Editorial: May 2008
CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH
We are living in a time when many different gospels are being purveyed as truth. It is therefore important for us to know exactly what the truth is. What differs from the truth is false and we should be careful not to be deceived.
Paul emphasised the primacy of four central truths in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor.15:1-8). These truths are: (1) the vicarious, substitutionary, atoning death of Jesus Christ for sinful men, in accordance with God's revealed plan; (2) the actual burial of Jesus Christ; (3) the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on the third day, according to the Scriptures; and (4) the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to those who knew Him best and were qualified to identify Him. In these four facts rest the essential truths of Christianity. Not one of them can be denied without wrecking the whole Christian faith.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He proclaimed the Great Commission to His disciples and said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matt.28:19-20). A few days later, the Holy Spirit descended and the door of salvation was opened to all-Jews and Gentiles.
The fact that He was buried proves that He died. It is this vicarious, substitutionary death of Christ on the cross that answers the clear teachings of Scripture and the redemptive needs of sinful men. Christ could have offered no atonement for sin unless He actually died on the cross. Without the resurrection, His death would have been in vain-there would be no victory over death. Paul emphasised that Jesus "was raised," thus indicating that it was the Father who restored Him to life, insuring the permanence of His resurrection.
His post-resurrection appearances to qualified witnesses were essential to establish faith in His victory over death and to prove that He is indeed alive. Paul points to "above five hundred brethren of whom most are still alive," to indicate their availability as witnesses to the fact of Jesus' resurrection. The reference to His appearance to all the apostles (v.7) is intended to validate Christ's resurrection. They were available to offer personal witness on the matter, should there be naysayers. The apostles could confirm that the resurrection of Christ was an undeniable fact. If there was no resurrection, there would be no salvation.
Advancing the qualification for apostleship, while selecting the twelfth apostle in place of Judas, "who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus," Peter says that he should be an eyewitness of the living Jesus in order to become a public witness with the other apostles of His resurrection (Acts1:22).
Resurrection of the dead is the keystone in the arch of the Christian faith. Its denial would mean the collapse of the whole Christian system. The entire Gospel rests on the fact of Christ's resurrection. It is the basis of the hope of the believer's resurrection.
Christ's resurrection represents the greatest victory and the most glorious fact of eternity. If the crucifixion of the Son of God was earth's darkest hour, the morning of His resurrection was eternity's brightest. The empty tomb of Christ is the greatest recorded miracle of the Bible, and the greatest known miracle of the universe. It was the abiding miracle of eternity. It was promised by the prophets, accomplished by Christ, proclaimed by the Apostolic Church as the central fact of the Gospel and recorded in the books of the New Testament. It has also been the main object of hatred and attack by unbelievers.
The Gospel that Jesus proclaimed was that the promises God gave to the Old Testament Israel were now fulfilled in Him. The promised Kingdom Of God had come, and salvation was available to all who would repent of their sins and trust in Him for forgiveness. Early Christian preachers laid great emphasis on Jesus' life, death and resurrection as historical facts that no one could deny. Those facts were the basis of the Gospel they preached. The power of God works through the Gospel, bringing life to those who accept it, and destruction to those who reject it.
God has entrusted this Gospel to Christians so that they might preserve it and pass it on to others (Gal.2:7; 1 Thess.2:4; 1 Tim.1:11). Christians have the responsibility to spread the Gospel worldwide, even though it may mean sacrificing personal desires and suffering personal hardships. They will carry out the tasks gladly when they appreciate what God's love has done for them through Christ (Matt.24:14; Mk.16:15; 1 Cor.9:16, 23; 2 Cor.5:14; Eph.6:19, 20; 1 Thess.2:2).
The Church is obliged to reach even the most hardened sinners with the Gospel. While we ought to love sinners, we should retain the utmost abhorrence of sin. God hates sin, but loves the sinner. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn.3:16).
Peter opened wide the door of salvation universally provided in Christ's redemptive work on the cross, and invited all to enter by way of repentance, remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-40).
The fullness of this witness demands all the natural and spiritual resources of His people. The question by which we may persistently test ourselves is: "How far am I living, thinking, speaking and doing so that the Lord may be seen, heard and known?" The measure in which every Christian is a living witness is the measure in which the Church is fulfilling her true mission.
All natural gifts, which in themselves are powerless to witness for Christ, are by the Spirit cleansed, energised and directed so that they may become the media through which Christ is made known.
The first century Church witnessed the intrusion of ungodly persons into the fellowship of the Church. These heretics entered secretly, they were ungodly, they denied Christ as Master and Lord, and they were destined to condemnation. Jude argues that a person's profession of faith does not establish him as righteous before God. The possibility of lapsing is illustrated by the example of disbelieving Israelites who were saved out of Egypt, but subsequently destroyed. Another illustration is the fall of the rebellious angels, who erred from their calling by exalting themselves. Jude also cites the history of Sodom and Gomorrah to reinforce his message that the fate of these cities is a reminder for professing believers who do not persevere in righteousness. These men are described as waterless clouds; they carry no spiritual burden and are blown along as though without weight. These false teachers produce no fruit and being doubly dead, are destined for destruction. "These dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries" (Jude 4-11).
Nowadays many are reluctant to talk about "sin" in their TV programmes and even in the so called Gospel Meetings, because people dislike being told that they are sinners. A characteristic of false teachers is their tendency to tell people what they want to hear, instead of the truth. "His aim is popularity and his touchstone is applause." Jude warns against the danger of perverting the doctrine of grace into a pretext for indulging in sin. Christians should realise that God's power is able to transform a person's life to be victorious over sin.
They subtly corrupt the Church from within. The Church has always been in greater danger from deception and decay from within than from attack and defeat from without. The hallmark of their false teaching is in relation to the problem of sin. They spread the false notion that God tolerates sin because He is a God of love. They teach that it is necessary to accommodate everyone in a spirit of reconciliation. Reconciliation with false doctrines and wrong behaviour are misunderstood as Christian quality. While the destruction of such people is certain, part of the tragedy is that others will be enticed to accompany them to their destruction.
It shows the necessity for the Church being concerned with sound doctrine and having personal discernment. "The people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits" (Dan. 11:32). The few who are firmly grounded in the tenets of their faith would do great things for God. They would be incorruptible to flatteries, and unconquerable to power and force. These are written as examples for us "not to be deceived." By describing the errors of the false teachers, who present the false gospel, the apostle urges us to "earnestly contend for the faith." Contend suggests the need for strenuous effort. Mental effort is needed in order to understand and teach the Word of God, and moral effort is needed to apply that understanding to everyday behaviour. The New Morality they preach is not really new; it is the old immorality, seeking to justify itself by pretentious phrases.
Purity of life commences with sound doctrine, which is "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). "Once for all" emphasises the finality of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Many of the fundamental tenets of faith, including the basic definition of the Gospel, are being called into question today. The positive way to avoid them is by Christian growth, prayer, abiding spiritually, waiting for the completion of the work Christ has begun in us, and reaching out to others fervently with the Gospel in evangelistic zeal. Spirituality is a quality of life produced by the Spirit of God, and not by religious exercises.
Accurate understanding of scriptural teaching is essential to faithful living. This means that careful study of God's Word is a pre-requisite to contending for the faith. Only a Christian who studies the Word of God has a firm foundation and faith upon which to build.