General Assembly

Contending for the faith

Submitted by Rev Hector Morrison on 26th May 2016

I am not at the GA this year, nor was I able to follow Saturday’s debate on the internet, but I was deeply saddened that our church – by a substantial, 20% margin – chose to turn its back on the plain teaching of Jesus regarding marriage, however that reality may have been photo-shopped in the process.

I suspect that further significant theological battles lie ahead in the coming years – there is no quick fix or short-term solution to our church’s spiritual malaise – and I can fully understand that there may be those who are simply fed-up and who will choose to leave the church at this time.

However, many of us still feel called to continue to battle for the soul of the Church of Scotland, and for such, no doubt, a considered statement from CFS will appear post-Assembly – the Trustees meet next Monday. Meantime, I share here a potted version of a sermon I preached around this time last year as part of the inaugural round of CFS meetings in the north of Scotland. It is about ‘contending for the faith’ from Jude.

As Jude contemplated writing to the church, his desire (v 3a) was to share with them a message about the great theme of salvation. But, when he got round to it he found himself rather urging them (v 3b) ‘to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.’ This was because the church of his day had been infiltrated by (v 4) ‘godless men, who change the grace of God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.’ And, as both the OT Prophets and Jesus himself taught, every generation of the church will face challenges to biblical doctrine or biblical morality, or often to a combination of both, so that we too need to ‘contend for the faith’ in our own day.

But how are we to ‘contend for the faith’? Here, it’s important that we recognise the way in which this letter is constructed, because Jude does not immediately go on to show us what contending for the faith involves. Instead, from v 5 to v 19, he highlights the fact that we will all be brought to the place of judgement by the Lord: ‘The Lord is coming … to judge everyone.’ That includes me so that I must live my life and exercise my ministry in the light of that sobering thought. Judgement is not ours to make or to bring. We must always leave that with the Lord, who is infinitely more patient than us. We must ‘contend for the faith’ as those who ourselves must at last give an account.

It is only in verses 20-23 that Jude comes back at last to expand on what is involved in contending for the faith. There he highlights for us 6 or 7 elements, from which I want to distil a number of general principles.

Notice, firstly, how overwhelmingly positive these 6 or 7 elements are. This is important because far too often Christians have contended for the faith in an almost totally negative, condemnatory and judgemental way. That is certainly not what Jude had in mind. Look, for example, at his emphasis on up-building (v 20), by teaching the faith. Yes, that will include the bible’s teaching on judgement, but above all it will be gospel, good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone on the basis of the finished work of Christ alone. We need to contend for the gospel by sharing with all who will receive it the richly nourishing food of Christ, the Bread of heaven, so that hungry souls will be fed.

The second principle is how completely God-centred our contending is to be. It must flow out of our on-going experience of the love of God, the Father, by (v 21) ‘keeping ourselves in the love of God’. That ‘love of God’ which is the source of life, salvation and hope is also the fountainhead out of which our energy for contending for the faith will come. We cannot contend properly for the faith if we do not keep ourselves rooted in the profound depths of the love of God into which he alone has brought us. But Jude also reminds us (v 20) that we are to pray over the battle – for battle it is – ‘in the Spirit’; i.e., as those who have the Spirit of God; as those who are led, endued and empowered by the Spirit of God, that Spirit who knows the mind of the Lord and can teach us to pray in line with his mind, will and purpose. And, furthermore, Jude also reminds us that we are to contend for the faith as those (v 21) who have our eyes fixed on the future goal; those who are awaiting ‘the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring [us] to eternal life’. Without the love of God the Father, without the mercy of Jesus Christ his Son, our Saviour, without the ministry of his Holy Spirit we cannot contend for the faith; but, from our wonderfully God-centred position, at home in the love of the Father, the mercy of the Son, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit we are endowed with all we require to contend for the faith, and to bring us safely at last to eternal life.

The third principle of contending for the faith is that our contending should be God-like in its saving actions. Verses 22-23 show how we, who have received and experienced the mercy of Christ, are to move towards others clothed in that same mercy, the reference to ‘those who doubt’ most likely being to those within the church whose faith has been troubled/ knocked/ shaken by the false teachers and who don’t quite know what to believe, and there are likely to be many such in our denomination today through the length and breadth of our land. How are we to be merciful to them? By snatching them from the fire and saving them. Let’s not abandon those who have been thrown into doubt and danger by the false teachers, rather, (v 23) let us ‘snatch [them] from the fire and save them’ – from false teachers and teachings, and ultimately from judgement itself. These might not be the elements of the message of salvation that Jude would have preferred to speak about (v 3a), but they are, nevertheless, part of that great message.

‘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! Amen.’

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