Contending for the Once-for-Delivered Faith

by Steven Chan
5 September 2010

Jude 3: “Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.”

In the short letter by Jude, he highlighted the necessity (an exhortation; not merely an option) for all of us to contend for the faith for the following reasons:-

1. the faith is an once for all time delivered faith – it is well defined and there’s no progressive revelation of God’s truth today,
2. there are those who will introduce teachings that differ from the body of teachings delivered by Jesus and His apostles, “certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v 4),
3. unsound doctrine have dire consequences as illustrated by the fate suffered in the various cases of apostle tasy recorded in the old testament such as the unbelieving Israelites, the rebellious angels, Sodom & Gomorrah, and

4. therefore we need to be merciful and save those who are entangled in erroneous teaching: “and on some have mercy, who are in doubt; and some save, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh”. (v 22-23).

The apostle Paul offers an excellent example of “contending for the faith” in his letter to the churches at Galatia – and we will do well to be guided by his good example and exhortation:-

He affirmed that the once-for-delivered faith or body of truth/doctrine (Rom 6:17) cannot be varied by any subsequent so-called revelations:

“I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.” (Gal 1:6-8)
His contending for the faith had also required him to resist the apostle Peter when the latter behaved contrary to sound doctrine: “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned.” (Gal 2:11-14)
He re-affirmed the truth concerning salvation by grace through faith, and that if anyone desires to be justified by the law, then that person would have “fallen from grace”: “Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace.” (Gal 2-4; 5:4)
Anyone who teaches a doctrine contrary to the once for all delivered faith is effectively preventing one from obeying the truth as revealed by Jesus through His apostles: “Ye were running well; who hindered you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7)
Paul highlights the leavening influence of false teachings and the need to stop the spread of error: “This persuasion came not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” (Gal 5:8,9). He had said the same to the church at Corinth: “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened.”(I Cor 5:6, 7)
In contending for the faith, one should not become a contentious person: “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”(Gal 5:15) “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Gal 5:26). Christians should not be characterized as those who are always looking for a fight and none should be motivated by a desire for vain glory or arrogance in defending the faith.
The beloved apostle who is well-known for his steadfastness in contending for the faith, cautioned that we should have the spirit of meekness when trying to restore those in error: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Gal 6:1). “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”(2 Tim 2:24-26) Jude also quoted the example of “Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”(Jude 9)
The object of contending for the faith is to “restore” the one who is overtaken by the error (Gal 6:1). However, in the event that such a person refuses to be restored, then he would need to be marked and avoided so that his leavening influence will be restricted. “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”(Titus 3:9-11) “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”(Rom 16:17).

May we be ever mindful of the need for each and every one of us to be engaged in contending for the once for all delivered faith – for it is the truth that will set man free from sin (John 8:32; 17:17). It is sad that there will always be those who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”. (2 Tim 3:7) Some people just refused to be warned – as was also observed by Abraham when he said to the rich man: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead”. (Luke 16:31). Jesus said: “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”(Matt 15:14).