Background: One of the great dangers for God’s people happens when people who have joined the church begin to teach false doctrines and live lives that contradict the very teaching of God in the Scripture. This letter was written by Jude to challenge followers of Jesus to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” because there were people in the middle of the church teaching falsely and living as if God had no part of life.
Jude identifies himself as the brother of James, probably referring to the James who was the leader of the early church in Jerusalem and half-brother of Jesus (son of Joseph and Mary). This means that Jude was also a half brother of Jesus. The New Testament teaches that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him until after the resurrection, but after that become significant leaders. The writing of Jude took place somewhere between 35-45 years after the death of Jesus, and the church had spread all over the known world. The first century church had the Old Testament in its hands, but the books that would become the New Testament was still being written and distributed. Jude tells the early church to contend for “the faith”, referring to a set content that makes up the Christian faith. This faith was given by Jesus to the Apostles, and then passed on to others. The progression of teaching has continued all the way to us, so we can claim that our faith begins with Jesus.
There were two primary challenges to the teaching of the early church. The first came from legalism, usually brought by Jews. This group taught that it was important to trust in Jesus, but a person must also keep a very strict set of rules to be a Christian. The other challenge came from system of beliefs in the Greek and Roman world that taught that matter was evil and spirit was good, and they were in a sort of battle. This philosophy was known as Gnosticism. These people usually denied that Jesus was God and man. Since matter was bad anyway, it couldn’t be saved, so you might as well live life as a party. The churches addressed by Jude in this letter were being infiltrated by Gnostics.
Application: The two core issues for the early church never really went away. They are repackaged and rewrapped, but the two basic issues of legalism and licentiousness remain at the heart of many of the struggles in the church. In many places, a Christian is defined by their behavior. Do they wear the right clothes, talk the right way, keep the set of rules that are most important to the group, date the right people, avoid drinking and smoking, etc. Anyone who does not fit the stereotype is judged and made an outcast. Being a Christian is about keeping a set of rules, rather than believing the Gospel and trusting Jesus. On the other hand, some come to church, hear about grace and God’s goodness and turn it into a license to do whatever they want. No need to be changed by God, to trust wholly in Him, and to repent. You are forgiven, and the more you mess up, the more God will forgive. For these people, being a Christian gives them freedom to live any way they wish, and they want everyone to join them.
In the middle of this is the Gospel, the “faith, once for all delivered to the saints.” The Gospel announces that no amount of goodness and rule keeping will earn heaven. Only those who have repented and trusted Jesus will experience grace, and that grace is all that is needed. The Gospel points to Jesus as the only answer to every issue and problem in life, and the Gospel announces that God’s grace will change the person who trusts Jesus.
This passionate letter written by Jude is a reminder that those who follow Jesus must contend for the faith, stand for it! They must tell the legalist that no amount of rule keeping or performance will earn anything.