by Rebecca Stark, author of The Good Portion: God
Recently, a Canadian mother saved her young son from a cougar that attacked him in her family’s backyard. She pried open the cougar’s jaws with her bare hands as he tried to drag the boy away. A few years ago I read a news story about another British Columbia woman who saved her son from a cougar using a kitchen towel. These two mothers courageously risked their own lives to protect their boys.
If you google the phrase “mom saves child from cougar,” you’ll find stories of other heroic mamas. One mother used a camping cooler, and another a water bottle to rescue their children from an attacking cougar. One brave mom managed to save her child but died from her own injuries.
Faced with a dangerous attack on a beloved child, would any mother simply stand and watch? No, a mother’s love compels her to protect and defend her children, and to fight to the death if necessary.
When Jude wrote his New Testament letter to one of the early Christian churches, he urged the members to fight to protect and defend the faith. “Beloved,” he wrote,
“although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4 ESV).
“Certain persons” who claimed to be believers had “crept” into the church. They looked like ordinary Christians, and they settled into the church like ordinary Christians would, but they had joined for shady reasons. We don’t know the details, but it seems that both by their actions, which were immoral, and by their teachings, which were false, they attacked “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
The believers in this church (the true ones, that is) knew enough about the doctrine of the apostles—the teachings that were probably already set down in a not-yet-completed New Testament canon—that Jude didn’t need to flesh out the “the faith once for all handed down.” These early Christians were already united around the body of doctrine that was the faith, so Jude could jump straight into his appeal for them to defend it.
The sneaky false teachers were attacking this church from within, and Jude’s letter is a plea for every single true believer there, everyone “called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1), to rise up and defend the apostles’ gospel. And because Jude’s letter is scripture, it is, by extension, a plea for every true believer down through the ages and across the world to be ready to protect and defend the gospel. The call to defend the faith is not just for pastors and deacons, but for laymen and laywomen, too. God calls us all to be defensive warriors, fighting against imposters within the church who destroy others by distorting the truth.
Like the brave mothers who snatched their children from the cougar’s jaws, a believer’s fight to defend the faith is compelled by love. We fight, first, because we love the truth, and second, because we love people and want to save them from certain death. We fight to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” of God’s judgment against unbelief and apostasy. We defend the truth as an act of mercy toward “those who doubt” (Jude 22-23).
But we can’t contend for the faith if we don’t know what it is. We won’t recognize infiltrating false teachers if we don’t know what the apostles taught. We can’t discern a destructive false gospel if we don’t understand what the real gospel is.
Step one for contenders, then, is to know the truth. Jude’s first readers (or hearers) had a partial canon of scripture, yet he assumed they understood what the faith once for all delivered to the saints was. We have a complete canon, and our own personal copies of scripture, so we don’t have an excuse for not knowing the whole body of doctrine handed down to us from the apostles. If we don’t know it, we can learn it as we study the Bible, and as we read or listen to faithful Bible teachers.
Step two is to step up and defend the faith we know. Although there may be cases in which false teachers need to be physically removed from the body, fighting for the faith is mostly a war of words. We fight for the faith by speaking—or like Jude, by writing. And while we may sometimes be forced to use strong language as a weapon against wolves in our midst, most of our contending won’t look like a war, not even a word war. No, our most common defense tactics will be teaching and reminding.
We contend for the faith when we teach the truth to those among us who don’t have a firm grasp of it. Our hope is that as they learn, they become more grounded in the faith and less likely to be snatched away by false teachers with a false gospel.
And for those who are already established in the faith? As we remind each other of the beauty of the truth we already know, we encourage faithfulness to it (2 Peter 12-13). We fight for the faith by helping each other remember how lovely our gospel is, because those who are busy basking in the glory of the real gospel aren’t fooled by a false one.
This blog is an edited version of a piece first posted by Rebecca at Out of the Ordinary.
Our family took a drive up the coast of California one summer. Out of all the beautiful scenery we saw, the most amazing was the Redwood Forests, home to the biggest trees in the world.
