers are motivated by humility, honesty, integrity and love. Those who love truth are not concerned about being wrong in the presence of men, but being right in the sight of God. They want “assurance” for their faith (1 John 3:19). They require the “oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). They will “gladly receive the word” of others and spend the time necessary to “search the Scriptures” to see if what is said is so (Acts 17:10-11). They will allow their convictions to be examined “to see whether they are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). They are interested in “rightly dividing the truth” because they do not want to be ashamed before God (2 Tim. 2:15). They “test the spirits,” not because they do not trust men, but because some men are not trustworthy (1 John 4:1). They prove all things and “hold fast to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9). When they are proven wrong, they will gladly accept correction and rejoice in God for the chastisement. Those who will not admit errors manifest other motives—impure motives that will inevitably condemn them.
Why Are We To Contend?
Jude’s necessity for exhorting them was founded in their “common salvation.” The implication that souls were at stake prompted this exhortation. Realizing that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), we must acknowledge that the one faith that we are to contend for is the very faith that saves us! Can we imagine any higher motivation?
Nevertheless, the very phrase “common salvation” flies in the face of modern religious practice, which implies many ways by which men can be saved. For every “church” today, there is a clearly defined “means of salvation.” Though many are not convicted enough to stand firmly on the point, it is evident that each “church” believes they are right and the others are wrong.
Yet, is there confusion in God’s word on this critical point or does the confusion lay with men? Is God’s word divided on this critical matter of salvation or is it simply that the doctrines of men are divided? Instead of contending for the faith, men are distinguishing their faith. This guarantees much compromise regarding “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).
It is imperative that we know what we are to contend for, how we are to contend for it and who we are to contend against. Every day souls will embrace one doctrine over another. Some do so knowingly. Others do so ignorantly. Only through contending for the faith will lost souls find that “common salvation” which God desires for all men (John 3:16; Mark 16:15-16; Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9).
The love of truth is what maintains unity, cultivates peace, and fires zeal in the hearts of God’s people. Only those who love truth will contend for the faith. Only those who are concerned about the common salvation of all men will heed Jude’s great exhortation. Only those whose hearts yearn for God will be earnest in this noble endeavor. Thus, don’t frown upon the faithful few who will contend, surround yourself with them. Make such your closest friends and companions. Remember the words of the wise man who wrote, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17). Let us all “earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).