As we read Jude’s letter, there’s no avoiding the sense that the matters at hand are crucial. We can give this book a one-word summary: apostasy, a word that means “a departure from the truth.” Although the word does not occur verbatim in the text, the term is taken from corresponding Scriptures appearing elsewhere in the NT that refer to a latter-day departure from the faith known as apostasy. We see this usage in three specific verses:
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.2 Thessalonians 2:3
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.1 Timothy 4:1
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.Hebrews 3:12
Before we go further into Jude’s letter, it will be helpful to understand this word a little better. The terms falling away, depart, and departing in the above verses come from the Greek noun apostasia meaning “apostasy.” As we look closer at apostasia, we see the word breaks into two parts: “apo” means “from,” and “stasis” means “to stand.” When used together, we find the meaning “to stand away from.” This “standing away from” pertains to a position previously occupied and, in the case of our New Testament writings, means “standing away from the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). We must understand this moving forward. In the truest sense of the word, no one can stand away from something they have never been associated with prior. This point is illustrated by the Greek phrase apostasion in Matthew 5:31, 19:7, and Mark 10:4. In these cases, the word translates as “divorcement.” There could be no divorcement or ‘standing away from’ unless there had previously been a marriage. In the same way, no one can “stand away from the faith” (apostatize) unless they had previously been associated with the faith. The lost person is not associated with this latter-day apostasy found in Scripture.
There is a difference between apostasy and backsliding. Apostasy involves a departure from the faith, not a momentary lapse (e.g., Peter’s denial of Christ during His trial). It consists of repudiating a central doctrine of the faith. Backsliding usually refers to a regression in morals and or spiritual enthusiasm. It may or may not involve a departure from the central tenets of the faith.
Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:Jude 1
We covered in the introduction that Jude was the half-brother of Jesus. He identifies himself as a servant and addresses the church with traditional New Testament greetings.
- “the called” – simply those who respond in faith to God’s initiative in salvation.
- “sanctified” – set apart from the world.
- “preserved” – believers are kept in the Lord until His return.
Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.Jude 2
- “mercy” – God’s compassion toward His people.
- “peace” – the well-being and comfort that comes from this relationship.
- “love” – a godly love with the other person’s best interests in mind.
Because of our sinful condition, we need God’s mercy. We need His peace because of the subtle and stimulating temptations surrounding us and the resulting chaos. Finally, we need His love because we are prone to love others for what they can do for us. Jude’s readers needed this help given the false teachers’ influence, which he proceeded to discuss. Next, we see Jude’s purpose in writing this letter:
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.Jude 3
Jude had initially intended to write to the church about the joy they shared in a common salvation through Jesus Christ. Instead, the Holy Spirit led him to write about the dangers of apostasy. So he began to write to them regarding soteriology, probably as a reminder that the gospel as they learned it from Paul was the true gospel—hence, “our common salvation” (3). But news of false teachers infiltrating the church changed his plans, and he appealed to them to stand their ground and fight for their learned faith (3). These false teachers were teaching what we know today as antinomianism – a belief that there are no moral laws God expects Christians to obey.
Most ministers have felt similarly to how Jude thought in this verse. It is enjoyable to talk about salvation and other positive subjects. However, occasionally a particular situation compels us to speak about a danger that God’s people need to appreciate. Delivering such a message is not as pleasant a task. Jude begins with a very familiar statement: “contend earnestly for the faith that once delivered to the saints.” Of course, “the faith” is the revelation of God in Scripture – it is the fixed, authoritative, orthodox, apostolic faith that has been handed down to believers and is the basis for the New Testament church today.
The phrase “contend earnestly for” is a compound phrase used only here and is the Greek word epagonizesthai. The simple form of the verb agonizomai, which appears as ‘agonize’ in its English form, was commonly used in connection with the Greek stadium and pictures an uphill struggle to overcome an opponent. However, agonizomai was used more generally for any conflict, contest, or debate. We see this usage in at least three verses:
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.1 Timothy 6:12
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.1 Corinthians 9:25
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.2 Timothy 4:7
Also seen here is the thought of expending all energy to win. We get the picture from the original language of a person taking their stand on top of something an adversary desires to take away and fighting to defend and retain it. Jude believed foundational tenets of the faith were under attack and were worth defending.