Delivered for Good
When someone asks me where I’m from, I usually answer, “The Midwest” because I’ve lived in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana at one point or another. If they ask, “Where in the midwest?” I usually say Wisconsin, since I spent the longest there. When I mention Wisconsin, the response is always the same. It’s not about cheese, beer, or the Packers (thankfully), but about the weather. “It’s cold there.” That’s what they say every time. “It’s cold there.” Some things are inseparable. Wisconsin and the cold. They go together.
The same is true with Christianity and faith. You can’t separate one from the other. They are bound so tightly together, they cannot be unraveled.
Garden of Eden: It starts back in the Garden of Eden, when God gave Adam and Eve one command. If they obeyed His command, they would live, but if they disobeyed, they would die. Then a serpent came and told them not to believe what God said. They acted in unbelief, disobeyed God, and brought mankind under a curse.
Abraham: The story of Abraham. God promised to make Abraham the father of a people as numerous as the stars in the sky. How did Abraham respond? (Genesis 15:6 ESV) And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Israel: From Abraham came the nation of Israel. What are they known for? Their unbelief. Time after time, generation after generation, they ignored what God said, and chose to trust corrupt leaders and foreign kings instead of God.
The Just Shall Live by Faith: The prophets of Israel warned the people about their unbelief, reminding them of the story of Abraham. They told them, “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
John 3:16: The importance of faith continues in the New Testament. The most famous verse in the Bible says: (John 3:16 ESV) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Hebrews 11:6: There’s an entire chapter about faith that begins with the story of Adam’s son Abel and traces the need for faith up to the present moment. It states clearly, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
You cannot separate Christianity and faith, and we all know this. If we know this, so does the Devil. Which means his successful attacks on Christianity probably won’t come from atheists. Very few professing Christians are susceptible to that type of frontal assault on faith. We aren’t tempted to look at it, and say “God doesn’t exist and faith is worthless.” The attacks on faith will be far more subtle.
For instance, I think it would be very difficult to convince a builder that they don’t need a foundation. If they had any experience at all, they would know you have to build a foundation. What you might be able to do is convince them to build a different kind of foundation—maybe it’s a new material that’s supposed to better or an updated design that costs less but is reportedly stronger. Christians aren’t going to jettison faith, but they might put their faith in the wrong thing—a new thing, an updated thing. This is how the attacks come, and this is what the short book of Jude warns us about.
The faith is always under attack, but the most dangerous attacks are not full frontal assaults. They are subtle and sneaky. They don’t come from someone wearing a different color uniform, but someone who looks and sounds like a teammate. Over the next four weeks we’re going to look at this book which gives us one main command—contend for the faith—to see and understand what the faith is, how the attacks come, and why we must contend against them.
(Jude 1–4 ESV) 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.  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.
Today we’re going to ask three questions about contending for the faith.
Who needs to contend for the faith?
The simple answer to the question is “the saints.” The saints need to contend for the faith. But Jude begins his letter by describing the saints in great detail, and the detail helps us better understand who we are. Knowing who we are provides strength and courage to contend for the faith. Who are the saints?
The saints are those beloved by God (v.1).
There is a group of people God loves to such a depth and degree that He called them to Himself. The love of God so defines us as His people that it becomes a term of endearment repeated four times in this short letter.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a nickname, specifically one that’s a term of endearment, but it signifies a special relationship. A relationship that’s not shared by others. There’s a married couple I know that call each other “Darling” and “Love.” They do it all the time. In fact, I never hear them address each other by their first name. It’s startling, almost to the point of being obnoxious, but one thing is certain: they love each other. And they only use those terms for each other. They don’t call anyone else (thankfully) “Darling.”
If you are a Christian, God has called you into His family and into His service, and you are so dear to Him that He calls you His beloved. He looks at you, and says, “My beloved one.”
The saints are those belonging to Jesus (v.1: “kept for Jesus”).
There have been a few times when we’ve made the boys purge their room. Too much stuff has collected, and it’s time to get rid of some of the worthless junk. When we’ve done it, we’ve had them divide their belongings into three piles: toss, keep, and not sure. If they know they don’t want it, it goes in the toss pile where we will either trash it or donate it. If they care about it, it goes in the keep pile, and then if they need guidance, it goes in the not sure pile.
