What does it mean to contend for the faith?
The epistle of Jude is written to Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem. In the opening passages, the author explains that he had initially intended to write a general letter of encouragement on the topic of “the salvation we share.” Instead, Jude explains, “I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3).
Jude is concerned because “the faith”—the Christian message of the gospel—is under attack from false teachers who are spreading dangerous heresies. Jude urges his readers to contend for the faith against those who seek to undermine and erode it. The Greek word Jude chooses, translated “contend earnestly,” usually describes an athlete striving with extreme intensity to win the victory in a physical competition. The Amplified Bible translates the command as “fight strenuously for [the defense of] the faith.”
Jude wants all believers to contend earnestly for the faith. A true contender vigorously endeavors to win the competition, not holding anything back. In this case, the struggle is for “the faith,” which is the saving truth of Jesus Christ and His teachings (2 Corinthians 11:3–4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 1:2).
Since this faith was “entrusted to God’s holy people,” all believers, not just Christian leaders, are called to defend the truth of Jesus Christ. And since this faith was entrusted “once for all,” Jude intends to stand against those who claim to receive “new” revelations of truth. Through Christ’s personal teachings and the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has already given the full message of truth to the apostles (John 14:26; 16:12–13). Paul gives a similar warning not to let anyone pervert the gospel of Christ with new and different teachings (Galatians 1:6–9). God has spoken, and any new, continuing, or special revelations of “truth” are to be rejected.
The two basic false teachings Jude contends with are stated in verse 4: “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.” First, Jude opposes the false teachers in their sanctioning of immoral behavior—they “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” Second, Jude calls them on their rejection of the deity of Christ—they “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”
The faith entrusted to God’s holy people for which they must contend is grounded in Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), He is God with us (Matthew 1:23), He is the Word, and He is God made flesh (John 1:1–18). This faith is expressed through holy living to which all believers are called (Leviticus 20:7; 1 Peter 1:16; Romans 6:1–14; 12:1).
Several verses in the New Testament reinforce Jude’s call to contend for the faith. Paul charges Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” as a soldier of God in pursuit of holy living, persistent service, and defending the gospel (1 Timothy 6:11–21). To the church in Corinth, Paul advises believers to see themselves as runners in a race who “run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). To the Philippian church, Paul writes, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Fight, run, and strive—in other words, “contend earnestly” for the faith.
In a practical sense, what does it mean to contend for the faith? What does contending for the faith look like? Fortunately, the book of Jude sets out several disciplines showing us how to contend for the faith:
- Build yourself up in the faith (Jude 1:20). We are to keep pressing ourselves to grow spiritually. A big part of spiritual development involves reading and studying God’s Word so that we know and understand it. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The inspired Word of God has the power to teach, train, rebuke, and correct us in righteousness so that as God’s servants we are wholly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
- Pray in the Holy Spirit (Jude 1:20). By praying under the direction of the Holy Spirit, we receive help in our human weakness to understand God’s truth and not be deceived by false teachers (Romans 8:26).
- Keep yourself in God’s love (Jude 1:21). Staying in God’s love means living by faith and obedience to God. Jesus told us, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). We obey God because He has captivated our hearts and won our allegiance (Romans 6:17). The ultimate expression of our obedience to God is shown through our loving others (1 John 3:11–24; 1 Peter 1:22).
- Wait with hope (Jude 1:21). To contend for the faith, we must keep the fire of hope alive in our hearts. When Jude says to wait “expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life,” he is referring to living every moment of life with the confident expectation that Jesus Christ may return at any moment (Titus 2:13).