After his introduction and personal greeting, Jude explains how much he wished to be able to just fellowship with his fellow believers at the feet of Jesus. But there was a more vital need in the church that he felt he had to address. Their common salvation was that they all stood on level ground at the foot of the cross. They were all, Jude included, just sinners saved by grace. The Gospel was the “truth” that was once and for all delivered to them at the beginning. In the third verse of his letter, Jude writes, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude refers to his gospel as “the faith.” He means the doctrine that we are all sinners saved by grace. Being sinners saved by God’s grace makes us “beloved” and brothers and sisters who can enjoy each other’s company and share sweet fellowship. But something was happening in the church that inspired an urgency in Jude’s address to the believers. He needed to call them to action.

The call is an exhortation to “contend” for the faith. Helm argues that this phrase is the theme of Jude’s entire letter. He writes, “The theme is an appeal to ‘contend for the faith.’ After that we are clued in that verse 4 supports the theme by the little word ‘for,’ and reading on it becomes obvious that the occasion for the letter rests in Jude’s knowledge that the faith is being challenged by opponents he only will call certain people.”[1] That this is Jude’s theme in his little epistle helps us understand the urgency of his plea. Whereas Jude wanted to sit by the fire and talk about our common love for God and the good things of life that come to those who share a common faith in Jesus as their savior, he was compelled to focus on a less edifying subject. With his call to “contend,” the alarms go off, and we go to battle stations (Navy terminology). Helms finishes his comment by saying, “Urgency and immediacy move him. He wants contenders, and he wants them now. And with this letter, he means to raise them up. If Jude were to write a letter to the church in our day, he wouldn’t change a thing.” Jude calls all believers to contend with a particular heresy.

We don’t know who these people were, but Jude describes them for us in Verse 4. He says, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  Whereas Paul does battle with those who attempt to draw Christians from the bosom of God’s love into the tyranny of the law and the performance trap, Jude (and James) does battle with those who want to turn unconditional love into license. Paul tells us that Christ has set us free from the law. However, He writes in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” Peter makes a similar request in 1 Peter 2:16. He tells his readers, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Jude insists we contend against those who will pervert God’s grace into license to sin. There has been a historical struggle between being free from the law and still being obligated to some moral standard. Around 400 AD, Theodore of Mopsuestia recognized this struggle and described it, “If we find ourselves outside the law, there is nothing to stop us from doing what we like, but if there is some way of determining what should and should not be done, then we are back under the law again.”[2] The resolution of this dilemma is resolved by looking at our heart. The Psalmist instructs us to “delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God’s grace works to align our hearts with his. It’s a perversion to think that God wants us to pursue things that will harm us, like immorality, envy, lust, gluttony, etc.! No, the perversions associated with the desires of our flesh are transformed into a glorious passion for living for God and others. Jeremiah speaks to us of a new covenant during which the law will be written on our hearts rather than on stone tablets.

[1] Helm, David R. 2008. 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Bray, Gerald, ed. 1998. Romans (Revised). Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.