Who are those guys?

This is the fifth in a series of excerpts from the MBC resource, “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available here.

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For certain men, who were designated for this judgment long ago, have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 4)

In the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a relentless posse interrupts the legendary duo’s run of train robberies. Fleeing across rivers, plains, and rocky outcroppings, Butch and Sundance engage in playful, but increasingly annoyed, banter about the skilled men tracking them. At one point, Butch tries to assure Sundance that their escape tactics are working. Sundance is not convinced and keeps looking back over his shoulder.

“Ah, you’re wasting your time,” says Butch. “They can’t track us over rocks.”

“Tell them that,” Sundance replies, nodding toward the horizon.

Butch looks for himself and sees that the trackers indeed are still hot on their trail.  “They’re beginning to get on my nerves,” he says. “Who are those guys?”

Who indeed. “Who are those guys?” becomes a running gag line throughout the film.

Butch and Sundance eventually discover their pursuers’ names, as well as the identity of the railroad executive bankrolling the posse. The news forces them to flee to South America, where they revive their nefarious careers before meeting a bloody end.

Like Butch and Sundance, Jude can’t seem to shake the posse on his trail. Rather than pistol-packing bounty hunters, however, these are false teachers doggedly determined to bring down the infant church. Jude avoids calling them by name, choosing instead to describe them as “certain/some men” (HCSB, NIV, KJV), “certain people” (ESV), or “certain persons” (NASB). In a parallel passage, Peter simply refers to them as “false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1). Continue reading

What does it mean to contend for the faith?

This is the fourth in a series of excerpts from the MBC resource, “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available here.

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Jude writes in verse 3 of his epistle, “I found it necessary to write and exhort you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.”

The Holy Spirit has stirred Jude’s heart, causing him to grieve over the manner in which his beloved friends are allowing false teachings to seep into the church. They must not sit idly by while interlopers undermine the first-order doctrines established by the eyewitnesses of the life of Christ.

Like Paul, who writes that “an obligation is placed on me” to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16), Jude senses a heavy burden that compels him to address false teachers in the church. He and his readers are not able to share a common salvation if they lose the doctrinal truths that define it. Therefore, Jude exhorts them to contend for the faith.

Agonizing for sound doctrine

“Contend” is a strong word that translates the Greek compound verb epagonizomai, found only here in the New Testament and translated “earnestly contend” in some translations.

The simple verb agonizomai first meant to compete in an athletic contest, and then, more generally, to fight, struggle, or strive. It’s where we get the English transliteration “agonize.”

Like Jude, the apostles invest themselves heavily in teaching sound doctrine to followers of Jesus and preparing church leaders to defend the faith.

For example, Paul tearfully urges the Ephesian elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each of you with tears” (Acts 20:28-31).

Even though they must contend with Jewish lawyers, Roman rulers, Greek philosophers, and miracle-working sorcerers, the apostles engage in their fiercest battles inside the seemingly safe confines of the confessing church. That’s where the greatest challenges to Christianity lie.

Bleeding out

The church has withstood – and even flourished under – persecution, but it threatens to bleed out from the self-inflicted wounds of false doctrine. Jude senses this and urges his readers to “agonize” in defense of the faith.

Jude does not suggest a violent response to false teachers, and neither do the apostles. Peter encourages us with his balanced plan of attack, urging us to “set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

By contending for “the faith,” Jude is not referring to saving faith, or to trust in God’s promises, although he would heartily agree these are important aspects of our rest in the sufficiency of Christ. Rather, Jude is writing about the body of doctrine that defines Christianity – principally the first-order issues that pertain to our common salvation.

Luke writes about this in Acts 2:42, as first-century believers continually devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. Further, Paul instructs Timothy to protect the faith – the sound words the young pastor has heard from Paul. He is to guard the treasure entrusted to him through the indwelling Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 1:13-14).

Jude wants his readers to know that “the faith” is firmly established and unchanging. The work of Christ is finished. He is seated at the Father’s right hand as our Mediator and Intercessor. He has sent the Holy Spirit to convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment, as well as to regenerate, baptize, indwell, seal, fill, comfort, and lead His own.

