Jude issues personalized statements about believers’ standing in Christ no later than his epistle’s opening lines, where he calls his recipients “called,” “beloved,” and “kept” (v. 1). Jude’s survey here of the Christian identity causes me to reflect: Am I as confident as Jude about these descriptions? Do I receive them with the same sense of obviousness as with which they are written?
The foundation of Jude’s thinking when he writes these personalized statements is hinted at in his letter. First hint: Jude writes about what his recipients once knew — the message of Christ these recipients had already heard, though they had since forgotten it (v. 5). Second hint: he mentions spoken words they had received, referring to the teaching of the apostles (v. 17). Yet, Jude’s direct reference to the basis of his thought is found in his thesis, where he asks readers to contend for the faith (v. 3).
Jude assumes his readers’ familiarity with core teachings of the faith, the message of Christ from the apostles — known as the kerygma (Greek). Dockery and George write in The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking that the kerygma is, “the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings; the way, the truth, and the life. The faith is what it is we have to say and tell the world about what God has once and for all done in Jesus Christ.”
According to Jude’s personalized introduction, the Christian faith is to impact us in a fitting, subjective way. Meaning, we must be able to say, “This is my truth, my faith, my Lord,” and I am called, beloved, and kept. Yet, the set, objective Christian kerygma proves to be the essential basis for this Christian living.
What Is Kerygma?
Early church father Irenaeus — a student of Polycarp, who was a student of the apostle John — has left us this expression of the kerygma in his writing Saint Irenaeus Against Heresies:
“The Church, though dispersed … has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father 'to gather all things in one,' and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, 'every knee should bow, … and that every tongue should confess' to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send 'spiritual wickednesses,' and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love … and may surround them with everlasting glory."
Consistent with what Dockery and George teach, this summary of the faith focuses on Christ — His incarnation for our salvation; His resurrection, ascension, and future manifestation; His exercise of transformative grace; and His coming just judgment of the world.
Without this objective faith, there is no servanthood to Christ, no calling, no being beloved or kept, no shared faith or purpose with other believers (for, no church!), and no assurance. Without this faith, Jude’s opening lines of comfort to encourage his fellow believers about their relationship to God could not exist. The solidity of our personal relationship to God, then, does not rest on the strength of our feelings of God or of spiritual realities.
Rather, it rests entirely on the core truths of who God is — the unchanging tenets of our historical faith.
Jude Is Our Example
Jude is confident about how the Christian message applies to himself and his believing audience. For him, there is no question, no wavering. He is certain about the matter — for he has received the apostolic teaching.
Living now in a time that highly prizes subjectivity, skipping or downplaying objective truths can be alluring — even feeling more natural or authentic to us if we tend to find most meaning in what or how we feel. For example, we might pay little attention to the faith statements in our churches. We might not seek to know what the precise language of long-standing faith statements means and why it has been chosen, or the history that brought such statements to us.
Exploring these topics could sound removed from us or inapplicable (which is not a reflection of the topics). At least, to say these topics readily appeal or immediately seem relevant to our personal expressions or experiences of faith might be a stretch for us — if my own thought has been any example.
But Jude is to be our example. Requisite to being settled in Christ — much less contending for the faith in our churches and world — is knowing what is set about Him. And what that could mean to Millennial ears is this: we need to be attentive to what might initially seem dull.
Contending Begins Within Ourselves
The first step in contending for the faith in this world is to contend within ourselves. A hurdle we may have to leap for possession of New Testament reflective faith, and it can be a steep one, is following Christ through what may seem boring. Jumping this hurdle involves committing to Christ not first and foremost because of how He makes us feel, but because of who He truly is.
As Jesus challenged his disciple, Peter, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
Understanding Jude’s meaning behind the faith — the kerygma — we can then more fully understand his instructions toward the end of his epistle. He instructs his beloved readers to build “yourselves up in your most holy faith” (Jude 20). Is Jude here instructing his readers to conjure up greater feelings of faithfulness within themselves? No. Jude is referring back to his thesis. He wants his readers to contend for the faith they had received — starting within themselves.
Jude is instructing his readers to build themselves into the faith. They are to set themselves upon the cornerstone of Christ and the foundation of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20-22) as building metaphors in Scripture teach. We are to measure our own commitments of belief against the standard of Scripture, adjusting any stray commitments to be fitted to the authoritative Word of God.
Before we allow ourselves to become disillusioned about not feeling Jude’s same level of confidence about our standing in Christ, we can ask if we have received and committed ourselves to what has long been taught about Him — if we have attended to the faith and have gained preference for it. We must demand for ourselves doctrine, starting with the kerygma, which is unchanging from the apostles to this day, and no faith without it.
David S. Dockery and Timothy George, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), Kindle edition, Kindle locations 976-979.
“Saint Irenaeus Against Heresies.” Internet Archive. Accessed March 30, 2017.
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Lianna Davis is author of Keeping the Faith: A Study in Jude and Made for a Different Land: Eternal Hope for Baby Loss. She and her husband, Tyler, live outside of Dallas, Texas and have two dear daughters.