“Jesus and” or “Jesus only”?
I stopped reading the Bible. Seriously, I did. Actually, I stopped reading everything due to my sixth concussion.
After a few weeks, when I tentatively picked up the Bible again, I found myself looking at the book of Jude. Interesting book. We often don’t hear a lot about it in our churches, but as I found out, if we claim to be followers of Jesus, the message of Jude is critical for us at this time in history.
“I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith” (v 3).
Imagine being an Olympic athlete locked in physical battle with your opponent, struggling on behalf of your country. Imagine doing everything you can to prevail. Imagine refusing to give up!
I think that is what Jude had in mind when he encouraged the first generation of disciples to contend for the faith. And I believe that is just as applicable for us today. We need to contend for the faith ourselves, and we need to train and equip others to contend as well.
In terms of lifestyle, followers of Jesus had turned grace into immorality (v 4). God seems like a nice guy, so I can do whatever I want and God won’t get mad. Oops, that is a dangerous path to go down, isn’t it? Funny how quickly we forget that although acceptance is the starting point of a relationship with God, transformation is the destination. Repentance is the only path between the two.
In terms of belief, followers of Jesus had also rejected the exclusivity of Jesus. To some, Jesus was just another dish on the buffet table of eclectic spirituality. They wanted “Jesus and” rather than “Jesus only.” There is a big difference between the two, isn’t there? Do you want “Jesus and” or “Jesus only”?
What, then, does it mean to “contend for the faith” in terms of lifestyle and belief? The answer can be found in the grammatical structure of the Greek text. Jude contains the following five imperatives (commands or instructions):
Remember (v 17)
“Remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold.”
If you or I want to stand for something significant, to resist the powerful tide that threatens to erode our understanding of who Jesus is, we need to be grounded in Scripture. There is no other option.
Keep (v 21)
“Keep yourselves in God’s love.”
Hang on to the reality that you are deeply loved by God. Being loved is not an excuse for being bad (that is actually a rejection of love); rather, being loved gives hope, meaning and purpose in a world that often assaults those who take the teachings of Jesus seriously.
Be merciful (v 22)
“Be merciful to those who doubt.”
If other people are working through issues of faith and life, and they express doubts about who Jesus is, don’t attack them. Instead, offer grace, hope and encouragement.
Save (v 23)
“Save others by snatching them from the fire.”
At the same time as we show people mercy, though, let’s be sure to actively save them. If you saw your young child walking toward the fire at your campsite, would you just watch and say to yourself, “She should know better”? Of course not. You would rush over and snatch her from the fire! We should do the same with those who stumble toward spiritual fires.
Show mercy with fear (v 23)
“Show mercy, mixed with fear.”
Finally, Jude reminds us to be careful. One of the primary rules of trained first-responders at an accident scene is to make sure that they don’t become part of the accident themselves. In our desire to be like Jesus to others, let’s remember that we are not Jesus. Even in our compassion, we must be wary to not be drawn into subtle sin.
Where do you and I go from here?
For me, as I look ahead, part of my journey with MB Seminary is a call to help train leaders across Canada and beyond to live out the message of Jude in their contexts. To encourage and equip others to follow these five instructions. To be faithful and effective followers of Jesus!
If you identify yourself as a disciple of Jesus, what does it mean for you to “contend for the faith” in your context?
How can your lifestyle and your belief represent Jesus today?
[Mark Wessner is president of MB Seminary. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., with his wife and two daughters.