Further, He is preparing a place for us in His kingdom. And He is coming one day in power and great glory to fulfill all things. The gospel of the kingdom is written in the blood of Jesus and confirmed in the empty tomb. It is “delivered to the saints once for all” (Jude 3b).

So, who are the people with whom Jude’s readers must contend? Jude is about to offer us a graphic introduction.

Next: Who are those guys?

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Are some Christian beliefs non-negotiable?

This is the third in a series of excerpts from the new MBC resource, “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available here.

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With an estimated 2.2 billion Christians in the world, worshiping in more than 41,000 denominations, one may legitimately wonder how we can possibly fulfill the prayer of Jesus that we all be as one (John 17:22).

But diversity does not necessarily mean division. The differences among the world’s Christian denominations generally have more to do with location, culture, worship styles, missionary efforts, and forms of church government than they do with major doctrinal differences.

Even so, it’s good to ask: What are the non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith?

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, refers to the process of discerning biblical truth as “theological triage.” On the battlefield and elsewhere, triage is the process by which medical personnel evaluate and prioritize the urgency of patient needs. A scraped knee can wait; a severed artery cannot.

Mohler suggests that a similar method be used in our churches to determine a scale of theological urgency – what some theologians call primary, secondary, and tertiary issues.

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Who is the angel of the LORD?

This is the 19th in a series of articles on the Trinity, excerpted from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Identified as Yahweh and yet distinct from Him, “the angel of the LORD” appears numerous times throughout the Old Testament. This messenger is above all others. He is called “commander of the LORD’s army,” “the God of Abraham,” “Judge,” and “I AM WHO I AM” – a name only the one true God ever claims.

Who is this awe-inspiring messenger? Ancient Jews believed him to be a special angel, the highest revelation of the unseen God. Similarly, Roman Catholics generally regard the angel of the LORD as an angelic representative of God, as do some Protestants. Many evangelicals, however, consider him either as a manifestation of Yahweh – a theophany, derived from the Greek words theos (God) and pheino (to appear) – or as the preincarnate Son of God, a Christophany, the Lord Jesus.

We should note that the Hebrew word malak and the Greek term angelos, translated “angel,” mean “messenger.” While angels in Scripture normally are spirit beings of higher intelligence and power than humans, there are times when the term refers to human messengers, or to the Son of God. The context helps us determine the correct application.

Norman Geisler writes, “Jesus Christ appears in the Old Testament in His preincarnate state as ‘the Angel [Messenger] of the Lord’ … Once the Son (Christ) came in permanent incarnate form (John 1:14), never again does the Angel of the Lord appear. Angels appear, but no angel that is worshiped or claims to be God ever appears again. The Father and Holy Spirit never appear as a man. Hence, Jesus Christ, as a person, eternally existed and appeared as a man before His virginal conception on earth.”

Just as the Holy Spirit is active on the earth prior to the Day of Pentecost, so Jesus works collaboratively with the Father and the Spirit to bring a divine word, direction, and deliverance prior to His conception in a virgin’s womb.
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Are Jude and Peter plagiarists?

This is the second in a series of excerpts from “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available here.

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History is rife with famous plagiarists. Primatologist Jane Goodall “borrowed” from sources ranging from Wikipedia to astrology websites to produce a 2013 book, Seeds of Hope: Wonder and Wisdom from the World of Plants.

Alex Haley’s epic Roots is now considered a mixture of facts, fiction, and thievery.

Joe Biden scuttled his own run for president in 1987 by stealing lines – and even whole pages – from other people’s speeches, including Neil Kinnock of the British Labour Party and American President John F. Kennedy.

And that’s not all. Martin Luther King Jr., rocker Led Zeppelin, and composer John Williams all stand accused in varying degrees of taking other people’s creative work and calling it their own.

So, how do we deal with the reality that portions of Jude and Peter’s second epistle are uncannily similar? Are we dealing with one or more plagiarists claiming divine inspiration?
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