“Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3
Jude wrote his letter to warn churches against the influence of false teachers, a common problem in the early church and not so uncommon today. These “grumblers, malcontents, loud mouthed boasters” (v. 16) taught a perversion of grace (v. 4) and practiced a licentious lifestyle (v. 7).
In response, Jude appealed to Christians to “contend for the faith.” The word for contend is built on the word for “agony.” The stakes were high. The effort would need to be intense.
An apologist is someone who makes a defense. These early Christian apologists started a long line of intellectual inquiry and engagement that continues today. We need good Christians who will fight for the faith, define it, identify threats to it, and encourage Christians to embrace the teaching of the New Testament. They battle on behalf of the entire church body.
This “corporate” defense of the faith has a personal dimension also, and that is what I want to address in this week’s GraceWaves. Individually we face many challenges to believe. It may come in the form of a clever argument against the resurrection or authority of Scripture.
For example, occasionally I run across someone who has heard or read about The Jesus Seminar, a collection of scholars who have reduced Jesus’ teaching to a few Farmer’s Almanac proverbs and dismiss His divine nature and atonement. They appear to have a presupposition that the miracles are contrived, and if that is your presupposition then it’s easy to see why they think Jesus was just a meandering prophet who benefitted from an incredibly successful marketing campaign.
They are successful at making doubt and denial look like the intelligent option. For the record, let me affirm that equally intelligent and equally qualified people have looked at the same evidence and come away with the conviction that Jesus is who He claimed to be. Gratefully, we have strong apologists who can engage and refute these challenges, and thus help the church at large to embrace “the faith.”
Much more common, however, is the doubt that creeps in because of personal disappointment. You have suffered some hard blows. You are disappointed in a church. Or you just don’t seem to get much out of reading the Bible. Prayers seem hollow. Denominational bickering disgusts you. Doctrines confuse. These affects “your faith.”
I know a great many Christians who, because of long-running doubt, have set the bar so low that they expect little and receive less. You may be one of these Christians. Doubt has lodged in your heart. What can you do?
First, do not embrace doubt as a virtue. Doubt is a challenge to be faced. It is a reality, a “black dog” of the spiritual life. But the fact that it is a common problem does not mean doubt should become a self-justifying excuse. Yes, you may have doubt; and yes, we all do sometimes, but that is all the more reason to contend for your faith! In other words, don’t let the seed of doubt root its way into your soul. Fight it!
How? Remember that faith, and growing faith, is both a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23) and a gift of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:9). Ask God to help you. The Spirit loves to remind us and encourage us! That is His task. God does not expect you to manufacture faith on your own. He expects you to exercise it, like a muscle, and grow stronger in the process. If you haven’t worked your faith in a while, start again by calling for the Spirit’s help.
Probably the most important step you can take is to talk to a Christian who appears to have what you desire. Go for coffee and tell this person of your struggles. An honest believer will share his or her own struggles. You’ll discover that you’re not alone. You’ll also have someone to pray for you, and if you can’t pray it’s wonderful to have someone do that for you!
Other practical matters include the usual. Read the Scripture, pray, worship, sing hymns, and lead a life worthy of your calling. Serve and encourage someone else. The Biblical word for faith has a strong element of perseverance in it. See Hebrews 11 for a list of people who kept believing. When challenged, do not fling away from what you know is right and good.
Faith senses subtlety. That is especially important because the world shouts, the ego screams, and God whispers. Sometimes it’s just plain hard to believe. That’s the point where you may want to give up. Let’s change that to the point where you contend for your faith.
In the end, we’re all like the father who came to Jesus pleading for his son’s healing: “I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We are all schizophrenic mixtures who need regular reminders that God does help us to believe, and at the same time urges us to fight for our faith. This week’s GraveWaves is your reminder. Contend for your faith.
Dr. Terry Ellis