1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
John R.W. Stott tells about the seventeenth-century Jesuits in China who, in order not to upset the social sensitivities of the Chinese, excluded the crucifixion and certain other details from the Gospel. Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper responded to their decision by remarking: “We do not learn that they made many lasting converts by the unobjectionable residue of the story.” (John R.W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence)
How critical is the gospel of Jesus Christ? We learn in verse 1 that the gospel moved Jude from the category of a scoffer (see John 7) to the category of a servant. Jude and the other half-brothers of Jesus challenged the Lord in John 7. During the Feast of Tabernacles they told Him to “leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” Then John adds, “5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
Life must have been rough growing up with a perfect brother, don’t you think? The other male children of Joseph and Mary (“his own brothers”) had not yet placed their faith in Jesus as God the Son come to redeem the world. So they mockingly advised Him: “You need to show who you are! Your disciples need to see the works you do. If you want to be a public figure, then do what a public figure does — go public! Go, show yourself to the world!” Obviously such advice was given from unbelieving hearts, as John tells us.
Only the gospel can turn a scoffer like Jude into a “servant of Jesus Christ.”
The gospel also changes the lives of those who have been called, loved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ (v. 1). What a wonderful triad for the believer: called, loved, and kept! (This idea of being “kept” is also referred to at the end of Jude’s letter when he refers to the One “who is able to keep you from stumbling,” v. 24).
How else does the gospel change lives? Let’s not skip over Jude’s salutation (greeting) in verse 2: “Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.” We all need God’s mercy, His peace, His love in our lives. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ makes us aware of our desperate need to be sheltered from His judgment (His mercy), brought into a harmonious relationship with Him (peace), and assured of His affection for us (love). And Jude recognizes that these three gifts are not given in one solitary moment. We need these three blessings “in abundance.”
Imagine living for a moment outside God’s mercy. Try to survive without a sense that Christ has brought down that barrier of enmity between you and God. Pretend for a few minutes that God didn’t love you. What an awful life that would be!
A Dramatic Change
But Jude doesn’t just dwell on the blessings we enjoy as servants of Jesus Christ. He has become acutely aware of the challenge these believers are facing, and so he writes his epistle.
He says that he was eager to write about “our common salvation” (v. 3). Perhaps his original letter was going to be something like the epistle of Philippians, a message of joy in their common salvation. But a compulsion overcame Jude — and he changed the purpose and the content of his letter! Here we have a little glimpse into the process of God the Holy Spirit guiding a writer of Scripture to write what God wanted written! Hearing about the false teachers who were plaguing these Christians, Jude changes the purpose and content of his letter from that of a happy discussion of our common salvation to a battle plan for believers.
He felt compelled to urge these Jesus-followers to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (v. 3). Please notice two truths about this verse:
First, they were to contend for “the faith.” here “the faith” does not refer to their confidence or their personal trust in God (we might say, “Just have faith”), but rather to the content of truth God has given to His people (“the faith”).
Second, there is a finality to this “faith.” Occasionally I get to teach New Testament Greek in our seminary, and the expression here in verse 3 is: “contend for the once-for-all-entrusted-to-God’s-holy-people faith.” All those words are adjectives modifying the noun “faith.” The clear implication is that this faith will not be edited, abridged, modified, altered, or otherwise changed. It is fixed, secure, permanent, final. There will be no “Gospel 2.0.” “This is it,” Jude says. “Now, fight for it!”