Defending the faith is a vital part of making Christ known. It's also the most controversial among Christians. To some it's too confrontational, to some unnecessary. To the apostle, though, it was essential:
"Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 3-4).
Notice what Jude says here. He wanted to write to his readers about our salvation! Instead he had to send them a timely warning – be prepared to defend the faith. He says “contend” for the faith. What does he mean? He means to fight for the faith. He wants us to strain, struggle, sweat; this word is the root for our word “agonize.”
Why did he write this to them? Because people had slipped into their church who were false teachers – they were perverting the teaching of God’s grace and denying that Christ is who he is.
Jude’s instruction to them was to stand up to these false teachers. He’s not telling us to be contentious, but we must, gracefully, protect the faith. What is “the faith?” It is the teaching of Jesus and the apostles that has been handed down.
It’s interesting to compare Jude’s world to ours. The Church was born in a time of great religious diversity. There were at least four great philosophical movements, a variety of cults, a number of local traditional religions, and pressure from the state to conform to the approved religious practices. There were atheists, pantheists, monotheists, and polytheists. There were those who said that you had to follow their religion, and there were syncretists who said all religions were basically the same. In short, Jude’s world was a lot like ours.
In the history of the church, there were literally a thousand years where a person could go his whole life without meeting someone who didn’t at least claim to be a Christian. That day is gone. We live in a world with great religious diversity, and like the early church, we have people who are trying to bring that religious diversity into the Church. Jude says, “Don’t let them!”
To successfully contend for the faith, we have to know what we believe and why. Based on the errors Jude describes these false teachers spreading, we can identify two fields of study in this matter: theology and apologetics. By theology, I mean knowing what we believe and why based on the scriptures – for example, knowing the proper teachings regarding grace. By apologetics, I mean knowing why we believe, the foundation for what we believe, based on scriptural and non-scriptural information – for example, knowing the biblical and extra-biblical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.
Jude was not writing to pastors – he was writing to simple believers. Every believer has a scriptural mandate to study to be able to defend the faith. Besides that scriptural mandate, there are other reasons to prepare yourself to defend the faith.
We talked about the fact that we are here to represent Christ – we are His ambassadors. We cannot represent Him effectively unless we know His position on the matter at hand. Can you imagine the ambassador to the UN from the US going into a vote without knowing the president’s stand on the issue? Our job as an ambassador for Christ requires that we have at least a basic familiarity with theology.
There was a time when the average believer was an amateur theologian. It was considered important for everyone to know the nature of God and the nature of salvation and things like that. Then, a couple of hundred years ago, people started leaving that stuff to the preacher. And now we are in a situation where the preacher can get up in front of his congregation and teach completely unscriptural things, and no one calls him on it because no one knows. A.W. Tozer said,
"It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right living. As men do not gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles, so sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching."Sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching. We’ve got a lot of unsound teaching running around today, and I think we can see it in the character of many Christians today – Christians who are representing Christ rather badly to the world around them.
Based on the message of Jude and on the nature of our calling as an ambassador, we all need to have a basic knowledge of theology and apologetics. We also have an obligation to study to defend the faith based on our calling as witnesses of the Gospel. When we share the gospel with people, it is always possible that they’re going to ask why they should believe it. It may take the form of how can a good God send people to hell or how could the incarnation be possible. It might be more of questioning whether God even exists. Sometimes objections will come up during the gospel, and sometimes you’ll hit them well before you’re able to share the gospel itself. Apologetics can be part of presenting the gospel, and it can be pre-evangelism.
The unbelievers most likely to ask apologetic questions of you are your children. Kids naturally ask questions like “who made God” and “how to we know Jesus rose from the dead.” It’s in their nature. But if we can’t give them good answers to those questions we run the risk of either giving them an immature, easily destroyed faith or even not having them come to faith at all.
J.P. Moreland tells the story of a woman he knows whose son, though a believer, was surrounded by unbelievers who provided him with lots of hard questions to ask his mother. She couldn’t answer them. His response was that if her faith was really important to her, she would have made the time to find out the answers – after all, she had time to watch tv and pursue her hobbies. Her inability to answer some of the tough questions skeptics throw at Christianity made her son wonder if her faith mattered at all.
This world is after our children. At some point they’re going to be asking those hard questions, and they’re going to need answers. I said before that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” but if you never know, your kids are going to start wondering if your faith is really important to you, and if it should be important to them.
When you’ve studied and can answer the hard questions, though, you will be more confident about sharing your faith with your friends and neighbors – and your children.
Sometimes we defend the faith for the sake of the unbelievers; sometimes we defend the faith for the sake of believers. You’ve probably heard of The Da Vinci Code. That one book was responsible for more angst on the part of believers than anything else in recent memory. Why? Because it told them that their faith was founded on fiction, and they were defenseless against the accusation. Don’t you know the Devil giggled when that thing came out? What person who is questioning his faith is going to be sharing the gospel?
When you prepare yourself to defend the faith, you build up defenses for yourself, and you become a resource for those believers around you who have not so prepared.
For the sake of both the unbelievers and the believers around you, commit to learning to defend the faith.