Every Christian has been given by God to Jesus. Jesus says in John 6: “All that the Father has given me will come to me.” Jesus never trashes a gift from His Father. None of His people—those who belong to Him—are ever moved out of the Keep pile. No sin, no weakness, no failure will ever cause Jesus to look at one who belongs to Him and move them to the Toss pile. Maybe your sin makes you wonder if you’re in the Not Sure pile, as if Jesus can’t really want you. No, never. Those who have been called and loved by the Father, will be kept by the Son.
This is the ground of our confidence. The book of Jude begins by assuring us we are kept by Jesus and ends famously with the reminder that there is only one who can “keep us from stumbling.” Jesus is the one. We belong to Him, and nothing will ever change that.
The saints are those blessed with mercy, love, and peace (v.2).
The Father loves us, and Jesus keeps us. And in their love and care, they pour out mercy, love, and peace on us. We are like kids on a perpetual Christmas morning. Day after day, our Father wants to bless us with extravagant gifts.
Jude doesn’t just ask that mercy, peace, and love be given to us, but that they are multiplied to us. We understand the difference between addition and multiplication. Addition is much slower that multiplication. Addition is what happens in our bank account, while multiplication is what happens on our credit card bill.
So, the saints are those beloved by God, belonging to Jesus, and blessed with mercy, peace, and love. And to the saints is given the command to contend for the faith. The faith we contend for is foundational to our own identity. We didn’t earn God’s love. We didn’t negotiate a place in Jesus’ affection. We didn’t purchase mercy or barter for peace. We simply believed God, put our faith in Him and not ourselves, and He poured out His undeserved love and blessing on us.
It’s important for us to start here with a reminder of our identity as Christians. Your identity—not your talent, character, position, or circumstances—is the single most important thing about you. What do you feel is the most important thing about you? What is the one thing—if you lost it—would most damage your view of yourself? When we’re young, it’s often the way we look or feel. But that will be lost. As we get older, it becomes talent and success, but those will disappear too. Then it’s family, relationships, memories. All things that fade. What is the one thing that never changes? Who Christ says you are. Your identity in Him, Christian, is the single most important and unchanging thing about you.
The author of this letter was a man named Jude. He doesn’t say much about himself individually. He say he’s a servant of Jesus, a pretty common description of a Christian, and then he says he’s the brother of James, who pastored the church in Jerusalem. What he doesn’t say is that he’s the half-brother of Jesus. Mary was his mother and Joseph his father. Why does he omit this? I can’t be certain, but I think it could be because he knows his spiritual identity is more important than his physical identity. Being related to Jesus by faith is far superior to being related to Jesus by genetics.
Who we are in Christ guides what we contend for and how we contend. Christians are tempted to contend for lots of things. We see many Christians contending most passionately for a political candidate or contending for their own right to self-govern or contending for their personal preferences. At the same time expending little time or energy contending for the faith. Why do Christians spend hours watching cable news and reading social media, but little time in the Bible?
How we understand who we are—our fundamental identity as a Christian—guides what we contend for, and it governs how we contend. If mercy, peace, and love are being multiplied to us, shouldn’t it come out in the way we speak to and about others? Christians should be able to contend for the faith without being contentious. We should be humble, gracious, kind and winsome. Not weak or cowardly, but always meek and merciful.
Who needs to contend for the faith? Those who through faith belong to Jesus and experience His innumerable blessings.
How do we contend for the faith?
First we must see where the attacks come from. They don’t primarily come from outside the church, but from within. Verse 4 says “certain people have crept in.” Crept in where? To the church. The most dangerous attacks use biblical terminology and call themselves Bible studies.
They come in “unnoticed,” which means they don’t look dangerous or even exotic. They look good. They’re appealing. They make sense. Jude is not warning us about a cartoon villain. It’s always easy to pick out the cartoon villain, right? He looks like a bad guy. He dresses like a villain, speaks with a scary voice, and from the moment he appears on the screen, you know he’s bad. That’s intentional. Children need it to be obvious. They lack the ability to discern more subtle and deadly dangers. Jude was motivated by the Holy Spirit to write this warning because the greatest attacks on the faith are the subtle ones.
What is the subtle attack that so often infiltrates the church? It’s this: grace means no boundaries.
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 ESV).
The apostle Paul was confronting this same type of attack when he wrote: “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). His answer was “Absolutely not. God forbid that we think grace gives us a license to sin.” But this attack snares so many.
Historically we see it in 1 Corinthians 5, where one member of a church is living immorally with his stepmother. The rest of the church allows this to happen under the guise of freedom in Christ. They think they are loving and tolerant when they’re instead perverting the grace of God into sensuality.
