The church will always be under attack until the Lord returns. As Christians, we must be ready “to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). Or to say it with the words of Jude, we need “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). We need to do this because of “ungodly people [who have crept into churches unnoticed], who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4), whom Jude describes further as scoffers who follow “their own ungodly passions” (v. 18).
But how should we do this? Is there a uniquely Christian way of contending? Indeed, there is. Jude helps us understand how we should contend for the faith:
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (vv. 20–23)
There are two main aspects of contending for the faith. First, we need to make sure that we will stand firm and not be drawn away from the faith once for all delivered to us. We need to be strong in our faith, in prayer, and in the love of God. This is the same message that Paul writes to the Ephesians when he calls them to put on the full armor of God, that they may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:11).
The second aspect of contending has to do with those who have come under the influence of false teachers. Jude says that we should contend by being active in showing mercy with three different groups.
First, “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22). We should help them find their way out of doubt back to a firm faith. This is not aggressive fighting. This is what Paul calls “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
Second, in mercy we seek to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). It appears that this refers to those who have moved beyond doubt to a place that will result in disaster if they don’t repent.
The third call for mercy is the most challenging: “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (v. 23). It isn’t clear if this refers to Christians who have been led into deep sin or if this might even refer to the false teachers themselves. Regardless, we are called to contend for the faith by showing mercy—mercy that doesn’t tolerate sin but that longs to see people turn to Christ.
Contending for the faith is a labor of love. Love for God for whose truth we contend. Love for the church whose purity we seek. And love for the lost, whom we call to repentance and to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.