Saturday, November 6, 2010

Contending for the Faith, Part 1 of 2

It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” Jude 1:3. Jude’s exhortation possesses a unique Greek phrase, “epagonizomai.” In English the phrase is rendered “earnestly contend for,” and it simply means “fight.” I pose to the reader two questions:

#1: What is “the faith” we are fighting for?

#2: What does Jude mean when he exhorts us to fight?

The faith we are fighting for is, of course, Christianity. We are fighting to elevate our Lord Jesus Christ to the primacy, majesty, and pre-eminence that belongs to Him alone. We are preaching Christ crucified; but also Christ resurrected and sitting at the right hand of the power. We preach Christ the Great High Priest; yet we also preach Christ the Judge of all. It is this Christ, the risen, glorified, triumphant Christ that is the object and summit of a Christian’s faith. Our faith would be worthless if Christ were not risen; Paul explained this much, 1st Corinthians 15:17. It is Christ that saves; we simply receive this wonderful, eternal salvation by virtue of the faith we place in Him. Faith, of itself, does not save.

Imagine if you would, you have a very large bank account by virtue of an inheritance. Would that money avail you at all if you never drew from it? I speak to fellow Christians. Your trust is in that bank, or rather in the money inside that bank. If you draw from it, you are only doing what is lawful for you to do; in fact you are encouraged to do so because the one who bequeathed you the money did so with the sole intention of providing for you. Christ promised that all that is His would be ours through faith.

Faith is the vessel by which we receive the promises of God; they come to us no other way. Yet faith is not the object itself. Suppose that instead of using the money that you had access to, you decided to live like a derelict and a miser. This is the state of a Christian unwilling to walk in the Spirit; he will not receive Christ’s authority and transforming power by virtue of the Holy Spirit; He is disobedient toward his Lord and grieving the Spirit that is his seal and security. He is not “in the faith” presently, 2nd Corinthians 13:5. Why?

Because Christ is our life, our salvation, our all in all. Such a one is content to be a believer, but unwilling to become a disciple. Is there a difference? Yes. Many believed on Christ during His earthly ministry: the sole criteria for salvation. Yet they did not wish to walk with Him when His teaching became hard; the Apostles, however, did walk with Him. Many are heading toward Heaven on table scraps when they could have the comfort, power, and wisdom of God abiding in their daily life. They are not disciples.

Are they saved? Many would say “no” faster than you could blink an eye. James wrote that faith bereft of works (works visible in your life) speaks of a dead faith. There is valid reason to worry, and exhort such a professor to make their calling and election sure (2nd Peter 1:10); but there is more. If you adopt this attitude you likewise adopt a mindset that shifts the genuineness of one’s salvation from the Person of Jesus Christ to the external evidences men can (or can’t) see in another person. Your faith has subtly changed from Christ and His finished work, to the Christian and his excess or lack of evidentiary works.

Allow me to extrapolate. Advocates that promote faithfulness until death would cite a lack of works or barrenness as the proof of a vain confession. They may be right; but it is a dangerous position to take that one servant should pass such a verdict on another. In Matthew, Jesus said He would be approached by many who did do wondrous works in His name. He rejected them because they did not know Him, Matthew 7:21-23. Christianity is, first and foremost, a relationship with our Savior. We must come to intimately know Him through the word before becoming busied in a flurry of activities that may, in fact, hinder spiritual growth.

A very little yielded in faith is worth far more than a mountain of good works born by the strength of fleshly effort. The more deeply a Christian comes to know our Savior, the more they will be conformed into His image by the Holy Spirit within them. It will be utterly natural at that point that good works become them. Good works should flow organically without thought, but for the glory of God and the relief and love of others. Christ spoke that we should not let one hand know what the other was doing. In this I deem that we should not perform our works self-consciously. If works have become the necessity of legalism (ensuring salvation) then we have violated what our Lord has spoken concerning the nature of good works.

The Savior did what He did on earth because He loved the Father; the good He accomplished was the natural out-flowing of that love. Christians ought to take a cue, and delve into a deeper relationship with Jesus that is rooted firmly in the love of knowing Him, Jeremiah 9:24. From this close walk good works will emerge, and herein lay the importance of discipling converts, not simply winning them. Many times ignorance is the villain behind carnal Christians that appear unsaved; love is the remedy. Sometimes we must be stern and unyielding toward an errant brother, but as the Apostle said, let all things be done in love.

How do I know I’m saved? Jesus said that anyone who believed in Him would pass from death to life. He said that anyone who believed would no longer suffer judgment. He said that anyone who believed in Him and received Him also received the Father. He said that anyone who believed was justified; anyone who believed was born again; anyone who believed received the Holy Spirit of promise. Anyone who came to Him would not be cast out. Anyone who believed in Him would never die spiritually. I heard these things, and I trusted in the Person of Christ and the work He accomplished on my behalf. He suffered the death my sins deserved so I could be justified in His name. I would receive the true baptism John the Baptist said Christ would bring: the baptism of the Spirit. I was born again and brought into the church, the body of Christ, by faith in Christ.

Christ is willing that none should perish, and as soon as you are willing to receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life through faith in Him alone you will receive it. Why? Jesus promised, and His promises will never fail. If one thing Christ ever said or did was wrong or faulty, our hope in Him, our reason to trust in Him would instantly evaporate. That is why if anyone who truly believed on Jesus was ever lost, my faith would dissolve. Christ promised that anyone who came to Him in faith would be saved; they would receive eternal life as a free gift of God’s sovereign grace and mercy. A sinner saved and then lost again would violently reveal a Savior incapable of performing His word. This is my faith, and I invite anyone who is willing to receive Jesus’ offer of salvation on His terms. His way is narrow, and it is contrary to the world, but it is assured. Christ entered death, conquered it, and removed its sting for anyone who, by faith in Him, follows their Savior’s path. He is the new and living way, the only true way to the Father.

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All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.