In our time we see this happening in many ways, but none so profound as the battle over marriage and homosexuality in the church. Whole denominations are looking at the clear commands of Scripture that marriage is between one man and one woman and, using the terminology of grace, are twisting it to approve sexual sin. Last year, I sat down with a minister of one of the largest churches in town, and he told me about the debate happening within the United Methodist Church over homosexuality. He believed that they were on the verge of adopting a fully inclusive stance.
Understand what they are saying. They are not simply saying anyone can come to Jesus. We say that. In fact, we plead with everyone to come to Jesus. They are saying anyone can come to Jesus without repenting of their sin. They just do it by reinterpreting what sin is. They pervert (or twist) God’s grace into a free pass for sensuality.
I want to make sure I say this. If you are struggling with same sex attraction, there is grace for you. You are welcome here, and you are welcome to come to Jesus. His arms are open wide. But the message of Jesus, which we just studied in Matthew’s gospel is “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent, turn from your sin. Every single Christian in this room had to repent in order to come to Jesus. It’s not easy to repent, but Jesus gives grace, not to affirm our sin, but to give us victory over it.
There are other ways people are perverting grace into sensuality. Sex outside of marriage is sin. It’s destructive and harmful. Many young Christian couples think it’s okay because they love each other, but they don’t realize they are sinning against each other. And the fruit of that sin will be tasted in future years. There are Christians looking at pornography and justifying it for various reasons. Listen, please, brothers and sisters. Grace is greater than sin, not by excusing it or overlooking it, but by crushing it through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Grace teaches us to deny sin and ungodliness and live righteously.
How does this error enter the church? It’s extremely clear that the Bible never endorses or excuses sex outside of marriage or homosexuality. So how does it happen? I think it often happens under the guise of progress. In fact, that’s one of the current religious buzzwords. Churches describe themselves as progressive.
Hear this: Christianity doesn’t evolve or progress. The faith was delivered “once for all” (v.3). It came as a complete package. It wasn’t released episode by episode. Christianity doesn’t need to progress. It’s always far ahead of culture. I want you to try and imagine something. Imagine a city where every single citizen loved their neighbor as much as they loved themselves. Would that city be more or less progressive than our current cities? It would be far more progressive. Christianity doesn’t change, but it is always changing cultures.
Underneath the attack on grace is a greater attack on God’s authority. The battle over homosexuality is not ultimately a battle about love or grace, but a battle over who has the authority to write the rules. Verse 4 says when certain people twist grace into sensuality, they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” That’s what this attack is really about. It’s about self-rule. It’s a way of saying, “If I were God, this is how I would do it.” And that’s only a small step away from simply saying, “I’m God. I make the rules for me.”
Attacks on biblical teaching start small, and they have one goal. To chip away at the Lordship of Christ until we are fully autonomous. When we read the Bible and start to accommodate the teaching to what we think or how we feel, we are walking down a dangerous path. You see, this faith that is under attack was delivered to the saints. Where did it come from? It came from God. To mess with the content of the faith is to say God doesn’t know what He’s doing. I know what’s best for my life.
Self-rule and self-determination are antithetical to faith. Faith is trusting God instead of yourself. But when you start to deny the Bible because it doesn’t fit your understanding of God, you have stopped trusting God and started to trust yourself. You’ve set yourself up as God.
Let me illustrate what I mean. A friend of mine pastors a church that calls itself “inclusive.” That’s the word they use to signal that sexual sin must not be repented of in order to follow Jesus. I watched a video he produced explaining how he arrived at the decision to reinterpret the Bible to fit his evolving views. In the video, he said he stopped asking where Jesus is and instead started asking where the light was because he knew wherever the light was, he would find Jesus. That sounds good, except it makes my friend the judge of what’s light. I don’t ask where the light is so I can go find Jesus because I understand that I have no ability to perceive the light apart from Jesus. I look to Jesus, because not only is He the light, but because it’s only by Him I can understand what light is.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to this: who’s in charge? Who sets the rules? Who is the master? The way to answer this question is to ask: does Jesus determine my understanding of grace, love, and righteousness or does my understanding of grace, love, and righteous determine how I understand Jesus? The final judge is either what Jesus says or what I think He should say. There can be only one master.
I do think we need to be careful here. One reason people pervert grace—they say grace removes boundaries—is because they don’t see or experience true grace from Christians. Instead of weeping with them over sin, we stand back and judge them. That’s not grace. Instead of entering brokenness with kindness, we condemn it from afar. That’s not grace. A lack of grace from Christians drives people to a twisted version of grace.
