In order to make applications from the text of Scripture to our own lives—which is an essential part of Christian living—it is necessary to identify what features of the biblical narrative or instruction are constant and what features change according to time and circumstance. If you are fighting devils with two horns in one era and one horn in another, then surely we should see that the devilry is the constant and the number of horns varies.
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Summary of the Text:
The writer of Jude, brother of James (and therefore brother of the Lord), wanted to write to his readers about the salvation that they shared in “common.” He was fully intending to write to them on that theme, but it soon became apparent to him that another duty was more pressing. He needed to write to them in order to exhort them to earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. The rest of the letter provides us with a fine example of what he meant by this. What does it look like to contend earnestly for the faith?
The word that lies beneath “contend earnestly” (agon) does not refer to a mild struggle, or to a tepid tut-tutting at minor forms of naughtiness. Rather the reference is to an epic clash, a mighty wrestling, the kind of thing that happens when there is an all-in commitment. Our modern word agonistical comes from this, and refers to combativeness in argument.
The faith was once delivered, but is repeatedly attacked. The tactics in these attacks are remarkably similar, and so our response should be similar to what Jude offers. Jude commands stiff resistance, and he sets a fine example for us.
Corruption from Within:
Certain men, whose condemnation was ordained from long ago, crept into the church right at the beginning of its life, and turned grace into permission to party. In one form or another, they have been with us constantly since that time. Not surprisingly, they also deny the Lord God and the Lord Jesus (v. 4). They are seeking to corrupt the church from within (v. 12) by participating in the Christians’ love feasts—while refusing to repent of their ignorant evil. They blaspheme things they don’t understand, and what they do understand, they only understand the way a rutting animal does.
They were guilty of the sin of Cain, the sin of Balaam, and the sin of Korah. These are, respectively, the sins of envy and hate, the sin of greed, and the sin of prideful ambition (v. 11).
The key characteristic of their vaunted style of life is its fruitlessness (vv. 12-13). They are clouds with no water, windswept bits of wispy nothings, trees with withered fruit, dead twice over, uprooted and fruitless—they are sea foam, burnt-out asteroids.
Another characteristic is that they are big talkers. They are murmurers. They are complainers. They have mouths that speak great swelling words (v. 16). They are mighty Internet trolls.
Now in order to contend earnestly, this is what we must be against.
If you compare the sins of verse 11 with the fruitlessness of vv. 12-13, you can see the essential elements of egalitarian socialism. I am using the political name for it deliberately, because one of the enemy’s key strategies is to give plain old sins fancy political names, and then to pretend that any Christians who speak to it are somehow “meddling with politics.” That is how murder became choice, and sodomy became gender fluidity.
If you are like Cain, Balaam, or Korah, you want things, and yet your branch is fruitless. You want abundant fruit, but you are a dry stick. The only way to resolve this dilemma is through stealing. Only you can’t call it stealing—people might notice—and so you call it appropriating a “fair share.” But it was Augustine who many years ago told the story of the pirate who was captured and brought before Alexander the Great, and who asked why he was called a pirate for doing to ships what Alexander did to countries, and yet was styled a great emperor. Every form of collectivism shipwrecks on the reef called “Thou shalt not steal.” Just as the prohibition of adultery presupposes and assumes the reality of marriage, so also the prohibition of stealing presupposes and assume the institution of private property.
The Meaning of Judgment:
Now keep in mind that the book of Jude was given to us so that God’s people would learn from it until the end of the world. So what do we need to learn in every generation? We must be brought into remembrance (v. 5). Remember what? We must remember God’s judgments.
The first judgment was how Israel was brought out of Egypt, and how the unbelievers within Israel were then destroyed in the wilderness (v. 5).
Another instance was how certain angels abandoned their proper estate (v. 6), and who were as a consequence reserved in chains in great darkness—held there until the judgment of the great day.
Those angels, Jude says, had been guilty of the same sin that resulted in the destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain, which is the third historical example of judgment (v. 7ff). That sin was fornication and the “going after strange flesh.” This means that the angels who left their proper estate were guilty some form of sexual lust, which most likely refers to the episode in Gen. 6.
Kept From Stumbling:
In opposition to all this, we set ourselves as beloved Christians, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus unto eternal life. This is how we are to live our lives. This is now we build ourselves up in our most holy faith—the same faith that was delivered once for all to the saints.
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 20-25).