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Monday, September 29, 2008

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Defending and Contending

From the moment of its birth, Christianity has had to defend itself against those who chose to oppose the movement.  Jesus certainly had opposition, mostly from the ruling class of the Jewish religious leaders.  They seemed constantly to be questioning him as to his doctrine and practice and authority.  In the end, they arranged for one of his own to betray him so that they could put him to death, so strong was their opposition to what he was teaching.  Paul too, and in fact all of the disciples, had people oppose not only them but their faith in particular.  There were Judaizers and libertines and Gnostics and a host of other movements that chose to oppose the gospel.  And they all suffered greatly at the hands of their opposition.  They were imprisoned, beaten, or flogged; some were stoned and left for dead, or tortured and killed in some other way.  Jesus predicted that this would happen (see Matthew 13:21) and said clearly as he sent out his own disciples that,

"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Matthew 10:16-20).

Make no mistake about it.  This is war.  And our enemy has no plan to let us win easily.  Are we ready for the battle?  Are we ready to engage the enemy and defend and contend for the faith?  This is a war that we must win.  It has eternal consequences not only for us but for the countless others who make up the rest of our world.  At the same time, though the stakes be high, Jesus himself said that we should not worry ourselves about it (Matthew 10:19 above), and on another occasion, Jesus said that, "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  We have a battle to fight, but it is a battle that has already been won for us!

Do we then simply sit back and wait for that victory to materialize.  No, we need to arm ourselves for battle (see Ephesians 6:10-20).  We need to be ready for the attack that is most certainly coming.  And we need to recognize that one of the greatest frontiers of this battle will be in the arena of words.  Do we know what we believe and can we put it into words when asked.  Yes, when we are called up on the carpet, we should not panic knowing that the words we need will be given us as promised (Matthew 10:19-20), but at the same time, we are also instructed to study the word of God and know what it says (2 Timothy 2:15) and "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have" (1 Peter 3:15).  Part of this may be knowing what it is that we are against, but much more of it is being able to verbalize what we are for.

When Jude, a brother to James and a brother to Jesus himself, penned his short letter to the church somewhere in the last part of the first century A.D., he wrote,

"Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt that I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3).

He urged them to "contend for the faith" against any who would change the gospel in any way, minimize or presume upon the grace of God, or downplay either the lordship or the sovereignty of Christ.  All attacks on the gospel seem to be in these major areas.  Jude simply reminds them of what God has done and shows these people for what they really are, calling them things like "clouds without rain, blown along by the wind" and "autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted twice dead" (Jude 12).  In our contending and defending, we need to make sure that we are not just talk, but walk out everything that we say we believe otherwise we are no better than those who oppose us.  Jude says,

"But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.  Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.  Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear" (Jude 20-23).

So, learn all that you can.  Memorize and study the word.  Read books and articles on defending your faith.  Sit under good teaching that equips you for the battle.  And be ready at all times to speak that which you believe.  Who knows when you may be called upon to contend and defend the faith entrusted to the saints!

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Special Note:  This challenge was inspired as I read the story of an athiest science professor in a university challenging his Christian students on the basis of scientific argument versus the claims of faith.  The best part of the story happens the professor meets a young Christian student who is up to the challenge and who defeats him at his own game.  To read this wonderful dialogue, go to Science versus God which can also be found in the Faith Encouragement section of our website.