We need to show a better way. Grace empowers us to live as God commands, so the way we love our neighbors is not to minimize what God commands. Everything God commands is good for the flourishing of mankind. Which is more loving? A parent telling their child not to touch the hot stove or convincing them the hot stove won’t harm them. A parent forbidding their child to run into the street or affirming their child’s choice to sprint into traffic. Grace holds tightly what God says with a humble confidence that it’s always the best option.
Who needs to contend for the faith? Those who belong to Jesus. How do we contend for the faith? By not altering, adjusting or editing what Jesus delivered to us.
Why do we contend for the faith?
That’s a simple answer: the faith is the difference between salvation and condemnation. Those who belong to Jesus share a common salvation (v.3); those who deny Jesus as Master are designated for condemnation (v.4). The faith is not a new, ever-evolving idea, but the dividing line of humanity from the very beginning. Life and death, salvation and damnation, heaven and hell hang in the balance.
The issue at stake is whether we believe God or not, whether we trust God or ourselves. The “faith once for all delivered” is nothing less than God’s Word to us, on which God’s reputation is staked. If we don’t believe it or if we think it needs to be adjusted, then we don’t believe God. We believe we know better. Friend, this is not only foolishness, but rebellion.
The God of the universe is not only your Creator, but He is the only reason you are taking a breath at this moment. In spite of His kindness to you, you (like all of us) have rebelled against Him, breaking His law repeatedly. In His grace, He has provided a way for you to be forgiven of your rebellion and reconciled to Him. He gave up His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place, so that our sins would be paid for and our record expunged. All He requires from us is to turn from rebellion and unbelief, and place our full confidence in His Word, His promise, and ultimately, His Son. If you reject His grace, there’s no turning back, no escape. The full fury of His righteous judgment will be poured out on you.
Brothers and sisters, we contend for the faith because it’s the only way of salvation. If your home caught fire and there was only one safe exit, you wouldn’t let your family members ignore it and look for another way. You would grab them, pull them, push them toward the exit. You wouldn’t sit in the middle of the flames and debate alternatives. We contend for the faith because the lives of those we love are on the line.
You see, we’re not just contending for our own faith, but for each other’s faith as well. This is why we cannot let people drift away from church as if it doesn’t matter. This is why we make such a big deal about church membership. We care about each other, and we recognize the danger that is constantly lurking.
Listen, this is why we can’t shy away from difficult conversations. Notice the letter Jude wanted to write (v.3). He was eager to write an uplifting letter about the beauty and wonder of salvation. Jude wanted to write a touching letter from home, but he was forced to draft orders from high command. When a burglar has broken into your home, you don’t take time for leisurely conversation. Friends, we can’t be content with small talk every Sunday. Small talk has a place, but it should not have priority.
This Covid season is especially difficult because it’s harder than ever to know if someone is drifting away from Christ and His church. Normally, if someone doesn’t show up for a few weeks, it’s noticed, and in love, someone checks on them. “What’s going on? How are you doing? What’s happening in your life and family right now?” We don’t do this to be nosy, but because we are contending for their faith. We’re taking our covenant with them seriously—we promise to protect each other’s faith. But it’s hard right now. It’s hard to know. Phone calls, emails, and text messages help, but it’s not the same as face to face conversation. In this season, we need to be extra vigilant about the faith—both ours and others.
Last week, I made what may end up being a terrible decision. I signed up myself and Max, my 15-year old son, for a Spartan race. A Spartan race is a 3-mile race with 20 obstacles spread throughout the course. Thankfully, it’s not until April, so I have some time to prepare. Why did I sign up? That’s a good question. One I’ve been asking myself. The answer is because difficult and unpleasant things—like training for an obstacle race—have value. Most worthwhile goals require us to do something hard. Good things are rarely easy. But crossing that finish line with my son—he may be dragging me across—will be worth it.
The Christian life is a bit like an obstacle course. It’s difficult. There are unpleasant moments, and we may need someone to drag us for awhile. We contend for the faith—both ours and others—because we know who’s waiting for us at the finish line. We know any pain, any suffering, any frustration will not matter to us when we stumble across that line and fall into the arms of Jesus, where we belong.
My hope and prayer for each of you this year is that you will not stop running, you will not stop trusting Jesus, and you will not let those around you stop either. With grace and humility, let’s believe what Jesus said without question, without hesitation, until we see Him face to face.