A redwood tree is quite a sight. The first giant we saw was a famous tree whose girth was wide enough to drive a truck through. As you can imagine, it was huge. But driving through a single tree doesn’t compare to the experience of driving into the redwood forests. Hundreds of towering trees with enormous, deep red trunks surrounded by beds of lush ferns created spectacular scenes that made us feel we had entered into a magical fairyland. We explored in and through the trees, enjoying the quietness, interrupted occasionally by the melodic click of an insect or frog. We marveled at how great and beautiful our God is. He spoke these majestic redwoods into being, along with the hawks that nest in their branches and the chipmunks that run at their feet. The beauty and wonder of the forests must pale in comparison to him.
In those enormous trees we couldn’t help but see some analogies to the life of faith. For one, redwoods start from an amazingly small seed about the size of the head of a matchstick. Faith also starts with the small seed of the gospel. The gospel is proclaimed, like seed being spread, and when that seed enters the soil and is watered by God, a sinner repents of her sins and believes the gospel—that Jesus gave his life as a substitute for her, taking the punishment she deserves for her sin (Luke 8:15). This seed grows by the means of grace, including reading Scripture, sitting under preaching and serving the church, into a huge tree that in turn spreads her seeds, spawning new saplings.
Second, redwoods are rugged trees. As we walked through the forests we saw many with deep grooves and bark rubbed raw. Some trees had been hit by lightening, some had been partially burned and some had been blown sideways by strong winds. Those trees had weathered many storms but they did not look weak or ugly for all their battering. On the contrary, walking among those mammoths we were in awe of their strength and majesty. Isn’t that like our faith? As we are beaten and bruised by the trials of this life, our faith becomes strong because we come to know by experience that nothing—not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, not famine, not nakedness, not danger, not sword—“nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). And in the trials our faith is made beautiful and glorifying to God, “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire” (1 Pet. 1:7).
Third, some trees had grown so old they had toppled over. Their roots were so huge they left craters where they were wrenched from the ground. These horizontal trees were natural playgrounds where the kids (and John and I) could climb, jump, tunnel, and seesaw in and over sturdy trunks and planks. Out of the middle of these dead trees, live new redwoods with green leaves on their branches would grow. The dead redwoods were still giving life to new redwoods. What a legacy! Just like the baby redwoods (which, incidentally, were about the size of a regular tree) get nutrients from their dead forefathers, we get nutrients from saints who have gone before us (Hebrews 13:7). Most importantly from the apostles through the scriptures but also from men in the history of the church who have written on doctrine and the Christian life and from saints we have known personally who have fed us wisdom from their lives. Don’t you want to leave a legacy? You don’t have to expire to enrich others with wisdom from the scriptures. You can teach your children. You can encourage other women in your church by reminding them of the gospel. You can reach out with the love of Christ to co-workers and neighbors.
The last analogy that struck us was the contrast between a lone redwood and a redwood forest. That lone redwood tree we drove through was impressive, but the forests were spectacular. Similarly, a lone Christian standing up for the faith in the workplace or her home can be impressive, but a whole church of people of different generations, colors, and cultural and religious backgrounds loving one another is a spectacular display of the glory of God. It is “through the church the manifold wisdom of God [is] made known” (Ephesians 3:10). As Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Your forest is your church. As we love one another in our local churches as Jesus has loved us, singing together, praying together, sitting under the preaching of God’s Word together, serving together and spending time together, we will, like the redwood forests, look spectacular to the outside world.
Faith is not just like a redwood, it’s like a whole redwood forest.
This blog is a slightly edited version of a 2013 blog by Keri on CBMW.org.
The first Christmas was announced with great joy. Emmanuel was coming into the world!
We were created for this joy—the joy of knowing God and experiencing his presence. Why not give your mother, daughter, sister or friend a Christmas gift that increases that joy?
The Good Portion: Scripture will cause you to see the treasure that is God’s word and to savor its sweetness.
The Good Portion: God will open your eyes to God’s glory and lead you to rejoice in his goodness.
Curl up with a good book this Christmas and give a gift that keeps on giving joy.