The Faith entrusted once for all

Reading: Jude
Probably all of us, at some time or another, have suffered from unintentional diversion.

Perhaps we have gone shopping and have come back home with a bag full of groceries - but without the essential ingredient that had sent us to the shop in the first place. Or we have phoned someone and had a wonderful conversation. On hanging up, we remember what we meant to ask them!

But there are other times when uninvited circumstances change our plan of action.

The other day some relatives dropped by for a visit - with a badly leaking radiator core. A phone call first thing in the morning advised they would be coming - the car radiator was not the purpose of the visit! It was the uninvited circumstance that changed somewhat the nature of the visit.

The Faith entrusted once for all

Jude, presumed to be one of the brothers of Jesus, had a great desire to reach out with the gospel to all and sundry in the community about him. He wanted to encourage his fellow-Christians to do the same.

We are described as "To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ" and greeted with "mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance" (vv. 1-2).

But the nature of Jude's letter had to change. Instead of writing "about the salvation we share", he felt the need of writing to "urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (v. 3).

Six years ago, after the Assembly in Perth, our then President, John Mavor, wrote to all ministers urging that we put behind us the issue of homosexual blessing and ordination and get on with the Church's central task - evangelism. Three weeks ago a small group of ministers and church members met in Townsville with our new President, Dean Drayton, to listen to him and to express our deep disquiet about the decisions made at the recent Assembly in Melbourne. Dean has been long involved in evangelism and would also like the Uniting Church to get back to this priority.

And evangelism must be at the heart of the Church's task. Yet the homosexual issue strikes at the heart of evangelism. Abandon "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" - as the King James Version put it - and we end up with no evangel, no good news to share with the needy world.

Usually in the New Testament the word "faith" refers to trust in the saving work of God in Christ which brings us redemption. Such faith/trust continues to characterise the Christian life. Here, however, it refers to a body of doctrine - to the truth that God has revealed through the written word of Scripture and through Jesus the Son of God, the living Word.

The Christian faith is not a human invention - God has entrusted it once for all to his people. We do not always understand it aright, but what has been given is not to be tampered with. Instead it is to be proclaimed, to be fought for. The Greek word in fact is a strong form of the verb from which our word "agonise" comes.

Charles Spurgeon used to say, "The truth is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself." There is an important principle here. Yet Spurgeon lived in an age when the basic authority of the Scriptures was acknowledged in the church. Our situation is much closer to that in which Jude wrote. Michael Green comments that "the defence of this faith will be costly and agonising; the cost of being unfashionable, the agony of seeking to express the faith in a way that is really comprehensible to contemporary man."

False Teachers

Jude goes on to spell out the danger of false teachers who had crept into the church, "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (v. 4).

It is one thing to "contend for the faith" in the context of a pagan world. It was especially painful to Jude that these were people professing to be Christians. We are reminded of the dramatic point in the play, Julius Caesar, when the conspirators stab Caesar, Brutus striking the last blow (Act 3, Scene 1). Caesar says, "Et tu, Brute?" - "even you, Brutus?" Betrayal had come from closest friends.

Jude describes these people as "godless" - that is what their teaching and actions have revealed them to be. They had "secretly slipped in among you" - at first there was nothing that might suggest they were other than genuine Christian disciples.

In the Sermon on the Mount, we hear the warning of Jesus himself, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them" (Mt. 7.15-16a).

Specifically, Jude describes these persons "who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality". They were claiming that God's grace gave them the freedom to practise whatever immoral acts their flesh might desire.

Again in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' " (Mt. 7.21-23). In spite of all their fine words of profession, the people of whom Jude writes "reject Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord".

Ray Stedman has noted, "This same idea is being promulgated in our own day. People from within the church are saying we have progressed beyond these old-fashioned Biblical ideas against licentiousness and immorality, and that we now have a new morality. It is based on the Christian theme of love. If you love someone, they say, it does not make any difference what you do with them. Love justifies anything. This is an exact duplicate of this first century heresy that called forth such condemnation from Jude." (Contending for the Faith", 1968)

Divine Judgment

Jude goes on to warn about the certainty of divine judgment. Those who cheapen "grace" into divine "niceness" had better beware. A mixed bag of people all experienced miraculous release from slavery in Egypt, but the unbelieving among them were later destroyed. The angels who disobeyed face judgment. Sodom and Gomorrah, known for their sexual immorality and perversion were not only destroyed by fire but "They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire" (vv. 5-7).

Like Sodom and Gomorrah, these people "pollute their own bodies". They are like the unbelieving Israelites who rejected the authority of both Moses and Yahweh. They "slander celestial beings" like the rebellious angels. They "have visions" - they are "dreamers", quite unrealistic in thinking their ways will bring satisfaction.

Jude goes on, "These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm - shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted - twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever… These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage… These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit" (vv. 12-13, 16, 19).

Encouragement

My friends, God's true grace is available - the grace that took Jesus Christ to the cross for human sin. We live in days when we need to hear afresh Jude's warning. But, positively, we need to heed his word of encouragement - "But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life" (vv. 20-21).

The "faith which was once for all entrusted to the saints" (v. 3) is a "most holy faith". To be built up in it will lead to spiritual wholeness and holiness. Pray "out of hearts and souls that are indwelt, illuminated, and filled with the Holy Spirit", as George Lawrence Lawlor puts it. Just as Jesus told us to remain in his love (Jn 15.19-20), so Jude is saying "keep yourselves in God's love". We are to remain in fellowship with God. And we are to live expectantly for the fulness of God's presence at the return of Christ.

And finally…

By now Jude's readers may well have been asking, Who will deliver us from this serious situation which has begun to afflict the church? Jude gives the answer in a glorious doxology.

"To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!" (vv. 24-25).

The one whose revelations and actions are at the heart of the faith given once for all to his people - he is the only hope for all Christian people, past, present and future. We put our confidence in him. We lay our lives before him and acknowledge his "glory, majesty, power and authority". Amen!


© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 31 August 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

Back to Sermons