“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.
These early apologists started a long line of intellectual inquiry and engagement that extends to the present day. 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 reliability of Scripture. As I have said repeatedly, the Christian faith has powerful intellectual supports. Some who cast aspersions, I am sure, do so to give themselves a patina of intellectual superiority. Gratefully, we have strong apologists who can engage them, 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 a minister. Or you just don’t seem to get much out of reading the Bible. Prayers seem hollow. Denominational bickering disgusts you. Etc. This 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!
Second, remember that faith, 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.
Third, as a practical matter, read the Scripture, pray, worship, sing hymns, and lead a life worthy of your calling. Serve and encourage one another. 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. The regular practice of spiritual disciplines is eternally valuable. Don’t give up on cherished and good traditions.
In the end, we are 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
October 23, 2011