“DEAR FRIENDS, ALTHOUGH I WAS VERY EAGER to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men” (Jude 1:3–4). Observe:
(1) Sometimes it is right to contend for the faith. That is not always the way forward, of course: more often the primary emphasis must be on proclamation, articulating, and rearticulating the whole counsel of God. Sometimes a gentle answer or earnest entreaty will prove the wiser course. But here, Jude urges his readers to contend for the faith.
(2) That for which we must contend is the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. The place where the faith is being attacked in such cases is bound up with some stance that describes itself as “progressive,” “contemporary,” or “avant-garde”—but which is inevitably prepared to sacrifice something that “was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Of course, sometimes the latter is nothing more than an appeal to unwarranted tradition, but that is not what is going on in this case. Here the “progressivists” are sacrificing something that has been essential to the Gospel from the very beginning.
(3) In some cases, contending for the faith (which is not to be confused with being contentious about the faith) is the most urgent thing to do. That is why Jude can openly admit he had hoped to write something else, but felt compelled to apply himself to this more urgent task. However discomfiting, when essential truth is being denied, and the denial is being believed by rising numbers, strategic wisdom foregoes other ministry for a while and focuses on the immediate pressing danger.
(4) The need for the firmest contention usually arises when the heretical voices arise in the church. When those who oppose the truth are outside the church, then although some Christians must respond to their various arguments (perhaps for evangelistic purposes), there is no urgency about contending for the faith once entrusted to the saints. Once such people manage to slip inside the church, however, so that many naive Christians accept their teaching without perceiving it to be pernicious, firm contention is inevitable. Such people must not only be refuted, but disciplined—and the latter cannot be accomplished without the former.
(5) The peculiar godlessness Jude confutes in this case is some perverse reading of the Gospel that transmutes it into “a license for immorality” (Jude 1:4). Any reading of the Gospel that promotes immorality or denies the efficacy of Jesus’ salvation must be wrong and dismissed as godless.