We need to be aware of what the main things and the plain things are so that we can set theological alarms in our hearts and minds. Because these false teachers creep into our churches, our ministries, and our Christian schools, we need pay attention and measure everything we hear by the standard of God’s Word.
The end of the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom was a period when the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture were under vigorous attack. The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement faced ridicule, not from outsiders but from ministers of the church. During what became known as the Down-Grade Controversy, Charles Spurgeon recognized that God was being robbed of His glory and that men and women were being robbed of their hope. He wrote, “Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith.”1
Throughout history, the church has triumphantly withstood attacks from the outside. Far more threatening have been the threats from within, whether in the nineteenth century, the first century, or today. Contemporary evangelicalism is still confronted by those within the church who attack Scripture’s authority and sufficiency and ridicule essential doctrines.
The New Testament letter of Jude speaks to these circumstances. Arguably the most neglected of all of the New Testament books, this short letter calls us to be on guard and resist attempts to distort the Gospel message that has been entrusted to us.
An Urgent Appeal
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)
Jude, the author of this letter, was the “brother of James” (Jude 1) and so also the half-brother of Jesus according to the flesh (Matt. 13:53). Like James, though, he instead calls himself Christ’s “servant” (Jude 1; James 1:1). Jude had become a leader in the church, and he wrote out of a sense of concern for the church. He urged his readers “to contend for the faith”—not just faith in general but the objective truth of the Gospel that has been delivered to us and that we must believe to experience the Lord’s redemption and salvation.
The import of the phrase “once for all” is that the Gospel handed down to the apostles was complete and exactly what God intended for the church. It was not to be added to, tampered with, or diluted. It is the Gospel that God Himself delivered to us.
The sad truth, though, is that Jude’s urgent appeal is still necessary in our modern church context. Key biblical doctrines are not preached faithfully in all “evangelical” churches today. For example, certain churchgoers and ministers alike find the idea of God exercising wrath to be morally repugnant. They may sing, “O the deep, deep love of Jesus!”2 but never such lyrics as “On the cross when Jesus died, the wrath of God is satisfied.”3 They say, “God is not a violent God. He is opposed to violence! He could not plan from all eternity to do such a thing to His Son—never mind what the Scriptures say about God’s settled opposition to sin.”
When pastors and church leaders go astray, it’s because they have already gone wrong on the doctrine of Scripture. But the Christian faith is not an intellectual sandbox in which any view may be entertained just so long as the insight does not claim finality. It is “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” and we have not right to change it to suit our tastes.
Set the Alarms!
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)